Maury's Music is known for Martin & Blueridge acoustics (and for good reason) but Maury plays electric guitar too. On any given night, more than half the time he's onstage he's playing his Fender Strat or a Reverend guitar - and although his guitar of choice might sometimes change, his amp is always Mesa/Boogie. We honestly feel that Boogies are the Martin Guitars of tube amps. Maury's favorite series is the Lone Star series of handmade amplifiers from Petaluma, California.
The Lone Star Series
Mesa/Boogie guitar amps can generally be divided into 4 series. The Mark series, The Lone Star series, The Express Series and the Rectifiers. While they all posess that overal Mesa tone and feel, each series has a characteristic that separates it from the others, especially when it comes to overdrive and gainier tones. Mesa/Boogies have a tone all their own, but to my ears the Lone Stars certainly pay homage to those famous "Fender cleans". And that's a good thing.
What IS the Lone Star Series sound?
Long story short? The Lone Stars are the Fenders of the Mesa/Boogie family. There are two variants to choose from. The 100 watt Lone Star (nicknamed Lone Star Classic, or LSC) has 6L6s in the power section and can be dialed down to 50 or 10 watts. The Lone Star Special is powered by EL84s and is switchable between 5, 15 and 30 watts. Both of these amps get you that big, fat American clean tone, reminiscent of the Fender Twins & Tweeds... it's all here in the clean channel of the Lone Star. I've been playing a Lone Star for almost 10 years now, and the best way I can describe it is this: Channel 1 is like a Fender Twin, but slightly more compressed with sweeter trebles. Fender cleans can be a little brittle or abrasive at times, and the midrange is a bit scooped. On the Lonestar, there are no "ice pick" highs, and the mids are more pronounced - giving you fat, fundamental punch, especially nice for single-note lead work. As much as Channel 1 is like a Fender, that's how much Channel 2 is not. Well, unless you want it to be. Channel 2 can be dialed in 2 ways. Drive ON or OFF. Drive OFF is a slightly hairy clone of channel 1. Think Stevie Ray Vaughn, Black Crowes, Keith Richards. Clarity & definition, with sustain & bite, and perfect for roots & blues. Drive ON engages an extra 12AX7 in the preamp and increases the gain. Turning the Drive ON immediately takes you into MARK 1 territory. Smooth, violin sustain, rich harmonics and the feel is much more Larry Carlton, Eric Johnson & Carlos Santana. Channel 2 is the reason I chose the Lone Star as my personal amp all those years ago. I can get Mark Knopfler cleans, SRV blues, snappy funk and high gain smoothness. The Fenders only get you halfway there (without pedals).
The Lone Star Special is a very cool varation on the theme. It's EL84 power section clips sooner, and cops even more of a bluesy vibe. Overdriving the power tubes acheives a much more robust tone when compared with getting all your gain from the preamp tubes. The Lone Star Special (LSS) gets you there at lower volumes, and I can't think of a better amp for classic rock or blues. It just has such a great "clean with attitude" tone for days. You lose the uber headroom of the LSC, but it's still got more than enough for small-to-medium stage situations where you'll be micing it through the PA.
Where have I heard this before?
You're an individual, and probably searching for your own signature sound, and that's the right idea. But somewhere along the way, someone else's tone & playing has no doubt inspired you. If you're wondering if you're already a fan of the Mesa/Boogie Lone Star - maybe you are. Some classic artists who employ one version or another of the Lone Star tone are listed here, and the wide variety shouldn't come as a surprise. Mesas are very versatile amplifiers.
Dominic Miller (Sting)
Yohei Nakamura (Stevie Wonder)
Vernon Reid (Living Colour)
Kirk Douglas (The Roots / Jimmy Fallon)
Peter Mayer (Jimmy Buffet)
Kurt Allison (Jason Aldean)
Which Lone Star is right for me?
Way back when I purchased my 100-watt Lone Star, the Lone Star Special wasn't yet introduced - so I didn't have to wrestle with this decision. It really comes down to clean headroom. If you're in love with (or in need of) big cleans that don't break up - that Fender Twin "shimmer" that stays clean at all volumes - the 100 watt Lonestar is the one. I speak from experience. I can get Dire Straits lead tones from my LSC at any volume, over any drummer - and the amp never breaks a sweat. In the same situations, I can engage channel 2 and acheive early breakup OR high headroom. Having 100 watts of clean gain at your disposal is just something you'll never get from EL-84s. On the flip-side ... if you don't want those traits in your next amplifier and/or you want the power section to handle the heavy lifting - the LSS is a monster of an amp. There's just something about EL84s. Ask yourself if you need uncolored output power. If you do, you need the 100-watt Lonestar. If you don't, either one will sound great at lower volumes and it just comes down to your preference of EL-84s vs 6L6s.
But that's just my opinion. What do YOU think of the Lonestar and Lonestar Special? Post your comments below.