J.P.'s Gear Review v2.0 - Ep. 11 - Mesa Engineering M6 Carbine bass amp head and Ampeg PN-115HLF speaker cabinet


It seems that every year, around the end of July, I end up making a ridiculous purchase. This year is no exception. It all started by trying out a used bass cab at Long & McQuade on an all-tube amp head, which left me with more questions than answers. That little experience sent me on a quest to find the ideal amp and cab combo for my use-case: playing in front of a large audience (the cat) in a gigantic venue (my office).

For the inquiring minds, the manatee on top of the stack is named Manny the Manatee and no, the delay was not part of the deal (I already owned it). 

The requirements

There are few requirements the setup must fulfill:
  • Not take that much real-estate
  • Be more powerful than my practice amp
  • Have lots of headroom
  • Be easy to tone-shape
  • Have a tube preamp
  • Must be able to get vintage and modern sounds
  • Nice-to-have:
    • Have an effects loop
    • Have a post-preamp DI out
Finding the cab was the easiest part. The amp required a lot more effort to figure out.

The speaker cabinet

Due to a space constraint, I'm pretty much limited to either 2x10" or 1x15". The maximum size each side can be is about 25 inches.

I tried some Traynor cabs in-store a few times, and although they sounded good, they were very neutral. Even playing around with the amp's EQ, the difference was not as marked as I'd wished it to be. I tried some GK cabs as well, but these were way out of my price range. They sounded absolutely awesome, though.

In early July, I saw a nice used Ampeg PN-115HLF cabinet on the sales floor from Gear Hunter, Long & McQuade's used gear program. The price was reasonable, even though it clearly had a rough life. I asked to try it out, and got it hooked to a Traynor YBA-100 all-tube head. After playing on it for about 30 to 45 minutes, I was in love with that cab. The head was not too bad as well, but not quite what I wanted even though it ticked all the boxes.

The cabinet in all its glory!

Since I was not 100% sure what to do, I decided to sleep on it for a few days and look at other options. I did end up buying that very cab I tried, in the end.


The Ampeg Pro Neo series is available in multiple configurations and size. This one is a lightweight, 1x15" speaker cab, sporting a special design Eminence speaker and a high frequency horn with an Eminence APT-50 tweeter. It measures 23.5 x 22.8 x 17.5 inches (59.7 x 57.8 x 44.5 cm) for a total weight of 59lbs (26.8kg). After lifting it up a flight of stairs, it is definitely lighter than the advertised weight, but it is a bit unwieldy due to its size.

It can output a maximum of 125db SPL, with a sensitivity of 98db SPL. The frequency response is 48Hz to 10kHz with the lowest usable frequency being 28Hz. It was able to play a C0 on my 5-string bass, which is about 16Hz. It is rated for a maximum of 575W RMS at 8Ω.

In terms of controls and connectivity, it has a high frequency horn level control/attenuator knob in the back, two ¼" jacks, and two 4-poles SpeakON jacks. Each jack can be used as either an input or a through connection for daisy-chaining.

The cabinet is front-ported with two large ports taking the entire width of the cab at the bottom, providing a nice breeze for your feet when you play. The cat also seems to enjoy it.

His whiskers be flappin' in the breeze!

Brand new, it retails for about 1500$CAD. Used prices vary from 700$CAD to 1000$CAD. This particular unit was on sale for 799$CAD. The exterior is a bit rough, but all the important bits are in perfect working order.

First impression

Just based on the small amounts of play-testing I did in-store, this thing has character. Lots of it. It's an Ampeg cab, and you can't go wrong with anything Ampeg (except maybe the Portaflex PF50T; more on that later). They've been one of the biggest players in bass amplification since the early 1950's, and you've definitely heard a song or 50 where their gear was used.

It's plug-and-play (literally), and super easy to set up. The lows are very low and the highs are bright and clear. It just sounds great all-around. The front ports are really nice and adds an extra dimension to the sound.

