Sunday, July 21, 2019

Dr. Z Amplifiers

A few years ago, there was a television commercial for the Toyota Prius that aired repeatedly It prominently featured a red Dr. Z amplifier.  I ran across that commercial again on Youtube.  I thought about the fact that it is odd how fast the style of popular music changes. I think the commercial dated from back in 2012. It is at the bottom of this article, so you can see what I am talking about.

It also brought to mind a story I was told by an old friend of mine who ran into the “Doctor” several years ago at a Louisville Kentucky music store. He found the Doctor to be a warm and wonderful man.  After talking for about an hour with Mike Zaite, my friend walked out of the store with a brand new Dr. Z Carmen Ghia amplifier.

Dr. Z aka Mike Zaite
For those of you unfamiliar, Mike Zaite, a.k.a. Dr. Z played drums in a Cleveland Ohio rock band. His father owned a TV repair shop. This was back in the days of Zenith and RCA televisions and radios that used tubes and were repaired instead of being discarded. So Dr. Z got his electronics educational start from his Dad.

Dr. Z Carmen Ghia

Mike Zatite got his feet wet in the music business by building PA’s for local bands. Zaite admits to “studying and tweaking the inner workings of his band mate’s amplifiers, when the players were not around.

Kent State - Four Dead in Ohio

He eventually went off to Kent State University and obtained a degree in electronics. It was during those years he became acquainted with another fellow electronics student, Joe Walsh. This relationship became very eventful in later years.

Mike Zaite 

Zaite went on to a lucrative job as a medical electronic engineer for General Electric. But Zaite’s first love was tinkering with analog electronics, such as amplifiers and P.A.’s.

Joe Walsh
In 1992, Joe Walsh recalled those great guitar amplifiers that Zaite was building, and he borrowed one and took it apart in his hotel room. He was so impressed with the quality that he asked Zaite to build an amplifier for an upcoming tour with the Eagles. A year and a half later Walsh ordered a second amplifier from the Doctor. This amp caught the eye of editors at Guitar Player magazine. A feature article gave a positive review to Zaite’s SZR-65.

This publicity was a large boost for Dr. Z amps. This amplifier designed for Walsh, was originally conceived as a head, but later was sold as a reverb combo amplifier.

Dr. Z SZR-65
The Dr. Z SZR-65 is the only amplifier Zaite has built that has a cascading gain circuit. This was during an era when Marshall amplifiers ruled.  For this model Zaite used an ultralinear output transformer.

This gave the amplifier the smooth feel of triode tubes with the power of pentode tubes.

Hammond Organ Reverb Unit

Zaite's first guitar amplifiers, were based on the design of a Hammond organ reverb amplifier. He made modifications to the original schematic, thus making it his own version.

Dr. Z Carmen Ghia

His first commercially available amplifier was the 18-watt Carmen Ghia, which was powered by twin EL84 tubes, a 12AX7, and a 5751, both for the pre-amp section. The only two controls on the Carmen Ghia were volume and tone.

This is the amp he based on the Hammond Reverb power amp. I assumed it was named for the Volkswagen sports car of the 1960’s, however it was actually named for his grandson, Carmen.

It was this amp catapulted his career and was based on the fact that at the time players had developed an interest in lower power amps that could be overdriven at low volumes.

Dr. Z DB4
Around 2001, Dr. Z amps became the favorite of Country-Rocker Brad Paisley. Zaite created several signature models for Paisley such as the Stang Ray, Prescription ES and the Z Wreck (which was been based on Ken Fisher’s Trainwreck amp.) Paisley performs with several Dr. Z amps at every show and he currently endorses the Dr. Z DB4.

Check out those tidy leads
Zaite’s career in medical electronics has served him well. Manufacturers of medical devices fall under strict government guidelines. Therefore they are overbuilt, to prevent any harm to a patient. He implements this same feature in his amplifiers.

Zaite follows these guidelines in his construction by using chromate converted aluminum coating for his amplifiers chassis. This improves the grounding of the amplifier, by raising the conductivity of the chassis. Some early Marshall amps used aluminum for the chassis, and so did Ken Fisher in the design of his Trainwreck amp as well as some other boutique amplifiers.

