Lunchboxing After Dark
The ZT Amplifiers Lunchbox amp has made quite a splash since its first appearance at the Winter NAMM show in 2009. A variety of endorsers can be seen and heard on YouTube, from Echo and the Bunnymen to Wilco to ZZ Top. What's so special about this little overachieving amp? I spent some time with the LB02 recently and here's what I found:
Cosmetically, the Lunchbox is pretty basic, just 7.3 inches tall and 9.8 inches wide, the high gloss-finished fiberboard cabinet is gray with a black baffle board and a diamond pattern metal grille. A fixed handle on top protects the 4-knob control panel and a bright red LED and input jack.
Around back, an aluminum rail keeps the Speaker Out jack protected when using an extension cab, and also guards against bumps that might move the Headphone volume knob and the Headphone Out jack. A small switch turns the internal speaker on or off, a rocker switch turns the amp on or off and a recessed voltage slider is covered with clear plastic. A standard IEEE cable provides the power and the 1/8” Aux Input is a mono in for iPods or other devices. I see this as being extra handy on a guitar tech’s workbench, where one might run the in-ear monitor mix into the amp while using it as a tuning/test amp at arena gigs.
While small in size, the amp weighs a surprising 9.5 pounds, which gives it a solid, sturdy feel and prevents you from dragging it around on the floor at a club gig! Rated at 200 watts, the Lunchbox is certainly on paper the loudest portable amp I’ve ever used.
The four control knobs adjust the Gain, Volume, Tone and Ambience. Ambience is ZT’S name for a very quick slapback, which is designed to give the amp a little more depth than it’s tiny physical dimensions can warrant acoustically. ZT intended it to help mimic the sound of an open-back cabinet. It works, and I found myself dialing in a little ambiance to every setting I tried.
I started out getting clean sounds first. The tone control is default 12 o’clock, and turning it counter-clockwise adds some low end, clock-wise adds treble. I used my 1960 VOS Les Paul for my first listen and found the amp to be very sensitive to pick dynamics, switching between all three pickup settings and varying the volume on the guitar. It does get loud, and at times I wanted the amp to sound bigger, not just louder… until I remembered that I was listening to a 6.5” speaker. The amp’s volume makes you forget it is a portable.
Cranking the gain and dialing in the volume to rock guitar levels was fine. It’s not going to make you forget a raging Marshall or AC30, but this amp is more about the power than the distorted tone for me, though when turned up, the “crunch” and “lead” gain level sounds are more than acceptable.
With an ES-350T, the woody sound of the guitar came through. Sometimes small amps seem to be "pickup amplifiers" and the actual sound of guitar itself is irrelevant. That's not the case with the Lunchbox. I was able to get some nice Chet Atkins-style clean sounds and a satisfying R&B grit when pushing the gain up.
My go-to Tele is a Fralin-equipped MIJ Esquire. It excels at Keith Richards tones and with a few teaks I had some very nice Stones vibes happening.
I have a EMG/Gilmour pickup rig in my MIM Strat. The Lunchbox liked the active pickups just fine, and the standard glassy tones morphed into fat lead settings when I rolled up the Mid Boost knob on the Strat.
I put a Line 6 M9 in front of the amp and it really began to shine. With the increased tonal options of the M9’s programmable EQs, delays, reverbs and overdrives, the Lunchbox started to seem like the perfect club amp. I play in a lot of duo or trio situations with my wife, singer-songwriter Donna Beasley. It’s usually her on acoustic, me on the ES-350T and a dobro/banjo/mando player. I don’t run through the P.A., reserving that for vocals and the acoustic instruments I’ve been using a Fender Champion 600 for these types of un-miked gigs, but even going into the low gain input, there are times when I cannot get it clean enough in a loud room. The Lunchbox/M9 combo solved that issue and then some.
The Lunchbox serves it’s function very well…as a portable, loud, good sounding amp it excels. Highly recommended.