Second impression

Now that I've played with it every day for a few weeks, I can say that it is indeed an awesome cabinet. It has a lot of character and is extremely versatile. Of course, anything tone-shaping is done through the amp, but this cabinet gives an extra oomph to anything you play through it. There's really not much else to say, other than Ampeg nailed it for 15 inches cabs with the Pro Neo series.

The front ports makes a huge difference compared to standard cabs that are back ported or not ported at all. At high volume, it adds to the wall of sound that hits you when you play. The horn give it a clarity and brightness you don't get otherwise, although nowadays almost all decent bass cabs and combos have a horn. Since its frequency response chart reaches up to 10kHz, it would also probably work great for guitar. I'll need to try that...

Now, I bought it used so of course it has some dings and scratches. However, the cab is not covered in Tolex: it is painted. A paint that chips easily. There are a corner or two that have been banged up pretty bad where paint is missing. Nothing major, but it's not as simple to address as re-gluing some lifted Tolex...

The paint is very thin, and chips where it was banged up.

The amplifier head

I always dreamed of owning a Mesa/Boogie amp. Back in the late 1990's-early 2000's, my Holy Grail was a Dual Rectifier. One day I'll manage to find one that is not overpriced...

When searching for bass amps on Gear Hunter, I found a few Mesa heads that were in my price range. Now's my chance to finally get some Mesa gear! There were two Subway D-800 and two M6 Carbine Rackmount heads. Since none of them were in stock at my local store, I had to do due diligence and dig up as much reviews and demos I could find on both these amps in order to make an informed decision before ordering one.

Option 1: Mesa Subway D-800

The Subway D-800 is a small form factor head rated for 800W@4Ω or 400W@8Ω. It's 3 1/8 x 10 5/8 x 11 ¼ inches (8 x 27 x 28.5 cm) and weight about 5½lbs (2.5kg). It's great for the on-the-go bassist that doesn't want to lug around a heavy setup. It has a ¼" instrument input, a ¼" headphones output, a ¼" AUX input, an XLR DI output, two SpeakON speaker outputs, but no effects loop. The front panel has a voicing control that goes from Flat to Boost, a 4-band EQ, an active/passive toggle, a mute toggle, and a Deep toggle.

The main issue I have with this head is that 400W is loud for an apartment, and with no effects loop you can't use a post-EQ volume control to bring it down to bedroom-level. It sounds great, but it's perhaps a bit too powerful for my scenario...  I can't really say more about it since I did not get to try it, but the reviews and demos sounded great.

Option 2 (the winning one): Mesa M6 Carbine

The amp I ended up buying, the M6 Carbine, is a rackmount head rated for 600W@4Ω or 320W@8Ω. It measures 3½ x 19 x 13 3/8 (8.9 x 48.25 x 34 cm) and weighs a metric ton 25lbs (11.3kg). It has a ¼" instrument input, a ¼" effects loop, a ¼" tuner out, a ¼" mute jack, four ¼" voicing toggle jacks, an XLR DI output, and two combination 4-poles SpeakON and ¼" speaker output jacks. The preamp is tube-driven with a single 12AX7 tube.

Manny The Manatee made a new friend: Mini Manny. Also pictured are the MXR M-175 rackmount delay, and the JHS Little Black Amp Box volume control.

The front panel has an active/passive toggle, a Gain control, a push-pull Bass control that acts as a Deep switch when pulled, a Mid control, a Treble control, a rotary selector to choose between the five different voicings, a push-pull DI level control that sets the DI as pre-EQ when pulled, and a push-pull Master volume that mutes when pulled. The pilot light is a nice purple color, which might be the best selling point on that amp.

