There’s no question that the ADA MP-1 is an iconic piece of gear. I’m not entirely sure if it’s the ability to create ridiculously saturated distortion, or to program 128 settings and instantly recall them, or the aesthetics of the blue vinyl, membran buttons contrasted with the large red LCD screen. Regardless, the MP-1 was, and still is, an amazing preamp and the tones it creates still hold up today.
These units were released in 1987 which was about five years before I started playing the guitar the guitar in 6th grade. This was the first piece of gear that combined an all analoge tube preamp with digital controls and programmable midi switching. Previously, midi was only popular with keyboardist and computers, and ADA really got a lot right with this unit and it became a must have preamp of the late 80s and early 90s.
ADA got a lot right with their marketing too. Endorsers ranged from Nuno Bettencourt, Paul Gilbert, Kirk Hammet, to Les Claypool. ….and oh man did that make me want one.
Like many players getting started around the same time, I was using cheap solid state amps and longing for something better with real tube tone. While I got a lot more use out my old Crate GX212 than most 13 year olds, there’s was no denying the dirty channel was horrible. The clean side was serviceable, but also uninspiring. I was using other units like the Korg G3 and other pedals to make it tolerable, but it wasn’t unit I got my hands on a used MP-1 that I was able to get my first legit guitar tones. I ran the MP-1 into the loop and it gave this amp new life. This was my first interaction with the 12ax7 and I haven’t looked back since.
I loved the rack life style in those days. The MPC foot switch was great for 1 touch changes and I also enjoyed the Alesis Midiverb 4. Towards the end I got an ADA microtube Poweramp and Boogie 4×12 cab. I used this rig daily for practice, band rehearsals, and church gigs. The power amp ended up problematic and I had to send it for repairs multiple times. Then, I finally got tired of hauling the rack around and eventually switched to a Mesa Boogie Dual Rec like everyone else was doing at the time. In hindsight, it was definitely a case of greener grass. While I enjoyed simplifying with a head and a couple of pedals, but I *always* regretted trading the MP-1 for a TC Chorus pedal. At that time rack gear had lost most of it’s value and players were dumping that stuff right and left.
I’m a die hard Nuno Bettencourt fan, and I love the tones on the 3 Sides record a lot. It turns out a lot of that is from a Soldano 60 Series II amp, but he was still using his MP-1 rig for the tour. Frankly my Naylor nails, no pun intended, this sound so I couldn’t justify the $1200-$1500 for another head at this point. ……but then I found Nuno’s MP-1 presents above …..that feeling ……..Gear Acquisition Syndrome kicks in ……and
Blamo! I found one locally for $100 on Craigslist. How could anyone say no to that? I have a number of MP-1 profiles on my Kemper that sound great, but it’s still not the same as dialing in the real unit. …….and I wanted to punch in Nuno’s presents. When I got the unit, I could see it was pretty banged up and in need of some love. It looked like it had been in storage or maybe in a garage. It smelled like an ashtray and had a lot of dead bugs in it. It was pretty gross, but it did “work”. The first couple times I powered it on it smelled so bad that my wife accused me of smoking in the house (neither of us are smokers).
The fun part
First issue, the battery was dead in the unit. This is normal for these and also crazy easy to fix. The factory soldered the CR2032 to the board. No reason to repeat that crime when there’s plenty of room on the board for a proper battery clip.
After getting a battery in place I started dialing in Nuno presents and while it sounded great in the loop of the Naylor I noticed that the transformer was rattling a lot. …oh because it only had one screw that was really loose and about to come out. This unit must have been dropped or something because the case also wasn’t square. It was also missing a lot of the screws. I was able to dig through my old PC bins and fine suitable replacement ones for the case and transformer. Securing the components properly was progress. Next I went over the whole thing with isopropyl alcohol to give it a good cleaning. The q-tips and paper towels turned black w/ all the dust and grime. The cleaning needed to be done and took several passes over each board to get them looking right
Next issue, was the crackling pots and jacks. This is normal for guitar equipment and I a little contact cleaner fixed this in no time. While this fixed the crackling, the jacks were still very loose and worn out feeling. I was able to use some fine tweezers to bend the contact on the input jack to help some, but it was clear they would need to be replaced.
After I had some good tones set, I began looking for a midi controller. There was a MPC at a good price on eBay, but I wasn’t sure I really wanted a dedicated foot controller for this. I knew my Kemper is capable of sending program changes and the idea of turning it into the world’s most expensive foot controller sounded like fun. I couldn’t make it work after a significant amount of time. I then tried sending program changes from my PC and that’s when I realized the next problem: midi was dead (thank goodness the Kemper wasn’t having problems).
Luckily there’s a strong community of ADA enthusiasts at the ADA Depot that are super helpful in keeping these units alive. I could not have done the rest without these guys. Honestly it’s communities like this that are one of my favorite things about the internet. I started a few threads and everyone was quick to chime in. Particularly around the midi issues, this thread was a life savor as well as this troubleshooting PDF which correctly identified the midi problem. It’s awesome that an old Fax from 1992 is still available.
The MP-1 is also pretty notorious for being noisy. I’m pretty sure these units were responsible for the success of units like the Rocktron Hush. To help combat this MarshallJMP sells a few flavors of noise mod kits. There are actually many mods for this unit available, but I didn’t want to get away from the original sound. I just want to make this the best MP-1 it can be. MarshallJMP’s shop also has tons of other parts available for these units. I was able to get the jacks and the newer firmware chip along w/ the kit. Awesome.
The MP-1 is a bit problematic to program when not installed in a rack case. I spent some time looking at some options for cases and considered building a wooden one. Then I realized that the space where I keep my Kemper is just big enough to fit 19″ rack gear. Sitting the Kemper on top weights it down so the buttons can be pressed freely with one hand. Since I don’t plan to gig with this unit or acquire more rack gear this will work just fine and doesn’t look too bad either.
I’ll write another post that’s more in depth about using the MP-1 w/ the kemper, but I’ll note here that I’m loving the combination. I was expecting to mostly use this through the loop of my Naylor, but I actually prefer it with the Kemper’s power amp. I profiled my Naylor’s poweramp (return on the loop) and cab, run straight into the MP-1 -> kemper -> powered output to the Naylor 1×12 cab (w/ kemper’s cab disabled). It sounds incredible and I know there are snobs that don’t like the Kemper effects, but I really like the delay & reverbs so this is a basically a “complete” rig. I also wired up the midi so the Kemper Remote is changes presets on the MP-1. It’s fantastic.
Running the MP-1 -> kemper -> direct into my interface works really well. I wanted something to show for my efforts so I went about making a half-assed recreation of Skid Row’s 18 & Life, which of course features the MP-1.
While the sound into my monitors is decent, it’s exhilarating in the room. Especially when the cabinet starts moving air. It seriously gives me an adrenaline rush cranking this up. Pairing it with my Warmoth pictured below is a great match for what I’m going for with this preamp.
Anyway, to wrap up my ramblings, I deeply missed my old friend and it was worth every penny and the elbow grease to get another one. In a world most guitarists are obsessed with stomp boxes (yeah yeah I get the practicality of pedal boards) into a Hot Rod Deluxe, I think it’s a shame that preamps like the MP-1, Mesa Triaxis, and so on are overlooked and almost forgotten. There are so many great tones that these provide (check out youtube channels like Leon Todd and Michael Nielsen for some great examples). The MP-1 won’t replace any of my other gear, or even become my main rig, but it feels amazing to have these sounds at my finger tips again. I love it!