The clean on the Splawn is more than just "there": it is there to be laughed at. It is absolutely horrible. It would be one thing if they gave you a gain knob, so you could dial in a bit more grit for some of those in between tones, but instead you get midrange honk and just enough clipping to be annoying. I hated it, it is useless, I'd have better luck rolling back the guitar volume on the high gain channel.
You're right about the JCM800 on steroids, ultimate hotrod Marshall assessment, though. I have yet to play anything that sounds better, including Marshall. I was on Gain Selector 3--I think the three settings on this rotary switch equate to one through three gain stages--with the gain a click over half, and there was just gobs of saturation and sustain. It was amazing how articulate everything remained, and the midrange roar was just immense. I didn't bring the matching cab--which you still need to hear, Mike--but the bass was still pretty tight, even through that crappy Marshall 1960A. With the two different Eminence speakers in the Splawn cab, the bass knob ranges from tight to knock you across the room and through a wall.
The lead ton. Oh my god, the lead tone. Thick, creamy, singing, the sound of a ton of classic rock and metal albums, filtered through a cranked awesome knob. Drew, when you finally make it down this way, you die when you hear how good this amp sounds.
The Stiletto II is the
amp to get if you are the only guitarist in your band. It is a great blend of Marshall and Recto sounds. I have a suspicion that a lot of the Recto preamp design made it into this amp, and it works very well with that "classic" Brit power section.
Just like the Splawn, it has plenty of gain to spare, but the midrange scoop of the preamp cuts out the upper mid EL-34 "honk" that so many people--myself included--generally cannot stand. Instead, you get a warm and wooly lower midrange growl that stands up superbly well to a pummeling rhythm hand attack. The EQ stack is typical Mesa, with plenty of range to dial in your perfect tone...or your worst nightmare.
The cleans are every bit as good as Mike states. I always though the ever present Recto bass response meant that you have to deal with a bit of woofiness on the bottom strings, or tolerate that "plink" sound up top. The Stiletto serves up a bell-like shimmer in the midrange that I bet sounds amazing with a Strat. Plus, it gives you three different modes, so you can go from crystal clear to rock crunch.
The presence knob is completely useless. Just turn it off an leave it there, unless you're trying to cop Dave Mustaine's live sound, circa 1988.
As Mike said, it is the ultimate amp for the MoP sound, since that album was a Mesa IIc+ preamp into a Marshall Plexi power amp. It cops that Bay area vibe extremely well, along with a zillion other styles. It is *the* choice for a rock cover band. As I said earlier, it is also a great choice if you are the sole guitarist in your band, since it sounds eerily similar to a Recto and Marshall playing at the same time.
Mike crushed me all night rhythmically. The Splawn just could get out from under that dominating Mesa midrange character. Whenever I stepped on my boost to take a lead, though, it just sang out over the top of everything. By comparison, the Stiletto sounded thin.