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.

Specs: http://www.tonesmiths.com/collections/amp-lounge/products/black-cat

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

Specs: http://www.tonesmiths.com/collections/amp-lounge/products/wild-cat-r

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.

Specs: http://www.tonesmiths.com/collections/amp-lounge/products/judah

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.

Specs: http://www.tonesmiths.com/collections/amp-lounge/products/lil-15

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.

Specs: http://www.tonesmiths.com/collections/amp-lounge/products/trem-cat

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.

Specs: http://www.tonesmiths.com/collections/amp-lounge/products/cub-ii

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: http://www.tonesmiths.com/collections/amp-lounge/products/luca

Stella Specs: http://www.tonesmiths.com/collections/amp-lounge/products/stella

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: http://www.tonesmiths.com/collections/amp-lounge/products/hot-cat-30

Hot Cat 15 Specs: http://www.tonesmiths.com/collections/amp-lounge/products/hot-cat-15

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).

Specs: http://www.tonesmiths.com/collections/amp-lounge/products/kool-cat

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.

Specs: http://www.tonesmiths.com/collections/amp-lounge/products/lynx

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.

Specs: http://www.tonesmiths.com/collections/amp-lounge/products/fat-cat-50r

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.

Specs: http://www.tonesmiths.com/collections/amp-lounge/products/classic-deluxe-20r

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.

Specs: http://www.tonesmiths.com/collections/amp-lounge/products/classic-cat

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www.tonesmiths.com presents Dusty Redmon of The Almost Pedalboard Rundown

Dusty Redmon of The Almost meets up with his tone consultant http://www.tonesmiths.com 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.

http://v-picks.com

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.

http://www.sfarzo.us/SNAKE_OIL_STRINGS.html

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.

http://angela.com/angelajensenaluminumfoilpaperinoilsignalcapacitors.aspx

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  http://www.tonesmiths.com/pages/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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James Duke’s Cool Delay Trick!

Here’s a great example of James Duke’s cool delay trick in action. He starts with the repeats all the way up and the delays on the longest setting on his DMM+TT, then sweeps the time knob and quickly hits the bypass for some analog goodness. This is a quick technique to master with a little practice. Just remember to turn your repeats down before you step on that delay again 🙂

Read what James Duke and others have to say about Tonesmiths http://www.tonesmiths.com/pages/testimonials

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Daniel Carson’s Pedalboard Rundown

Daniel Carson of the Chris Tomlin band gives his gear consultant http://www.tonesmiths.com a thorough rundown of his current pedalboard.

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How to Make Your New Guitar Sound Old

Late Night Science

I’ve been walking down a path of guitar research lately that I’ve always felt borders on quackery. It has to do with how the resins in old instruments set up in response to the conditions and frequencies they are subjected to over many years. The more I dive into this the more I realize that there is quite a bit of science and research to support these claims.

I recently decided to revisit these physics while working with the owner of Dirty South Guitars (https://www.facebook.com/DirtySouthGuitars?ref=br_tf). He recently happened upon a large stash of swamp ash that had been aging in a local warehouse for over 20 years. This center cut wood came from a tree that was over 50 years old and had been aging unpainted in plank form which made it age at a faster rate than wood which has been encapsulated with fillers, sealers, and paint.  It’s very light (2.4 lb bodies) and the guitars made from it exhibit characteristics usually only found in vintage guitars.

Classical Science

I was reading about a phenomenon known among owners of fine violins where a stored instrument is known to sound better within just a short time of playing it. They refer to this response as the violin “opening up”. The wood is known to quickly display a greater flexibility, increased volume, and a warmer tone as this lightweight instrument is subjected to the intense vibrations of music.  For this reason the wealthy conservators who own most of the Strativari violins are known to loan them to lead violinists in orchestras. This keeps the instrument “open”, allows it to be enjoyed by others, (and most likely ensures them great seats at the philharmonic).

Weird Science

The belief is that the resins (a combination of dried sap, oils, relative moisture, etc.) actually respond to musical vibrations in much the same way the salt is responding to sound waves in those amazing cymatic videos we’ve all seen on YouTube www.youtube.com/watch?v=GtiSCBXbHAg. As the resins in a guitar that is continually curing are exposed to musical frequencies over many years they begin to align themselves in microscopic patterns along the wood grain in a way that creates conduits for tone.

Advanced Science

There are several guitar builders that are employing patented and secretive techniques for getting their instruments to sound like vintage guitars many years their senior. The first guy who comes to mind is a controversial builder from Nashville by the name of Kelton Swade. Kelton has a secret formula, which he refers to it as a “Colonel Sander’s recipe”, for treating his woods over a three month period that causes the resins to dry out and form in a way that is only generally seen in 50 year old guitars. Nobody can figure out how he does it. This produces woods that are lightweight and extremely resonant. When he’s done the wood doesn’t just look old it acts old. For this reason his guitars are coveted by many of Nashville’s greats. He was recently confided in me that Vince Gill owns ten of them! The other guitar builder is Finnish luthier Juha Ruokangas. John uses something called Thermo Treated wood which is a patented Finnish invention. The patents are owned by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, and the process has been in use since 1990 by industrial wood technologies in Finland. Thermo Treatment for musical instrument woods has been studied by Tampere Technical University in close co-operation with several musical instrument manufacturers in Finland. This process uses a steam treatment varying between 100-300 degrees celsius at different time intervals followed by a toasting process to dry the wood and resins to dangerously low levels of humidity. This is done without causing any structural damage to the wood. The wood is then subjected to relative humidity to allow it to slowly readjust to the environment. These thoroughly cured woods are said to “open up” nearly instantly due the drier state of the resins. Thermo-treated wood is also said to act differently when planed, sanded, etc. It feels very dry and the dust smells different – old and sort of “smoked.”  The wood is also tanned in color throughout. Another apparent change is the bending strength (stiffness) of the wood. Finnish luthiers experimented by clamping a non-treated neck plank on the side of a table (with the neck hanging out from the edge) and then placed a weight on the tip of the plank. The wood naturally bent down a bit. When the same experiment was performed on an identically cut piece of lumber that was thermo treated it took some flexibility out of the wood structure due to the hardened cell walls and advanced crystallization process.  The exact same thing that occurs with wood has been air-dried for 50-100 years.

