I have been using ZT amps for well over a decade. When I was living in Manhattan, their Lunchbox was a godsend, allowing me to take the subway to gigs, avoiding traffic and parking issues. Now in Nashville, I still use the Lunchbox for living room rehearsals with a country band (Including drums). I have also done a couple of house concerts using two Lunchbox amps as a stereo PA for my “guitar-through-laptop-ambient-excursions.” So, I was excited to try out the new Lee Ranaldo Club.
The Lee Ranaldo Club is a ZT Custom Artist model designed in partnership with one of the pioneers of modern guitar sounds in rock. In Sonic Youth, along with Thurston Moore, Ranaldo introduced noise, unorthodox tunings, and prepared guitars into pop music. Ranaldo has used ZT amps since 2010.
For his signature model, each detail of the amp, from the sonic palette to the Jasper Johns-inspired target design, came from the guitarist. The graphics and textured black finish look great, and the hand-made plywood/MDF cabinet should prove roadworthy. The amp offers 220 watts of Class D power and a custom-designed neodymium driver, in a lightweight package (24 lbs./10.9kg).
The top of the amp features controls for Gain, Treble, Mid, Bass, Volume, and digitally modelled spring-type Reverb. While cranking the gain of this amp might not be my favorite distortion sound, it proved invaluable in setting just the right amount of give or sag for each guitar. I could turn it up for single-coils and down for humbuckers. I would then adjust the Master for the room.
The back offers an external speaker output (you can drive external and internal speaker simultaneously), an XLR, speaker-voiced DI output, an effects loop, power switch, a switch to mute the internal speaker Mute and one for choosing 115V/230V.
Brandon Highfill does the perfect demo of this amp (above). No SRV licks or metal shredding, (though, with the right pedals you could probably play those as well) but just the kind of guitar for which this amp was conceived. Check out his cool music store .
Playing through the Lee Ranaldo Club is a unique experience. If you are looking for a clone of some vintage amp, you won’t find it here. Somehow, Ranaldo and ZT have come up with an amp that doesn’t sound like any of the classics we are used to, yet sounds terrific. It somehow manages to sound hi-fi without ever sounding thin, cold, or harsh. There seems to be a high-quality compression going on, which gives it a lovely sag, even when it is sparkling clean. I took it out on a country gig and it provided plenty of twang in its own way.
Given its provenance, it makes sense that the Club is a fantastic pedal platform. Adding vintage-style overdrive increased the classic vibe, while it responded equally well to fuzz, adding no fizz.
Like everyone else, I am quite accustomed to hearing variations of the Marshall, Fender, and Vox amp-tones, so it took a minute to get used to the distinctive sound of this amp, but, once I did, I recognized the possibilities it offers for forging fabulous tones for the future.
ZT Custom Shop products are hand-built in Benicia, California, with as many locally sourced components as possible, and every major part is made in the USA, so the $1499 sale price is understandable. Also, each Lee Ranaldo Club is autographed by the Sonic Youth guitarist.
There is a reason that ZT Amps have become go-to gear for Ranaldo, Nels Cline, Julian Lage, Brandon Seabrook and other modern guitarists. These players are not locked into sounding like some guitar hero of the past. If you are a truly modern guitarist, interested in creating your own musical voice, this amp can be a great help. It is a blank slate on which to write you own guitar story.