An Ace combo, down at Matt's Music in Weymouth.
First, a huge shoutout to Matt and Matt's Music - I'd been in there once back in 2003 to pick up a Mesa cab in the middle of a blizzard, coming down from Vermont (long story), but this was the first time I'd really come in to do much shoping, as we'd already worked out that first purchase before I even hopped into my car. I'd called ahead to make sure they had a Stiletto, but when I got down there and plugged into it, the clean channel was really quiet in Fat clean, and dead silent in every other channel/mode combination - a blown preamp tube, basically. I'd actually had that problem a couple nights before with a Roadster at a GC in the area, and while the GC apologized and told me they could order me that or a Stiletto, Matt simply said, "Well, I'm going to have to replace that at some time or another, hold up a few minutes and let me grab a screwdriver." The next time I have to make any major purchase at a music shop, I'm going there.
So, my first comment on the Ace combo will be, what an absolute bitch to swap tubes on. It's actually a closed back combo, and there's JUST enough space in the back of the combo to pop the power tubes in and out, which you have to do to get to the preamp tubes. If a tube ever went down mid show, you'd have some work on your hands. Anyway, as it turns out one of the tubes had actually shattered in the socket, so after a few false starts and help from a pair of pliers we finally got all the peices out and a new 12AX7 in.
Basically, everything you've heard about this amp is pretty much true. It's just an all-around great sounding amp - very vocal gain structure, with tons of it on tap, an unusually responsive EQ stack that still responded enough like a Recto that I felt like I could make my way around it, and an absolutely spectacular clean tone. In fact, I think the cleans were my favorite part of the amp - I must have spent 20 minutes just sitting there with my UV playing Jimi licks. And for the gain, well, harmonics just lept off the things. It was a little more fluid than a Rectifier, but could still crunch up nicely if need be. VERY bright - I generally found myself keeping the presence lower than 2, but then again maybe that'd be different in a band situaton. I'd basically walked in there hoping I wouldn't get on with the amp, and I was really disapointed - it's one of the best Mesas I've ever played.
That said, I then went and plugged into Channel 3 of the Roadster next to it, and within 2 minutes had decided that the Recto sound was just more "me." Maybe it's familiarity - it's what I've been playing for ages now, and it's what I'm used to - or maybe it's just I'm more comfortable dialing it in than I am a Stiletto. Either way, the Stiletto Ace smoked, and I'd love to own one, but if I had to choose just one amp, it'd be the Roadster.
Good to see you finally got some time on one!