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My 3 Small Amps, New and Improved versions & pedals

I’ve been playing a lot of electric guitar lately, including my new lap steel guitar and I’ve got to say, my amps sound great. I sold my Fender Princeton Reverb (and two other amps) before moving south. I kept only two small solid state amps and once I was settled in my new home, I purchased a third solid state amplifier. 

Although I’ve mentioned my amps in my blog previously, this post is a rundown on the improvements that have been made to the current models of my amplifiers. Even my 15 year old practice and bedroom amp is still being sold but in an improved version.

Left to right: Quilter Mini 101 Head, Earcandy 2×6.5 cabinet, Vox DA5, and ZT Lunchbox.

Quilter Mini 101 Head

The newest of my amps is the Quilter. Depending on which of the five voices it is set to, the amp produces either 50 or 100 watts. I rarely think of amps in terms of whether it nails the reproduction of some other amps sound. Rather, I approach the amp as if I’ve discovered a new boutique or lost classic from the past and evaluate it as if this is a sound I like and can use. The Quilter give me a number of choices. It does Tweed, Blackface and Jazz and can do clean enough for acoustic amplification or provide enough gain for my needs without pedals.

I’ve paired the amp with an EarCandy cabinet loaded with two 6.5 inch speakers. The cabinet is sealed and ported. The object is to produce a good sound in a small and light package. It’s a nice combination. But if you want something else, the amp can power two 8 ohm speakers. Choose what you like for your speakers and cabinet.

Although there is a mini-headphone jack in front, there is no auto-disconnect or speaker-off switch. You have to unplug the speakers if you don’t want them on.

The biggest minus for me was the lack of reverb. It’s not that I love reverb. I’d rather not use any but I find playing at low volumes in my den or bedroom, reverb makes the sound fuller. I solved that by buying a TC Electronics Hall of Fame Mini Reverb pedal. Problem solved.

Which brings me to the new improved model of the amp. Soon after I purchased mine, Quilter released the Mini 101 Reverb head. If you’re going for a compact setup, this is it.

Although except for reverb, my amp doesn’t need pedals, it works great with them. And although I can get all the overdrive I need just with the gain and other controls, I currently have a Boss BD-2 Blues Driver overdrive pedal going into the amp. The amp does have an effects loop which is where I’ve placed the reverb pedal. The image below shows the amp on a new homemade pedalboard. I’ve described the previous version of this amp mounted to a Temple pedalboard in an older post.

Quilter on my homemade pedalboard with Boss BD-2 and TC HoF mini pedals.

 ZT Lunchbox

If you search my blog you will find both my initial review of the ZT Lunchbox and my tale of trying to fix the amp after one of the nuts which fastened the handle to the body fell off and was captured by the speaker magnet inside the cabinet. The good news is the amp is fixed and works great.

Vox DA 5 and ZT Lunchbox.

The amp is 100 watts solid state with a 6.5 inch internal speaker. Neither this nor the Quilter are modeling amps. They were designed to respond similarly to tube amps with solid state circuits. 

The good points of the amp: It sounds great clean, even with acoustic-electric guitars. Great for a clean jazz sound. It has a headphone out jack and auxiliary input (something missing on the Quilter). There is an output for an external speaker and an on/off switch for the internal speaker. You can have both external and internal speakers on at the same time. ZT even sells an external 6.5 inch speaker in a matching cabinet.

What this amp lacks is versatility. There are only four knobs: Ambience, Volume, Tone and Gain. Ambience is plate reverb and pretty underwhelming. The tone knob doesn’t do much either. There isn’t much in the way of overdriven sound no matter where the gain is set.

Again, as with the Quilter, the amp works great with pedals which can make up for whatever you feel is missing from the default controls and sound. The Boss Blues Driver works great on this amp, but I purchased a less expensive and more versatile pedal for the ZT Lunchbox. The new pedal is a Joyo JF-14 American Sound pedal. It is a clone of the Tech 21 Blonde from their discontinued Character Series of pedals. The Joyo was under $40. It has Low, Mid and High controls for tone, volume, and gain knobs, and a voice knob that runs from blackface to tweed sounds. The other pedal I feel necessary is, again, reverb. I currently have a TC Hall of Fame 2 Reverb pedal on the amp. There is no effects loop so everything runs into the amp guitar input.

Left to right: TC Ditto Looper, TC HoF 2, Joyo American Sound, Joyo Sweet Baby, and Kilq Tuner

The current improved version of the ZT Lunchbox includes reverb. I don’t know if the other controls have been improved or not. However, another improved amp from ZT is Lunchbox Junior. It is a 30-watt amp that can run on batteries or a power adapter. What is nice about the current Junior is that it includes a power output that can run your pedals.

A problem you may encounter if shopping for a ZT Lunchbox is you probably won’t be able to find one at your favorite online or in-person merchant. The good news is you can purchase them directly from ZT.

Vox 5 Watt Amp

My model of this amp is the Vox DA5. It is meant as a practice or bedroom amp. At least that is what I use it for. It can run on batteries or off a power adapter. I’ve brought with me so I could play it on the porch or deck of our vacation rentals when I used to go to Cape Cod in the summer. The amp also has a small speaker which is about 6.5 inches.

The Vox is a modeling amp based on Vox’s valvetronix circuits. Not only are there a selection of amp personalities, but there are built in effects. You can use up to three at a time. The amp includes headphone out, auxiliary input and a power selector switch for up to 5 watts max. It is obviously not a gigging amp but for portability and practice, it is great.

The new and improved version adds the following features to the one I own: guitar tuner and rhythm accompaniment.

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