The amp has 5 different voicing options (descriptions were lifted directly from the manual):
  1. Fairly extreme Mid cut centered at 540Hz. Excellent for dramatic thumbing/slapping styles or smooth chording.
  2. Gentle scooping of Midrange also centered at 540Hz. Great for R & B and anytime you want to tastefully widen a sound.
  3. Voice feature bypassed (Flat with Tone controls set at 12:00)
  4. Midrange boost centered at 370Hz. Good choice for articulate finger style playing. Tracks your playing with articulation and enhanced definition.
  5. Low Mid boost centered at 170Hz. Great for enhancing low mids. Works well for classic Blues or Reggae finger style work.
I tried every voicing option, and they all sound great. Since each voicing has a different Midrange center-point, the tone stack behaves differently in each one. What's interesting is that you can set the rotary on one voicing option, and connect a footswitch to one of the other option jacks and enable both at the same time. I don't have the correct type of footswitch for that, but I'll make one eventually. That's a really cool feature, and it's even documented in the manual! 

The pull-Deep on the Bass knob is extremely fun. It gives a significant boost to the lows, and it adds to the punch of the amp, particularly at low volume. It smaller rooms, it makes the walls shake without having to bump the volume too high.

The DI output is a very nice thing to have, as it will make recording audio demos a lot easier. Recordings will obviously not have the oomph from the cab, but it removes the microphone from the equation. I did a quick recording test, and finding the correct level for the DI will need some work. It sounds great, though.

The effects loop is working as you would expect an loop to work. The documentation says it is engineered for high-quality rackmount effect units, but it works fine with standard pedals too. Being a series effects loop, you can put a volume control right before the return to tame the output level of the amp to a neighbour-friendly level.

Now, this amp is loud. Even at 320W (as the cab it is paired with is 8Ω), it is absolutely not made to be played in a tiny office/bedroom. However, with a volume control placed in the effects loop right before the return, you can manage a volume level that will not get the police to show up at your door, or annoy your neighbours four houses down the road. It still requires a very delicate Gain and Master volume control, but it is achievable. I did ask my downstairs neighbours if they hear anything when I play, and to my surprise they don't! The walls and windows apparently don't shake too much either.

Like the speaker cabinet, I've been playing with this amp everyday for a few weeks now, and it sounds awesome. I'm amazed at how versatile it is and how relatively simple it is to dial almost any tone you need. I was able to get a good Steve Harris tone out of it, and get close enough to the tone of almost every other artists on my playlist.

It is a clean amp by design, but you can get some good overdriven tones out of it when the input is boosted enough. My compressor and EQ pedals can add some gain, and I have a few boosts I can use to achieve a nice grind, but then volume control goes out the window... Since there's only one preamp tube (so, only two gain stages), it's not going to overdrive as easily as any other amp with two preamp tubes. The dirt you'll get will be harsher than, say, an Ampeg SVT "Blue Line" or one of the all-tube Traynor amp heads. It sound closer to actual distortion, and can get bit muddy.

I bought the amp sight unseen, based solely on other reviews and demos. It does have some dings and scuffs after what I suspect is a lot of stage use, but so far I'm 100% satisfied and really happy to have made that purchase. I absolutely love it.

There are a few things that were not mentioned or shown on the listing pictures (nothing major, thankfully). Most of the ¼" jacks in the back have their nut corroded, and the same happened with the four hex screws at the front. They used non-standard jacks, which means that none of my spare parts fits, and I need to order replacements from Mesa directly. They still carry most replacement parts even though the M3, M6, and M9 heads have been discontinued in 2017. I did look around inside the amp to make sure there is no corrosion anywhere else and it's clean (beside an almost imperceptible layer of dust). The top cover looks like someone violently clawed at it. I think these marks were caused by simply getting it in and out of a tight rack, but the pictures were specifically curated to hide that... It doesn't change how it sounds, but I would have liked to know about these things. There will be another post later on about cleaning and restoring some of these cosmetic issues.

Hex screws heads are a bit rusty. All other screws and nuts that are recessed are fine.

Look at that rust on the ¼" jacks...

Top side has some scratches, but it's supposed to be hidden in a rack enclosure anyways.

Brand new, this amp head retailed for about 1900$CAD. It can be found used at around 1000$, which is  roughly what I paid for this one.

