The Roadster really is the hidden gem in the MESA/Boogie range. It asks the question “what if a Recto could do pretty much anything?” and wraps the answer in miles of MESA’s soft leathery Tolex and tasteful piping. The headshell is, like all Rectos, surprisingly neat and compact. Meanwhile a gorgeously beveled and detailed half-sized black anodised treadplate sets off the look like a set of partially bared teeth.
The Roadster is essentially a slimmed-down Road King II (minus the two EL34s and their corresponding Progressive Linkage), so for players who want the ultimate in MESA flexibility but are perfectly happy with one type of power tube at any one time it has proven to be perfectly judged. It can of course accept a quartet of EL34s via the switchable bias on the rear panel. The Roadster is also the amp that started the Rectifier Reborn revolution with its improved clean channel, series effects loop and optimised preamp voicings. It could also be thought of as a four-channel Rectifier Reborn with a couple of extra modes; but it has devotees of its own for its slightly smoother dark chocolate voicing.
What is surprising about the Roadster is that it actually feels quite vintage overall. Ten of its twelve modes (if we include the SLO-derived Vintage modes) are inspired by at least 28 year-old circuits. Even with Channel Four dedicated to Modern (my current preference), the Roadster still gives us three very organic, classic-sounding channels. Even more surprisingly, the feel of Brit mode is immensely chewy and woody – which, combined with the luscious Lonestar-sourced Clean, Fat and Tweed modes, makes for an addictively musical “first half” of this amp. Even Vintage mode on the third and fourth channels seems to have taken on a slow-cooked beef low end; perfectly balanced between loose and tight. To continue the culinary analogy, the mids seem to have a little more “seasoning” than the earlier three-channel Rectos, and the highs feel a shade smoother yet more alive.
Don’t get the impression that the Roadster is anything other than a fire-breather though. The low end in Vintage and Modern modes is a shade or two less robust than the Triple Rectifier I tested recently but it still feels like slamming a vault door. The Recto “thonk” is still unparalleled in the amp world and detuned power chords have the instant torque of a large-capacity diesel engine. This is a sound that – once experienced – is impossible to forget. Meanwhile, sustained notes almost seem to fold over themselves with cascaded-gain liquidity, and high midrange penetrates like a searing blowtorch flame. The Recto has never professed to have the most precise or articulate gain structure or the most hi-def high end (that’s more the Mark Series’ bag) but when given a healthy dose of volume and an accurate, aggressive right hand attack it is nothing short of a weapon.
To any player familiar with the Lonestar, Mark V, or Reborn Rectifiers, the first channel will look very familiar. MESA/Boogie have simply hit upon one of the best and most flexible clean channel designs of all time and it loses nothing in its Roadster iteration, particularly with the Lonestar-spec spring reverb added via the rear panel knob. Tweed mode is especially addictive in the Roadster, perhaps due to the additional horsepower from the power stage. Its crushed-glass gain structure, eloquent midrange and comfortable yet supportive lows are the stuff of dreams; strap on a Strat or Tele and all kinds of roots, country and blues styles flow out unhindered. In the second channel, Tweed mode is replaced by Brit mode. This can essentially be thought of as the difference between a late ’50s Bassman and a late ’60s Marshall; gain is a little higher and focused in the high midrange and the overall footprint is a little squarer and more honest. This is another disgustingly addictive mode – the midrange is squishy but never splashy, and there is plenty of gain and sustain available via the Gain and Treble pots. I will stick my neck out and say that Brit mode beats the Bogner Ecstasy’s Plexi mode at its own game, and by a not inconsiderable margin.
As usual, the rear panel features a bevy of switches and modes that will be familiar to any Recto user. Usefully the Roadster can be preset to any power setting and rectification style per channel, which offers a real step up in functionality over the earlier three-channel Rectos. The series effects loop is also significantly simpler and better-designed than the earlier parallel designs. It’s easy to see why the redesigned Reborn Rectifiers followed hot on the Roadster’s heels.
After my brief sojourn with the incredible three-channel Triple Rectifier, I was on the lookout for my “keeper” Recto. The Roadster has a leather bound grown-up look to go with its fully adult clean and mid-gain modes. Somehow the whole package exudes a boutiquey kind of “right-ness” that transcends the expected Rectifier idiom and puts the Roadster into contention with some very special amps like the Diezel VH4 and KSR Colossus. Yet it never loses its Recto roots; huge, snarling, obnoxious and at times almost uncontrollable – this is the perfect vintage/modern repackaging of the now indispensable larger-than-life Recto character for those who simply want a little “more”.