ZT The Club

Sunday, October 24, 2010| by Will Chen

Like its smaller brother the ZT Lunchbox, The Club looks too small to be even functional given the size of its speaker! I mean, at 14" x 15" x 9.25" it looks more like the boxes 12 inch speakers are delivered in than a full blown amp. Consequentially, it's much denser than one might expect so while extremely lightweight (22 pounds) it's still heavy given its size. Features include volume, gain, treble, bass, and reverb controls along the top mounted control plate. The back panel additional includes an effects loop, speaker out jack, headphone jack with dedicated volume, aux line input jack, a switch to disengage the internal speaker, and the master power switch.

I auditioned the The Club with several different guitars including a PRS SE singlecut with Lace Alumitone pickups, SX SST57 with Rose Pickups, and Highland Royal (335 copy) with GFS pickups. At the lowest volume settings the amp has a slightly dark character. Even with the treble cranked fairly high, I just wasn't getting the high end clarity I like. However, once the volume was cranked just beyond bedroom levels the treble response was greatly improved. Conversely, there is low end to spare. Even with the volume near maxed out, the low end was firm showing no sign of the speaker being overwhelmed. Given the high clean headroom and slightly warmer character, I imagine Jazz guys are going to adore this amp.

Running the gain at noon and slightly below with moderate output pups allows an extremely subtle amount of breakup and a nice dynamics response perfect for boosting sustain and adding just a touch of compression to an otherwise clean tone. Digging into the strings results in a slight breakup and backing off cleans things up nicely. Very, very sweet. Cranking the gain up with the volume at low to moderate levels, the amp breaks up in a somewhat tweedy Fender-esque fashion. It sounds decent and could easily be run without any pedals for those who only require a moderate amount of breakup to get their tone. The volume and gain knobs are somewhat interactive though and when both the volume and gain are cranked up the Club delivers saturation impressively reminiscent of a cranked up single ended tube amp. However, the volume at this level is just punishing. This thing is scary loud and I mean that literally. Fortunately, a volume pedal can be run in the The Club’s effects loop to tame things down. (A quick note from ZT Amplifiers - the newest production Club amps, serial number 1651 and higher, have extended high end from the treble control and a modified gain stage that delivers more natural breakup, a nice rich overdrive without going into distortion-land)

Given the high clean headroom and slightly warmer character, I imagine Jazz guys are going to adore this amp.

I also experimented running some pedals and a Digitech RP355 into the front end. Pedal wise I tried an 808 converted TS9, Moen Overdrive (kinda like a TS9 with a preset clean signal mixed in and smoother highs), GFS Blues Drive Classic, and Dano V2 Drive. The TS9, GFS, and Dano Drive all sounded great but the Moen sounded unusually dark. I didn't much care for the Digitech RP355 into the front of the amp with the exception of a few OD models. It seemed many of the amp models are forward in the mids which seemed to be overemphasized into the front end of The Club. Running a Digitech RP355 into the loop return was darn near magical. In this setup, The Club has a very neutral response really complementing a wide range of the unit’s modeled amps. However to take full advantage of running a unit into the effects return at maximum volumes, a unit with a hot output is necessary. The Digitech faired well from a volume perspective, but I would’ve liked even a bit more.

Another nice inclusion is reverb. ZT calls it a plate emulation and it certainly has more in common with the sheen and shimmer of a plate than the boing of a spring reverb, a plus in my book.

The Club really is a very nice amp which hits a niche many players have been seeking for quite some time. Mark my words; this amp is going to be a darling with Jazz cats really hitting the sweet spot in terms of size/portability vs cost without compromising tonally. Very nice indeed.

Price: ~$460
Pros: Great clean headroom at performance volumes in a compact package
Cons: Overdrive a touch rough around the edges

Intro | Lunchbox | The Club | Head to Head

Filed Under: ZT Amplifiers, Reviews