Dr. Z also uses ultralinear transformers and amp design. These give his amplifiers respond richly like a triode tube amp, but with the power of pentode tube amplifiers. The result is higher dynamics for the primary note and harmonics.

Dr. Z also uses specially designed coupling capacitors from Sprague. He purchases these in a very large batch, because his company is  concerned about consistency.

Zaite prefers Celestion speakers and most of the earlier models used Celestions.

However Dr. Z has created his own line of speakers. Some newer amps use Dr. Z speakers and other models come with Celestion speakers.

Zaite also offers the Z-Best speaker cabinet. This is a 2 – 12” ported specially designed cabinet that has an adjustable shelf behind the speakers and is based on the long throw ported Theile design.

Most of us are familiar with the fact that different style cabinets are just as important as tone controls. The adjustable shelf in the Z-Best cabinet offers a variety of sounds to fit your style.

This closed-back cabinet comes with a variety of drivers, depending on your desired tone.

Dr. Z also offers a 2 – 12” open back cabinet. He also offers cabinets that feature one or two 12" speakers,  or a cabinet with four 10” speakers.

The doctor also has developed a Lens for speakers on amps that have open-back cabinets. The Lens is similar to the Tone Ring that was used on older Fender amps. Dr. Z’s Lens is adjustable, for desired sound projection.

There are two other features that make “Z’s” stand apart. One of them is the Cut control. This feature is tied into the output tubes and gives the player the ability to scoop frequencies and give the sound more or less brightness.

1930's Amp with a Conjunctive Filter

The other less obvious feature is what Zaite refers to as a conjunctive filter, which affects the impedance of the transformer allowing frequencies to be balanced, thus providing even amplitude across the spectrum.

If the players picking is even on each string, he or she will get the same volume on each string, making the sound more dynamic.

Dr. Z offers a variety of amplifiers, from the 5-watt Mini Z to the 60-watt SRZ-65. Most of his amps are in the 30-watt range, which he fells is loud enough for a small venue and when mic’d can blow away an arena.

He says his favorite model is the Route 66. This is his top seller. The 32-watt amp head delivers a sound loosely based on the Marshall JTM-45, although the tonal qualities are unique, due to the use of the EF-86 nine pin pentode tube.

This unusual tube is used on high end stereos for accurate transfer of signal, balance and headroom.

The MAZ-38 NR is a very recognizable amp, and is another amp that was made popular by Joe Walsh. The MAZ based on 4 EL-84’s, 3 12AX7 and a GZ-34 rectifier. This amp comes with the “cut” feature and provides the player with 38 watts of RMS power.

Dr. Z Brake Lite
Dr. Z also makes some attenuators he can prescribe. The Z-Air brake is the top of the line. The Z-Brake Lite can be mounted inside any open back cabinet. Also if you prefer the Dr. Z-Air Brake can be used for closed back cabs or as a pedal board feature.

Getting back to that Dr. Z amp featured in the Toyota Prius ad. I’m not certain if there was an actual connection with Zaite’s company. I am told the director was a fan of Dr. Z amps and thought the amp was cool looking and just fit into the aesthetic nature of the advertisement.

Dr. Z MAZ 18
Watch the commercial carefully and you will see the Dr. Z in the back of the Prius is a MAZ 18 with 7 control knobs. As the commercial procedes, the MAZ 18 is now a warehoused sized mock-up of the amp with enough room for the Prius,  a Sousaphone player and a party.


Friday, July 12, 2019

The Univox Story

1960's Univox Guitar

The Tempo-Merson Company was a distribution organization founded by a man named Bernie Mersky. At some point in the company's history, Tempo-Merson was purchased by another man named Ernie Briefel. Little more is known of the origins of Merson, but  we know that the company was already marketing Tempo Merson brand archtop electric guitars and amps in the late 40's.

