Bad Cat Amplifiers Introduced “The Ultimate Blackface” Amp for $1,299 and Didn’t Tell Us

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Boutique Roots
Bad Cat Tube Amplifiers was founded in 1999 on the basic principle Mark Sampson brought over from Matchless Amplification, to hand-craft classic circuits using superior components and materials. Many of the early Bad Cat amps made during Matchless’ brief bankruptcy period were merely rebranded Matchless circuits, some even had Matchless branded components! The DC30 became the Black Cat 30 and the Lightning became the Cub. Over the years Bad Cat’s engineers began introducing functional changes to these circuits based on input from their beta testers and touring professionals. The Black Cat was given dedicated master volumes (later updated to K-Masters) for each channel, independent reverb controls for each channel and internal channel switching among other improvements. The Cub eventually evolved into the Cub III which has the ability to toggle between a 12AX7 or EF86 in the preamp, boost for leads in either mode and like most of their amps has their patented K-Master power control circuit. They also began offering both of these models in 15w(2xEL84), 30w(4xEL84), and 40w (2xEL34) versions. Along the way they introduced a few original circuits like the Panther, Lynx, and the famed Hot Cat to their line of British flavored class A amps.

American Branches
As Bad Cat continued to build a family of loyal customers they all kept asking the same question, “When are you guys going to build a Blackface amp?” After nearly a decade of building strictly British amps, Bad Cat introduced their premium quality take on a class AB blackface circuit, the Classic Deluxe 20R (shown below). This model received rave reviews from magazines and customers alike. However, due to the quality of parts and massive amount of man-hours required to wire these circuits point-to-point, they were one of the costlier blackface offerings in the boutique market.

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Early “small combo” Classic Deluxe 20 (2009)

Blackface Revisited
Fast forward to 2015. Company president John Thompson began experimenting with their Classic Deluxe 20R. He added a bigger set of their custom wound transformers, fine tuned the voicing, came up with an innovative way to feed the reverb so it doesn’t suck tone and gave it dual K-Master volume controls for foot-switchable rhythm and lead levels. The results were what their beta testers deemed “The Ultimate Blackface”. Everyone who plugged into it would lose track of time as their experimented with using the gain knob and K-Master to get everything from massive cleans to “about to explode” blackface tones and everywhere in between. Bad Cat had succeeded in preserving everything enthusiasts love about the beloved AB763 circuit while simultaneously resolving the flabby bass, ice pick treble and the high noise floor that everyone loathes. The premium quality components improved headroom and produced a noticeably smoother midrange, allowing cleans to push through the edge of breakup and bloom into harmonically rich saturation. The only downside was this amp was even more expensive to produce than the previous version.

Problem Solved
In order to bring this amp to the masses Bad Cat began experimenting with the mil-spec PCB style of construction they developed for the USA Player Series Cub 15R and Cub 40R introduced at 2016 NAMM. This method of construction uses the exact same parts as their point-to-point amps. Premium components are through-hole mounted on a triple layer PCB to reduce labor costs. Two of the industries best PCB designers and Bad Cat’s genius of an engineer were employed to design a PCB amp that was indistinguishable from the point-to-point version. Every signal path was carefully designed to preserve the PTP tone and feel and grounds were isolated to the center plane of the PCB to create an unbelievably low noise floor.

Introducing the USA Player Series Classic Pro 20R
The Classic Pro 20R is a straight forward single channel amp that offers extreme versatility. The minimalist Volume, Treble, Bass controls on the front panel make it extremely to dial in at any volume thanks to the K-Master controls. This amp also comes standard with studio grade reverb that offers more modern flexility than analog spring reverb. The back panel possesses all of Bad Cat’s standard features: effects loop, dual speaker outputs, and a 4/8/16 ohm switch. They also gave it the ability to run at 20w with a pair of 6V6 or 35w with a pair of 6L6. The superior quality, tone and features offered from this amp make it one of the best values in the boutique amplifier industry. The head version is only $1,299 and the 11 ply birch 1×12 combo featuring Bad Cat’s signature UK made Celestion speaker is only $200 more.

Check out this demo and then click on the Tonesmiths link below for specs and pics:

If you enjoyed our review and are interested in this product we would greatly appreciate the opportunity to serve you. Please visit the Tonesmiths website for specs and pricing. Note: This item qualifies for for free US shipping.
Classic Pro 20R – USA Player Series

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Posted in Bad Cat Classic Pro, Bad Cat PCB, Best Blackface, Classic Pro 20R, Product Reviews, Uncategorized, USA Player Series | Leave a comment

Bursting the Boutique Bubble

The Bad News

Those who have attended the NAMM show over the past decade have noticed a disturbing trend amongst manufacturers of boutique guitars and amplifiers. It seems that rather than applying the global principles of efficiency that are essential to survival in any other industry that makes quality products, they continue to run inefficiently and pass along the cost of this inefficiency to the customer via escalating prices. Unfortunately this trend isn’t isolated to smaller companies. It has also become commonplace amongst industry leaders. Much to the chagrin of working musicians, we have been subjected to drastic price increases with no increase in quality or service just within the past few years. This has left us all asking the same question… “When is the bubble going to pop?”

