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Mountainview Publishing, LLC


The Zen of Z
Hes baaaack!
Ten years after his first
ToneQuest cover story
Dr. Z
returns with another
classic dose
of the Zen of Z.
The Z Wreck
inspired by
Brad Paisley
Ken Fischer
The inside
story on
Our review
of the ultimate cure
for broken tone
The Dr. Z

The Players Guide to Ultimate Tone

$10.00 US, December 2011/VOL.13 NO.02



The Zen of Z
No pedal in the world is going to give you a clean tone. Dr. Z
Its been nearly 12 years since we first became acquainted with Dr. Z in preparation for his July
2000 cover story. The prelude to that adventure was getting to know one of our favorite guitarists
of all time, Texan Buddy Whittington, who had embraced Dr. Zs mighty MAZ38 on tour with John
Mayall. We drove up to Cleveland to meet Z at his shop and Buddy, who was in town playing
with Mayall and the Bluesbreakers at a club in The Flats. We can recall walking into the dressing
room above the club and meeting Mayall for the first time as he and drummer Joe Yuele systematically deposited every scrap of food and drink into collapsible cooler bags to be consumed further
on down the road.

3rd Power
The ToneQuest
with 3rd Power founder
Jamie Scott
Our review
of the
3rd Power
British Dream 1x12
Cheap & Good
A meaner
SG Classic
We optimize
an 07 Gibson USA SG
Brian Wamplers
Paisley Drive
Power Cord Review
Gil Divine, Divine Noise

Nonetheless, Buddy graciously offered one of Mayalls dressing room beers before he and Yuele
could get them all packed away. Having driven six hours for this soir, three icy Hudepohl 14Ks
were discretely set aside by yours truly on a window sill, and idle conversation led to a question
about whether or not John had ever considered playing harp through an amp. This seemed to
light a spark that momentarily distracted him from ruthlessly scavenging the dressing room of


cover story
every last carrot
stick and potato
chip in sight,
and he replied
that he had not,
preferring to use
a PA.Strange
as his answer
seemed (Jeezus,
John, have you
not heard of
Little Walter?),
we let it go,
and the conversation turned to a logistical problem With
the tour just beginning Mayall had arrived with a large box
full of t-shirts to be sold, but since the band traveled in two
rented Cadillacs with no support staff, who was going to sell
them? The moment the question was raised Mayall turned,
one eyebrow arched for effect, fixing a questioning gaze
upon the guest from Atlanta. All in the room remained silent,
as if the chief magistrate of the court of the blues had just
pronounced sentence. Pausing for effect, the guest reflected
on the memory of a bi-sexual-leaning-more-toward-gay bass
player in a former band who, since he was the best looking
of us all by far, would routinely be asked out by the coke
whores working promotion for record companies, who also
possessed the power to dictate the opening acts for the bands
on their labels. The memory of the glum, hangdog expression
that darkened the bass players face every time we insisted
that he take one for the band now suddenly seemed too
familiar, but we betrayed no such sour emotion in response to
Mayalls challenging stare. Finally, the Godfather of British
Blues broke the awkward silence by adding, Ill give you a
free t-shirt, and the entire room erupted in laughter having
fully gotten the joke. At the end of the night John received
an empty box, $600 in cash, and the guest was awarded
a Bluesbreaker t-shirt from a Bangladesh sweat shop that
unraveled at the seams after the first washing.
This is just one of a few Z
stories, although we must
add that Buddy murdered
em on stage in The Flats
that night with his Strat and
MAZ38. Hearing him live
for the first time was and
remains one of our fondest
memories, and a testament
to the stage-worthy character and magnificent tone of
the MAZ38.

another rare and revealing visit with Dr. Z, who can now be
counted among the most successful builders of custom booteek amplifiers since custom booteek amplifiers have been
built, and a credit to the long tradition of American manufacturing that has defined the great immigrant city of Cleveland,
Ohio. Enjoy

OK, Z, lets kick this opus off. So many boutique

builders have chosen to limit the power of their
amps to under 20 watts. In our world, youre still
building big stage amps What has enabled you
to thrive in this niche so well while others have
abandoned it?

Yeah, 30 or 40 watt
amps are considered to be big
amps by todays
standards, and the
description or definition of a stage
amp has really
changed in the past
ten years. A good,
strong 18 watt
or 38 watt amp is usually more than enough to fill a small
venue. Our MAZ18 could be considered the de facto Deluxe
Reverb of 2010. The assault of pedals is another thing. Every
15 minutes there is a new pedal coming out, so everyone
kinda needs an amp that can give them some nice clean
headroom. You need power to do that, and then push it with a
pedal to get all the variations in colors and tones that players
want without being viciously loud like you would by just
turning up a tube amp. You can take a nice clean dual 6V6 or
6L6 amp and if you build it correctly with the correct front
end architecture, pedals can push it really nice and it becomes
very useful. I see guys playing today with $3,000 worth of
pedals in front of them and Im amazed! Oh, shit, look at
that, and you only paid a grand for your amp. (laughing)

