Dr. Z Maz Buyers Guide

Humbucker Music's Dr. Z Maz Buyers Guide

As you can tell, Humbucker Music carries a wide variety of boutique amps with a wide range of tones. With so many impressive amplifiers to choose from it is difficult to pick a favorite. With that said, the Dr. Z Maz is very popular not only with our customer base, but with our staff too, as every employee but one owns a Maz. Honestly, it's very difficult to find an amp out there with so much tone and versatility for the price Dr. Z asks. Their hand-wired point to point construction, quality of components, and rock solid reputation for reliability make them an easy choice since they are priced below many production circuit board amps out there.

Still, since at present time there are 5 distinct models, it can be a little confusing for a customer to determine which one would be the right fit. With this in mind, the fellows here at the shop have put our heads together to try to create a “Maz Buyer’s Guide” to help fully understand all that is available when ordering and how they relate to the amp as a finished unit.

The way we see it, you need to start with these 5 questions:

1) What Wattage Power Rating?
2) Reverb or Non-Reverb?
3) Head and Cab or Combo Amp?
4) Which Speaker Selection?
5) Is attenuation needed?

Wattage Power Rating

The Maz is available in three power ratings, 8, 18, and 38 watts. The preamp sections are identical for all intents and purposes, so the voicing of all three amps are basically the same, but there is certainly more to consider than volume alone. Where the difference becomes apparent is in the amount of clean headroom that they each have, as well as their response at various power levels. Here, we will break down the models for you:

Maz Sr 38: The 38 has twice the power of the 18 watt Maz Jr and thus has more clean headroom. It can still be overdriven but it requires a bit more volume to push it into overdrive. We actually have several customers who use this amp as a loud "clean amp" for their pedal board platform, or for a country music picking amp with some snap to it. It uses EL84's as opposed to 6L6's, so it's noticeably more punchy and percussive than a Fender Twin. Do not let the mere 38 watts fool you. The Maz 38 is VERY LOUD and can hold it's own with 100 watt amps all day long. This is not an opinion, it is a fact. We also have several customers who use this amp for more bluesy style playing. Since it has a Master Volume, you can increase the gain and drop volume to find that sweet spot between clean and dirty where pick attack determines the amount of dirt you get. As with all the Maz amps, the 38 is extremely dynamic. And did we mention it is LOUD? We truly want to emphasize this, as the only complaint we get is that the customer didn't realize how loud this amp can be. Naturally, with a tube amp you want to crank it to get the tubes cooking so they can do what they are designed to do, but when you crank the 38, it may over power the rest of the band and you'll be asked to turn down. Note: Us guitarists don't like to turn down...

Maz Jr 18: Even at 18 watts, it is easily loud enough to play with most drummers without a mic. Customers are consistently and pleasantly surprised at how loud the Maz 18 Jr can get. With this in mind, it is recommended that a customer base the decision of which version of the Maz to get primarily on how important lots of clean headroom is rather than how loud the amps are. There really is not as big of difference in the Jr and Sr in terms of volume as you might think. If forced to quantify, we would have to say there is approximately 20% difference in perceived volume. The 18, however, does have quite a bit more usable gain at volume levels acceptable to gigging musicians, making it by far the more popular choice, and easily the best selling amp of the entire Dr. Z lineup. Three of us here at Humbucker Music use the Maz 18 as our primary amplifier for both recording and gigging (two others use the Maz 38).

Maz 8: In essence, the Maz 8 was created to be a "problem solver" for the previous Maz 18 and 38 lineup . This is a bit of a misnomer since we have always felt the Maz's to be some of the finest amps on the planet, but what do you do when you are already playing on an 18 watt amp and the sound guy at the club, church, or wherever, asks you to turn down? Sound familiar? What about when you're down in the basement or your music room and your spouse keeps complaining about the noise (they don't always appreciate great tone, do they?). The Maz 8 was created to address these issues. As stated earlier, tube amps want to be turned up. Tubes sound the best when the voltages across the plates are high. The Maz 8 allows you to really crank it and remain at volume levels more acceptable to those unappreciative souls out there. Truth is, that soul may be you. If you are jamming at home with friends or in the studio you may want more tame volumes. They're easier on the ears, and easier to track in smaller studios where control room separation is harder to attain. Furthermore, the Maz 8 features a switch on the back that allows one to select between a Pentode mode and a Triode mode. The Triode mode reduces the output wattage a bit for even slightly lower volume levels. Essentially, the Maz 8 allows you to hit the amp's "sweet spot" at a much lower volume than the Maz 18 or 38.