The Good News

NAMM 2016 seems to have answered our question. A few manufacturers with impeccable reputations for premium quality introduced new product lines that took those drastic pricing changes in the opposite direction. Among these impressive offerings a few really stood out with their game changing prices.

James Tyler, a patriarch in the boutique guitar market, unveiled a new line of MIJ guitars that look, sound, and feel precisely like his standard USA made instruments which generally start at $4,200. James even made the sly decision to place his Made in USA and Made in Japan designations along the bottom edge of the headstock. This makes these $3,000 guitars nearly indistinguishable in appearance from their  US made brothers.

John Page, who gained his Master Builder namesake producing collector grade instruments during his tenure at Fender Custom Shop, also rolled out a line of MIJ guitars with even more unbelievable prices. His guitars, which are a slight twist on Leo’s original designs, looked, felt, and sounded as good as anything you would expect from a custom shop instrument. I was quite amazed with these guitars and even more wowed when I saw the $1,200 price tag!

Bad Cat Amps did something even more impressive. Instead of taking production offshore, they reduced prices by applying proven efficiency techniques throughout every part of their factory in Irvine, CA. Since their parent company Inductors, Inc. has been a staple in the premium electronics industry for decades, they were able to apply their efficient company structure and production techniques to the Bad Cat Amplifier line. The result of their efforts is the new USA Player Series. These hardwired amplifiers are assembled by the same techs using the same handwound transformers, premium components, aircraft aluminum chassis, and 11 ply birch cabs as their true point-to-point Legacy series. The only difference is the internal components are mounted to a mil-spec PCB like Two Rock, Tone King, Jackson Ampworks, and nearly every other boutique amp builder uses on their amps. Surface controls, jacks, and tube sockets are all chassis mounted for durability. Bad Cat’s efficiency approach has effectively created the first premium hardwired USA amplifier with a lifetime warranty that competes in price with the PCB Deluxe Reverb and AC30 amps being imported from Asian factories.  The first amp in this line is the USA Player Series Cub IIIR, which sounds identical to their PTP Cub IIIR. This model is available as a 15w (2xEL84) head for $1,099 USD or 40w (2xEL34) head for $1,199 USD. You can make it an 11 ply birch combos with a UK made Bad Cat Celestion for only $200 more. This is the first of many amps Bad Cat hopes to release  in this price range. By next NAMM they plan to add their American blackface style amp to this series. 

Like every other working musician, my sincere hope is that  companies like these will inspire other boutique and major manufacturers to look for ways to improve production and company structure so they can offer better pricing to their customers without any compromise in quality. Looking forward to next NAMM!

Thanks for reading the Tonesmiths Report.                                                                                   Please visit for more information, specs, and ordering information on the Bad Cat USA Player Series Cub IIIR.




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Warm Strings/ Bright Amp: The 60’s Tone Secret Revealed

Have you ever wondered why the flagship amps created by Fender, Marshall, and Vox during the 60’s were so dang bright? The reason why is because these circuits were developed around the piano quality nickel alloy strings being used during that decade. When Nixon’s 1971 free trade agreement introduced affordable Chinese steel to string manufacturers, the carbon content of this more affordable material produced a noticeably brighter string with an anemic low end. That’s when guitarists started turning down those presence and cut knobs that were a common feature on every 60’s amp. The only problem is they were also cutting all of the upper frequencies where tube harmonics reside.

Sadly, most guitarists are still making this bright-strings-into-a-dull-amp mistake today. The secret to replicating the tones heard on those legendary recordings from the 50’s and 60’s is to use strings that possess strong low-mids and rolled off treble frequencies into a bright amp adjusted to accentuate the harmonic content it was designed to produce.
Unfortunately not many big string makers see the value in using those “outdated” materials. Even the nickel strings are made from cheap offshore materials and have inconsistent winds. The only guy I know that’s doing it right is Dean Farley of Sonotone. This 40 year veteran in the industry recently began reproducing and improving upon the original string formulas used during the “Golden Era of Tone” at one of the few metal extrusion factories in the world. By starting with blocks of premium metal rather than premade spools of wire (like most factories), Sonotone is able to produce strings with the same mixture of materials used back in the hey day of rock n roll.

If you really want to try something affordable that will make a major difference then experiment with the very thing that generates the base tone everything in your signal chain is designed to accentuate… your strings.

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The “Schaffer Sound” is Back!

The Solodallas Story

 In 1974 American inventor Ken Schaffer introduced the first commercially available wireless system for electric guitar and bass. Little did he know he was also creating a circuit that would revolutionize the sound of rock and roll.

