After playing nearly everything under the sun I… Okay never mind I am not going to say it because you will just be annoyed. We have heard it all before. I have found my forever amp. Even my wife said I was full of bologna. But for real this amp absolutely is incredible!
I debated back and forth between the Cub III 30 and the Black Cat 30 and ended up choosing the Cub III 30R after talking to the folks at Bad Cat. I also felt like the Cub series is and is likely to remain the more popular series among worship guitarists. I ended up ordering the Cub III 30R head and 1×12 Standard cabinet because we use isolation cabinets at our church. Running the head on the outside and cab on the inside maximizes ventilation to the amp and still allows us to keep stage volume minimal. Additionally I decided to postpone immediate gratification and order the custom limited edition Classic Deluxe two-tone tolex.
It was a decent wait for the amp to arrive but only because I ordered the custom tolex that they normally do not make the amp in. I received pictures of the chassis only 3 weeks after ordering and so if I had ordered a standard tolex option I likely would have had it in just over a month. Was I ever glad that I waited for the custom tolex. I am a huge fan of fawn tolex but I have grown rather bored with it over the past few years. The Classic Deluxe limited edition tolex I ordered is similar to the fawn pattern but it is more of a fabric than a tolex. The silver grill cloth is just incredible as well.
The other thing I opted for was the padded gig bags for the head and cabinet. I am not a touring musician but do a ton of back and forth between multiple churches so I wanted a little protection for the amp. The padded gig bags are extremely well made and fit the head and cabinet nearly perfectly. I have found the head cover to be a bit large and baggy will the cabinet cover was a bit tight and hard to easily slip over the cab. That being said for the price I am extremely happy with them and there have been numerous times already that I have bumped the cabinet against a door jam and was glad I had the covers.
After unpacking the amp I literally looked very inch of it up and down trying to find imperfections, because… well… that is what I do. I couldn’t find any. The tolex was perfectly wrapped. It was even re-inforced with staples on the insides of the cabinet. Around the bevel/curve of the front panel there were no loose folds or sloppy cuts, just absolute precision. I have owned every amp under the sun ranging in prices of $150 to $3500 and I have never seen such great wrap work.
After plugging in my pedalboard and hooking up the head and cabinet using a Lava Cable’s Tephra Speaker Cable, I fired it up. Immediately there was a bit of hiss and hum. My heart sunk. Also the reverb sounded very light and almost non-existent. Even when cranked. So I contacted Bad Cat immediately. I spoke directly with their head builder and he knew exactly what had happened. In shipping one of the two RCA plugs that connect the reverb tank had gotten jostled lightly causing it to disconnect. I plugged it in and fired the amp up again. Dead silent and the reverb worked beautifully. I feel that I must also state that I have used the amp now for 2 months and it has been moved around a lot. There have been no further issues with hiss, hum or the reverb.
After getting that taken care of I sat down and started dialing in my pedalboard and the amp. To my surprise it was extremely easy to dial in. With the option to select different pre-amp tubes and select between bass and treble or 5 way knob I expected it to take a little bit of time to dial it in to exactly what I wanted. Instead I just plugged in and played. Every tone I have gotten out of the amp has been golden. I personally have found that I like to use the bass and treble knobs with the bass at around 1:30 and the treble at around 10:30.
The other thing that surprised me was how versatile the ef86 preamp selection was. I have never liked using ef86 preamp tubes because they tend to be noisy, have too much gain, and/or are too fizzy sounding. The ef86 preamp section of this amp is the ticket. It is so touch responsive and crisp. I leave it on the ef86 preamp almost all of the time and have found that it works great with every pedal I throw at it. Delays and reverb just jump off of the amp and overdrives mix really well. The 12ax7 side is also great and if you are looking for a more Vox like tone with a hair more compression and flat response this is the pre-amp side you want to use.
Is it Like a Matchless?
Not really sure if this should go in this particular review but I get this question all the time. The answer is yes and no. There are definite similarities but the differences are much more abundant. They are both bright, AC30 type circuits with simple controls, tank-like construction and world class components. They are also both point to point hand wired.
After owning a number of Matchless and now the Bad Cat I have found a few major differences. The Bad Cat is more compressed and fits better within the context of a whole band. The SC-30 is crystal clear and sounds fantastic but can sound to brash depending on the player. The Bad Cat also has a better low-end response and mid-range. While not as bright the Bad Cat is a bit more balanced. I also found that when pushing the amp the overdrive tones are much more suitable to current worship tones.
Perhaps the part that really sets Bad Cat and Matchless apart in my book is the progression. Matchless has made the same amps with the same tolex and designs since their inception while Bad Cat has continued to perfect their craft. This is not really a positive or a negative but rather preference. Some people like that Matchless was and is always the same. Some like it that Bad Cat continues to update circuits and designs based on artists current needs.
The other thing is that by the time church guitarists apply their non-profit discount they can get a Black Cat 30R head and 2×12 cab for $2,869 versus $4,377 for an HC30R and 2×12. This is a result of all of the folks at Bad Cat being meticulous about efficiency and passing that savings along to you guys. So go out and buy yourself a really nice guitar with the $1,500 you just saved! Or maybe even an entire pedalboard.
Should You Buy One
The answer is yes. If you have the funds. Bad Cat has a dealer to non-profit discount program where you can get 10% off any hand-wired legacy series amp at your local dealer. They also have a new USA Player Series that is in the low $1000 range.
If you are a player that is looking for AC-30 tone and want the reliability of a Sherman tank then this is the amp for you. The build quality is impeccable and the company is one of the best ones I have worked with. Everyone is extremely friendly, willing to help, and genuinely loves great tone.
I also feel the need to re-state that this is a bright amp. If you like dark deep tones then I would opt for something else. The brightness is not harsh but it will cut through the mix like a hot butter knife.
Image Credit: Humbucker Music