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To say Sonic Youth left a mark on the alternative movement is an understatement, and Lee Ranaldo’s guitar contributions are far too expansive to list here. Lee and ZT Amps recently collaborated to develop a signature amp, and the results are equally as impressive.
Starting off, this is a complete solid state design — no tubes of any sort here. The closed cabinet is made from plywood and MDF, and is just big enough to hold a 12” speaker, which is a Neodymium design, making it super light as well. The amp weighs in at 24 pounds so it certainly won’t break any backs. It’s finished off in a textured black finish that is reminiscent of truck bed liner, and feels a lot more durable than traditional Tolex, with a unique bullseye graphic on the grille.
The controls are fairly conventional: Gain, Volume, Treble, Mid, Bass and Reverb. The controls are recessed into the cabinet and like other ZT amps, the area around the volume control is larger. It makes for finding the volume a lot easier in low light situations. Nice touch.▼ Article continues below ▼
In a lower gain setting with all EQ’s at noon (and just a lil bit of reverb for our buddy Mark Agnesi) it’s really, really nice. It’s a spring type reverb, as well, that has that classic amp verb which delivers on all fronts. Nothing that’s over the top and impractical. There’s plenty of top end chime on humbuckers, and single coils don’t lack bottom end in any way. Now cranking up the gain, it gets nice and gritty but still articulate. Perfect for that dense rhythm sound that’s punchy and yet still cleans up with the rollback of the volume pot. It doesn’t go into super saturated lead tones, but they sound like the “classic turn it up, and you get more of what you’ll really need” situation. It’s really hard to believe it’s not a tube amp, as the response and depth of the sonic signature hits more of the boxes a player would want from a boutique tube amp.
With plenty of headroom to hang with a loud drummer in a practice space or on stage, you won’t be struggling for power or wattage. Now it can also be connected to an external speaker cabinet at 8 Ohms, with the choice of disengaging the internal speaker. The XLR DI also can be used, with the speaker defeat engaged for silent direct recording. The DI itself is clean, snappy and sparkly. But with higher gain, it just feels like it’s missing something. However, plugging in a gain pedal in front of the amp while running the DI was wonderful.
Which comes to the next area of discussion, using the amp as a pedal platform. Running the gain semi dirty and kicking in a boost or lower gain pedals for tone stacking is amazing. In a lot of cases, tone stacking with a solid state amp usually means more noise than tone, but in this case it brings in the more a player really wants, and more drive that’s actually usable. The effects loop is also a great feature, so players who want to run time based or modulation effects can keep the signal super clean.
Now each one is autographed by Lee, so there’ a pretty cool brag factor there, as well. The Street price is $1499, which might make a lot of purists cringe; spending that much on a solid state amp. But this amp really isn’t for purists, it does all the things a great amp should do, and it does it without being fussy, and lets the player just get creative. It has all of the heart and tone of a small tube combo, with way more headroom, and way fewer headaches (and backaches)…
Great clean tone, higher gain sounds have plenty of clarity, works great with pedals
Slightly pricey (but worth it)
$1499 [click to buy now]
Gain, Treble, Mid, Bass, Volume, Reverb