A consummate perfectionist, Mr. Schaffer incorporated a few interactive circuits into his system to preserve the integrity of the wireless signal. A mirror image compressor and expander were placed in the transmitter and receiver to increase the radio circuit’s dynamic range to over 100 DB. This companding technology allowed for  –35 dB more than the theoretical maximum that had been previously achieved over any radio circuit. The receiver also featured a balanced DI on the rear and a ¼” monitor out with it’s own driver circuit on the front.

Since many A list guitarists of the day preferred to run straight into their amps on stage rather than direct out to the console, they opted to use the 1/4” monitor out. It was upon using this output that they discovered the internal monitor driver could be used to boost the signal going into the front of their amps. The result was pure magic! The compressor, expander, boost, and line buffer enriched their signal with copious amounts of harmonic content and pushed their amps into heavenly saturation unlike anything they had ever heard. News traveled fast and soon Ken Schaffer’s wireless units became the system of choice for artists such as…

AC/DC, Aerosmith, America, The Beach Boys, Billy Joel, Black Sabbath, Blondie (Chris Stein), Bob Seger, Bob Weir , Bootsy Collins, Boston, Derringer, Earth Wind & Fire, Electric Light Orchestra, Fleetwood Mac, Foghat, Foreigner, Frank Zappa, The Grateful Dead (Jerry Garcia), Heart, Heatwave, Johnny Guitar Watson, Kansas, Kiss, L.T.D., Pat Travers, Peter Frampton, Peter Gabriel, Pink Floyd (Gilmour/Waters), Randy Bachman, The Rolling Stones (Richards/Wood), Stephen Stills, Steve Miller, Steven Van Zandt, Styx, The 5th Dimension, Thin Lizzy, Tom Petty (Mike Campbell), Todd Rungren, Eddie Van Halen, Yes, and ZZ Top.

Unfortunately the Schaffer wireless system was forced out of production in 1982, largely due to stricter FCC regulations on wireless technologies. Artists ranging from AC/DC to ZZ Top were soon required to abandon their secret weapon and the legendary “Schaffer Sound” slipped into obscurity.

It wasn’t until nearly 40 years later that renowned AC/DC aficionado Fil “Solodallas” Olivieri discovered a hidden gem while pouring over an old Guitar Player Magazine interview with Angus Young. When Angus, who’d always claimed he never used effects, was once again asked if he used any effects during the recording of AC/DC’s iconic Back in Black album he replied, “Only my Schaffer wireless system. Malcolm and I use the boost to push the front end of our amps”. What? Why had he never heard mention of this before?

Mr. Olivieri scoured the globe to find one of these elusive 40 year old units. When it finally arrived he plugged his SG into the transmitter, ran the headphone output on the receiver into his Plexi, and turned up the headphone driver. The result… Instant Angus!

Fil knew he couldn’t keep this discovery a secret. A few demos later his community of 15,000 AC/DC freaks were all scrambling to get their hands on one of these magical Schaffer units. Unfortunately few had survived the decades. It was then that Fil decided to contact the original designer Ken Schaffer to request his permission to reproduce the original unit (minus the wireless function). Mr. Schaffer obliged and “The Schaffer Replica” was born.

The recipient of unit #1 was Angus Young himself. A week later his longtime guitar tech Rick St. Pierre called at Angus’ urging to order two more of The Schaffer Replica towers and three of the compact SoloBoost pedals featuring the same circuit. Thanks to the dedication of Ken Schaffer and Fil Olivieri, Angus finally got his tone back!  Angus can now be heard using The Schaffer Replica on stage and on the latest AC/DC album Rock or Bust. Angus Young turned out to be the first among many great guitarists to rediscover “The Schaffer Sound”. It appears the secret weapon that revolutionized the sound of rock and roll is back to do it all over again.

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US Dealers

Rudy’s Music – New York, NY

Dan’s Guitars – Honolulu, HI

The Amp Shop – Sherman Oaks, CA

Kenny’s Music – Dana Point, CA

VIsion Guitar – San Jose CA

Sixx Gun Music – Saugus MA

Up Front Guitars in Franklin, MA

The Amp House – Scottsboro AL

Memphis Backline – Memphis TN

The Guitar Sanctuary – McKinney, TX

Please email for list of international dealers in Canada, Mexico, France, Italy, Germany, Denmark, England, Denmark, and Japan



Ken Schaffer Replica tower $999 USD


SoloBoost pedal $349 USD

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How to Assemble Lava Solderless Patch Cables Without Shredding Your Fingertips

Okay, We’ve all seen those whiner posts from guys who just rewired their entire pedalboard with a Lava Cable solderless kit. They usually mention raw fingertips, copper splinters, cables that take 3 to 4 attempts before they work, and end with the hash tag #neveragain.

