ZT Amplifiers – Lunchbox
The ZT Amplifiers Lunchbox model is a small powerful amplifier for home practice, recording and live gigs. It measures 7.3″ x 9.8″ x 4.4″ / 185mm x 250mm x 112mm and weighs in at 9.5lbs/4.7kg. Controls consist of Gain, Volume, Tone and Reverb which is more like an ambience feature and not your typical reverb effect. On the back panel there is a switch for the AC power, 115v/230v selector, ¼” extension speaker jack, ¼” headphone jack with Volume control, speaker on/off switch and a 1/8″ auxiliary input. The cabinet made of MDF with high gloss finish houses a 6.5″ speaker. The Lunchbox is rated at 200 watts, 125dB @ 1 meter. Ok, so what does this spec mean to a guitar player? It’s really freakin’ loud, that’s what! This little amp is extremely loud and should not be treated as a one-trick pony mini practice or personal jam amp. This is a real piece of gear that seems to think it’s a Twin or something. Read on……
On the Bench: When the package arrived at my office from ZT Amplifiers I sort of chuckled at the size of the box. Upon opening the box I actually laughed out loud and said to myself, “that’s it“? Sometimes a photo and measurements posted on the internet do not register until you actually get the unit in your hands. So there I was with this little…..Lunchbox. I had to finish up some business before I could get to plug it in and give it a whirl. A few hours later I grabbed my nearest Telecaster and headed for the shop where I could look at it more closely on my bench.
The amp seemed to be well built and had a very solid feel to it. The pots felt nice and smooth feel with no sloppy construction to be seen. I was still a bit amazed at the mini size as I looked it over on the bench.
In the Shop: When my “techy” curiosity was satisfied I reached for my Tele and plugged into the little ZT. I set the gain at 2 o’clock, Volume at 11 o’clock, Tone at 2 o’clock and the Reverb off. With the bridge pickup selected I sat there and just looked at this little bite sized amp sitting on my shop’s bar stool and could not imagine what it was going to even sound like. I cracked open the volume control on the Tele and starting twangin’ away. I was floored! This amp was so freakin’ loud it was amazing. And what was even more amazing is that it sounded GREAT! This little lunchbox had me absolutely dumbfounded. I had to stop so my brain could catch up and correlate the small size with the great tone and sheer volume.
After a few moments of my brain adjusting I started twangin’ away again. This amp was just ripping and had a sort of “steely” sound with my Tele. There was a nice sustain and plenty of that cool bite that you’d expect from a Tele. The bite reminded me of a refined Roy Buchanan tone with a bit of Steve Cropper for good measure. The amp at these settings was very responsive to my picking as well as the guitars volume control. Remember this is a solid state amp, no tubes!
Pushing the Gain between 3 and 4 o’clock the amp really started to have a nice overdrive to it and the lower midrange girth opened up. There was plenty of clear volume left in the tank too. With the Gain all the way up the sound had a nice bluesy distorted edge to it. Turning down the guitars volume control made the sound clean up nicely.
The Reverb control is interesting. It is not your typical springy type reverb effect. It almost sounds as if you have the amp in a small reflective room. At lower settings it added a little air and depth to the overall sound and at higher settings it sounded more like you had the amp in a small bathroom which is where some engineers actually like to record amplifiers.
The next thing I wanted to try was to run the Lunchbox through my 1×12 extension cabinet loaded with an EV12L. The EV was the only speaker I had rated for 200 watts at 8 ohms. The cool thing about adding an extension cabinet is that you can leave the internal 6.5″ speaker on or you can turn it off. I started with it off and just ran the EV. This sounded absolutely incredible! In fact it was huge sounding and even louder. There is no way on planet Earth that a drummer could bury you with this combination. But along with being loud it was warm and had good dynamics. I could get good rock and blues sounds, some great country flavors, funk rhythms and jazz tones. All the sounds were very clear and present. With the 6.5″ speaker combined with the EV12L the overall sound had more clarity and edge. This worked very well for my Greco 175 and Tele-Gib humbucker equipped guitars. You wouldn’t think that the added 6.5″ speaker would contribute that much.
I did try the Lunchbox through a 1×12 Celestion G12-H and 1×12 Weber 12A150-T and both speakers also sounded great, just different. I did not want to push this 200 watt monster with these speakers though.
On the Gig: I took the Lunchbox to a large rehearsal space and used it (no extension cab) with an 8 piece band. I ran my Tele through a few pedals and I have to say that this amp works exceptionally well with pedals. I could get all the sounds I needed and there was more than enough volume and girth. The tone was clear and cut right through the mix. My effects pedals also sounded defined and the overdrives sounded crispy. The tone was great and yes, there was plenty of volume.
A few nights later I had the Lunchbox out on a gig with the 8 piece band in front of 450 people. Just as in the rehearsal setting this amp sounded great and I could hear it loud and proud. The sound engineer laughed when he first saw the amp because of its size vs. the room size. He said to me “is that little thing gonna cut the gig”? I just told him to dump a mic in front of it and stand back. During the first tune of the night he just shook his head and gave me the thumbs up. After the gig he told me that this little monster was one of the easiest amps he ever mixed in a live situation. It sat in its own place in the mix and sounded tight and defined. Band members also commented on how it did not flood the stage as much as a larger open back combo. The sound was great as well as the feel and it was contained which was great for the mix out front. A win-win situation for all.
Final Analysis: If you are looking for a small (really small) amp to take to jams, practices or gigs then this amp is without a doubt your ticket. Jazz players will love this amp because of it’s clear volume, warm tone and portable size. While not being a tube amp it does have nice dynamics and is warm sounding even with the 6.5″ speaker. It is definitely one of the better sounding solid state amps I’ve heard. Maybe it is due to the simplicity and the way the signal is routed through the circuitry. There is much more info on this in the Advanced Users Guide that comes with each unit. I had the pleasure of meeting with the ZT owner and designer, Ken Kantor, and he explained how his acoustical engineering came into play with the design of the Lunchbox.
I also tried my Greco 175 with Lollar “Low-wind” Imperial humbuckers, Gretsch Hot Rod with TV Jones Classic’s, Lentz S-style, Lentz T-style and my Lollar equipped parts Tele. And just to satisfy my curiosity I tried my Larrivee Pete Anderson acoustic guitar through it. All guitars sounded great and straight to the point, even the Larrivee! It is somewhat rare to find an amp that works well with all different types of guitars.
I cannot stress enough how good this amp sounds, how loud it can get and how it will cut a gig much better than you think. This is a great little grab -n- go amp for all types of situations and you cannot go wrong with the purchase of a ZT Lunchbox. The band will ask “where’s your amp” upon your arrival to the gig until you fire it up and jaws drop. This amp is no joke!
Amp settings: Gain- 3 o’clock, Volume- 10 o’clock, Tone- 1 o’clock, Reverb- off.