Each week, Tom Whitwell of Music Thing highlights the best of the new music gear that's coming out, as well as noteworthy vintage equipment. Last Saturday he gave us a little history of the Speak and Spell, this week he checks out the Zvex Nano Head:
I'm utterly in love with the Zvex Nano Head. It's a tiny, handmade,
hand-painted tube guitar amplifier, which sounds like a vintage Marshall amp but is quiet enough to use at home without
scaring people two streets away. One of the great things about music technology is that it isn't really that
technical. Any proper geek can make a guitar, an amp, an effect pedal or even a basic synth on their kitchen table.
It's not like building a cellphone, or a PDA.
One of the coolest kitchen-sink effects builders is Zachary Vex from Minneapolis. His Zvex pedals are hand-built by him, and hand painted by his buddy Jason Myrold (you can see both their signatures on every pedal). His Nano Head is a jewel-like beauty. The blue box is a bit smaller than an iPod, with two tiny valves protected by a steel roll cage. On one side is a one-inch fan. The big transformer takes the voltage in the box up to 230v so the tubes work properly, and it all generates a lot of heat.
The sun/cloud switch controls brightness and the fat man/thin man switch controls bass. There?s even a tiny speaker
hidden at the bottom. The Nano Head isn?t a gimmick. It?s surprisingly hard to get a good guitar sound from a 100 watt
stage amp like a big Marshall stack, mainly because it?s incredibly loud - microphones get overloaded, and it?s totally
impractical at home.
This amp has just half a watt of power, but it?s still enough to drive big four-by-twelve speaker cabinets. It just drives them about 20 decibels quieter than a normal amp.
Of course, all this hand-making costs a bit. The Nano Head sells for around $400. But if you?re having trouble making up your mind, this might help: Those tiny little valves? They were originally designed by the military for use in ballistic missiles. How cool is that?