Reverb or Non-Reverb

Unlike most amps the Maz 18 and 38 are available in both a reverb equipped version and a non-reverb version (known as the NR). Both versions are pretty much identical for all intents and purposes other than having or lacking reverb, however removing the reverb from the circuit does have a subtle effect on the overall tone of the amp. There is actually a lot of discussion about this when it comes to the Maz and at times it may sound more complicated than it probably should be. It is true that the NR version does have a small amount more gain at lower volumes than the reverb version. Some also feel there is a slight increase in dynamics and response with the NR versions. These difference are basically due to the shorter signal path created when the reverb is removed from the circuit and the slight loss of signal as it travels through the reverb tank. With this being said, the reverb version can still achieve the same basic amount of gain it just requires that you dial it in a bit differently. Honestly, the best advice we could give a player is to choose the reverb/non-reverb versions based on the need or (lack of need) of reverb and the cost associated with a Reverb model. We can assure you that the differences in tone is very subtle. At the present time, the Maz 8 is not available in an NR model.

Head and Cab or Combo Amp

The Maz lineup is available in many configurations. 1x12 Combo, 2x12 Combo, 2x10 Combo, or a Head with several speaker cab choices. Naturally, it is difficult to say which configuration is the best as each player’s needs are different. There are advantages to all. Some players like the convenience of a grab and go type of rig such as the combos. On the other hand some players like a head and cab for a few reasons. First, many players like the flexibility of being able to run through a variety of different cabs and some even run multiple heads. Another option to also consider that is unique to Dr. Z is that both the 1x12 and 2x10 cabs have a removable back baffle so they can be run openback or closed if a player so chooses. The Z-Best cab offered by Dr. Z is a Theile ported design that is a 2x12 closed back cab with the bass response of a 4x12. Electronically, all the configurations are the same so it really comes down to your personal preference and needs.

Speaker Selection

The Maz speaker choices are many, so it's easy to get overwhelmed. Each available speaker configuration has a unique voicing and it's own strengths. When we talk with a customer that is trying to determine whether to go with various 12’s or 10’s we usually use three questions to determine the right recommendation.

1) Do you like a warmer sound or a brighter sound?
2) What type of guitar do you typically play?
3) Are you using a microphone to mic the amp?

If you like a warmer sound
, we typically recommend going with one of the 12 inch speakers. Naturally, a 12" speaker has a little more low end response over the 10".The reason for this is that the larger cone produces a bit more bass and fatter mids. This is a good choice to thicken up a brighter guitar. The 10’s on the other hand tend to have a bit more top end and tighter bass, and work well for a player with a really warm sounding guitar that wants a bit more presence and a bit more bite in the treble.

If you're using a microphone for live use or in the studio, we typically recommend going with one of the 12 inch speakers for many of the reasons above. In addition, adjustment of the microphone can vary the frequency response being reproduced, so you can usually decrease the low end of the 12", but you can't really add so much to the 10". This is not to say 10" speakers can not be mic'd. They can with great results actually. It's just that 12" speakers are more versatile and a little easier to mic.

Quick Maz Speaker Summary:

Dr. Z Custom 10: Stock speaker for 2x10 cabs and combos.
More top end and tighter bass, and work well for a player with a really warm sounding guitar that wants a bit more presence and a bit more bite in the treble.Some players are a bit suspicious of tens in general as they worry about their sound being boxy or small. This is definitely not the case with the ten that Dr. Z designed. By selecting a combination of a larger magnet and traditional cone, the Doc was able to design a ten that still has all the characteristics players want in a ten inch speaker yet has plenty of mids and bass. Honestly, it is one of the best tens that we have heard.