You are so right. Overdrive, boost and fuzz pedals always sound better so much better rammed
through a clean amp that has some clarity and
headroom. Distortion on distortion usually doesnt

In this issue of the Quest it

is our pleasure to present

You cant have an amp

thats going to get
crippled by overdriving
the front end where its
going to go into this massive compression and just
go moosh. You have to
remember too that there

TONEQUEST REPORT V.13 N.02 December 2011

cover story
is no pedal in the world that is going to give you a clean tone.
You gotta have that from base and then you can layer on top of
that. If you dont have a good, rich harmonic clean tone, there
is no pedal in the world that is going to give you that.

True. No one has built a clean pedal. (laughing)

Now, I have a little different theory on why and
how you have managed to hold down such a formidable presence with bigger stage amps It seems
to me that you have always worked with players
that need a little power, even though you originally
started out with a foot in both camps. The little
Carmen Ghia really helped you launch the company
in a significant way, yet at the same time you were
working with Joe Walsh developing the SRZ-65,
and you have continued to work with him, as well
as players like Buddy (Whittington) and Brad

Steve Miller
is playing
Zs now, too,
and Walter
Right now
Joe Walsh is
on tour with
a MAZ38
Steve Miller Zs
2x10 and
a Twin Reverb. Becker is playing a Mazerati GT and he just
ordered a Z Wreck to take to New Zealand, but Im not going
to post all of this stuff, because its here today gone tomorrow. These guys are so fickle that by the time I got something
typed up theyd be playing another amp. I also try to allow
them their privacy. I dont steal a feather from their pillow.
I dont try to say, Oh, Billy Gibbons is playing one of my
amps! So Billy Gibbons bought an amp? He has bought a lot
of things. Yeah, he liked it well enough to buy an amp and he
talked to me and that was a thrill, but its not like Im going to
put together a list and post it on our web site.

Sure, but the more significant point is that you

continue to work with such people, and those experiences surely feed the inspiration for the stuff you
design. I guess Im answering the question for you,
but it seems that stage amps will always be a big
part of your future.

Of course, and you have to remember that the presence of our

amps on stage with a great player means more than any ad,
article or endorsement. If a player who can afford to use anything that has ever been built chooses to play one of our amps,
to me, that was always the perfect advertisement. Another
part of our success has been that our amps have always been

viewed as being relatively affordable, so that every player

could use them.

We addressed some things in your July 2000

cover story like the custom chromate-converted
aluminum chassis, ultra-linear output transformer
and Orange Drop caps that should probably be revisited.

Well, the short

answer is that yes,
the custom chassis
and the orange drop
caps remain and are
a staple of our production amps. As far
as the ultra-linear
output tranny, I have
a new design that hasnt been released yet. I had a prototype at
last years Z Fest and Brad Paisley came and played through it
and loved it, so well be putting it out. It will be another KT66
ultra-linear design that is based more on a Marshall than the
Route 66, which was an original design. It will kinda be like the
Remedy with KT66s and the ultra-linear tranny.
You know, before his death, Ken Fischer and I spent a lot of
time talking, and of all the things I picked his brain about,
output transformers were the critical thing. As you know,
Kenny was so unorthodox with so many of his ideas. He was
a genius and Im not, and sometimes it is difficult to work
with a pure genius just because they can be a little eccentric
or moody, and strong in their opinions. Kenny said a lot of
things that went over my head like how different colored wire
sounds different or how the dialectric influences the sound
I would say, Oh my God, Kenny, if you can hear that, thats
not a blessing its a curse. But he really did convey a lot
of information to me about output transformers, the reason
being that most of the guys that originally designed cheap
transformers are all dead, and they dont teach this stuff in
college anymore.

So how much of the mojo is related to materials

versus design?

The type of material that you use in the laminates is very

important, but so is the way the laminates are stacked. The
thing is, Kenny always used unique impedances. If you go
to the books and read that an EL34 tube wants a 3.4K input
impedance, well, thats really good for hi-fidelity, and thats
what most of the stuff that has been documented was written
for hi-fidelity bandwidth presentation. So they plot the
power curves and plot where the power tubes optimally operate, and those were the kinds of impedances that manufacturers used. But when you vary from that, now you start to