After wiring quite a few pedalboards with these cables, I discovered a foolproof way to assemble Lava solderless cables that saves time, frustration, and pain.

I welcome any tips or tricks anyone reading this has picked up along the way in the comments section below.


 How to Assemble Lava Solderless Patch Cables

1. Use sharp scissors to cut cable to length.


2. Gently squeeze cable with needle nose pliers to make it round again.

(This is extremely important since it aligns the center cable with the pin located inside the 1/4″ plug).


3. Remove outer sleeve about ¼” back from tip using Lava tool.


4. Use sharp scissors to neatly trim any stray braided wires protruding beyond the tip.


5. Insert cable into shaft of plug and finger tighten.


6. Test each solderless connector by touching the open wires or plug on the other end with your finger while giving it a wiggle.

(I recommend keeping a small test amp on your workbench for convenience)


7. If it passes QC, use a pair or pliers to tighten the post.

(Finger tightened cables inevitably work their way loose and cause problems)


Note: Avoid the temptation to straighten braided copper cables with your fingers whenever possible. This practice combined with attempting to get connectors super tight with your bare hands will result in the raw fingertips full of copper splinters. No fun for a guitarists!

Tonesmiths is a gear consultation service. We offer free tone-shaping advice to touring and aspiring guitarists. Please contact us below or email me at if you need any help designing your sound.

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How to Maximize Your Tube Amp’s Harmonic Saturation

Have you ever recorded a clean guitar track only to notice it sounds remarkably fuller and slightly more overdriven after it runs through the preamp and plug-ins designed to accentuate natural frequencies? Harmonic distortion is playing a big part in this phenomenon. What if you could accomplish the same thing through your tube guitar amplifier?

 I’ve been doing a lot of experimentation with maximizing harmonic saturation lately. I removed a few “harmonic sucking” pedals from my pedalboard and tuned everything in my signal chain to accentuate the 2nd, 4th, and even 6th generation even order harmonics produced by my tube amp. The odd order 3rd, and 5th generation harmonics play an  important part too, but it’s the even octave ones I’m working to bring out due to their musicality.

Note: I’m using a Bad Cat Stella with their patented K master circuit that’s explained here: Bad Cat Cub III Review. When turned up above noon this master circuit has the ability to boost the EL34 power tubes without stressing them in the least. The result is a massive amount of harmonically rich power tube saturation. The pentode EF86 in the V1 position and dual triode 12AX7 tone stack buffer in the preamp also abound with harmonics.

How’d I get here?

I’ve been heading in this direction after noticing how some of the P&W guitarists I work with are able to cut through the mix in a concert setting much better than others. The ones that rely on multiple stages of EQ altering boosts and grainy overdrives set at high gain tend to get lost in the drummer’s cymbal wash with all of their unnatural artifacts. While the ones who use their pedals to accentuate frequencies rather than distort them (James Duke is a great example) are able to introduce new frequencies that cause their tube amps to respond in natural ways that are full of harmonic saturation and just plain beautiful at even the highest gain settings.  They don’t get more distorted, just more saturated with rich harmonics. When using ethereal and modulated effects they tend to cut through the mix better too, sounding more like a 3D orchestra than a one dimensional horn section.

Where do we start?

Well, at the source of course! The most important contributor to great guitar tone is a harmonically rich instrument. If a guitar sounds good unplugged, it is most likely capable of sounding great amplified. An amazing sounding instrument will give the harmonics produced by analog circuits, high quality processors, and vacuum tubes along the way more to work with.

Many of the tips mentioned in my previous article A Few Inexpensive Ways to Improve Your Tone can help bring out desirable frequencies very early in your signal chain. A perfectly intonated instrument, hardware, nut, strings, pickups, pickup height, wire loom, switches, pots, tone/treble bleed caps, and instrument cables are all inexpensive but very crucial contributors to a full sounding signal.

Adjusting Your Pedals

Anything added to your chain after the signal leaves your guitar should act to accentuate the frequencies you want to hear. I recommend that you get your fundamental tone dialed in where you want it before you start adding pedals. Plug your guitar lead straight into your amp and follow the steps in my previous Tonesmiths Report entitled How to Quickly Dial In a Tube Amplifier. This article explains how to set up your tube amp in a way that increases touch sensitivity and note bloom. After all, if you don’t like your basic tone then no amount of effects pedals is going to help.

Remember this is rock-n-roll, so these aren’t rules just suggestions for increasing the presence of harmonic distortion in your signal chain. There are no rules when it comes to pedals designed to intentionally produce crazy noises or massive amounts of gain. Use whatever gets you the sounds needed for the music you play. Just be sure to choose pedals made from quality components that sound natural when engaged and bypassed. Beware of the “tone suckers” and don’t get too caught up in the true bypass thing (the Klon should’ve debunked that snobbery long ago). Here are some pointers for selecting and dialing in a few of the most commonly used pedals.

