I picked this amp up cheaply when buying a 4×12″ MESA cabinet. At the time I didn’t know what to expect; all I knew of the Rectifier series was the way they sounded on some of the Incubus, Dream Theater and Foo Fighters albums (a good thing) and swathes of late ’90s/early 2000s Nu-Metal (not such a universally good thing). I also knew that the high gain circuit was based on the SLO – which in turn, owes a lot to the early Boogies – so, wondering why I’d overlooked the amp for so long, I brought it home.
This was actually the first time I’d been up-close and personal with one of these, and what struck me straight away was the quality. The Rectifiers have appeared on countless MTV videos by Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park and the like, which has lent them an almost cartoonish appearance that doesn’t do them justice. They do in fact look like the front of a truck – which is helpful, because they sound like being hit by one – but on closer inspection there’s a deeply ingrained solidity and accuracy to all the controls that makes tweaking and maintaining the amp a really appealing affair. The mini-switches on the front panel are neatly laid out, all the jacks and pots feel like they were built to outlast the human race, and the chassis has a pleasingly industrial feel about it. MESA’s tolex is also thick and resilient, feeling more like leather than anything.
When I first switched the amp on, what immediately hit me was the sheer size of the tone. I can only compare it to a V8 diesel engine; it growls with a physical force that is to this day unparalleled in the amp world. It is perhaps a diesel-powered touring car to Soldano’s Formula One racer. The low end is massive, but it’s more than that; even in VINTAGE mode with the lows rolled off, it’s the three-dimensionality and torque of the amp that still translates. Even the lower-powered Rectifiers have this attribute, but of course the whole point of the Triple is to provide more clarity and punch at higher volumes – essentially taking power amp distortion and compression somewhat out of the picture in ordinary stage and studio scenarios. This makes it perfect for detuned metal players, complex prog riffing, and – conversely – sparkling high volume clean tones. In order for this formula to work, you need an incredibly good-sounding preamp – not too loose, not too tight, harmonically rich and bursting with all the gain a player would ever need.
Starting with MODERN mode in Channel 3 is the most natural approach – you’ll want to know what this amp is capable of in extremes. It essentially offers one of the staple modern metal sounds; straight out of the box and with the dials pointed around noon or just above. Notoriously, it isn’t as tight or as controlled in the low end as Peavey’s 5150 or, say, a Diezel. This amp is about sheer force, and yet delivers it with a deceptively high level of musicality and dynamics. It rewards aggressive picking with a chainsaw-like gain structure and rich, bubbly sustain, yet can sound extremely average if your picking hand or pickups are not up to the job. Despite all the gain, this is not an amp that plays itself – it requires a firm hand to get things tight enough for complex palm muted passages, and excellent technique if leads are to sound fluid. It also responds well to loud, aggressive guitars with plenty of highs and mids. This is where the addition of the famous Tube Screamer comes in; it bridges the gap and makes the Rectifier more playable and controlled more of the time. I’d definitely be using one in front for modern metal riffing.
The flip-side of this arrangement is that – like the Soldanos – the Rectifier retains a lot of dynamic information at high gain. Even at the most extreme settings, it cleans up surprisingly well and allows the character of your guitar and pickups to shine through to a degree that’s quite startling. The Rectifier in many ways something of a blank canvas; compared to the EVH 5150 III I have here for comparison it can sound relatively uncoloured and very unforced in the midrange. It is notorious for being relatively dark and saggy but I actually find it quite clear through the matching MESA 4×12″ cab. It does lack pick attack in certain scenarios but in my opinion that’s the price of its musicality. Its slower attack is again reminiscent of Soldanos I’ve owned – a chainsaw operated by a velvet-gloved hand if you will.
Switching back to Vintage mode on the highest gain channel reduces the lows and high mids a little, and increases the filtering at the power stage for a sound that’s less forceful, but still very aggressive in many ways. It’s a lot quieter, quite a bit mid-rangier; and will need recalibrating accordingly. This mode shows the Rectifier’s SLO roots very clearly – it really is only one or two components removed from an SLO Overdrive preamp and the main factors that make it sound darker are in fact the extra switching and the fuller/warmer sounding power amp. Certainly with PRESENCE in its higher region VINTAGE mode can be set to fool all but the most diehard Soldano fans – the key here is working the EQs outside of their expected range by increasing PRESENCE and perhaps backing off TREBLE to compensate for any harshness (or vice versa). Lows can also be reduced slightly as the Rectifiers are never in danger of sounding thin! The controls – particularly TREBLE and PRESENCE – are extremely interactive and almost hyper-sensitive in their upper regions, which means that all the clarity and harmonic information can be judiciously balanced against harshness and grittiness by an experienced hand.