TONEQUEST REPORT V.13 N.02 December 2011

cover story
get the sound of a
guitar amplifier. A
great example is the
original Marshall
Bluesbreaker amp.
One of the things
that made that amp
so unique was that
it has such an odd impedance on the output transformer from
those surplus spares that Jim Marshall picked up. Kenny had
that same approach. He helped me pick these impedances that
led the way for a couple of new amp designs like the EZG-50,
which is a dual 6L6 amp with kind of my spin on a blackface
design, but I used a very unique impedance in the output
tranny that gives the amp this incredibly rich, full, warm
sound that is not quite as hollow as a Schumacher blackface
output transformer. Same thing with the Z Wreck When we
were trying to design this amp for Brad Paisley, Kenny kind
of opened up the book and said build the output transformer
like this. And I did, and oh my God did it open up the amp.
Everybody will tell you that the output transformer is the heart
and soul of a tube amp, and its true, but there are a lot of little
subtleties involved, like how Kenny would stack the laminates.
You would
see like 3
going one
way and
3 on top
of them
going the
other way,
and you
could tell
by the color on the edge alternating from lighter to darker, almost like stripes. Thats a little secret that he did, and Stancor
was probably the first company to do that. A lot of this stuff is
just about being open to all different kinds of designs, seeing
how they work and analyzing them, and then remembering
them and using them in actual practice. Thats what Kens
genius was all about. I gave his specs to Heyboer and they
exactly knew what I was talking about and they nailed it. It
is pretty difficult to add that extra 5 or 6 percent When it
sounds so good, how are you going to make it sound better?

There are people that can hear that little difference

when your hands and the guitar strings and the
guitar and the amp all seem to be working in concert with an unbroken dynamic that allows every
nuanced touch to be heard coming through the
speakers. That exists. You know it when you hear it,
and you know it when you dont. Speaking of Ken
Fischer, lets talk about the Z Wreck.

Kenny really dug Brad Paisley, Ken was a Tele player, and he

really liked Brads stuff, which was saying a lot because he

could be very critical. He even gave me a set of old Tele pickups to give to Brad. They kind of knew each other and I guess
Brad had called him once about ordering an amp although
that never happened. Lets say they were kindred spirits. Well,
Brad wound up buying a Liverpool amp of Kennys from a
guy that played in a band called BB and the Stingers, but he
had always really wanted a Rocket, which was Kennys much
rarer version of an AC30-inspired amp. Kenny wasnt able to
build amps anymore, but Brad and I had worked on a couple
of amps together the RX Extra Strength, and the Mazerati
that he used on most of Mud on the Tires. So it got the point
where we were talking about the Trainwreck Rocket and I
told Brad that I would build him an amp and then send it to
Ken so he could put a little of his pixie dust on it move a
few wires here and there, changing a value, doing this and
that and really transposing a few things to get more out of it.
So Brad was ecstatic that he was going to get an amp that I
would build and Kenny would tweak, and one of the things
Ken did was use 6N14N
Russian military EL84s,
which was what Kenny
used in his Liverpool and
Rocket amps. I was using
JJs, which were OK, and
Ken did a few other things
with the design. What he
did was take his amps to
the hairy edge, and thats
the point where he got the
ultimate harmonic complexity and tone out of his amps. The problem is, its hard to
keep them stable. Any little change or variation and you can
get parasitic oscillations. Anyway, Ken did his thing, the amp
sounded fantastic, and Ken took it upon himself to name the
amp the Z Wreck. We sent the amp to Brad, he just loved it
and immediately asked for another one for backup. Some
time went by and while Brad was getting ready to go on tour,
the Nashville flood happened. Brad had apparently left the
original amp that Kenny had worked on in L.A., but the others
were lost and he asked me if I could build two more before he
went out on tour. In the meantime, I started going through the
notes that Ken had sent
me when he worked on
the first amp. When he
got it there was only so
much he could do the
chassis was built, but
in his notes he said that
if he were to design
it he would move the
placement of the tubes
and transformers on the
chassis and make a few

TONEQUEST REPORT V.13 N.02 December 2011

cover story
circuit changes. Im reading this and I began to think about
building another amp based on Kens notes. So I built a couple
of replacement amps for Brad, and then began working on
this new design using Kens notes, and one of the things I did
was use multiple taps for the power transformer with a power
switch so you could switch between two different plate voltages. When I finished it I got the amp to Brad and I asked him
which setting he liked the best and of course he said both.
So we left the toggled switch on the final version of the Z
Wreck. It wasnt long after that before Ken passed away, and I
let two years pass having only built Z Wrecks for Brad. I just
didnt feel compelled to put them out for a while. Although
Ken named the amp, I didnt want people to feel as if I was
trying to cash in on his name, because no one would know the
whole story.

Id build an amp with a Marshall front end, Id jumper the

two channels internally like a four input Marshall but with
a single input and bright and normal volume controls Id
do the standard Marshall EQ, the cathode follower, the basic
front end, but on the back end Id do this 6V6 design that will
be cathode biased, and Im going to do it split-load cathode
bias, and because of that, Im going to be able to do this true
half-power switch. And it really is half power without changing the tonality or feel of the amp at all. I probably should
have patented it, but you know, thats expensive, and then Id
have to spend time enforcing it.



And its a great story. Who knew? Thanks for telling it here. Now what inspired this utterly gorgeous
sounding Remedy you sent for review?

