Plug In, Smile!

October 12th, 2010

Figment may be all about fake bands, but many of our players love to play “real” music as well.  So when we were planning our Figment Metal Concept Album Contest, we made sure to seek out a prize that any musician would salivate over, and the ZT Lunchbox Amplifier certainly fits the bill!  It’s an ultra-compact amplifier that packs 200 watts of power!  Good things really do come in small packages.  We were so fascinated by this amp that we sought out Ken Kantor the founder of ZT and designer of the Lunchbox to find out why it’s the perfect amp for both pros and consumers.

Figment News:  You’ve been a technologist, product designer and entrepreneur in the consumer electronics industry for over 30 years.  In particular, you have designed a number of innovative loudspeakers and audio technologies over that time.  How did you get into the audio engineering field and what products have you designed that you are the most proud of?

Ken Kantor:  I suppose my audio career first began to take shape as a blending between my fascination with science and my deep love of music and sound.  By the time I got to college, it felt very natural to study audio engineering. I learned the theory and math behind amplifiers and speakers.  I picked up practical construction and testing skills.  Also, I developed a lifelong interest in examining the ways that audio technology is interwoven with the history of music and performance,

During my engineering career, I have been fortunate to have been involved in a diverse range of audio projects.  I’ve designed really cheap computer speakers and very expensive home theater systems; I’ve worked in recording studios and guitar factories. I’ve done designs for museum displays, punk festivals, major orchestras, laptop computers and avant garde performance artists.   I guess what satisfies me the most is when I am able to mash up human perception with hardcore engineering to squeeze more sound quality out of a system than people expect.  “Diode, meet Neuron.  Neuron, meet Diode.”  Bringing sound to new frontiers is what it’s about for me.  Then, I like to start companies to try and bring these inventions into the world at affordable prices.  That’s where ZT comes in.

FN:  Are audio engineers tortured rock stars or is the other way around?

KK:  Fortunately for Figment, I think almost everyone in the modern world wishes they could be a rock star at some point.  So, yeah, I can’t deny those fantasies.   But, realistically, engineers tend to be people who are most creative when working within very disciplined and structured frameworks.  On the other hand, most rock and roll performers seem to thrive in a more chaotic environment.  (Or, at least, they make prettier train wrecks…)

FN:  What led you to found ZT Amplifiers?

KK:  ZT was influenced and inspired by the sound the classic guitar amps, and the quest to get that gig-worthy sound from a very small box.  Ever since I first heard, “I Feel Fine,” and “Satisfaction,” on a tiny AM radio, I’ve been researching guitar tone, building stomp boxes and fixing amps.  Gradually, I started designing my own speakers and amps. Throughout the following 30+ years, every time I learned something new about audio or hearing, I thought about how I might apply it to building a better guitar amp.  ZT is my opportunity to realize a lifetime of ideas and inventions.

FN:  Were did you get the idea for the Lunchbox Amp?

KK:  I’m not sure, but it was probably as I was carrying one of my big, old tube amps up the stairs!  It occurred to me that little amps have been somewhat ignored by other companies.  Almost all amp companies put their best effort into their larger products, and treat their smallest amps almost like toys.  So, ZT has taken a very different approach; we try to pack serious sound and power into small boxes.

FN:  Beyond its size, what makes the Lunchbox stand out?

KK:  It looks cool, doesn’t it?  We sincerely think it’s a great sounding amp, regardless of its size.  The Lunchbox has grown to become one of the best selling amps around.  No way that could happen based only upon its size.   In truth, lots of guitarists are buying the Lunchbox for its tone.  And, it’s just plain fun to play.  Plug in, smile!

FN:  So how does a solid-state amp the size of a toaster with a 6.5 inch speaker create such a big sound?

KK:  It’s the same old story in audio: everyone always believes the old technology is inherently superior, until someone finally figures out how to use the new technology to its full potential.  We think we have cracked that code.  About half of the story is in ZT’s proprietary new technology.  There’s a lot going on “under the hood” in both the electronics and the speaker, as well as how they work together synergistically.   The remaining part of the equation is time honored: we use excellent parts and very solid construction.  Powerful components plus build quality plus secret sauce equals Lunchbox.

FN:  Is this the ideal product for an aspiring musician or is better suited to a professional musician?

KK:  It’s definitely a product for serious players who value the essentials.  We don’t have a lot of effects and features built in.  Instead, we focused on getting the basics right.  Pros tend to like that, but so do a lot of weekend warriors.

FN:  I understand quite a few well known musicians are now using the Lunchbox both in the studio and live.  Why would they choose to use the Lunchbox over larger, more well-known amplifiers?

This certainly isn’t because of any advertising budget on our part.   Musicians really like the sound of the amp, and find it both convenient and inspiring.  Almost everyone who gets a chance to play a Lunchbox winds up wanting one.

FN:  How well does the Lunchbox hold up to the punishment of being on the road?

KK:  Better than I do. As I have said it’s a pretty solid piece of gear.  Several of the people at ZT are working musicians, including some who have toured on a national level.  We know what that is like.

FN:  What other products does ZT offer?

KK:  We currently offer three amps, one extension speaker cab, and some accessories such as carry bags.  Most recently, we introduced an “Acoustic” version of the original Lunchbox, designed to take a vocal microphone and instrument pickup at the same time.  It’s for folkies, singer/songwriters and a range of instruments beyond electric guitar.

The Lunchbox also has a slightly larger sibling called the Club that is a complete P4P champion. It can hold its own against almost anything.  It’s like an Lunchbox on Steroids, and with a few more controls and features.  Between the bunch, the ZT lineup has the needs of most bands covered.

FN:  We’re excited to announce that we’ll be offering ZT Amps as a virtual good in our new Figment Lucre Store very soon!  How does it feel to have ZT be the leader in virtual as well as real amplification?

KK:  Very cool!  I’m looking forward to becoming a simulated billionaire!

2 Responses to “Plug In, Smile!”

  1. theHoseman Says:

    Eric…as always, great, informative interview! I had read a bit about the lunchbox amp before the contest dropped and was considerably intrigued.
    200 watts?? and smaller than my little toy Fender 15?? That’s pretty cool.

  2. frizbee Says:

    This was quite an informative and interesting interview. It’s cool to gain some perspective from a more technical aspect of the music world. I also think it’s awesome that ZT Amps will also be available within the Lucre Store.

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