"Everybody's gone surfin' – surfin' M-E-S-A"- The Beach Boys
Let's set back the clock to the early 1960s in sunny San Francisco Bay Area, California. The tones of this newfangled rock n' roll music are all the rage among musicians thanks in part to the work of Leo Fender and his tweed amplifiers. Amplification pioneer Randall Smith is on the scene, fascinated by the spotless cleans and charming clips of such amplifiers. Following his muse spurred by the distinctly Californian sound around him, Smith's ventures into boutique guitar amplification begin.
Fast forward to 2022 and wouldn't you know it, that same sound still captivates a generation of musicians. Lasting popularity such as this could really only be chalked up to a wacky conspiracy too big to crack or an electrified tone too timeless to let pass by. In this case, we're feeling the latter.
Mesa Boogie's California Tweed series of amplifiers, developed in homage to the original tweed sound, revels in a distinguished tone only authentically captured by an exclusive set of amps. The California sound is as big as ever, further illustrated by this newest Mesa Boogie creation, the California Tweed 2:20.
The modern demand for the Californian sound is no secret. Many amplifiers and pedals today aim to faithfully capture the essence of the sun-soaked tone, but few can truly rise to the top. Mesa Boogie's California Tweed series has already proven the brand's qualifications to ascend to the pantheon of wave-crashing, sun-soaking, "West Coast, Best Coast" giants, but can this giant swing on the small scale? Spoiler alert: Absolutely.
Mesa Boogie's California Tweed 2:20 1x12 Combo distills all the tweed-based essence of their California Tweed 4:40 into a single-channel, single-speaker package. The amp performs at one to twenty watts via a three-way rotary switch utilizing Mesa's patented Multi-Watt Power Amp. Three power levels, two operating classes, and three wiring options are all aboard this compact combo to strut the best of what Mesa Boogie has to offer their California residents, may they be actual citizens of the great Golden State or spiritually Californian in every way but zip code. Wherever you are, Mesa Boogie invites you to soak up the sun.
The Need for Tweed
The beauty in the California Tweed series comes from the authenticity Mesa Boogie provides in their sound and presentation. Carefully designed with stellar vanilla-colored style and appointments, the 2:20 sits as easily in a shutter-shaded sunroom as on a lighted stage. The 2:20 is already a treat to behold on first sight. If you're wondering if the 2:20 will complement your summertime drapes, its magic is already working.
Approaching the 2:20 as a tweed amplifier may be deceiving initially. "How can an amplifier this small capture all the tweed tones I know and love?", you may ask. Rest assured, the 2:20 not only delivers on tone, but volume, form, nuance, and heaps more. It's tweed as you've always known.
Plugging into the 2:20 first provides you the options of two inputs, one Normal, one Low. In either jack, the 2:20 comes alive quickly with the flexibility and brightness you've come to know from Mesa and the California Tweed series. Starting at square one, the 2:20's Normal input at one-watt power introduces you to the sunny tones at hand on lower volume, power, and gain settings. The cleans the 2:20 dishes out are smooth and creamy with plenty of give and flexibility. Acting as a sonic springboard for your guitar directly in, you can instantly feel the 2:20 tonally give back as you give it some picks, strums, and the occasional snappy pluck. If you're imagining starting out with some sparkly Strat single-coils at first go, I like the way you think!
The 2:20 is an excellent canvas to lay down chords or dash some lead licks onto. It is exceptionally responsive as you feel your playing translate from your fingers to the amp. From this clean route, you may feel inclined to detour off into the Low input and see what's to offer over there. Landing at a space of distinctly lower output, the 2:20 accesses a softer side that can be used to more easily fit into that shutter-shaded sunroom we mentioned earlier. What's great about the Low input, which can also be said about the one-watt power setting, is that it still has the room-filling capabilities of its higher-output amplifier siblings. Volume can be rolled in and out responsively at any setting, but the smaller physical size of the amp does not limit its output.
A Californian sound is not just limited to smooth sweetness, there are always some waves in that wake! Past the Low input and one-watt setting, the 2:20 comes alive with some formidable bark at ten and twenty watts. Exploring that room-filling sound possible at lower dial settings, the 2:20 expands with responsive tone shaping tools, chiefly the Master and Gain dials. The 2:20 rocks between forceful, full, biting, and broken-up when mixed with these controls. This is where your deep picking and slapping strums will come in key.
The 2:20 keeps the tones at higher output settings responsive and controllable in relation to your picking and strumming habits. Easy to reel in with a capacity to go simply wild with bursts of tweed heat, the 2:20 gives back in logical ways, essentially how you would expect a reliable tube amp to do. The one-on-one experience you can get with the 2:20 and a guitar alone feels close while you roll through different gain and volume combinations. Even at lower volumes, the 2:20 creates that tangible feeling of playing the speaker in its cabinet. It can be rare to get that full feeling of an amplified experience from a combo this compact, but that's what we're here for – Mesa Boogie tonality at its finest.
All this talk of the 2:20 and we haven't even brought up the effect that brightens the room. A vintage all-tube spring reverb lands on this amp for extra dashes of California sun. The reverb can go from light and splashy to washed and cavernous, adding that extra flourish to each note. This spring reverb matches the full output of the 2:20 at any level for any player to dash or drench their signal in. Fully responsive to the 2:20's overall character as an amplifier, the California sound simply wouldn't exist without it.
Mesa Boogie California Tweed 2:20 1x12 Combo Final Thoughts
Mesa Boogie's claim to Californian fame has been skillfully realized with the California Tweed series and the chops the brand display become all the more impressive in this compact combo. Two 6V6 power tubes propel this tweed machine forward with true vintage style enough to make any surf rocker turn their head. Whether blazing along with the patented sunny and surfy tones from within or paired with effect pedals, the 2:20 performs on every level. Plenty of tonal heavy lifting comes from this California Tweed entry alone to make for an outstanding amp anyone can be proud of. With layers of tweed heat thick enough to cause a ruckus and sparkling cleans nice enough to meet your parents, the 2:20 makes itself at home.
It might be the heat of this summer afternoon that makes the 2:20 all the more infatuating, but we'll roll with it anyway. Hook up this Mesa Boogie creation and drift to a new coast.