Tested by Michael Molenda
It's best to be one fearless mofo when you plug into a Mesa/Boogie, and not just because the company's Rectifier series defined one of the scariest, heaviest, and most controversial tones ever to partner with a guitar and a scowl. The deal is that most Boogie models provide myriad tools to craft your own sound, and if you can't hang with that responsibility-and exploit it to the max-then you may as well stick your guitar into a box with a big volume knob and be done with it.
The latest creation from Boogie tone wizards Randall Smith and Doug West is the Lone Star 1x12 combo ($1,599; also available as a 2x12 for $1,699, or a $1,499 head with a matching 4x12 cab that goes for $978), and this monster ain't gonna embrace the timid, either. Primarily designed as a boutique blues amp based on vintage tweed models-hence the Texas-approved moniker-the Lone Star is also capable of producing sounds that celebrate metal, modern pop, garage, prog, and just about any other electrified genre. In fact, this sucker is so sonically versatile that it's like a guitar tone workstation, rather than a one-trick blues pony, as its name might imply.
To fully capitalize on its timbral power, the Lone Star employs a fair amount of knobs and switches, and the challenge is sussing how each control interacts with the other controls to conjure one's desired tone and feel. There are several ways to set gain stages, for example, and every knob twist and flipped switch results in a tangible and very musical timbral enhancement.
This is interactive tone shaping in the extreme, but the Lone Star doesn't require you to spin a gaggle of knobs to get a useable sound. During the initial tests, I plugged in a Les Paul and a Stratocaster, fiddled momentarily with the Gain and Master volume on each of the Lone Star's two channels, and achieved some damn fine clean and overdriven sounds with no fuss.
So here's the deal for cowardly lion types: The Lone Star is indeed an over-the-top sonic option box, but it can also be a plug-in-and-play machine, and however you choose to employ the Lone Star's armament, it will always be a handmade, near bulletproof, boutique-styled amp that sounds magnificent. Still scared?
The Lone Star is constructed like a Rolls Royce. The attention to detail is uncanny, from the near flawless application of the fab blue tolex (a few slits are visible at some corners) right down to the wheels. But this isn't all about beauty-the Lone Star is one tough mother, as well. Reenacting a road tragedy from my touring days, I let the amp roll down a slight loading-dock incline and smack into a dumpster-four times. After brushing some dirt from its hide, the amp performed as if nothing had happened, and there were no noticeable rattles, loose screws, or other impact-induced nastiness. I think I could have tossed a concussion grenade into the open back, and the Lone Star would still work just fine. This bronco seems to be absolutely indestructible, and it's definitely more robust than some of my other amps that have never failed throughout years of gigging.
I won't bore you with operational details you can glean from the user's manual, but you should be aware of the Lone Star's multiple gain/timbral stages. In addition to the obvious preamp gain and master controls, both channels let you choose 50-watt or 100-watt operation. This means you can configure one channel with uber headroom (100 watts), and downshift the other for some maxed-out, overdriven snarl (50 watts).
There's also a power switch that toggles between Off, Tweed (for a looser response and overdrive at lower volumes), and On (for full cowabunga headroom). A global Output sets the overall volume, and a Solo knob lets you dial in some boost, which is accessible only via footswitch. Channel 2 offers a three-position voicing switch that provides Normal (clean with shimmering highs), Thick (throaty mids), and Thicker (maximum saturation) modes. You can also remove the lead circuit on Channel 2 to elicit a vintage "cranked" tone.
The back panel's bias switch lets you easily swap the included 6L6 power tubes for EL34s (if you desire some vintage British crunch), and there's also an innovative Diodes/Tube Rectifier Tracking switch. When in Tracking mode, a 5U4 rectifier tube is automatically engaged when you run at 50 watts to produce a groovy power sag. In Diodes mode, a solid-state rectifier delivers optimum headroom and a tighter attack.
Some people dig the high-end gronk (some call it "nasal") associated with many Boogies, and some don't, but that little debate isn't an issue with the Lone Star, because that timbre is gone. Treble frequencies simply blossom into the heavens, and I couldn't find a tone that wasn't absolutely musical. The overdrive tones definitely have an old-school vibe-you'll have no problem dialing in the thick, syrupy sustain of a Paul Kossoff, the raunchy snap and gristle of a Malcolm Young, or most any tone in between the Small Faces and the Sex Pistols.
Clean settings can deliver chunky mid girth and sparkling highs, and if a smidgeon of personality is missing, evoking some truly aggro spank is simply a matter of switching to EL34s. And while the Lone Star isn't designed to uncork so-called "modern rock" sounds, I was very pleased with its liquid and soaring high-gain tones-very cool for ambient stylings, detuned riffs, heavy riddims, and spasms of inspired lunacy.
The only thing that may be strange for some players is that a timed mute with delay kills the reverb for about three seconds when you switch between channels. Boogie patented this feature to prevent "reverb backwash" when, say, switching from a raging lead tone to a rhythm setting. While this makes perfect sense-as it prevents situations where "ghosted" reverberant notes from your solo make all kinds of mess around your very sensitive verse melody-some of the GP editors weren't comfortable with the reverb going away and then sneaking back.
The Lone Star can deliver so many incredible shades of tone that where you take the amp is totally up to you. But wherever you go, rest assured the Lone Star will deliver enough lows, mids, highs, headroom, sag, and overdrive to match your sonic aspirations. The Lone Star is one fabulous boutique-oriented, multifaceted, versatile, tone-spewing beauty, and it absolutely earns an Editors' Pick Award.