Many years ago

when I first started, I went to a lot
of venues in Cleveland and became
kinda known with
the sound guys. In
my mind, I needed
to get my amps on
stages where pros
were playing them
so I could get their
feedback. This might have been around 1989, Buddy Guy is
playing in Cleveland and a friend of mine is playing in the
opening band. I got back stage, Im there for the soundcheck,
and Buddy has this kid playing guitar in the band who was
from the South somewhere and hes playing a 100 watt Marshall modified for four 6V6s. Man, did that amp sound good!
He didnt have to crank it up to blistering levels to get it to
break up, and it had this really sweet top end with none of that
6550 or EL-34 bite. It was just the sweetest sounding amp, and
the 6V6s took out some of that bulbous Marshall midrange.
Plus he was playing through a sealed 4x12 cabinet so he had
this great low end that 6V6s arent really known for So I
was really blown away by that amp and I kind of put the idea
away and never
really acted on it
until one day not
too long ago when
it came back to
me in a dream or
whatever and I
started thinking
about it. I decided


I can think of better ways to spend your time.

Believe me.
So the amp is running on two or four power

Yes, and
I played
the game
with the
and split
the difference between the 8K and the 4K ohms so it works
very well with 4K and with 2K. Thats the problem when you
go to half power. Like in a Twin, if you pull two tubes you
should actually increase the speaker impedance load by half.
The same thing with a Marshall, but my amp does that internally. So I built the Remedy and we had Z Fest and thats what
Z Fest is for it enables me to run things up the flag pole
and get opinions from people I trust. The whole thing is, you
have to be innovative, because I dont do clones, but lets
remember that this is 50s technology. There isnt anything
really new that hasnt been done. You just have to learn how to
season the gumbo.

How well do you know Anson Funderburgh? We

heard him play a couple of shows with a MAZ38
Invasion and his tone was unbelievable.
We met a couple of times, but we
have talked a lot, and one of the
reasons we talked a lot is because
my dad was a golfer and he would
often get invited to the Firestone
course here in Akron. Anson is also
an avid golfer, and he would ask
me if there was any way he could
play that course. He came to the

TONEQUEST REPORT V.13 N.02 December 2011

cover story
shop a couple of times, and all I can say in describing his playing
is smooth and fluid. The thing about Anson is true about Joe
Walsh, and I told him this when he was at the shop. Ive seen Joe
play oh 20 or 25 times, whatever. But Joe would be on stage with
someone like Ringo Starrs All-Stars all these great fing musicians, and Joe would be in the center of it and you wouldnt even
know that Joe was there, and then all of a sudden hed unleash
this hair-raising solo, and then come right back into the pocket.
Thats the thing that Joe always did. He just knew how to do arrangements, and how to be a bandmate. Thats why people loved
playing with him, and the same thing is true about Anson. His
sole purpose is not to show you what he can do, but how he can
contribute to the song, and to me, thats a true musician.
Now back to
the MAZ 38
Its actually in
its third generation. The first
was the MAZ
that we called
the Senior and
the Junior.
The Invasion
was the 2x12
version. The Studio Deluxe was the little 1x12 that Buddy
Whittington made famous on so many John Mayall records. I
had a Bluesman that was a 4x10 and a Studio Lead that was a
head. My thought at the time was to be Leo Fender, and have
one chassis and all these different configurations and models.
It was designed in 1988, and the way you can identify it is
by the presence control, which tells you that there is negative
feedback, because thats how the presence control works off
the negative feedback and the output transformer. It has a
long-tail phase inverter, a presence control, and the MAZ was
a little bit cleaner, because negative feedback makes whats
coming out of the amp sound more like whats going into the
amp. By controlling the amount of presence and the amount
of negative feedback, it made it more of a relatively cleaner,
Fender-sounding amp. Guys liked it, and especially guys like
Anson because it wasnt as toothy. Blackface Fenders are wonderful sounding amps, but when you try to push them a little
bit sometimes they kind of show their bite. EL-84s are a little
different more compressed with that midrange chewiness to
them. Then all of a sudden you get a guy who has been playing a scooped blackface Fender who has gotten into the habit
of being kind of careful with his treble strings, put him into a
MAZ with the same type of tone stack, and now the back end
is four EL-84s and they smooth everything out.
Another thing you may not know is that Anson never liked 12
inch speakers until he played the Invasion. He was always a 10
inch guy until then and I can remember him telling me, Ah
never thought Id ever like 12s Dr. Z. (laughing)


And that was your standard combination of the

Celestion G12H 30 70th Anniversary and a Vintage

Yeah. You
cant go
wrong. The
sad thing
is that in
their 70th
year Celestion made
them, and
then they
stopped and I kind of pleaded with them to make that speaker
again. The second version didnt sound quite the same as the
original 70th Anniversary speakers according to my memory,
but they still sound pretty good.

