Bringing an amplifier to gigs is a great way to be able to get a consistent sound wherever you play. But the hassles of lugging them around from room, to car, to bar, isn’t half as enjoyable as hearing them sound. I’ve been using a 50 watt tube amp which is already relatively light, but still considerably hefty. While I really dig the way it sounds, I find the back breaking lifts quite a nuance.
So I thought that I needed something lighter and smaller, but at the same time, can give an uncompromised roar during live performance. Searching the web for some leads, I found out about the ZT Club. It’s a small solid state amp, 14″ x 15″ x 9.25″ in dimensions, and weighs only 22 lbs. ZT claims this little guy to be really loud, as concurred with by the few reviews I’ve read online. It got my interest. However, despite gaining a handful of following, the amp has been discontinued by ZT in favor of their smaller Lunchbox model.
I’ve searched around local distributors, but since it’s a discontinued model, availability has been a problem. Determined to get the amp, I turned to the used market via eBay and Reverb.com, lurking regularly for the chance that something might just pop up. Persistency paid off when I was able to score a Club for about $ 400. The cosmetics were far from top notch, but the function was superb. Besides, amps are made to rock; a treat for the ears rather than the eyes.
So it arrived, and it was time to test it out. I live in a 36 sqm flat, and with the volume and gain knobs at just about 8 ‘o clock, it was enough to be loudly and clearly heard in every corner of my condo unit. I couldn’t pump it more than that so as to not disturb the neighbors. I had to wait for band rehearsals in a studio to be able to gauge the true potential of this amp.
Come band rehearsals, bringing it along was a breeze. The size and weight was so convenient for transport, saving my now grateful vertebrae. I plugged it in with my pedal board and my PRS Paul’s Guitar. The drummer and bassist played to their usual levels as I dialed in the knobs to get the sound I wanted. First thing I adjusted were the volume and gain controls. I was able to match the levels of the band with the volume knob at 9, and the gain knob at 10.
The volume and gain knobs work just like with any other amps with this type of feature, but the application here is rather different. With the Club, the gain knob gives the amp more of a tubelike push, rather than a real distortion. Turning the gain knob past 9 is where the convincing “tubey” character begins. It’s got the distinct voice, push, and density we look for in tube amps, and it is seriously convincing. Pushing it past 12 is like using a tube screamer for a clean boost. Going past 2 and maxing it to 5 gives it a little over driven grit. I’ve found my perfect mix to have the gain at 10, just enough for a tubelike character, and the volume at 9, just enough to level with the rest of the band.
The rest of the mixing is for the tone controls. The Club only has knobs for treble and bass. Dialing the tone knobs is very responsive and super excellent for tone shaping. With both knobs at 12, the Club sounds very fat and beefy on the low and midrange. I set my treble to 3 and bass to 11, giving me a brighter sound, while still maintaining some of the fat. The amp also responds well to stomp boxes. I got the perfect crunch I wanted from the Jekyll & Hyde, and the delays and modulation effects sounded crystal clear. Turning the volume knob a little more further pushes my levels beyond the rest of the band even with the drummer not holding back. Going past 12 would probably be enough to shatter glass. This thing is really loud! It also has reverb, but I didn’t find any use for it since all of my reverb comes from my pedals.
Convinced of its tonal prowess, I was confident enough to take it to its first gig, so I unleashed it at a local bar. The place was about 60 sqm in size with full band set up and acoustics for ear bleeding rock and roll. I didn’t mic the Club as to have all my sound be heard from the amp itself. I found myself adjusting the volume knob between 9 and 10, depending on how pronounced I had to be. With gain fixed at 10, I never went past 11 for volume as it would be too loud for the audience already. The size of the Club’s speaker was also enough to push air giving a good sonic distribution allover the place. It clearly stood up at par, if not better, against the in-house tube amps there. Given my first gigging experience, I’m confident that the club can definitely handle much bigger venues without a problem.
There are limitations to consider though. Its reverb is just on the mediocre side, and those who prefer built-in amp distortions should definitely look elsewhere. But for guitarists like me who get all those from pedals, the Club’s limitations are non-issues.
All in all, I am very pleased with the ZT Club. Its size is perfect for transport without compromising tone and output power. The bass and treble controls’ responsiveness allows for flexible tone shaping, making it very adaptable to various musical situations. And its tubelike sound is highly convincing despite being a solid state. It is not without question that there are so much better sounding, real tube amps out there. But considering the Club’s portability, price, and overall great sound, this thing can definitely be a serious go-to amp for both the bedroom and the gigging musician.