My Mesa Boogie 400+, all tube bass amp, had a rough go of it at a recent gig. I was playing at a very remote location high up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains – a location so remote that the band was shuttled in by helicopter. All electrical power was provided by a large diesel generator, which is shunted to a distribution box to provide 120 volts or 250 volts – depending on your need. To make a long and painful story a little shorter (but just as painful) my amplifier was somehow plugged into a 250 volt outlet – hence the visit to the Mesa Boogie Factory.
I would like to take a moment to acknowledge and thank all the staff and management that I met while visiting the Mesa Boogie factory. Everyone I met was genuinely friendly, knowledgeable, and more than willing to provide me with information and assistance. I did not have an appointment for a tour and was amazed at their willingness to have staff interrupt their busy schedules to provide me with access to their facilities and to let me play around with their newest all tube bass amps.
The Mesa Boogie factory is located in an unassuming business/industrial park in Petaluma, California. It is basically a very large warehouse that is divided into many working spaces, some of which are office sized and many very large spaces devoted to manufacturing amplifiers and speaker cabinets. While the production of Mesa Boogie products is in an ordinary looking building, the processes used are anything but ordinary in this day and age. All Mesa Boogie products are completely made in the USA and all amps are hand wired. While I was on the tour, we ran into Randall Smith, the founder and CEO of Mesa Boogie. Mr. Smith came across as a warm, engaging individual who is completely immersed in ensuring that Mesa Boogie maintains the highest standards and values – with the end product of high quality tone being the paramount target.
The first stop on the tour was “The Pit” – a small room that contains all the prototype amplifier designs of founder Randall Smith.
This little room is basically an active museum for all things Mesa Boogie. The shelves are stacked full of early versions of Mesa Boogie Amplifier prototypes. This room is a little dusty and reeks of Mojo – very cool!
Walking into the factory proper, the first large piece of machinery is the Auto Assembly Machine. All of the smaller electronic components are inserted by this machine into a printed circuit board, where they are also soldered into place.
Live technicians take to circuit boards from this point forward and quality check them visually for any defects that may need attention and then the boards are hand wired and the larger components are added.
Each board then receives more quality control tests with the components fired up and various electronic tests are run. Each chassis is struck several times with a hammer handle to make sure it can handle some abuse and that everything is tight and working as it should.
The amp then gets a first sound check to make sure it’s sounding as it should.
The amps are then are put through the “Burn-in” where they are left on for a minimum of 24 hours and then cycled on and off a few times to make sure they can take some abuse.
After the amp successfully completes the Burn-in, it is taken behind another set of sound muffled doors and then subjected to a final play test by another lucky Mesa Boogie employee.
After all this, the folks at Mesa Boogie have even developed there own special packing molds to safeguard the amps on their shipping journey to a store near you.
Mesa Boogie also has an impressive carpentry shop in the same facility where all of their speaker cabinets are produced. As with everything else here, they tend to blend hi-tech processes followed up with a hands-on approach to the finish work. In this case, Mesa Boogie takes Baltic Birch plywood and makes all their initial cuts, routes and joinery using computer controlled routers on mechanized benches.
They then hand sand and assemble the cabinets. The next stage is to paint and then follow up by wrapping the cabinet in a wide choice of coverings.
On request, Mesa Boogie also produces speaker cabinets from many other varieties of wood.
As a final treat of ice cream piled on top of a huge chocolate cake, tehy took me upstairs and let me play around with the Walkabout, the new all-tube line-up of the Bass Prodigy and the Bass Strategy amps! These new all tube amps really have some girth to give your bass playing some added authority when laying down the low end!
I didn’t want to leave, but the musician’s version of the Willy Wonka Chocolate factory had work to do… and I still had the drive home through some bay area traffic ahead of me!
Thanks again to all the folks at Mesa Boogie who let me peek behind the curtain and see the magic first hand.
For more information on Mesa Boogie products, go to mesaboogie.com