Celestion G12-H30: Stock speaker for Maz combos. Overall it's a very even sounding speaker with regard to frequency. It has a nice full bass, warm mids and a smooth top end. It seems to really match the voice of the Maz combo well, and we can only assume that is why the Doc chose it as the stock speaker. The vast majority of players opt to go with this speaker in the Maz combo.

Celestion Vintage 30: Stock speaker for the 1x12 cabs. This speaker is similar to the G12-H30 with one distinctive difference. The Vintage 30 has a prominent "spike" in the upper midrange. In terms of overall tone, this translates to quite a bit more presence and it cuts through the mix a bit more in live situations. One of the reasons for choosing this speaker in a cab is that it really performs well in a closed back enclosure. The more prominent upper midrange response helps the speaker maintain clarity while still having plenty of punch.

Celestion AlNiCo Blue:The Blue is an optional upgrade for the Maz 8 and Maz Jr Combos and 112 cabs. When considering the Blue it's important to note the relatively low wattage rating of the speaker. With a 15 watt power handling rating the blue will work great with a Maz 18 Jr and Maz 8. From a tone standpoint one of the things that makes the blue so popular is its warm top end and wonderfully "chimey" midrange. The speaker also responds very well when pushed into overdrive providing a very musical natural compression at higher volumes. The bass response is a bit unique on the blue as well. The best way to describe the bass is to say that it is loose or "airy". Honestly, no matter how it's EQ’d it is difficult to get a tight, percussive bass response. For this reason, many players opt to use the blue in conjunction with another speaker with a tighter bass such as the G12H30. With this combination, you get the sweet top end and mids of the blue and the solid bass response of a ceramic magnet speaker.

Celestion AlNiCo Gold:The Gold is very similar to the Celestion Blue, but with a rating of 50 watts it's able to handle the power of the Maz 38. The only really significant tone difference between the Blue and the Gold is that the Gold has a bit more bass response. This is due to the larger magnet used, other than this it is pretty much a higher power version of the blue. We can’t emphasize enough that every available combination sounds awesome (or Dr. Z wouldn't offer it), and that the mentioned difference will be somewhat subtle to the majority of people. We also recognize that some some players have a more discerning ear than others, and they will find the voicing of one versus the other fits their needs a bit better.

Attenuation of the Amplifier

All Maz amps are sold with the option of a pre-installed Brake Lite Attenuator (for combos) or the Brake Lite SA Stand Alone Attenuator (for heads and cabs).

Essentially, an attenuator allows you to drive your tube amp harder without the associated volume that comes with turning up. As mentioned twice already, tubes love to be ran hard since they produce their best tone when ran at plate voltage. An attenuator allows you to crank the amp up without blasting your ears because it bleeds off some of the wattage being sent to the speaker. The speaker then reproduces the tone of a cranked amp at a reduced volume.

Attenuators are placed between the output of the amp and the speaker. They replicate the ohm load of a speaker so the amp doesn't "know the difference". Most then use a coil to reduce the wattage by converting the excess wattage to heat. The reduced wattage that isn't converted to heat is then sent to the speaker.

Is there a disadvantage? Well, there's always a trade-off, but in this case most feel it is negligible. You'll read or hear about people referring to small degrees of tone loss when attenuating. In our experience, the potential tone loss comes more so from a reduction in the volume of the speaker. Naturally, some of your tone comes from the speaker being driven. When it is driven less, the tone of the speaker will change slightly. It is also important to note that using an attenuator is like cranking your amp on high, and thus, you will reduce the effective life of your tubes accordingly. It is alright and normal, but just like playing cranked all the time, you will go through tubes a little faster than playing on a volume level of 1.5 in your bedroom all the time.
It isn't really that big of a difference, and by far most tone seeker feel it's easily worth the associated cost.