You also dabbled with building your own speakers

for a while, and I can remember you sending a Z28
4x10 with your speakers down here. Can you comment on that experience?

It went kinda easy

for 10s, because I
was very focused
on what I wanted.
Basically, I
wanted a 10 that
sounded like a
12. I wanted a 10
that gave me the
pop of a small
cone speaker like a 10, but with the low end and fullness of
a 12. So I incorporated the smaller size of the cone to get the
dynamic response, and I increased everything on the back end
to give it better lows and fidelity. But when I went to design a
12, I just couldnt find one speaker that could do everything I
wanted. I mean. I like Vox blues in some amps, I like Vintage
30s I like Greenbacks in some amps. There wasnt one
speaker that had the
beauty of a Greenback
and its low efficiency
that almost acts an
attenuator that enables
you to crank an amp
up and get that woody,
reedy tone Or
youre on stage with
a Vintage 30 and its
just cuttin through the
band like a fing hot

TONEQUEST REPORT V.13 N.02 December 2011

cover story
knife through butter And the 70th
Anniversary with its
beautifully balanced
tone and musical
response Or the
Alnico Blue with
that brilliance that
just screams the first
Beatle records I
just couldnt get that
in any one speaker
without building two or three, and I just decided to screw it
and stick with Celestion. You know, instead of fighting it
Im the kind of guy that will write things down and if they
dont make sense, Ill walk away. Some guys are so fing hardheaded. Im going to be right, dammit. Life is too short.
Enjoy your successes, learn from your failures and move on.

Over the years you have waded through many,

many pallets of Celestion speakers in production Have you noticed any difference between
the British-made speakers from Celestion and those
made in China?

Well, I dont want

to insult anyone
from England, but I
gotta tell ya, when
I first began getting
the speakers that
were made in China
it was obvious to
me that they were
meticulously built.
There wasnt glue
all over the frickin
spiders as if someone had spent the afternoon at the pub and
then went back to make some speakers The quality of the
build was much improved and I had a way lower percentage
of failures and rejects. But I will qualify that with this statement: Celestion is still supplying the parts to China. I believe
that perhaps the baskets are made in China, but the cones
are still from Mueller, I believe, and all the parts are still the
originals sourced in England. Lets see what happens when
full production of the parts is moved to China maybe things
will change, but as of right now they actually do a nicer job of
assembling the speakers than they did in England.

You are also building a tube reverb unit now, which

is a very useful and cool tool. How does your
reverb unit differ from a vintage Fender or one of
the modern reproductions?

Its kind of
in between
the PC
board versions that
are built
now and
the vintage
ones. Like
you, I have
access to a lot of vintage gear, and there is a dealer here that
had three really nice Fender reverb units from the early 60s
that I used as a benchmark, and I designed what I did using
some modern techniques. Its grounded properly so you dont
get any hum or ground loops, but I built it close to an original. I
used a smaller 3-spring, long delay reverb pan with the original
Dwell, Mix and Tone controls. It certainly produces the kind of
Dick Dale-approved boing, and Brad Paisley uses one with his
Z Wreck and loves it. But you know, there isnt a huge margin
in them because they cost as much to make as an amplifier.
People look at it and they think its only a little box, but its got
a power supply and a rectifier, tubes, pots and knobs Its not
a big sell for me, but another nice thing about it is that Ive got
a couple of junior builders here that do other things in the shop
and they can put one of those
together. I taught them how to
do it and they can put one together in a day. Its like an Air
Brake, a simpler kind of device
compared to the more complex
and sophisticated stuff that
more experienced guys have
to build. How do guys get
experience? So I dont make a
million dollars building reverb
units, but it serves a purpose
for me as a manufacturer more
so than it does as a product, and they are pretty cool. Somewhere there is a Youtube video of Brad playing his Z Wreck
with the reverb unit, so you can hear him play it if you have the
time to research it.

Just a touch of reverb can make a big difference

with so many different styles of music Now, way
back in 2000 you made the statement that success
can be more difficult to deal with than failure, and
how exceeding your 2000-era production level of
35 amps a month would potentially introduce some
quality control challenges. Fast forward to 2011
and its clear that you have far surpassed building
35 amps a month. How has your success required
you to change or alter the way you do things today
compared to ten years ago?

TONEQUEST REPORT V.13 N.02 December 2011

cover story
We now ship about 150 amps a month.

So its not 3 guys and a dog anymore.

No its not. We have 15

employee, and right now
given where were at I could
probably make that exact
same statement again. Its
funny I did a television
interview with a station
that came here one day to
tout Cleveland businesses
and you know me, I kind
of tell it like it is and wear
my heart on my sleeve. In
the interview I made the
statement that I really didnt
want to grow any more, and
one of the newscasters made
a sarcastic comment about
that when it was aired and I felt kinda bad, because I really
didnt get to fully explain myself. I think it also came across as
if I thought my guys were all pains in the ass, which isnt the
truth. I mean, 15 employees is difficult As much as I love
them all, they all have their lives, they have their good days
and bad days

Its a second family.

