The Mesa Boogie Mark iii a mysterious amp to most. The lack of coverage on this model as compared to the rest of the Mark series amps has led many to pass on them despite being quite versatile. The Mark iii features three channels-- clean, rhythm 2, and lead. The channels share a global EQ stack but separate master volumes and gain controls. A decent amount of space is saved on the front panel by incorporating several push/pull functions to the dials. The amp features two individual bright switches, a deep switch, two shift controls, and the ability to toggle the channels via push/pull as well. A graphic eq is standard fare on most Mark series amps and is not left out here. Around back you have a direct out with level control, effects loop, reverb and presence controls, as well as a toggle for the simul-class power section. The look of the amp is very classic, the wicker grill on select models being a real eye-catcher.
The options for tone shaping on this amp are incredible for such a small package. Between the simul class control, the graphic EQ, and the myriad of push/pull functions, it is very easy to forget that this amp is so inexpensive. The Mark iii maintains excellent clarity at high volumes and is easier to dial than the mark V that I also owned. Build quality is splendid, I could see myself gigging with this amp without hesitation.
I played through the Mark iii with a Gibson Les Paul Traditional. Mesa 2x12 cab. No pedals.
The clean channel is alot like the mark i that I've tested. Very round and bottom heavy. This channel would suit players with tele guitars well, being able to tame the inherent trebles in such a guitar. It was somewhat dark with the Les paul but livened up with the bright switch engaged. Rhythm 2 was my least favorite, but was still a better sounding crunch than on other designs in the price point. Winding up the volume with the lead channel gave great results. The presence control around the back of the amp helped dial in the amount of aggressiveness I wanted. I was able to get both mellow lead tones and aggressive power chording with minor adjustments. The onboard reverb is plenty useable as well.
The Mesa Mark III amplifier may not be the most popular amp of the line, but is extremely good value with considering the versatility available. The going price for these on the used market is around $700. If you need a comparable feature set but desire updated aesthetics and sound quality-- you might look at picking up a Stiletto Ace for a mere $200 price jump. However, if you are on a budget and want the Mark series tone, this is all you need.
I've been dying for a Mesa Mark III for about 6 years now. Been close to having one but having sellers back out, want too much for the condition, and not having funds held me back many times. I sold a few things so had spare cash so I finally decided to buy one of these. $650, 1989 Blue stripe, fully loaded with graphic EQ, reverb, simul class, custom tolex, and fully functional condition. No scratchy pots or sliders or anything. The amp says it's 100 watts and 60 watts in half power mode but all over the internet I'm seeing 85 watts, 75 watts and a few others. 3 channels, rhythm one (clean), rhythm two (crunch), lead (high gain).
Mesa's are well known for not being easy to dial in a good tone. To some that's a problem and makes them look elsewhere. To me it says it's a picky amp and wants to sound good, if you can't set it up it won't sound good. But once you find the right settings it's amazing. The manual is great, explains each control in depth and gives recommended settings after each. The only downside is all 3 channels share the same EQ controls so for some people it's hard to get a nice clean, rhythm 2, and lead tone that's footswitchable. I happen to like all 3 channels with the same settings so it works for me, but it being a downside to most people is the only reason I gave it a 9 instead of 10.
This of course is the best part. After 6 years of dreaming, watching countless videos, audio clips, pics... I finally got to experience the amp for myself. I bought it sight unseen without ever hearing one in person before. I was certain it was exactly what I wanted and I was totally right. It's common for people wanting Early MetallicA and Dream theatre tone to buy Mark III's as a cheaper alternative to the coveted Mesa mark IIC+. They're well known as the holy grail of mesa amps, and many amps all together. I didn't buy one to try and copy MetallicA. Although it nails the Master of Puppets and And Justice For All tone it can do so much more. It's the tightest amp I've ever played. Even with the gain cranked to 10 it's still articulate and smooth sounding. Many high gain amps have more gain than you could ever use and once it gets past a certain level it turns to mush. Not with this, I don't have the gain dimed but it's nice to know if I did I can still get very nice not mushy tone.
This amp is the most aggressive mesa ever made, it's like a chainsaw, cuts and rips but also has a gracefulness to it. It's like the lead channel has 2 modes, and it switches automatically. Of course it doesn't really, but it seems like it. On rhythms it's very heavy, crushing, and aggressive. Very thick and stands out, you can't NOT listen to this amp. But when you play leads it smooths out and gets very creamy. Santana was known for using Mesa Mark amps and he has some of the bluesiest leads ever. The reaction between the guitar and the amp is just amazing.
