Review: Dr. Z DB4 Combo

Representing the fourth collaboration between Dr. Z and Brad Paisley, the DB4 is the outcome of the country star’s request for a rich and warm sounding British-voiced amp.
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Representing the fourth collaboration between Dr. Z and Brad Paisley, the DB4 is the outcome of the country star’s request for a rich and warm sounding British-voiced amp. Dr. Z founder Mike Zaite says he started from scratch with this design, deciding early on a U.S.-made N.O.S. 5879 pentode tube for the preamp. “This is the tube that Les Paul chose to be used in his Gibson GA-40 amp,” says Zaite. From there the signal hits a 5-position rotary frequency filter, which provides a selection of tones that range from bright to brown with varying timbres in between. The only other controls on the DB4 are Volume and Cut, with the latter effectively functioning as a tone control for the output section. The amp features a birch-ply cabinet that’s neatly covered in black Tolex and trimmed with white piping (other color options available). Held within is a heavy-gauge aluminum chassis that, in standard Dr. Z fashion, features a hand-wired circuit on a glass-epoxy board. The build quality is excellent and the tube sockets, pots, and switches are all mounted to the chassis for ruggedness and reliability. At 42 lbs, the DB4 is easy to carry (certainly more so than its 2x12 sibling!), and measuring just 23" wide x 20 1/8" tall x 10" deep, it’ll stash easily in smaller vehicles.

Though the DB4 doesn’t cite allegiance to any particular British amp, you can certainly get EL48-style jangle from it by moving the 5-position Tone switch toward the left. The second position sounded very bright and lively with a Les Paul, and each step clockwise from there takes things in a progressively beefier direction, yielding tones that worked great with a Tele in positions 4 and 5. From there, the Cut control fine-tunes the treble response, making it easy to find that just-right balance of slice and fatness with humbuckers or single-coils. With the Volume cranked up to halfway (which is quite loud even in 18-watt mode), the DB4 delivered a great rhythm tone at lower guitar volume settings and broke up with a meaty edge when the guitar volume was maxed. The amp responds beautifully to picking dynamics, and for styles like blues or Buckaroos-style country that don’t require a lot of distortion, the DB4 works excellently as an amp that you can just plug into and dig into its deep, gutsy sound. Headroom is also impressive, a quality that makes this amp a natural for stomp-boxes, as we discovered using a KHDK No. 1 Overdrive, a Way Huge Saucy Box, and Dr. Z’s own Z-Drive—all of which sounded killer when heavier grind was needed.

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All said, the DB4 is a highly toneful and expressive amp that makes the most of an excellent preamp tube that, due to its relatively limited supply, doesn’t see much use these days. In tandem with a streamlined circuit that uses high-grade components, the end result is an amp that stands out for players who like to keep it simple.

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PRICE $2,199 street, “Classic Lite Combo.” Also available as a head ($1,799 street) or a 2×12 “Bluesbreaker” combo ($2,899 street) loaded with two Celestion Alnico Blue speakers.
CONTROLS Volume, 5-position Tone switch, Cut
POWER 38 watts/18 watts
TUBES One 5879, one 12AX7, four EL84s, 5AR4 rectifier
EXTRAS Half-power switch. 4Ω, 8Ω, 16Ω speaker outs.
SPEAKER 12" Celestion Gold
WEIGHT 42 lbs
KUDOS Excellent tone and dynamic feel. Highly useful Tone switch.