Early Tempo Merson Guitar Amplifier
The first Tempo Merson guitars and amplifiers were advertised in Music Trades Magazine.  An ad for "The Merson Tempo"  appeared in the December, 1948 issue. The Merson Tempo and other Merson instruments from this from this period were not widely distributed and distribution was confined to the Eastern United States.

1950's Tempo
Guitar Made by Kay

The instruments distributed by Tempo-Merson in 1948 would have included brands with names such as Kay, Harmony, Kamico, Favilla, Tempo, Giannini, and Supro electric guitars. Originally some of these instruments built in the U.S. while other instruments were imported  from Japan, Europe, and Latin America.

 Vintage Hack Guitar  (I'm joking)

There was another  company called Unicord, which was owned by Sid Hack. Thankfully he did not use his own surname on guitars or amplifiers!

Amplifier Corporation of America
In 1964, The Unicord Company purchased the Amplifier Corporation of America (ACA), which was located in Westbury, New York, a northern suburb of New York City. Amplifier Corporation of America specialized in building reel to reel tape recorders, and amplifiers for record players. The company's location is important later in the story.

1960's Haynes Amplifier

ACA made Haynes guitar amplifiers and also made an early distortion device powered by batteries.

After the acquisition, Unicord began marketing tube amplifiers made in Westbury, by ACA, carrying the Univox brand name.

It is quite possible the name Univox was chosen to compete with an amplifier company located in Manhattan called Multivox.

Multivox made the Premier brand name amplifiers,

1966 Univox UB45
These American-made amps featured tubes and use high-end Jensen speakers. The Univox logo was on the upper corner of the grille on a large piece of plastic. Early models were covered with black tolex, and the controls were in the back.

Late 1960's Univox U-102 Amplifier
Later models featured a cabinet which was covered in charcoal-flecked tolex with white beading, with a grey grillcloth. The front-mounted controls included two or three inputs, volume, tone, tremolo with speed and intensity, plus footswitch jack. The jewel light on these early Univox amps was a little red square. Unicord used ACA to build amplifiers under the Univox brand name.

The Unicord company had already been importing guitars from the Matsumoku Company, as well as effects units, built by Shin-Ei, both of Japan for distribution in the United States.

In 1967 Unicord was purchased by Gulf + Western (the oil company). At this time, Unicord was merged with Tempo-Merson, which Gulf + Western had already acquired. The new company was called "Merson Musical Products", a division of Unicord Incorporated, a Gulf + Western System Company.

Leland Sklar 

The Unicord aka Merson Musical Products continued to offer guitars, and amplifiers. The Univox amplifiers that were made during this era were a hybrid of tubes and transistors. And Univox did build some nice bass and guitar amplifiers.

Jimmy Page with
his Univox UK Stack
There were some well known players that used Univox amplifers such as Leland Sklar, James Taylor's bass player, and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin.

In fact Unicord designed transformers were used in the imported Marshall Amps because the company didn't think their own British transformers could handle the full 100 watts from the 6550 tubes (British Marshall's at the time used KT-88's which were lower wattage). Marshall of England eventually adopted Unicord's transformer design.

Unfortunately Univox got a bad reputation in the industry, due to the fact that instead of doing their own research, they copied amplifier designs from other manufacturers such as Shure, and Electro-Voice.

1947 Fender Princeton Woody
Let me insert here that early guitar amplifiers such as Leo Fender’s, and Doc Kaufman’s designs were originally based on schematics from radio, and tube manufacturers. These schematics were available free of charge from the manufacturers. Yep, the original Fender "Princeton" Woody's electronics were partially based on a tube manufacturers schematic. Leo and Doc were running a radio repair shop, and would have ready access to these plans. I digress,

Univox U-400G & Stage 400 
As a response to this perceived negative reputation, Univoxs' response was to change the amplifier brand name from "Univox" to "Stage" amplifiers. The only difference between a Univox and Stage amp was the badge.

It is not known how long Tempo guitars and amps lasted, but they did not survive the breakup of Merson and Unicord in 1976.

