Review: Mesa CabClone Cabinet Simulator

The key to getting great guitar tones in the studio and onstage is control, but nothing is more out of control than a big guitar amp cranked up to its sweet spot.

The excess volume levels coming from a speaker cabinet can easily overload most microphones, and placing the mic in the perfect location can be an art unto itself that’s often difficult to duplicate.

While a few modern amps have built-in cabinet simulators or DI outputs that provide a reliable solution to this problem, the new Mesa CabClone is a sophisticated and versatile cabinet simulator that lets guitarists plug directly into a mixing board or console and enjoy great sound every time. It can even serve as a headphone amplifier with any amp rated at 100 watts or less.

FEATURES The Mesa CabClone features a circuit that simulates a guitar speaker cabinet, along with a load box rated at eight ohms, which will accommodate most amp heads and combos. (Four- and 16-ohm versions are also available for amps like vintage combos that only offer one speaker output at a specific rating.) Even if your amp already has a cabinet simulation output, you’ll want to check out the CabClone, as it’s much more versatile, offering simulations of closed-back, open-back and vintage closed-back cabinets as well as adjustable DI levels (-30 to +4dB), a phase switch and a ground-lift switch. The rear panel has a 1/4-inch input jack that connects to the amp’s speaker output; a 1/4-inch thru jack that directs the signal to a speaker cabinet (for onstage monitoring or blending mic and direct signals); an XLR balanced direct out to connect to a live mixing console, preamp, or recording interface; a 1/4-inch line output that is not cabinet simulated; and a headphone jack (which defeats the balanced output).

PERFORMANCE The CabClone’s three cabinet-simulator settings not only sound like genuine miked speaker cabinets, they sound like three awesome speaker cabinets. While some cabinet simulators can sound stiff and lifeless, these sims are very dynamic and responsive, with feel and sound just like the real thing. Every amp I tried, including a 1962 Fender Deluxe, mid-Seventies Hiwatt 50-watt head, a Mesa/Boogie 50 Caliber, and a Friedman Pink Taco, sounded big, ballsy and, honestly, better than the results I got when I placed an SM57 in front of the speakers. For live gigs, it’s possible to use just an amp head and the CabClone (and leave your cabs at home) to get possibly the best stage sound you’ve ever heard.

MANUFACTURER Mesa Engineering,

A built-in load box allows guitarists to record without a speaker cabinet and without damaging amps with up to 100 watts of output.

Closed-back, open-back and vintage cabinet settings provide more sonic versatility than the standard simulated cabinet or DI outputs found on some amps.

THE BOTTOM LINE The Mesa CabClone is an exceptionally easy-to-use but powerful solution for guitarists who want to record the optimal sound of their amps without disturbing the neighbors or enjoy live sound that’s as killer to the audience as it is onstage.

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Chris Gill, Video by Paul Riario

Chris is the co-author of Eruption - Conversations with Eddie Van Halen. He is a 40-year music industry veteran who started at Boardwalk Entertainment (Joan Jett, Night Ranger) and Roland US before becoming a guitar journalist in 1991. He has interviewed more than 600 artists, written more than 1,400 product reviews and contributed to Jeff Beck’s Beck 01: Hot Rods and Rock & Roll and Eric Clapton’s Six String Stories.