 Compressor/ Expander/ Sustainer- These can both act to accentuate desirable frequencies. Just be careful not to squash your signal to death. I abandoned my onboard compressor since my tubes provide enough natural compression and the sound engineer generally compresses my signal in the house mix. I replaced it with The Schaffer Replica by Solodallas. This compressor in this pedal is followed by an expander that removes unwanted squash and pump while still allowing for dynamic leveling. It also increases sustain and introduces tons of rich harmonic content. My best discovery in recent years. You can read about it here in our Tonesmiths Report entitled  The “Schaffer Sound” is Back!

Clean Boost- The trickiest part is finding a transparent boost with a perfectly flat response. That will allow you to push the tubes in your amp into natural saturation and work well as a lead boost without messing with your EQ every time you step on it. Boosts shouldn’t be left on to make your amp sound fuller. If this is needed then just turn up the volume and adjust the EQ to achieve the same thing without it.

Overdrive- Finding a overdrive that introduces low mid to treble frequencies that cause the tubes in your amp to react in a musical ways isn’t easy either. Try setting your overdrives on the edge of breakup with the EQ set as bright as you’re comfortable with. Other ODs with different colors can be used independently or added in stages to introduce as much harmonic distortion as you like.

Distortions and Fuzzes- Believe it or not there are distortion and fuzz pedals that generate harmonic distortion that’s very musical. Sometimes those pedals nail the “bad tones” perfectly. Other distortion pedals use a controlled mix of even and odd order  harmonics to produce smooth amp-like overdrive that doesn’t sound or react like a pedal.

A lovable fuzz pedal can be hard to find. Silicon fuzz pedals tend to be smoother sounding, whereas germanium based fuzzes produce a grainier square wave frequency that is nearly made up of all even order harmonics.

Reverbs-  reverbs are more important in this equation than you may think. They contribute ambient overtones that can either make your overall harmonic structure artificial sounding or become the harmonic icing on the cake. Try adjusting the tone knob to a resonant frequency that complements the uppermost frequencies produced by your amp.

Other Pedals- There’s an ever-growing sea of amazing (and not so amazing) effect pedals out there to choose from. Too many to cover here. Just have fun experimenting and discovering new sounds. You may want to consider a signal buffer if you run more than five pedals though.

This YouTube video does a pretty good job of describing the basics of how harmonics and harmonic distortion are generated:

Frequencies & Sound explained #4 : Harmonics & Harmonic Distortion

Tonesmiths is a gear consultation service. We offer free tone-shaping advice to touring and aspiring guitarists. Please contact us below if you need any help designing your sound.

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Bad Cat Cub III Review


The other day I had an opportunity to demo the final version of the Cub III 40. As a Bad Cat beta tester, I’ve had the privilege of sampling the Cub III series throughout it’s various developmental stages, as well as the opportunity to provide input along the way. There are several groundbreaking features that have me very excited about this new series. I apologize that I didn’t shoot any video (online videos never do justice anyway). I’ll do my best to describe every new feature in detail.

Here goes!

The Basics

The Cub III features the same Sampson C30 inspired preamp as the twin channel Black Cat. Like the Black Cat, it’s available with a 15w (2xEL84), 30w (4xEL84), or 40w (2xEL34) power section. The 40w version covers the tones of the Stella and Luca models by combining both circuits into one model. The 15 and 30 watt versions are available as a head or combo and the 40 watt version is available in head form only (subject to change) The Cub III is also available with or without spring reverb.

New Features

Big George, John, and Mike at Bad Cat pulled out all the stops to make this new series the most game-changing tube amp design on the market. There are several new features, a few of which are completely original innovations. Here are few worth mentioning:

Footswitchable 12AX7/ EF86

Previously the Cub II could be ordered with either a 12AX7 or an EF86 in the V1 position. The Cub III comes equipped with a 12AX7 and an EF86 installed. Either tube can be placed in the circuit via the mini toggle on the faceplate or the included footswitch. Though the Cub III is in theory a single channel amp with one set of knobs, the tube select function opens up much of the versatility traditionally found in twin channel amps.

Footswitchable Lead Boost

The other button on the included footswitch activates a 3-5 db lead boost when the bass/treble mode is being used. Since it boosts the tube used for the tonestack it does not provide a boost when the 5 position tonewheel is selected. This boost can also be manually selected using the mini toggle located along the top between the bass and treble knobs.

Klimek Master Volume

The Klimek (Big George’s last name) or K master volume is in my opinion the best thing to happen to tube amps in a very long time. So many other onboard and outboard devices had falsely promised to reduce volume while maintaining tone, that I had lost all hope in attenuation. When George told me his original approach to control multiple variables simultaneously kept 100% of the circuit’s tonal integrity intact, I was more than skeptical.

