Dr. Z Maz 18 Jr NR Review

I really don’t even know where to start with a review of the Dr. Z Maz 18 Jr NR since I have so many good things to say about it.  Almost everyone here at our store either owns one or is planning on it.  As you may know, the Maz 18 Jr NR received the Guitar Player Editor’s Pick Award when it was first released and won the Reader's Choice Award for Combo Amp of the Year.  The first time I plugged into one, I had so much fun playing it was hard to stop.  Each note was rich and full and the tones were very smooth.  I knew it was something I wanted to own and play out, so I made the purchase and I still use it today as my main amplifier.

Anyway, I’d like to go over some of the controls and its most noticeable features and qualities.

To begin with, the setup of the amp is appreciatively simple.  It has Master, Bass, Middle, Treble, Volume, and a control titled Cut.  The Maz 18 also features hi and lo inputs.

Let’s start with the EQ.  The controls are very linear which makes them intuitive and easy to operate.  As well, they are very musical and never overpowering.  It seems easier on this amp than others to get a great EQ setting right after plugging in.  With many amps, particularly in this wattage range, the low end seems to get muddy and lack proper response.  No so with the Maz.  The amp has a tight low end that retains its punch throughout the range of the “Bass” EQ control.  As well, the “Treble” control never gets too harsh.  In my opinion, Dr. Z has done a fine job selecting potentiometer values that work.  Too may amp builders put controls in that include ranges no one would use.

As for volume controls, turning up the Master increases the volume.  Turning up the volume pushes the preamp section into overdrive, making it more of a gain control.

The “Cut” knob of the amp is a rather unique feature among amps.  It’s not exactly a presence control.  It more serves as a kind of overall EQ after setting the standard bass, mid, and treble knobs.  I’ve found it best to get the setting that I like with those three knobs, and then dial in the “cut” knob accordingly.  Turning it clockwise adds some bite to the amp and rolling it back gives the amp more overall warmth.  This knob alone can really change the amp a great deal, thus adding to the versatility.

The inputs are about as expected.  Plugging into the “lo” input provides a smoother, more rounded top end and plugging into the “hi” input gives a crisper, more driven and grittier sound when playing.

One of the qualities about this amp that I really value is its ability to accommodate a wide variety of guitars, and to do it well.  I’ve played a number of guitars through mine with both humbuckers and single coils and they all sound great without losing their character.  A Strat still sounds like a Strat.  A Tele sounds like a Tele, and a Les Paul still sounds like itself.  Too many amps lose the sound of the guitar when they “do their thing”.  No matter where the amp’s controls are set, any guitar sounds good when I plug it in.  Then, I just dial in the EQ and Cut to get the desired tone from the amp and I’m ready to go.  Another very important quality is how well it takes pedals, as I’m a big fan of guitar effects.  Delays are smooth and present, reverbs ring out naturally, overdrives are tight and focused, and the amp still holds its integrity.  I run a lot of pedals, and the amp never becomes “over-loaded” or choked, the quality tones are all there even after going through a long signal chain of effects.

Some people have asked, “This can’t be a very loud amp at just 18 watts, right?”  Actually, the opposite is true.   This amp is very loud for 18 watts, but that’s the result of being a Class A, hand-wired boutique amplifier.   No worries though, with a musically functioning master volume control, it’s never too loud.  I’ve played small gigs without having to mic it and I’ve also played larger venues where just an SM57 on the front gives me all of the volume I could ask for.

Now to the most important aspect of the amp – its tone.  In trying to describe the tone of the amp, the first word that comes to my mind is “pure.”  It has a natural and pure tone with authority and punch, from its cleaner offerings to the breakup of the preamp stage.  Someone once described it as being somewhere between a Fender and a Vox, and I think that is a great start when discussing its tone.  The amp never gets “sparkling” clean, but by rolling the volume back and turning the master up, I’ve been able to get a nice shimmer and the notes are still strong and vibrant.  The drive of the amp is smooth but also has a nice, bold bite.  It can get very chimey, and of course with its EL84’s in the power section, it does the British crunch very nicely.  Plugging into the hi input only increases this quality and allows the amp to break up earlier, giving it more detailed gain.  The amp has great sustain and an overall warmth that is pretty hard to compare.  Again, this amp has such a natural and pure sound that descriptions will not do it justice.  It really has to be heard.

I’ve heard it said about this amp that it sounds the way a guitar amp should, and I believe that those words really capture what it’s like to play it.  I apologize for my redundancy, but this amp is a pleasure, and when you plug in to play, it's hard to stop.

For more information about the entire MAZ lineup, check out our DR Z MAZ BUYERS GUIDE.

Josh Bates
Humbucker Music