December 2002

Mesa Walkabout Bass Amplifier

Portability weighs heavily on the minds of gigging bassists, ergo the enduring popularity of solid-state electronics in diminutive packages by such well-regarded makers as Walter Woods, Gallien-Krueger and Acoustic Image. The perceived tradeoff between tone and tonnage is where the scales have been tipped against vacuum-tube technology.

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Mesa Boogie Walkabout Bass Amplifier

But it seems you actually can teach old dogs new tricks, because the tube amp innovator who brought us the Mesa Boogie has made an entrance into the hernia-free zone with a bass amp more than equal to the demands of any jazz gig. The Mesa Walkabout is a hybrid design, weighing only 13 pounds, that delivers a focused, nuanced sound with tonal accuracy, timbral flexibility and dynamic aplomb to spare.

This portable, affordable two-rack- space head ($799) employs a distillation of the Simul-State technology Mesa first introduced in 1995 with its Basis M-2000—delivering 150 watts into 8 ohms and 300 watts into a 4-ohm load. Eight tube-driven MOSFET output devices provide the guts, while a pair of 12AX7 triodes deliver the glory, controlling a four-stage vacuum-tube preamplifier that features gain/master, active bass/treble and passive midrange controls—with a three-band/semi-parametric EQ that provides enormous tonal flexibility (15db of cut or boost from 30Hz to 12k Hz). To put the Walkabout through its paces I employed my Japanese copy of a classic Fender Six, a ’78 Fender P-Bass and an Epiphone Jack Casady hollow body—presenting an 8-ohm load to the Walkabout with a Raezer’s Edge Stealth 12 amp and a combined impedance of 4 ohms in a full-range loudspeaker rig featuring 2 by 10-inch and 1 by 15-inch configurations of Mesa’s PowerHouse bass cabinets.

The Walkabout’s EQ proved surprisingly effective at filling out the Fender Six’s gummy bottom with the Stealth 12, giving it a palpable low-end presence and a more balanced attack. Likewise, with either the P-Bass or the Casady and the PowerHouse combo, using the Walkabout’s EQ was simple and intuitive—I was able to dial out low-E tubbiness and conjure up an exquisitely round, sculpted sound, with exceptional speed, dynamic headroom and percussive impact. The Walkabout not only offered all the punch, transient snap, pitch accuracy and frequency extension of the best solid-state amps, but also the kind of warm, sweet tonality, textured midrange presence and harmonic complexity that only tubes can provide. Readers shouldn’t infer, however, that the Walkabout is incapable of delivering massive doses of bass and treble. Rather, it’s precisely this ease and grace in defining a clear, natural acoustic with excellent projection and character that should draw jazz bassists to audition the Mesa Walkabout.

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