The cleans are very sparkly, almost fender-ish. The best example is MetallicA's cleans. They used a mix of the Mesa and a Roland JC120, but this can nail it perfectly. Listen to the song "One", intro to "And Justice For All", and intro to "Enter Sandman".
Another great thing is this has a 3rd channel, the Mesa Mark III was the first 3 channel amp. In between the rhythm 1 (clean) and the lead channel, rhythm 2 has more of a crunch to it. It's the biggest complaint by people but personally I like it quite a bit. It's by no means a high gain channel so it's not good for metal but for blues and classic rock it's great. Or put a boost in front of it and basically get a second, but different sounding, lead channel.
Overall I'm super happy with this amp, totally worth the 6 year wait. I've bought, sold, and traded gear for quite a few years always trying out new things hoping to find the one thing that's perfect. I may have found that. Since I bought it I've lost almost all desire to even try different amps. It just does everything I wanted, but better, and even more than I wanted. It's like it was designed for me personally. I'd recommend it for anyone playing any style cause it really is that versatile.
The tone from this amp is warn and rich fill of natural harmonics that filled the air in a 3D setting. We would only use the rhythm and lead as boost for choruses and such. Never did we use the clean aspect of it. Got a chance to record with it a few times. Recording proved to be a little bit more complicated finding a right sound to record with.
If someone were to look at a Mark series amp and would probably take a while to figure out how it operates. Unlike the Marshall's and Hiwatt's this amp can be a little tricky at first glance. I know it took me a little bit of time learn how the control knobs interact with the circuit. There a few push pull controls and then the footswitch engages the crunch and lead channels. So without the footswitches someone might get angry they can figure out how to get this thing to overdrive.
The cool thing about the Mark lll is the gain that you would get from a modded Marshall is around 5 on these amps. There is a ton of gain headroom on these beasts. That is always one of my favorite things on an amplifier is how much gain can I have but never needed that much. If I can keep an amp around 1-2:00 on the gain control knob then I am a happy camper. That tells me it is well built piece of equipment and if I ever need MORE than I have it on tap. If the controls for the three band EQ were like that then this would be the best amp on the planet. Unfortunately you have to crank the treble up a lot on these amps to get them to really sizzle.
Try out this amp with a Mesa 4x12 with Vintage 30 Celestion speakers and a Les Paul. you will get a solid rock tone fit for just about any musical situation you may find yourself in. It even sounds great when you throw a Strat in front of it and blast that midrange up a bit. every guitar i threw at this thing was easily taken care of. This is one of those amps that you don't need a boost pedal in front of. It has so much power and trust that it would only diminish the amp if you did use a booster pedal.
I love this the and the power that comes with the lead channel in particular. Mesa Mark ll amps have my favorite lead tone of any amp that I have played before. I have played ever single Marshall that exists and just about ever modern high gain amp on the market and I always find myself coming right back to the basic sound or the lead Mark lll tone.
These amps are no longer being made by Mesa Boogie so you'll have to get them on the used market. I have seen them as low as $650 but they generally run around the range of $700-$950. Not a bad pick up for a great sounding amplifier.
This was my first truly good amplifier that I bought when I was 14 in 2008. Mine was a 1992 "green stripe" model with onboard reverb, onboard graphic EQ and Mesa's patented "Simul-Class" power (which basically allows you to run one pair of EL34 power tubes and one pair of 6L6s in a Mesa amp for some varied tones). Mine was 85w in full power mode or it could be put down to 25w in half power. The Mesa amps have a very unique preamp section that reacts unlike many other amps. Using it in tandem with the 5 band graphic EQ yields some amazing and versatile sounds.
There are three channels, Rhythm 1, Rhythm 2, and Lead. There is also a system of pull knobs that act as channel switchers or they change the gain/EQ structure (add brightness/gain, add bass, etc). The amp is a bit confusing to set up at first as there are several different ways that one could run it. There is a "Volume 1" control that acts as an overall gain/output level for the entire amp, as well as a separate gain for the lead channel and a master volume for the whole amp.