Right, and the more

extended it gets the
more challenging
it is for me to try
to deal with them
all, but thats not
the problem. The
problem is with the
supplying of parts.
As we grew, it was
wonderful because I
was able to buy more and more parts in column, which meant
that our margins got better as we were able to purchase and
inventory larger quantities of parts at a lower cost. But then
I kinda reached a point where I dont need to order 1,000 of
some part when I will only use 500 a year, and its silly to go
to that next column to save a marginal amount. Where the
problem comes in is the quality of the parts that Im getting.
The biggest concern are tubes, and my biggest surprise is JJ.
They were always rock solid, if not the best sounding tube
Their EL-84s were a little harsh at times maybe thats a kind
way to put it. Their 12AX7s were a little midrange heavy
they werent the greatest, but they were rugged, they were
durable, and they lasted a long time in an amplifier. As a

manufacturer I love that. I may have to

compromise a little bit sonically, but
Im giving a guy a good quality part in
his amp. You know, you gotta remember
that there are players and maybe the last
tube amp they had was this Fender their
father gave them and its still loaded with
original RCA tubes 40 plus frickin
years old and their amp might sound
better with new tubes but it still sounds
pretty damn good with 40 year old, worn
out RCAs. Guys like that are not used
to tube failures So now Im shipping tubes in our amps
and a tube blows and these guys call asking me what kind of
shit were putting out cause they never had a tube blow in
their old Fender. Im ten times more frustrated than they are,
because Im buying hundreds and hundreds of tubes a month
and throwing out hundreds of tubes a month and absorbing the cost of the shrinkage. Not only is it the cost of the
shrinkage, but I have a dedicated QA guy whos got incredible
ears hes an experienced engineer who spends hours tubing
up an amp in a combo checking for rattles and all of this shit
that he can hear that a guitar player would also hear So it
isnt just costing me money in supplies When I wrote up
what we need to charge for this amp and I accounted for the
cost of a tube, well, in reality maybe its now two or three of
each tube to get it out the door, plus the cost of the guy doing
QA. All of that stuff just adds to the cost, and if I get bigger
and bigger its just going to get worse and worse. Parts arent
getting any better the reverb tanks are for shit, the tubes
are terrible. Caps arent like they used to
be they arent like the old Mallory caps. I
can kinda hear the dryness in a lot of these
current production filter caps and coupling
caps. Resistors are OK, boards and chassis
and cabinets we have a lot of control over. I
would die for some old Jensen speakers, but
youre never going to get them again. So it
does seem difficult to get much larger than
where we are today because of the supply
factor. You know, you wanna have a fine
restaurant, you gotta have fine ingredients,
and if you cant get them, youre gonna end
up making fing pizzas. So thats where I
am with growth.
Another thing we did was to get our amps certified. How do
you grow? Well, exports are probably 30-35% of our business
including Canada. You talk about building 35 amps a month
and now 150 a month where are you selling all of these
amps, because were not just making them, theyre all paid
for when they ship. In Europe, they view American amps as
quintessential, steeped in the history of Leo Fender and all of
that, and rightfully so. Its like a German car.

TONEQUEST REPORT V.13 N.02 December 2011


But getting certified for international distribution

caused you to jump through all kinds of flaming

Oh, I had to do all kinds of things and spend literally tens of

thousands of dollars on certification testing. I had to supply
them with four amplifiers that you dont get back because
they are destructively tested. I have to have an inspector come
here quarterly to verify that we have remained compliant.
Canada was really the driver in all of this, because we have a
very big distributor in Canada, Long & McQuade, and Canada
would really prefer that every guitar player in Canada play a
Traynor. They make it difficult to import if they can cite safety
concerns about an amp, so it has to have the CSA certification. Long & McQuade were pretty cool about it, and they had
all the Z amps they had in stock inspected, and they agreed to
continue to carry our amps as long as we agreed to get certified. Now its a wonderful thing, weve got our certification,
and I suspect that the same kind of thing is going to happen
in Europe. Imports are going to get tighter with whats happening with the Euro. We also went through the certification
for Japan. One thing that was bad is that we got stuck with a
thousand back panels at $8 each that we couldnt use anymore.
You have to use IEC connectors you cant use a power cord
running through a chassis. You have to have that trip point so
if you trip on a cord it is pulled out rather than the whole thing
falling over. So all those back panels we had ordered were useless. In the long run, I think I can proudly say that I may be the
only boutique amp builder who has acquired full certification. I guess its reassuring to know that a little kid isnt going
to burn his tender little finger on a smokin hot tube.

