Boss MA-1

Spice Up a Small Amp
Spice Up a Small Amp

Normally, when you think of an effect pedal, an image of a stompbox comes to mind; one you step on, or one that performs a dramatic effect on the sound of your instrument.

The Boss MA-1 Mascot Amplifier is definitely not a stompbox. It’s not meant to be stepped on. But using it in a signal chain can produce a dramatic difference in your overdrive sound.

When Roland introduced the Boss line in the late ’70s, the pedals were marketed as small, portable effects that produced studio-quality sound.

They were also marketed as sturdy boxes that could take a beating. The Mascot amplifier was no exception. Built in a rugged, small metal enclosure (same size as the MXR Phase 90), the Mascot can take a tough night out. It offers two lines in and one line out.

The lines in are labeled simply “Line In” and “Guitar.” They offer separate volume control. The line out reads “Phones.” There’s an AC adapter jack, or the Mascot can be powered by a 9-volt battery. It also sports a 2″ speaker and a belt clip.

The Mascot is meant be used as a portable practice amp you could take anywhere. It was one of the earliest mini-amplifiers on the market, and it works great in that role, though it’s not very loud. It would be great for the bedroom at night.

But what’s really interesting is that the Mascot is best when used as a preamp or line booster. With a Stratocaster and a Fender Vibro-Champ, one can create the sounds of a big rig. Using the guitar line and headphone out into the amplifier, you can achieve some really thick overdriven tones. Also interesting is that there seems to be a set amount of gain on the guitar line in, and the more you turn the volume up on the Mascot, the more sustain you get. On a guitar with humbuckers, even more so.

At higher volumes, the Mascot yields more noise, but three-quarters volume yields a fat, trebly overdrive with mucho sustain. It also boosts the volume in the signal going to the amp while sounding very natural, like a cranked tube amp or Ibanez Tubescreamer on an extreme setting, but with more sustain.

The line in seems smoother, with a dark-sounding overdrive reminiscent of an Ibanez Tubescreamer at half to three-quarters setting.

With the volume control maxed, it still yields a smooth, sustaining overdrive sure to please most tube amp purists. Using your guitar’s volume control will also cause the Mascot to reduce noise and clean up the overdrive on either line.

Another really nice thing about the Mascot is that each line in can be used as a separate channel. If desired, you could put an A/B box in front of the Mascot and run a cord into each line and use the A/B as a channel select switch. This would enable smoother and heavier overdrive tones to be obtained by simply hitting the A/B switch.

If used in conjunction with an EQ pedal, great tones can come from this simple, little preamp box. When used with larger amps, the Mascot gets a little out of control and noisy. It’s best with small amps, or for recording direct.

As with most good things, there are some not-so-good things. With the Mascot, the worst thing is the noise. As mentioned, at higher volumes it can get noisy and add an audible hiss. Another downfall is no tone control, but if it used with an EQ pedal, the Mascot can easily overcome any tone shortfalls. Most players won’t want to run the Mascot in their signal chain all the time. It’s a great tone aid for recording and practice. If you’re wanting to change back and forth to cleaner settings, using it at a gig might be challenge, but it could be done with two amps, or an amp with more than one channel.

But if you’re looking for an inexpensive way to spice up a small practice or recording amp, deliver natural-sounding overdrive, or add some extra oomph to your signal chain, the Mascot is a first-class ticket.

While one can usually find these primitive mini-amps at reasonable prices, locating them can be difficult. The Mascot was only made for a brief period in the late ’70s, so it may take some searching.

This article originally appeared in VG‘s Nov. ’00 issue.

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