Honorable mentions

Ampeg Portaflex PF50T with Ampeg PF115HE cab

I tested this one at Archambault in Brossard at some point in May or June. It is all-tube, it sounds good, it has Ultra Hi/Ultra Lo boost, and similarly to the Mesa M6, five voicing options. It also has an XLR output that can be transformer or preamp balanced (i.e., placed right before or after the output transformer). It has no effects loop which is annoying, but at 50W, it's not really necessary.

However... I'm not sure if it was an issue with this particular unit, but it started to randomly shut off while playing. It would also shut off if you cranked the gain too high. Or set the volume too high. Or if you looked at it wrong. I also noticed that it was heating a lot. Way more than my Hot Rod DeVille, or the Bassbreaker I had for a few weeks last year.

At only 50W, it's not much more powerful than my practice amp. It does sound louder because the speaker cabinet is bigger and it's a tube amp, but it's not that much louder. This, combined with the random issues I had in the 15 minutes I tried it were enough to convince me it's not the amp I'm looking for. It has one redeeming factor in the form of a large purple pilot LED (that turns red when it randomly dies).

Traynor YBA-100, YBA-200, YBA-300, and Traynor cabs

These were available used for a good price at my local Long & McQuade, and I did try both the 100 and 200 variants in the last year with various Traynor cabs.

They are all-tube heads, weighs about as much as a small car, and produce enough heat to keep a small village warm in winter. They have all the bells and whistles a pro amp comes with (effect loop, DI output, active/passive switch, and all the tone controls you can think of) and they are manufactured in Canada! The overall quality is on-par with the other Big Players™, and even new they are quite affordable. They sounds great, and were vaguely inspired by the Ampeg SVT "Blue Line" amps from the 1970's. At least that's the vibe I get when the gain is cranked way up and it starts to overdrive.

They have externally accessible bias controls and test points for each pair of power tubes as well as LEDs telling you if the tubes are biased too low or too high. Their service manual is also freely available online, which is a rare thing to see these days.

The downsides:
  • the weight
  • the space they use
  • the heat they produce
  • the sheer amount of tubes they crammed in them
The smallest one, the YBA-100, uses seven tubes total (three preamp tubes and four power tubes; pretty normal for an amp that powerful). Replacing the 6L6GC power tubes alone is at least 320$CAD if you go for the good stuff (Tung-Sol 7581A). Now, if you opted for the YBA-300, you have 12 EL34 power tubes to replace, for a grand total of 960$CAD (again, if you go for the good stuff). Add on to that 120-160$CAD for preamp tubes as well as the taxes and shipping, and you're better off buying a new amp. (Editor's Note: tube prices vary a lot. At the time this article was written, good quality new production power tubes cost on average 80$ per tube, and vintage NOS tubes can go for as much as 400$ each. Pro-tip: don't buy the vintage NOS tubes unless you have a vintage amp.)

Ok, I'll give you that: you're not supposed to change the tubes that often, but they are consumables and you are expected to change them at some point during the lifetime of the amplifier. They are really good amplifiers, but the potential maintenance cost is something to think about. The YBA-300 has some smarts in it that can detect when a pair of tubes is wonky and remove them from the circuit, allowing you to keep playing albeit with a bit less power. You don't have to change all the power tubes at once either, but you'll want to have at the very least all your pairs matched.

Fender Rumble 800

You can't go wrong with a Fender amp, can you?

The Rumble 800 is a combo with a 2x10" configuration and a high frequency compression horn (with on/off switch) that produces 800W of power. It's loud, but it has a "low" output mode that reduces the power to a quarter (~200W) which is an awesome feature to have on a combo like this.

As you would expect for a "pro-ish" Fender amplifier, it has everything you need in terms of input, outputs, and tone control. There's three voicing options, an overdrive circuit on board, an XLR line out, and it's also incredibly light. The documentation states 29lbs (13.15kg), but after handling it I'm sure it's slightly less than advertised. It is about the size of the Ampeg cab I bought at 23.5 x 19 x 14 inches (60.2 x 48.3 x 35.5 cm), which makes it easy to carry around.