Well, the more important point is that you have

remained successful, you are adhering to your own
standards, youve done the work to insure that
your international markets remain viable, and most
importantly, youre still very hands-on and in the
shop every day. Youre not calling in for this interview from a yacht, puffing on a Cohiba.

Right, and Im not sending everything to Korea to be built.

There are builders who are doing that having stuff made
overseas while maintaining the appearance that their products
are being made in the USA. Its gonna bite them in the ass, but
I do believe that Im giving people safety and affordability in
a product thats been tested. Not only are they looking for the
risk of burned fingers, but every component that I use was
scrutinized and 2 or 3 times rated all of the transformers,
all of the caps and resistors, and nothing had to be changed
for compliance. Every design had to be rated and everything
passed. I was very proud of that, but not so surprised because
I am, afterall, an engineer.

You always used to say that Nashville was your

best market, and you described yourself as an

underground guy. In hindsight, your success does
seem to have been driven by word of mouth rather
than heavy advertising and schmaltz.
I think so, and it helps to see guys playing our amps on stage,
whether its at a concert or a Youtube video. Believe it or not,
I was contacted about one of our amps being featured in a
Prius commercial, apparently because they liked the logo.
You know, if I were to have started my company today, I dont
know that I could make it to the point were at now. A big part
of my longevity and success was a matter of timing. When I
started there were maybe five guys doing this and I have outlived almost all of them. To start a company in the economic
environment today is tough, and my hats off to anyone who
tries. But I gotta say that there are still people that call me
who have just played a Dr. Z amp for the first time. An old
black guy left a message just the other day who had played
Ansons amp and he said, I got to have one of these amps
like Ansons. (laughing) We have 8,000 people on our forum
and if someone has a problem or concern I answer them, and
I think that means something. Im very grateful, and when
people call me, I try to answer the phone.

Dr. Z Remedy
our 13th
year of
the Quest,
we can
still recall
no time
Buddy Whittington
into Dr.
Zs orbit during our first year of publication in 2000. Well
before the idea of a ToneQuest had ever occurred to us, we
had been rabid fans of Buddy Whittington, who capably set
the record for having lasted the longest as a guitarist in John
Mayalls Bluesbreakers. We had rediscovered Mayall on his
landmark 1993 album titled Wake Up Call featuring Coco
Montoya, Mick Taylor, David Grissom and a guest appearance by Albert Collins, and when Whittington replaced Coco
on subsequent albums, we were dumbstruck by the unfamiliar
Texans touch and tone. We tracked Buddy down with assistance from Dr. Z, visiting him at his home outside of Dallas,
and later recording a 2-part interview featured in his April

TONEQUEST REPORT V.13 N.02 December 2011

2000 cover story
and May 2000 issue.
Since then we have
watched Zs presence grow substantially with new models
steadily added to the
line. Not long ago a
reader beseeched us
to review the Dr. Z
Remedy, and after 10
years it seemed like a
good idea to not only review the amp, but reacquaint you with
Dr. Z as well. Just understand that the driving force behind
our deep appreciation for Zs amps must be attributed to
Buddy a truly amazing guitarist whose luscious chops first
guided us to Dr. Zs doorstep in Cleveland If youre curious to hear a sample of Buddys extraordinary playing, try
Dead City from Mayalls Blues for the Lost Days album.
Buddy recorded that track with a 58 Les Paul and a Dr. Z
Prescription head and 4x12 cab, and the result will hurt you.
Now, our review of the Remedy may seem on the surface to
be just another amp review, but the Remedy is anything but
just another amplifier While Z has faithfully served the
bedroom market with some very toneful and diminutive
little Class A blasters in the
past, the Remedy isnt one of
those. Designed for a full quad
of 6V6s that can be powered
down using just two, the
Remedy easily rivals our optimized 66 Deluxe Reverb in
power, temperament and tone
using the half-power switch,
and at full power it gracefully
morphs intro the rare air filled
by our equally optimized 66
Pro Reverb. Both Fenders are
equipped with 25K midrange
pots, otherwise they would
be entirely incapable of producing the lush midrange tones
oozing from the Z. The closed-back 2x12 Z Best cab loaded
with a Celestion Vintage 30 and G12H30 70th Anniversary
also capably pushes solid low frequencies that the Fender
blackface amps could never match.
The Remedy impresses us as a deftly contrived hybrid housing
two amps in one box. Youll hear the brilliant treble presence
of a Fender and the more assertive midrange voice of a Marshall anchored with outstanding bass response on the wound
strings that doesnt fold up or yield to a heavy pick attack. As
such, the Remedy offers a unique blend of the best of both
heavier Marshall and brighter Fender tones that can be mixed