Man, I ran that amp through it’s paces, gain down/master up, gain up/master down, and… of course… everything cranked! It doesn’t just control volume. It actually lets you cut or boost power to the output tubes without straining them in the least. Cutting the K master reduced volume down to a whisper without changing tone or response. Boosting the K master beyond median gain increased headroom by taking advantage of those huge Bad Cat transformers. It also unleashed those coveted harmonics that can only be produced by power tube saturation.

If you’ve been searching as diligently for uncompromising power control as I have then please don’t take my word for it. Go try one of the new Bad Cat amps for yourself. The K master is now featured on the entire Cub III series.

Aircraft Aluminum Chassis

The new chassis not only improves the shielding of the circuit, but reduces overall weight by about 2 lbs.

Improved Grounding

Big George went back to the drawing board on this one. He discovered a traditional approach to grounding tube circuits that produces a much lower noise floor than the time saving approaches used by every other guitar amplifier manufacturer.

Effects Loop

Bad Cat decided to include a free passive effects loop in all of their amps. Enjoy!

Ohm Selector

This isn’t new, but the Cub III series includes a 4/8/16 ohm selector

Solid Italian Poplar Headshell

Though the combos and speaker cabinets are still constructed of 13 ply voidless birch for tonal and structural reasons, all headshells are now made of solid Italian Poplar. This material is not only extremely durable, but much lighter than Birch ply. It reduces the overall weight of their headshells by nearly 4 lbs.

Transferrable Lifetime Warranty

As with all Bad Cat Amplifiers, the Cub III comes with a transferrable lifetime warranty.


Please contact us if you would like a price quote for the Cub III 15/30/40 or any other Bad Cat models. 

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Bad Cat Amplifier Models Simplified

As a dealer who specializes in Bad Cat Amplifiers I often find myself helping customers understand the similarities between their different models. Understandably, It can be a little confusing at first since many of their amps which are actually very similar have very different names. So here’s a little explanation to make the decision process easier.

Note: Bad Cat rates their amplifiers conservatively at watts before breakup. So for example, an amp that is rated at 30 watts clean is capable of closer to 45 watts (50% more) when pushed.

 All premium Bad Cat amps come standard with a true half power switch, 4/8/16 ohm selector, post phase inverter master volume, a passive effects loop, and footswitchable channels on dual channel models.

 British Series

 Black Cat (dual channel -12AX7/EF86 – refined AC30 top boost circuit)

Available wattage:

2xEL34 @ 40 watts

4xEL84 @ 30 watts

2xEL84 @ 15 watts

The Black Cat is essentially Bad Cat’s version of the C30 circuit that Mark Sampson brought over from Matchless. It combines the exact same transformer set and with slightly higher quality components. Mark made a few improvements based on artist and customer recommendations and some improvements continued to be added after he left. Features that were added included quieter grounding, better signal path wire, 4/8/16 ohm selector, individual K master power controls for each channel, separate reverbs for each channel, a passive effects loop, and best of all made the channels footswitchable.


Wild Cat (dual channel -12AX7/EF86 – refined AC30 top boost circuit)  *Renamed the Black Cat 40

Available wattage:

2xEL34 @ 40 watts

The Wild Cat is a Black Cat through a pair of EL34s at 40 watts


Judah (dual channel -12AX7/EF86 – refined AC30 top boost circuit)

Available wattage:

2x6V6 @ 20 watts

The Judah is a Black Cat through a pair of 6V6s in class AB at 20 watts. It was designed for guitarists wanting Black Cat tones at lower stage volumes. It features a solid state rectifier to give it the faster attack of a class A amp.


Lil 15 (dual channel -12AX7/EF86 – refined AC30 top boost circuit)

Available wattage:

2xEL84 @ 15 watts

The Lil 15 is a miniaturized PTP Black Cat. It has a limited EQ because of space restrictions. It uses the same huge transformer set as the Cub II and features a solid state rectifier and a 1/4” line out.


Trem Cat (single channel – EF86 – refined AC30 top boost circuit)

Available wattage:

4xEL84 @ 30 watts

Based on the Matchless JJ30 originally built for John Jorgensen, the Trem Cat is the EF86 channel of the Black Cat with the addition of multiple tone stack options, tube driven tremolo, and spring reverb.


Cub III (single channel – selectable 12AX7 or EF86 – refined AC30 top boost circuit)

Available wattage:

2xEL34 @ 40 watts

4xEL84 @ 30 watts

2xEL84 @ 15 watts

The Cub III is a single channel from  the Black Cat with the addition of the selectable 5 position tonewheel that is only found on the EF86 channel of the Black Cat. Though it is truly a single channel amp with one set of controls, it comes equipped with a selectable 12AX7 and EF86 in the V1 position. These different preamp modes may be selected via the included two button footswitch or manually with the onboard mini toggle. The other button on the footswitch engages a lead boost. This model also features the K master power control.