It sounds very good, but it's a typical Fender sound. If that's what you're after, the Rumble amps are the way to go to get that for cheap. To my ears, the range of what it can do is limited, and trying to tap into a modern sound was hit-or-miss when I tried it. I remember comparing its smaller brother (a Rumble 100) with an Ampeg BA210v2 back in 2019 and the overdrive was... almost non-existent on the Rumble. The Scrambler circuit from the Ampeg was much better. It's the same thing with the Rumble 800: the overdrive is very subtle. Better than on the Rumble 100, but still underwhelming.

Even though it has almost everything I need, it's a combo amp and changing the speaker or the head means I need to purchase both... It's a great amp that will most likely be too powerful for most amateur musicians, and at 1200$CAD it's one of the best combo you can get that will give you that many features and that much power.

Can you go wrong with a Fender amp? On a quality standpoint, no. On a versatility standpoint, it's debatable. I always found it difficult to dial in modern tones out of Fender amps. They have a rich legacy, and they really stick to it. It sounds great, but it unmistakably sounds like a Fender. Don't get me wrong: I love that sound, but I would like to be able get out of the mold once in a while.

Things to consider before buying used

Buying used is a great way of getting high-end gear in great condition for (relatively) cheap. However, it does have some drawbacks that needs to be considered.

Gear may not be cosmetically perfect

I mean, it's used gear. You have to expect that the piece of kit you buy will have been used and probably abused. If it still works, sounds great, and the price is right, why not? The gear looking pretty will not make it sound better. Some sellers/listings might purposefully hide some minor cosmetic issues and they may come as a surprise once you receive the item.

Original documentation might be AWOL

You most likely won't get the boxes or the manuals. Unless you are dealing with a collector, most people just throw these away after a while, but you can find (almost) anything on the internet these days. Many manufacturers have the manuals for all their products (including legacy ones) available online.

Warranty might be a problem

If you purchase from a renowned outlet, like a music store, you'll typically get a few months of warranty. Long & McQuade, my favorite musical implements supplier, offers customers the possibility to purchase an extended warranty on all the gear they sell for a low price. It might be worth the few extra dollars to get the full one-year warranty if you have any doubts on the quality of the used gear you purchase. If you purchase from an individual, then you're pretty much out of luck if it breaks when you get home...

Support and spare parts might be hard to get

Buying used is the only way to get gear that is out of production. Depending on how long it has been out of production, some spare parts might not be available anymore or might fetch rather high prices. Repairability might be an issue, and in some cases, short of scavenging parts from other non-working units, there's not much that can be done. Most hardware like jacks, potentiometers, and knobs are easy to find, but specialized parts like custom ICs and transformers will give you quite a challenge.

Most manufacturers will be either unable or unwilling to help you with items that are out of production. For example, when Dunlop purchased MXR, they "lost" all the documentation for anything that was produced before they acquired them. Finding schematics and parts for any of their legacy units is practically impossible. On the other hand, Mesa/Boogie has been absolutely awesome and answered all my questions and helped me build the parts list for some bits and pieces I might need to fix the M6 that I bought used AND that is out of production.

Audio demos

The original plan was to record with the amp's DI and mic the cab to showcase the speaker cabinet as well, but since it was outrageously hot at the time the videos were recorded the AC ran pretty much 24/7. Miking the cab would have also recorded the droning of said AC... The demo was only recorded through the DI. Please excuse any weirdness in the recording as I'm still figuring out the optimal Gain/DI Level/Master Volume settings for the DI out, so there might be some background noise. I'm also way too close to the cab and the amp, and that definitely didn't help. There's some weirdness on the right side of the image which is probably due to the lighting. Sorry, eh.

