When word got out in early 2020 that Mike Zaite and Alan Phillips (founder of Carol-Ann Amplifiers) were collaborating on a high-gain amp, the buzz was intense. After several prototypes and numerous design tweaks, the two masterminds came up with the Dr. Z CAZ-45.
A hand-wired, 45-watt, single-channel head, the CAZ runs on two 6L6s, three 12AX7s, and one 12DW7. The control set includes the near-requisite Bass, Mid, Treble, Presence, Gain, and Level knobs, but there are also a couple never before seen on a Dr. Z amp – the Aggression and Sensitivity knobs add tremendous tone-shaping capabilities, controlling the amp’s tightness and overall responsiveness.
With Aggression turned past 12 o’clock, low-end response is tight, pick attack sharp. Roll it back and you get a looser/smoother, less-aggressive sound. The Sensitivity knob is designed to tailor the amp’s responsiveness based on the player’s pickups. Turned up, it offers an extremely touch-sensitive and responsive feel under the fingers. Turn up the Gain along with the Sensitivity and pick harmonics fly off the fretboard. The ultra-smooth tube-driven effects loop is also impressive; time-based effects sound gorgeous.
From the first notes played, one notices the CAZ-45’s 3D-like clarity and presence. But there’s also a top-end roundness that makes it particularly pleasant to the ears. Crank up Gain and Level (volume) and the CAZ-45 absolutely screams. Turn down your guitar’s Volume and enjoy beautiful cleans. With its thick, chewy feel, this amp is a lot of fun to play. Sweet, singing sustain with a great feel is effortless at any volume all the way down to a whisper, thanks to Dr. Z’s unique “master volume” design.
Don’t be fooled into thinking the CAZ-45 is a high-gain one-trick pony. Yes, it’s capable of heavy tones, but it can do just about anything from clean to mean. Warm, musical sounds are a breeze with the Gain turned down, but if you want bright and articulate, the CAZ-45 has you covered – mid-gain classic rock and blues on through to fat, bouncy jazz tones. Regardless of how it’s dialed-in, the CAZ-45 may well make you a convert, with its otherworldly tones.
This article originally appeared in VG’s August 2021 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.