John Petrucci’s relationship with Mesa/Boogie goes back 30 years.
In fact, Doug West, the company’s Director of Marketing and R&D, remembers receiving a call from the guitarist, then a student at the Berklee College of Music in the mid Eighties, when he was looking to order a Studio preamp.
“We started talking, and I just immediately liked him,” West recalls.
“John told me he was starting a band and that he had found this bass player, John Myung, and a drummer who turned out to be Mike Portnoy. The whole thing was just beginning.” Petrucci got his preamp, and he later ordered a Quad preamp, and after that, West says, he and the guitarist kept in regular touch.
“John was always looking to try new amps, and he often got stuff just as it was coming out,” West says. “He was always a great customer, and then he became a great friend to everybody here. His feedback has been very helpful to us all.” Out of the many Mesa/Boogie amps he’s played, Petrucci’s favorite remains the Mark IIC+, introduced in 1983.
“There’s something about that amp that’s so special and musical,” he says. “It’s been on many Dream Theater albums over the years.” And so it came as no surprise that when Petrucci approached the folks at Mesa/Boogie to produce a signature amp—a company first, save for a limited-edition run of Carlos Santana King Snake tribute models—his goal was to create a splashy, high-performance update of the Mark IIC+. Even the name would have a bit more kick: the JP2C. The guitarist loaned West and Mesa founder, designer and president Randall Smith his favorite Mark IIC+ for reference.
“Over the years, I've learned a few more tricks about identifying individual sources of magic in different amps from different eras,” says Smith, “and more importantly, how to take those elements and reproduce them repeatedly. Part of that involves locating and identifying the result of ‘happy randomness’ that occurs in wiring and making sure it can be duplicated accurately in every amp we make.”
“I wanted the same circuit board and transformer as the C+,” says Petrucci, “but at the same time I wanted to take it into the future based on some performance requirements that I had. One of the limitations of the original amp is that it’s basically two channels that share the same EQ and input gain, so right away we changed that.”
The guitarist’s request for three channels—one for clean tones and two dedicated to lead sounds—with two graphic EQs, effects loops and reverb controls proved at first to be quite a challenge.
“Especially in a smaller 17-inch chassis to make rack mounting possible,” says Smith. “John threw down the gauntlet.” According to West, the JP2C’s clean channel has the same headroom as the IIC+, “although it does have a bunch of tricks from the Mark V and even Carlos Santana’s King Snake.”
Breaking down the lead modes, he says, “They’re identical in a way—the first is set for crunch rhythm, but the other is a hair hotter, so it feels creamier and more liquidy. We put push-pot controls on as well, so you can even bump them up the equivalent of one number.” The JP2C features full MIDI capabilities as well as Mesa/Boogie’s CabClone speaker cabinet simulator, and for good measure it packs on an additional new twist called “Shred.”
“This allows you to shift the upper harmonics and mids,” Petrucci explains.
“If you're playing a seven-string or a low-tuned guitar and you're doing some low riffs, when you kick on ‘Shred’ it adds more clarity and shine, so you can really hear the notes. It’s pretty cool.”
Production models of the JP2C roll out in February, but Petrucci offers listeners an early preview of the amp on Dream Theater’s The Astonishing. “I use protos of the amp on the new record,” he says. “I’m really so happy with how it turned out. Boogie’s never done a signature amp, and this one was designed by Randy himself, so it’s pretty exciting. I couldn’t be more proud.”
That goes double for Smith, who says, “From the very first notes out of the very first prototype, the JP2C had the same urgent, fiery attack, the voice-like envelope and liquid sustain, the same layered harmonics and all of the other sought-after characteristics of the greatest IICs we ever made, and then some. The JP2C is the IIC+ aficionado’s wildest fantasy fulfilled.”