I'll go through all five voicings with a flat EQ, and show the difference between "normal bass" and "deep bass" for each, then used the Opto-Comp's gain to get the preamp tube to overdrive (with extra clipping from the audio interface because the volumes were a tad too high).

The sample riff use may or may not be inspired/borrowed from Funk #49 by James Gang. The overdrive section of the demo is a liberal interpretation of the main riff from The Pot by Tool. Wrong notes were left in.


I randomly started to look at bass amplifiers and speaker cabinets, and I stupidly bought one... That purchase, like almost every other music gear I buy, was absolutely not planned! In-store financing is a wonderful - but dangerous - invention.

I was looking specifically at separate heads and cabs because it's easier to mix-and-match and you're not stuck with what a combo comes with. I also wanted something that was versatile, able to tap into vintage and modern sounds, and that entailed having to spend a bit more money on the kit (you do get what you pay for...). Trying out a bunch of different amplifiers and cabs was an interesting exercise, and finding the perfect combination for what I had in mind was no easy task. In the end, it ended up being yet another love-at-first-play affair. I'm really happy with that purchase and it'll get a lot of use.

The All-Important Rating(s)™

There will be three different ratings: one for the head, one for the cab, and one for the combination of both. I'm also testing out a new layout to make it easier to read.

Mesa/Boogie M6 Carbine head

Build quality: 9.9/10
It is hand made in the USA and can survive a drop in flight of stairs. -0.1 point for some nuts and screws rusting out, but all the internals are perfect.

Sound quality: 9.5/10
Clean, it is awesome. Dirty, it sound a bit harsh, and you need an insane amount of boost to get it to overdrive. A second preamp tube would have been great for overdriven sounds.

Usability: 10/10
The different voicings makes it super easy to dial in almost any tone you need. No complicated EQ to mess with: just bass, mids, and treble. It has both ¼" and SpeakON jacks, that way you don't have to shell out 50-60$ for a SpeakON-to-SpeakON cable unless you really want to, as long as your ¼" cable has the correct gauge.

Holy Grail factor: 8/10
It's not an Ampeg SVT "Blue Line" 1972, but I don't think I could have found anything better for the price I paid. Mesa/Boogie has always been in my top-3 amplifier makers I want, and I finally got one.

Ampeg PN-115HLF cabinet

Build quality: 8.5/10
The metal grill in front makes it looks cool and sturdy (which it is), but I'd have preferred a Tolex covering on the outside instead of just paint. Painting the chipped spots to match the rest of the cab will be difficult, if not impossible.

Sound quality: 10/10
The 15 inches speaker is more than enough for my office, and combined with the horn and front ports is more than sufficient to make the walls shake. Every single Ampeg cab I tried have that little je-ne-sais-quoi that many other cabs don't. It's almost like black magic or voodoo.

Usability: 10/10
With a frequency response of 48Hz to 10kHz and the lowest usable frequency being below 28Hz makes it very versatile. There is a level control for the high frequency horn so you can adjust it however you see fit. Same as the M6, it has both ¼" and SpeakON connectors so no need to shell out extra money for a SpeakON-to-SpeakON cable.

Personality: 15/10
I'm not sure how to describe it, but this cab sounds both vintage and modern. At the same time. It has character, and it infuses your sound with something special. Perhaps that's the little je-ne-sais-quoi the other cabs don't have.

M6 Carbine and PN115-HLF combination

Sound quality: 10/10
This setup just blows my mind. It is miles above everything else I tried. The cleanliness of the M6 and the oomph of that cab are wonderful.

Usability: 8/10
In terms of feature usability, that's an undeniable 10. In terms of mobility and "let's bring this to a gig"-ability, I have to knock one point for the combined weight of the head and cab being close to 80lbs, and one point for the cab being just big enough to not be easily manoeuvrable by one person. It can be done, but you'll have issues going through doors and using stairs...

Match: 10/10
A great amp matched with a great cabinet will not necessarily sound good. In this case, it does! It's a wonderful clean amp and the cab can easily deliver all that juicy tone directly to your ear canals.



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