This brings home the recurring theme that the Rectifiers do have a learning curve. Out of the box and with minimal EQ work, they actually sound fairly generic and they don’t immediately shout “hey, I’m the best amp you’ve ever played!”. They really reward tweaking, and playing the amp for days and weeks will allow you to tailor the attack of your right hand to bring the best resolution out of the circuit both dynamically and harmonically. It seems a contradiction that such a huge and even offensive sounding amp could reward such a subtle approach, but therein lies the Rectifiers’ strength and their weakness: their huge sound has almost universal appeal and is available from the first turn of the key – yet only an experienced set of hands and ears will be able to extract the full range of dynamics and tonal richness of which this amp is capable. Fortunately, MESA’s manual is absolutely wonderful and comes with pages and pages of idiot-proofing built in.
The newest three-channel Rectifiers don’t have the subtly different second channel; their two distortion channels are cloned so you can find two sounds you like and dedicate a channel to each. For this reason, I won’t dwell too long on the second channel of my pre-2009 version as it’s no longer available. Suffice it to say it offers a slightly darker and lower gain version of everything I’ve just described. In RAW or VINTAGE mode I could set it to sound surprisingly woody and Marshally and again it really rewards a firm hand and dynamic playing. Gritty high mids are on tap and the amp responds to being driven hard in this mode. RAW mode is a bit of an oddity in that it’s quite a bit darker than the others, but once you’ve taken the time to restructure your EQs, it yields an excellent mid-gain sound with a good balance of harmonic colour and square straightforwardness that is really at home with ’70s rock. This mode also appears on the newer post-2009 Rectifiers as well as the incredible Roadster and Road King heads.
I personally can see a strong argument for both the cloned and un-cloned versions of the second channel and I’m sure that by turning a few dials the newer Rectifiers could approximate all the same sounds. The “reborn” Rectifiers do appear to offer a bit more presence and openness at more traditional EQ settings, which ought to appeal to more players. The newer Rectifiers also contain a “hard” serial effects loop which dispenses with this amp’s finicky parallel design – more fashionable in the ’90s and early 2000s.
This leaves us with the CLEAN channel, which is particular to the 2001-2009 three channel Rectifiers (if you want to read about the newer clean channel, it’s very similar to the one on the Mark V, which is reviewed here). The channel offers two modes – CLEAN and PUSHED – which are basically Fender-like in their sound and architecture, utilising a pre-gain tone stack which increases touch sensitivity and sparkle at cleaner settings and allows the user to dictate the harmonic content of the breakup in PUSHED mode. It’s fair to say that MESA/Boogie offer better clean channels than this now on the Mark V, Lonestar, and the entirety of the revised Rectifier range. Still, this is a usefully voiced channel that exceeds the performance of that on most high-gain channel switchers by a significant margin. For me, it is on par with the clean channels in the EVH 5150 III or the Marshall JVM; a straightforward and clear sound that’s very much a platform for effects and/or distortion pedals. It lacks the lively spank and finesse of the newer MESA designs but still offers excellent performance. As an added bonus, the high-wattage power stage of the Triple Rectifier means that this channel stays clean and sparkly at higher volumes than the Single or Dual Rectifiers; the Triple was the pick of the bunch for clean sounds until the revisions came along and it still has devotees of its own.
PUSHED mode again tends to suffer compared to the newer amps, particularly the incredible TWEED mode from the Mark V, but it actually has a pleasing breakup characteristic that reminds me of a Marshall JTM45 or Bluesbreaker. It’s an honest sound with a good degree of jangle and a musical, natural breakup. I’d be most at home using it for blues leads or indie-rock but again it’s something of a blank canvas that would be at home in many low to medium-gain styles. With lots of GAIN and TREBLE applied it provides an AC/DC kind of response that crackles and crunches appealingly. This sound responds particularly well to the big MESA’s signature tube rectification, which adds just a haze of subtle compression and softens the response almost imperceptibly. The tube rectification is switchable only globally on these older models, but it does add a pleasing musicality to the other channels as well – you might enjoy the extra smoothness on leads or the hint of chime on medium gain sounds. The amp can also be switched between BOLD and SPONGY modes on the back panel (essentially a built-in Variac to lower the voltage in the power stage). For my style I found the Triple Rectifier was saggy enough already and I do prefer it diode-rectified and in BOLD mode most of the time; but these options do make a difference and offer a lot of flexibility for different types of player. I’m sure I would use them in the studio if nowhere else.
What has really struck me about the Rectifier is its versatility and musicality. It’s a shame this amp became pigeonholed as the sound of Creed and Nickelback – its huge success in the Nu-Metal genre and unsubtle signature appearance has tended to limit its appeal somewhat in the “boutique” or “craft” obsessed 2010s. To overlook the Rectifier series on the hunt for a channel switching amp would be folly; it is now available with a range of delectable custom finishes and really does offer one of the most flexible interfaces on the market. For me it compares favourably with every boutique channel switcher I’ve owned and it has definitely earned its place in my home studio. What keeps me coming back for more is the bouncy “rubber mallet” low end and the gain structure that provides a perfect balance between fluidity and grit. This amp is the ultimate “grower” and (it seems ridiculous to say it) hugely underrated these days. Every time I play it and record it I find new depths to its musicality and charm, which has made it possibly the most addictive amp I’ve ever owned. It’s actually getting more studio play-time than my Mark V, which possibly says it all…