Mesa-Boogie: Stiletto Ace Stage II and Deuce Stage II

IF LAMBORGHINI AND CATERPILLAR EVER JOINED FORCES TO BUILD a line of guitar amps, the result could easily be something like Mesa/Boogie’s Stiletto series. That’s because these nimble tone machines—available as the 50-watt Ace ($1,599 retail/street price N/A), the 100-watt Deuce ($1,799 retail), and the 150- watt Trident ($1,899 retail)—are, sonically speaking, as timbrally maneuverable as they are capable of pushing some serious earth. (They roar through a 4x12.) Though the Trident and Deuce were reviewed in full in the June ’05 GP, the line has since been revamped in interesting ways.
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Stage II updates include a tighter, stiffer sounding power supply that makes all modes punchier and more reactive, with less sag. Run wide open, this amp can clear your sinuses with one strum, and, with the Bold voicing selected, it delivers satisifying skull-popping mids. (Careful: The rig can be dialed in for subtle but sneaky highs that add up to ringing ears the next morning.) The more dramatic Stage II development, though, is the re-imagined Fluid Drive mode. Replacing the original, deeper, more “Recto” version, this incarnation is an entirely new circuit. Voiced with less low-end, nü-metal whumpf than its forbear, it nonetheless rages, and complements the other four modes perfectly.

Because these amps are each a two-channel, multi-mode celebration of the EL34 “brown sound” (particularly when you cut the transformer power by 20 volts by engaging the Variac-like “Spongy” setting), I couldn’t resist auditioning them on a couple of gigs with a Van Halen tribute band. At first, I chose the Ace, for no other reason than it roars loud enough for most clubs and pays visual homage to classic Plexi-era Marshalls. (Fact: The Ace is actually bigger and 5 lbs heavier than the doubly powerful Deuce.) But because the Deuce’s channels are switchable from 100 to 50 watts (by deactivating two of the four power tubes), I was tempted over to its camp by this Deuce/Ace switchability, and also by its modern chrome stylings, its faux-crocodile-embossed leather, and, of course, its power to decapitate any frontof- house engineer who doesn’t think the guitar should be the center of the mix. At my first gig with the amp, I thought I’d only use the Fluid Drive for extreme lead tones. But, yielding volcanic distortion that erupts with prismatic partials and vocal, midrange-fueled feedback, this highly expressive mode has become my regular muse.

Rude yet utterly refined, uniting timeless EL34 tones with high-tech utilities—all arranged with geomantic perfection on a classy chassis—the über-evolved Stiletto Stage II marks the perfect teaming of the California and British schools of amp design. Cheers to Randall Smith and the Mesa design team for never knowing when to leave well enough alone.