Luca/ Stella (single channel – 12AX7 or EF86 – refined AC30 top boost circuit) *Replaced by Cub III 40/ Special order only

Available wattage:

2xEL34 @ 40 watts

The Luca is a Cub II through a pair of EL34s at 40 watts

The Stella is the same amp as the Luca with an EF86 in place of the 12AX7 preamp tube. It trades about 20% less clean headroom for 20% more gain.

Luca Specs:

Stella Specs:

Hot Cat Series (dual channel -12AX7/EF86 – original circuit)

Available wattage:

2xEL84 @ 15 watts

2xEL34 @ 30 watts

2xEL34 @ 50 watts

The Hot Cat is an original creation that Mark Sampson and James Heinrich developed over a period of time at Bad Cat. It doesn’t sound like a Vox, Marshall, or Fender, so it’s hard to put a finger on. It just sounds good and that’s the reason it’s won the hearts of so many artists, recording engineers, and reviewers.

Like the Black Cat it’s a footswitchable dual channel amp, but the EF86 channel on this one has an extra gain stage making it capable of high gain.

Hot Cat 30 Specs:

Hot Cat 15 Specs:

Kool Cat (single channel -12AX7 – original circuit)

Available wattage:

2xEL84 @ 15 watts

2xEL34 @ 30 watts

The Kool Cat is the 12AX7 clean channel of the Hot Cat. It has four knobs on the front panel (Volume, Tone, Cut, Master).


Lynx (dual channel -12AX7/EF86 – original circuit)

2xEL34 @ 50 watts

The Lynx is essentially a 50w Hot Cat circuit with a more advanced EQ, especially in the mids.


American Series

Fat Cat 50R (dual channel -12AX7 – Tweed B*ssman style circuit)

Available wattage:

2x6L6 @ 50 watts (Class AB)

This amp started out as a ’59 Tweed B*ssman circuit. But after Bad Cat assembled it with studio grade components and ran it through their 10x overspec transformers it ended up sounding like a huge Bl*ckface amp.


Classic Deluxe (single channel -12AX7 – Bl*ckface D*luxe Reverb style circuit)

Available wattage:

2x6V6 @ 20 watts (Class AB)

2x6L6 @ 45 watts (Class AB)

Imagine a handwired D*luxe or Pr* Reverb made with overspec transformers and studio grade components. That’s the Classic Deluxe.


Classic Cat (single channel -12AX7 – ’57 Tweed D*luxe style circuit)

Available wattage:

2x6V6 @ 20 watts (Class AB)

Now imagine a handwired Deluxe made with overspec transformers and studio grade components. That’s the Classic Cat. Blues players love this one.


Posted in Uncategorized | 12 Comments presents Dusty Redmon of The Almost Pedalboard Rundown

Dusty Redmon of The Almost meets up with his tone consultant to give his fans a tour of his pedalboard.

Signal Chain: Strat, Southpaw Pedalboards, Lava Cable, Trex Fuel Tank, TC Polytune, JHS Morning Glory, Trex Mudhoney, JHS Superbolt, ISP Decimator Ernie Ball VPjr, Trex Tremster, MXR Carbon Copy, Strymon El Capistan, Strymon Blue Sky, JHS Buffer, Bad Cat Classic Deluxe 20R 1×12 combo

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A Few Inexpensive Ways to Improve Your Tone

I recently witnessed an interaction between two guys on a gear forum that opened my eyes to an all too common mindset that prevents many musicians from easily improving their tone. The mindset is this: “Why should I spend a few bucks more on quality picks, strings, tubes, etc. when I can spend hundreds on pedals to improve my tone?”

The conversation was between a reputable session player who used to tour with Alice Cooper and an experienced church guitarist. The session player was telling him how amazing the Vintage Nickel Alloy strings by Sonotone are and how they were the missing link for him. He went on to talk about how his tone is better, neck tension is improved, and his strings, which he was meticulous about changing before each session or gig, are lasting much longer and require fewer tuning touch ups between takes.  The other guy wasn’t buying the hype and responded, “Why should I spend $14 on a pack of strings when I can get D’Addarios on sale for $3?” For me the answer was simple… Because the original sound generated by the strings is what we are spending hundreds if not thousands of dollars processing and amplifying in search of our desired tone.

So this got me thinking “What other relatively inexpensive investments have I made that have reaped greater benefits than the more costly items that many are so quick to invest in?”. Here are a few that I personally use and have recommended to customers, artists, and friends over the years. The risk and investment is low with all of these suggestions. If something is not for you, you’re only out a few bucks. But, don’t give up! Keep searching for effective tools. One of them might just turn out to be your missing link. If you find something or already know of something life changing be sure to post it in the comments for the rest of us.

