‘MARK I' MESA/BOOGIE
Guitarist|June 2021
Vintage amp restorer Fabio Cutolo of FM Amps explains how he resurrected a ‘Mark I’ Mesa/Boogie by transforming it back into the original giant killer it once was in its glory days of the 1970s
Rod Brakes

Every now and then, a bona fide classic amp will be plucked from a cupboard, attic or garage and shown the light of day after spending years in the dark. Many of these amps didn’t retire from service in the best shape, having been heavily worked, modded and repaired over the decades, before being cast aside into the twilight confines of storage. Years later, they blearily tumble back into the world without purpose, their owners keen to make some room and maybe a few quid to boot. For some people, such amps are nothing but an expensive burden, although as the saying goes: one person’s trash is another’s treasure. But who do you turn to when such pieces of historic hardware need expert attention? After all, this kind of project isn’t standard fare for your garden-variety electronics engineer. Indeed, restoring a vintage amp properly often takes years’ worth of specialist knowledge and experience.

Enter Fabio Cutolo. With nearly 20 years of expertise under his belt, Fabio first began learning about amplifier electronics as a teen on the job at a workshop in his native Rome, before honing his craft on Denmark Street. At his Tin Pan Alley workshop, Fabio soon had his hands full of electronics repairs, with around 1,000 customers a year looking to salvage anything from a pedal to a PA. He has since relocated to North Acton in West London where he continues to focus on vintage amp restoration under the name FM Amps.

“The principle of my business is to get amps back to original factory spec as closely as possible,” he tells us. “I’m old-school. I don’t have a website. If I had to spend time online, I’d never have my hands free to work on the amps!

“This is a Mark I Boogie, serial number A903, and it’s dated to 1977. There’s a handwritten date underneath the chassis indicating when the amp was finished. I understand around 3,000 of these were built in total. There weren’t many imported into the UK in the 70s and it probably came over here with a band. On the side of the chassis is written ‘EX RUSH X HG’, so it could be an ex-Rush amplifier, which is pretty cool.”

Needless to say, restoring this Mark I Boogie required a great deal of work, with Fabio having to completely dismantle it piece by piece.

“Cleaning this amp was a crucial part of the restoration,” he says. “On the top of the cabinet are two lighter shades of grain where some gaffer tape had been stuck on for decades. The residue was deeply engrained. That alone took a couple of days to remove: no tools – just me, a cloth and some Brasso! Brasso removes a very small amount of the outer layer, a bit like how T-Cut works on cars – except T-Cut would have been too aggressive for this. The cabinet is made from koa wood, and I had to go easy on it. Normally, I’d let a touch of oil soak in for a few days, but this residue had really worked its way in. The solid wood construction is amazing. I reckon the whole amp weighs at least 35kg. Even with the electronics and speaker out, the cabinet on its own still weighs a fair amount.

“The kind of weave that’s used for the grille was invented in Austria and is called Vienna straw. It’s often seen on chairs, so it has to be strong and reliable. It was in a state when I got it, and I cleaned it up carefully with cotton buds and a brush. It needed to look great, but also if the grille is dirty, the speaker can be affected. It can take years, but a layer of grime can build up around the edge of the speaker, which prevents it from moving correctly. And if it’s bad enough for long enough that can lead to breakages.

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