(Basically, the first two channels' gain/volume are controlled by the Volume 1 control and master volume, and the lead channel's gain is controlled by the Volume 1 as well as a separate lead drive control).
It's got three separate footswitches, all connected by detachable 1/4" cables (read: guitar cables), two for changing channels, and one dual button for switching the EQ and reverb on or off. I found them to be clunky and wished that it was an all in one unit... that was probably my biggest caveat about the amp's features physically.
The amp is not very easy to set up if you haven't done so before. Like I said above, the preamp section is very unique. Gain is added or taken away based on the equalization controls as well as the gain controls... so it can take some time to really set it up right. The biggest issue is getting a balance between the three channels as far as your gain level for each separate channel. I found that after owning it for about seven months, I achieved a balance as far as my Rhythm 1 (clean) channel and my lead channel. This was accomplished by running the Volume 1 control fairly low (around 3.5-4) and the Lead Drive quite high (8.5-9). To me, this was the best balance between those two channels. However, even up until I sold it, I could not possibly balance Rhythm 1 (clean) and Rhythm 2 (crunch) channels to have proportionate amounts of gain. Given that they share a gain control... it was impossible to get a compromise. If I ran Volume 1 low, R1 sounded great for cleans, but R2 had a very weak/thin crunch tone. If I ran Volume 1 high, my crunch tones were killer (think classic Marshall, but with 6L6s), but the cleans had too much gain and saturation.
For those interested, my settings upon selling it were as follows:
(P designates to pull that control out)
Volume 1 - 3.5
Treble - 8 (P)
Bass - 2.5 (P)
Middle - 5 (Pull for R2 channel)
Master Volume - varied depending on the setting... I usually ran it between 1-3. (P) Lead Drive (9) (Pull for Lead Channel)
Lead Volume (P)
Presence - 0
(GEQ was like a downward staircase with the low mids cut back).
Once you get past the hurdle of dialing it in... you'll find that there are a bunch of great sounding tones available to use. I was using it primarily with a Basson Sound cabinet and various superstrat guitars (Parker Fly, EBMM JP6). I'll base my review of the sounds off of the settings that I posted above, as those were my main settings for about 4-6 months.
Clean: Very rich and smooth with Volume 1 low. It reminded me quite a bit of a classic Fender amp, but with a bit more punch in the bass and low midrange. It was great for many styles (I used it in jazz, blues, and hard rock applications without problems) and reacted equally well to comping chords as well as lead lines. This channel was also very kind to boost pedals... I often found myself running something like one of my handwired W.A.R boosts or one of my Zoom analog dirtboxes in front of the clean channel for a controlled sort of bluesy breakup. This worked especially well with a Strat or Tele type guitar.
Crunch: I can't really comment much on this channel because it really didn't work as well the way I had the amp set up. When I would put Volume 1 at 9 or 10, the Crunch channel would react kind of like a classic British voiced head (IE: Marshall). Something very spongy and great for that vintage vibe. Again, this channel was cool to boost... I often found myself throwing a gain box in front of it just to give it that classic eighties feel ALA Whitesnake or Ratt.
Lead: This channel is what sold me on the amp... and ultimately what led me to buy two more Mesa Mark series amps to replace it after I sold it. It's EXTREMELY suited to what I do. It's very smooth and articulate, which makes it perfect for fast passages that require a very crisp tone. I always found myself getting great sustain and feedback and a great singing tone at most volume levels (home, rehearsal, and band/gig levels). It's a very singing sounding channel that doesn't get harsh as you add gain or treble and it really made my playing improve a whole lot after about a year of using the amp.
Overall I feel like this Mesa set the standard for what I like in an amp. I did many months of research on HC forums before pulling the trigger. Every time I'd buy another amp, I'd try to compare it to the Mark III... and it never worked. In the end, I just bought a Mesa Mark Five... so I've remedied myself somewhat!
They can be hard to dial in at first (It took me about six months to get it to a point that I was truly content) but then once I found that... I just couldn't go back. I've had many different amps (Splawn, Orange, Genz Benz, Peavey) and just find myself coming back to Mesa every time... truly stellar amps. The biggest issue I have is the channel balancing... so when I opted for another amp, I went for the Mesa Mark Five as opposed to another III because of the channel versatility.
They're extremely well priced compared to the IV or V... so it's a great value for the money as well. They definitely come highly recommended from me!