V-Picks ($4 USD)

If you haven’t tried V-picks yet you are missing out on one of the simplest tone improving inventions of our era. These acrylic picks have precision beveled edges that increase playing efficiency, are made of materials that improve the sonic response of your strings, and have a micro-surface that makes them slip proof. Yes, I said slip proof! These picks are adored by the masters of the sweep-picking technique, but I found them to be the perfect remedy for keeping my tremolo picking in time (tremolo picking is that beautiful fast picking technique you hear in the background music at nearly every Italian restaurant). V-Picks are available in every imaginable shape and size. They even come in colors, so you can find them later should you somehow escape their slip proof grip.

Snake Oil Brand Strings ($13 USD)

As referenced earlier these strings really do offer a huge improvement in feel, tone, and longevity. The creator of these strings, Dean Farley has been in the boutique string business for a very long time. As an experienced metallurgist and student of the history of guitar strings, Dean had a eureka moment that set him on a path to recreate the superior quality nickel alloy strings that can be heard on all of the recordings we love from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. This silky warm tone that can be heard on the recordings of every legend from Hendrix on down was lost when the penny-pinching accountants began to decide which materials would be most beneficial for the manufacturers of these disposable products back in the early 80’s.  It was then that more affordable stainless steel became the metal of choice. The problem is steel contains carbon, the same material that makes diamonds hard. What do you think happens to your nickel frets when you rub steel against them versus softer nickel? Can you say “fret job”? Even coated steel strings won’t protect your frets, since the contacts points are the first place the coating wears off. You will quickly discover that high quality nickel alloy not only sounds much fuller, but it will resist also environmental conditions and stay in tune longer than equally priced coated strings.

Be warned though, the Snake Oil String website is overwhelming at first. Dean has dedicated himself to creating acoustic, electric, and bass strings for every player and application. He even designs them for different model guitars. I recommend using his Rock Formula pure nickel round wound strings as a median point and then working to find your desired brightness from there. The Vintage Formula is a little warmer and the Lord Headbangers are perfect for players who require brighter strings to cut through their saturated amps. My strings usually arrive within 5 business days when I order them direct from Sfarzo.

PM Components Amplifier Tubes ($10-$25 each)

These tubes by legendary tube designer Peter M. Watson are so amazing I dedicated an entire Tonesmiths Report to them. Mr. Watson honed his craft while working alongside the brilliant tube innovators at the factory that invented the 12AX7! After meeting Peter at NAMM a couple years back and taking some samples home, I contacted PM Component’s home office in the UK and begged them to make me a dealer for these game-changing tubes. This is the only product on this list that I’m a dealer for. I’m completely unashamed about this, because it’s about time someone make these premium tubes known to someone besides all the hi-fi enthusiasts. They are the closest thing to NOS in tone and quality being made today. All of my clients are going crazy over these tubes right now.  Those who ordered a few to try want to retube every amp in their stable. I haven’t had one customer yet that wasn’t completely blown away by the noticeable improvement in their amp’s tone and response immediately upon installation. And the best news is and they cost no more than JJ tubes.

Here’s the link with an interview featuring Peter M. Watson:

The Best 12AX7 on the Market

Guitar Tone Capacitor ($15)

I’ve been suggesting this little trick to friends and clients for quite some time now. There are quite a few other upgrades you can make to your guitar electronics. But, this one has proven to have the most dramatic effect for the money and it’s easy to install. I was fortunate enough to discover a stash of NOS paper in oil caps at a local electronics warehouse many years ago. This gave me a chance to A/B different value and types of caps against each other in many guitars. Those caps found their way into many of my friends’ guitars and elicited a “Wow!” every time. Paper in oil are suggested for single coil (.047 mfd) and humbuckers (.022 mfd) equipped guitars, though ceramic caps are still preferred by many traditional Tele players (.01 or .05 mfd).  A .047 mfd paper in oil cap will give your Tele a more Strat like sound, especially on the neck pickup. Some modern Tele players prefer this. Try a .033 mfd paper in oil cap on your P90 pickups to release the snarl.

I’m sure I forgot a bunch of stuff. But here’s a list of a few other fairly inexpensive accessories that have worked for me:

Quality instrument cablesoxygen free copper cable with a rugged exterior and solid connections 

CTS or Bourns volume and tone potentiometers better tone, smoother, and quieter

Treble bleed capkeeps tone from getting thin as you turn the volume pot down

Shielding on single coil guitars to reduce humuse spray-on for cavity and sticker for pick guard 

Signal buffer – use on pedalboards with more than 5 pedals to retain tone

Dunlop extra thick glass slide – maximum tone with minimal string rattle

G7th Nashville Capo – perfect tension and contact surface increases clarity/ quick change

Professional Set up- Not necessarily inexpensive, but essential

And lastly…  Altoids Can- to keep your picks curiously fresh!

Tonesmiths Customer Testimonials

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Tonesmiths is a professional tone consultation service. We offer free tone-shaping advice to touring and aspiring guitarists. Please contact us on the form below if there is anything we can help you with. 

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