Anacon Technology’s Aleksander
Niemand is a restless and very busy
man. When he’s not tinkering in his workshop
in Gothenburg, Sweden, he’s chiming
in on amp discussion forums. But, by now,
most probably know him for the Zagray!
amp, which was unveiled in its prototype
stage at the 2010 New York Amp Show.
The Zagray! experienced a very public
birth. The much-discussed 23-watt,
7591-powered head went through a variety
of well-documented circuit tweaks and redesigns
before it was ready to ship. So when
the amp arrived, I already knew a lot about
the Zagray!’s development and designer—
enough to have me twitching at the chance
to check it out in my own studio.
The Zagray! is a cool, unique marriage of
modern and industrial design, Art Deco
motifs, and a Scandinavian wood-and-steel
aesthetic that looks like an antique
radio scrambled up in a future-bound time
machine. The chassis is built of powder-coated
steel, a steel cage keeps the tubes
ventilated well, and rolling, wood handles
are handy, comfortable, and lend a touch
of country craft. If desired, it can be fitted
with optional flanges so it will fit into a
into a standard 19" 5U rack.
A peek through the steel cage reveals a
12AY7 and four 12AX7 preamp tubes, two
7591 power tubes (a favorite of Gibson
and Ampeg designers in the ’60s) and two
toroidal transformers. The circuit is laid out
on two double-sided PCBs, and switches,
pots, and tubes are mounted to the chassis
and handwired to the board.
While oodles of amps returning to
minimalist designs of late, the Zagray!
bucks that trend by loading the amp with
more options than you can shake a stick
at. The control layout is both interesting
and unconventional as a result. But while
at first glance the ten knobs and four
switches look intimidating, there’s a sound
logic behind it all. Next to the single
1/4" input there’s a three-way mini toggle
labeled SC/90/HB for matching single-coil,
P-90, and humbuckers to the input.
Next up is a Bottom knob with a two-way
mini toggle above for Trim/Bottom, then
Bass and Treble controls, and a Gain
knob. The real meat of what helps the
Zagray! stand apart, though, is the powerful
midrange tone shaping section, which
rivals any amp I’ve encountered.
A four-way Range control selects
between midrange points spaced half an
octave apart, and just above it is a Mid
knob used for boosting or cutting gain.
To the left of the Mid knob you’ll find an
Accent toggle, and to the right is a Midboost
toggle. Together, the four controls
give players authority over just about every
midrange tweak a guitarist could imagine.
Volume controls are just right of the mid
section. There’s a Drive knob followed by
Crystal and finally Clean Vol (clean mode
volume) and Xod Vol (overdrive mode
volume). Knob type helps to differentiate
function. Tone-shaping knobs are black
“chicken head”-style and the volume-based
are larger, circular knobs—a brilliantly simple
design concept once you get used to it.
Around back, an FX loop with Send,
Level, and Mix controls can be used in
series or parallel. A toggle also offers 15 dB
of buffered gain on the return signal. And
speaker outputs can be switched for 16, 8,
or 4 Ω operation.
While the Zagray! proved to be an amp
of stunning versatility over the course of
testing, it works beautifully in the simplest
settings, and loves nothing more than a
Stratocaster driving the amp in clean mode.
From squeaky-clean to spanky and edgy
and powerful, the Zagray! was a great blank
slate for the many voices of a Strat. For a
country session, setting the Stratocaster to
the bridge/middle pickup position had the
Zagray! quacking with authentic Blackface
tones. And the midrange controls gave me
so much flexibility that it literally felt as if
I was dialing in different amps throughout
the process. By pushing the clean output,
the tone got hairier and heavier, edging into
the territory covered by Roger Fisher on
Heart’s “Magic Man.” I even dialed in some
of those elusive Jimmy Page, Presence-era
tones through manipulation of the midrange
A ’74 Les Paul Custom and a switch to
HB mode pushed the Zagray! harder into
mid-gain territory in clean mode. And
with the Drive up all the way, the tone was
muscular and tight, prompting thoughts of
Montrose’s “Rock the Nation.” Activating
the Mid Boost kicked the drive up another
notch, which also beckoned me to switch to
Xod mode. It’s in this environment that the
Zagray! both surprises, and at least to my
ears, feels most at home. It’s huge and powerful
sounding, with an edgy confidence
that makes individual notes jump and command
attention. There are really no lousy
tones to be found here. Whether I cut the
Mid Boost, switched the four-position Mid
control or backed down the Mids altogether,
there wasn’t a bunk sound in the batch.
A Hamer Korina with P-90s was a great
fit for Xod mode, too—delivering sort
of a Steve Marriot Humble Pie crunch
crossed with a Billy Gibbons “Jesus Just
Left Chicago” tone that barked with sweetness.
Piling gain on top of high volume
in Xod mode made the tone edgy but
refined and controllable, and it was easy
to create beautiful harmonic feedback that
bloomed with raw complexity and significantly
broadened my tone vocabulary. The
amp’s dynamic response is, well, dynamite,
and notes exploded off the pick with a
vengeance when I put a little aggression
behind my attack.
Easing back the Gain and pushing up
the Drive reveals tones that are biting yet
intense, and reinforces how much range is
available just through the use of these two
controls. Combining the two in both clean
and Xod modes gives you anything from
light-gain, blackface-like tones to over-the-top Marshall grind or thick, buttery,
The super-quiet FX loop offers multiple
options for blending in color. And the Mix
control is great for blending in FX that
don’t already have mix controls on them,
which expands the versatility of your existing
gear beyond the huge menu of tone the
Zagray! puts at your disposal all on its own.
The footswitchable FX/boost mode offers
15 dB of gain that can be used to kick solos
up a notch so they stand above the mix.
Few amps I’ve played over the past few
years offer the flexibility, performance, tone
shaping options and pure fun of the Zagray!
If I had to choose a single studio amp for
my work, this might be it. It works as comfortably
with a 1x12 cab as it does with a
4x12. The power is just right for pushing
it into harder territory without blowing
your ears out, and its midrange capabilities
smoke just about every amp on the market.
Whether your needs are country-clean
twang or hard, driving rock, you’ll find a
way to get it with the Zagray!
It was a sad day at the studio when
I packed up the Zagray! and sent it off
to the New York Amp Show. It’s quite
simply a knockout that’s sure to rise to
the top of a lot of wish lists. It’s on mine
right now, and it hasn’t even left the
flexible, clean-to-mean ripping tones
with super-versatile midrange control
and bells and whistles to spare are
what you crave.
all you need is a volume and tone knob.