1969 Univox Hi-Flyer
Phase 1

In 1968, the famous Hi-Flyer line was introduced and remained in distribution under the Univox brand for several years. As Univox made changes to the instrument, they changed the designations, by listing them as "Phase", one through four.  Kurt Cobain of Nirvana favored the 1975 Univox Hi-Flier Phas 3 model.

1970's Univox
Les Paul Copy

Around this period time period, Univox also started copying Les Paul's and Ampeg Dan Armstrong Lucite guitars and importing them into the U.S.. The were made by the Aria company of Japan.

Early 1970's Univox "Lucy"

Around 1970, Univox changed the logo on their guitars from plastic ones to the decal under the finish

1971 Univox Badazz

By 1971, Univox introduced a guitar, and bass, they called the Badazz. This was a copy of a Guild S-100 Polara.  This guitar  was also made by Aria of Japan.

1970''s Univox Super Fuzz

That same year, Unicord added a full array of effects to their catalog, and also offering synths and computerized effects.

As mentioned before these were made by Japanese firm Shin-Ei.

1970's Univox Stringman Synth

As the synth and effects division came more to the forefront, the company turned to Korg as a source for imported products.

Univox Copies

By 1975, Univox was importing copies or Rickenbacker’s 4001 Bass, and the Fender Stratocaster.

76-'77 Westbury

That same year Unicord abruptly gave its employees a single days notice that the company would move its facility to Westbury.  By 1977 Unicord came out with the Univox Westbury Performer.

This was a precursor to 1978, when the Univox name was dropped in favor of the Westbury brand of guitars. Westbury guitars were sold through 1981.

1971 Giannini
Craviola 12 string

As part of their acquisition of Merson, Unicord/Westbury imported Giannini guitars, and folk instruments from Sao Paulo, Brazil. Most notably these included the Giannini Craviola 12 string instrument. Merson had been importing these instruments for years. Westbury Musical Instruments was the importer of Giannini instruments through 1981.

Click on the links under the pictures for sources. Click on the links in the text for further information.
©UniqueGuitar Publications (text only)

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Fourth Of July Guitars - Buck Owens Red, White, And Blue Guitar, and More

Buck Owens with his Red, White, and Blue guitar

It's the Fourth of July here in the USA.  When I think of patriotic American guitars, Buck Owens comes to mind.

Buck Owens, Roy Clark on Hee Haw

In the late 1960's through 1970, The Hee-Haw TV Country variety show was produced. It featured Buck Owens and Roy Clark as the Emcees.  Buck played a guitar similar to one pictured here.

Buck's Original Red, White and Blue
Bucks original Red, White and Blue guitar was made by the Mosrite Guitar Company.

Apparently Buck, being a savy businessman, was wise enough to license the model and arranged for an inexpensive replica to be produced by Chicago Musical Instruments.

Harmony RW&B sold by Silvertone

These guitar were not at all great players.  The top was spruce, but the back and sides were made of birch featuring ladder style bracing. However folks were buying them for the paint-job. The retail price was less than $100. Today they are selling for up to ten times that much.

Buck Owens original Red, White, Blue
The guitar that Buck Owens is most remember for playing is of course the Telecaster.  He started out playing off-the-rack Telecasters, as did his friend and fellow guitarist, Don Rich.

So Owens had a Telecaster painted to resemble his Mosrite acoustic.

The Buckaroos with Red, White, Blue Fenders

Through the assistance help of Fender, Owens and the Buckaroos were outfitted with sparkle finished Teles and basses.

Buck Owens Harmony acoustic

Fender had put together an original Buck Owens Telecaster that was in silver sparkle on the body and headstock.

Buck Owens Telecaster

This was later updated the guitar to a sparkle-finished version of Buck's Red, White and Blue Fender Telecaster.  It was finally upgraded to include an anodized gold pickguard, switch plate and hardware.

Flag Guitars
But let's not stop there because there are plenty more Red, White and Blue guitars and American Flag guitars.

So put down those fireworks, strap on a patriotic model and crank that amp up baby!

Happy Fourth of July to everyone, everywhere!

Click on the links under the pictures for sources. Click on the links in the text for more information.
©UniqueGuitar Publications (text only)