Review: Dr. Z Zwreck Combo

Originally designed for Brad Paisley, the Z Wreck was born out of a collaboration between Dr. Z and Ken Fischer of Train-wreck Circuits.
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Originally designed for Brad Paisley, the Z Wreck was born out of a collaboration between Dr. Z and Ken Fischer of Train-wreck Circuits. The amp has been a mainstay of Paisley’s rig since 2006, but when Ken Fischer passed away the same year, Dr. Z shelved the project and refused to put the amp into production despite getting a lot of requests to do so. That changed in 2010, when the flood that hit Nashville destroyed all of Paisley’s road amps, except for his Z Wreck. Dr. Z quickly built two more ’Wrecks to keep him going, and that effort spurred the idea to add the Z Wreck to the Dr. Z line. With some further refining of the circuit and Brad Paisley’s encouragement, the end result was a Z Wreck head/cab setup, and, subsequently, the combo version on deck here.

For the production model, Dr. Z started with a clean slate and began with a new aluminum chassis and a birch-ply cabinet. According to “Z,” every component was placed with the utmost attention to having short wire lengths and increased separation between the preamp and output sections. Dr. Z says the “heart of the amp” is the output transformer that Fischer designed in the early 2000s, but a newly designed power transformer was added that incorporates a multitapped secondary, which allows for two different plate voltage settings that you can choose via the Comfort/Speed switch. The Speed setting runs the tubes at 320 volts for a strong attack with increased clarity and dynamic headroom, and the Comfort position drops it to 280 volts for a softer, more vintage-like feel.

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For the combo version, Dr. Z uses an open-back cabinet made from 1/2” birch-ply, which houses a Celestion Gold 12” speaker and grips the chassis in a top-mount position with the tubes laying horizontally. Covered in navy blue Tolex with gold piping and a black grille, the amp exudes a hip, British kind of look. On the inside we find beautifully handwired circuitry with nicely dressed leads, and high-grade components such as Mallory 150 coupling caps (which are known for their smooth sound), NOS 6N14NS (EL84) power tubes, and one-percent tolerance metal-oxide resistors. (See chassis photo.)

Tested with a PRS 22, a Gibson Les Paul, and a Feiten T-Pro, the Z Wreck proved the less-is-more theory when it comes to tone. The Volume knob is a primary function here, and at settings below noon (with the EQ knobs at or around 12 o’ clock) the amp delivers shimmering clean tones with great note detail and chime. The headroom is excellent, and the well-implemented passive EQ makes it easy to obtain anything from darker jazz sounds to supremely sparkling timbres, especially with single- coils. Never a thin-sounding amp, however, the Z Wreck stays beefy and balanced when it’s operating on the cleaner side of the tracks. Although it doesn’t have a spring reverb, the resonance of the cabinet makes the sound breathe with a sort of natural ’verb that is quite cool.

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But this is only half the story, as the Z wreck quickly brews up a storm of distortion as the Volume control is turned up past noon. Things begin mildly enough as the tones take on a grittier attitude, and depending on the strength of the pickups, there are plenty of places where the clean grind is spot-on for rhythm playing and twangy leads. Turn the wick up and the tones become more savage, delivering a rush of harmonics and touch-responsive sustain as the Volume knob points toward three o’ clock or higher. The cool thing is how dynamic the Z Wreck remains even when pouring out a torrent of Brit-flavored distortion. Turn down the guitar volume and/or adjust your picking, and the tones clean up in an organic way that allows for seamless transitions between lead and rhythm. Excellent!

The Zwreck combo includes a 12'' Celestion Gold speaker.

The Z Wreck has no master volume or wattage- reduction features, and it does get loud. The Comfort setting tames the aggression a bit and makes the amp feel a little saggier, but a good attenuator (such as Dr. Z’s own Airbrake) would be helpful for situations where you need to crank up in smaller rooms. In all other regards, the Z Wreck is an ideal stage amp for anyone who prefers to get their sound from one great channel coupled to a dynamically responsive output stage. Ultimately, if you’re looking for the simplest route to killer tone, this boutique amp delivers on a level that earns it an Editors’ Pick Award.


PRICE $2,999 street (padded cover included)


CONTROLS Volume, Bass, Treble, Cut; Comfort/ Speed switch
POWER 30 watts
TUBES Three 12AX7s, four EL84s (cathode bias), 5AR4 rectifier.
SPEAKER 12” Celestion Gold
EXTRAS 4Ω, 8Ω, and 16Ω speaker outs
WEIGHT 46 lbs
KUDOS Excellent build quality and components. Amazing dynamics and playing feel.