and tweaked via the High and Normal dual volume controls.
The 40
watt/20 watt
power range
also delivers
clean headroom that is
more than
adequate at
stage volume
levels with
a band, yet at half power, it is the consummate playmate
for home use. The Remedy gradually begins to spill into
overdrive at around 11 oclock on the volume controls,
and by 2 oclock the 6V6s are producing thick sustain with
the airiness, bounce, and open character that are so unique
to these tubes. Of course, with this much power available
you can roam between cleaner tones and heavier distortion merely by rolling volume off from the guitar. The
beauty of the Remedy is that the essential character, tone
and dynamic feel of the amp doesnt change when switch-

ing from the full power to the half power setting. Its not
quite as loud, but the available ratio of clean headroom to
overdriven distortion isnt altered, and the ability to mix the
warmer, cleaner Normal volume with the brighter, ballsier
High channel really offers a lot of possibilities with different guitars. We also find the paucity of pots and knobs
adorning the front panel to be both charming and comforting. Call us old school, but the simple layout of Bass,
Mid and Treble controls with the internally jumpered Blend
volume controls relieved us from the task of fiddling with
too many options. Truth be told, if you cant make yerself
sound better than just good with the Remedy, the problem
isnt with the amp.

OK, so the Remedy is a nifty little head with a big voice,
further enhanced by the 2x12 Z Best cabinet, which can
be stood up on end or laid down low on its side depending
on your mood. To buy the head without the cabinet would
be a mistake. Dont even think about it. But the overriding
justification for staking a claim on your own Remedy is this:
you own nothing that sounds like this amp, and in our opinion


TONEQUEST REPORT V.13 N.02 December 2011

it is one of the most richly
toneful and vocal new production amplifiers we have
ever heard or reviewed, endowed with an unmistakable personality that will
be revealed to you in the
first chord. There it is
stunning clarity throughout
the entire frequency range
of your guitar highs that
vividly reveal second-order harmonics and subtle overtones
without sounding shrill or harsh a sonorous midrange voice
that lends animation and a vocal human quality to the notes,
and rich low end anchoring the choir with confidence, strength
and amazing depth. All this, and the speakers arent even broken in yet If you live anywhere near a Dr. Z dealer, we urge
you to fire up a Remedy at the first opportunity. And for those
of you who dont, we can assure you that the suspense and anticipation of awaiting the arrival of your new Remedy will be
entirely justified by hopeful expectations gloriously surpassed.
If ever there was a time to Quest forth, this be it. TQ


How and when did you first become involved with

music and gear, and what kinds of sonic space did
you naturally gravitate to as a player that continues
to influence you today?

I remember being exposed

to music and sound at a very
early age. My mom was hippie
and always had the record
player going. As a child, my
favorite song was Boris The
Spider by The Who as opposed to something like Old
McDonald! I recall mimicking the guitar riff on George
Harrisons version of If Not
for You on an old acoustic
guitar using a nickel as the
slide. During the summer of
1969, my mom took me to the Seattle Pop Festival. I saw Led
Zeppelin, The Doors and Bo Diddley. What I remember most
of that weekend was sitting on the front of Bos stage and him
pointing at me a couple of times while singing.



3rd Power Amplification

Visual Sound
founder Bob
Weil suggested
that we consider
developing a
review of an
amp built by
3rd Power
Amplification, a
fairly new player
in the boutique
market based in
Nashville. We
contacted founder Jamie Scott, and we received a British Dream 112 combo for
review. As we researched the entire 3rd Power product line of
combo amps, heads and their innovative Switchback and triangular HLH 312 speaker cabinets, it became apparent that 3rd
Power was working from an entirely unique perspective that has
been enthusiastically embraced by players like Lenny Kravitz
and Simon Townshend. We asked Jamie to describe the inspiration for his company and his unique design approach, and our
review of the British Dream follows our interview

As a working musician I focus on writing guitar parts that

complement the song and particularly the vocals. Sonically
speaking, I find that the texture of the guitar sound and how it
holds together the whole song to be pretty amazing. It doesnt
matter if its U2, Springsteen, Fleetwood Mac, Foo Fighters,
Hunter Hayes, Paramore or Taylor Swift, the guitar is binding
it all together and allowing the vocal melody to be the centerpiece of the song.

How did your initial interest in amplification

progress in terms of acquiring practical, hands-on
experience from the perspective of a designer and

I took electronics and computer programming classes in

school. This provided me with the fundamentals as well as
the understanding that electronic devices work the way they
do for a reason. People had to design it and build it before it
became something someone could use. Later, I worked and
taught guitar at a local music store. It became my responsibility to maintain all of the guitars on the wall and eventually
that led to doing guitar repairs and customizations. When it
came time to tweak my old Marshall amp head, a friend recommended I go see a guy named Dave Ray. Dave had a shop
across the street from the local rehearsal hall in San Rafael,
CA. Over the years, I would book time with Dave and wed
just dive into my amp and see what we could come up with.
Dave really made an impression on me as he passionately
helped me chase the tone in my head. He taught me patience
and the understanding that, with regard to electronic compo-continued-

TONEQUEST REPORT V.13 N.02 December 2011