Natural Science

Jimmy Page’s guitar tech Jim Survis, had this to say in the March 2002 issue of ToneQuest Report: TQR: Did you feel that his (Jimmy Page’s) ’59 Les Paul was really special when you were working with it? “Sure… it was very spanky and bright. It has a lot of miles on it, and instruments always sound better when they have been played a lot in front of the amps, soaking up all of the reverberation from them. In fact, we used to take Jimmy’s guitars, including the ’59, and while he was tracking other rhythm tracks we would place the guitars on stands right in front of the speaker cabinets to absorb the sound coming off of them. There was actually a company out in California that had this military-grade sound generator that they would clamp your guitar in and bombard it with sound waves for three days for a fee of $100. I told Joe Perry about Jimmy leaving his guitars in front of the speaker cabinets, so we sent a Custom Shop Mary Kay Strat that Joe had gotten from Fender to this company. The guy said, “Look, send it to me, and if you don’t like it, don’t pay me. We got it back, and it was awesome. The thing rang like a banjo, and acoustically, you’d hit the strings and it would go brrrnnggg. It was dramatically different. I’m not even sure if that company is still around.”

My Synopsis

So, I don’t know if anyone but me is excited by this revelation. But I’m willing to give the Jimmy Page technique a try. Shoot, if all I have to do is play my guitars often and blast them with my amps to make them sound better, I’m in! Please subscribe to my blog or visit us at http://www.tonesmiths.com if you enjoyed reading this.

We’ve received many inquiries about the stash of 20 year old swamp ash mentioned in this article. Please direct your inquiries to purchase@dirtysouthguitars.com.

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Don Mare Pickups – “The Real Deal”

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The Truth
I see guys talking about a lot of different pickup manufacturers on the many forums I participate in. But, I don’t see Don Mare pickups getting the attention they deserve within the P&W community. The top guitarists in every other genre practically worship Don for his faithful reproductions of those sweet single coils produced by Leo’s ladies throughout the 50’s and 60’s. Some of his artists include Sublime With Rome, Dirty Heads, Lou Reed, John Fogerty, GE Smith, Aerosmith, ton’s of country guitarists, working musicians, and pro session players. I feel every player who slings a Tele or Strat deserves to know just how amazing these pickups are regardless of the style of music they play. Because we all know that a skilled guitarist can cover nearly any style of music with a great sounding Strat or Tele.
The Legend
Don earned his reputation reverse-engineering and replicating vintage pickups for pros who needed their replacement pickup to sound and look exactly like the one that went bad. Many of those old pickups would just fall apart when Don would try to apply tension to the poles and backing during a rewind, so he learned how to build them from the bottom up.
The Experience
While unwrapping those old pickups as he methodically counted each wind, he learned a lot of secrets about the different techniques the employees who wound pickups for Leo used and what made the good pickups great. He discovered an unconventional method used by an unknown winder at the Fullerton shop on pickups dated from 1952-1961. Every guy who had a guitar with these pickups would settle for nothing less than an exact repair or replacement when one would go bad on them. This secret process that allows for a hotter pickup that doesn’t get muddy has come to be Don’s proprietary winding method.
The Method
Don is a stickler for doing it exactly as it was done during the golden age of guitar building. Back when quality was king. He searched the globe to find the highest quality raw materials. Don even uses gas free magnets (no bubbles or voids), hardened steel poles, correct spec Formvar wire, and all that bees wax!
The Madness
When these quality components meet Mr. Mares proprietary techniques the result is nothing less than magical. This combination allows him to wind Fender style single coils nearly as fat as a P90 if needed. All that while maintaining every ounce of punch and clarity. His Strat bridge pickups can be wound hot enough to take the place of a humbucker if that’s what you’re going for. Don can also do the glassy thing like no other or get you anywhere in-between. He has enough choices on his website to overwhelm any tone freak. Call him if you need guidance. But, be prepared to get an education in tone. Once you try a set of these pickups in your favorite guitar Don Mare fever will infect your blood and you’ll start dreaming of how good your other guitars will sound with these pickups. I’ve seen it happen without fail to quite a few of my friends and clients.
The Skinny
Other than a few lengthy conversations (Don can talk!), I am not affiliated with Don Mare or his company in any way. I just want you guys to have the best of everything when it comes to your tone. And when it comes to single coil pickups it’s impossible get any better. Here’s the link to his wild looking site: http://www.buckcannon.com/
Please subscribe to my blog or visit us at http://www.tonesmiths.com if you enjoyed reading this.
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