With a name like Bad Cat and a product pedigree that includes Matchless, our expectations for this new amp line were quite high. So it was with some anxiety that we awaited arrival of Bad Cat’s Hot Cat amp.
Bad Cat, which is run by founder and president James Heidrich, entered the game in 2001, after hiring renowned amp designer Mark Sampson, with three amps designed to appeal to players of most any taste.
From top to bottom, the Bad Cat is 100 percent high-quality, including all-tube class A circuitry, point-to-point Teflon-coated wiring, resin-soaked transformers, welded steel chassis, 13-ply birch plywood cabinet, Celestion speaker, and… well you get the point; no shortcuts were taken here!
The Hot Cat is powered by two EL34s that produce 30 watts, four 12AX7s in the preamp and a 5AR4 rectifier. The rectifier tube circuit accepts three different types of tubes, and can also be switched to solidstate.
The amp’s controls include clean volume, gain, edge, level (for the dirty input), active treble and bass, brilliance, and master volume.
One of the more compelling functions of the single-channel Hot Cat is that it can replicate two-channel performance. Using an A/B switch, the amp’s 12AX7-based preamp affords overdrive loading via the “Clean” input, and sweep control of the overdrive using the alternate “Hi-gain” input.
Sound can be shaped via the switchable tube rectifier design, or the solidstate rectifier circuit, which favors a harder edge, less compression, and more sustain. The degree of overdrive content, overdrive edge, compression, and attack/decay are easy to tailor.
And the cool stuff isn’t just on the inside, because the Bad Cat looks good, too, with its ’50s “diner chair” red sparkle vinyl, silver piping, black hardware, and backlit logo (reminiscent of something…), it’s one of the coolest-looking amps you’ll feast your eyes upon.
We tested the Hot Cat with a ’59 Fender Esquire, a Hamer Newport Pro Custom with Seymour Duncan Seth Lover pickups, and a Peavey Wolfgang with its stock humbuckers.
With the Peavey plugged into the dirty input, the gain and level at about 3 o’clock, and the master at 10 o’clock, the Hot Cat produced over-the-top, outstandingly smooth, crunchy overdrive. The low-end was huge and tight for a 1×12″ combo, with no farting out or mushy overtones. The voicing of the active bass and treble was excellent. When we tried the Hamer, the edge control added just enough bite to its Duncans. Note definition and sustain was great with both humbucker-loaded guitars.
But when we cranked up the master volume, the amp got amazingly loud for a 30 -watter, but retained its great tone. With the gain and level turn down, we got a good round blues tone with the Esquire and the Newport, the amp reacted well to volume changes on the guitars, keeping its natural clarity and warmth. The clean input is limited by the lack of any real tone controls except for the brilliance control, but it is still very usable, we just used the tone controls on the guitars and were happy with the sound.
The only way we could draw an even semi-questionable tone from the Hot Cat was when we inched the controls toward the ridiculous side. With all of them all the way up, tones begin to overlap, creating an out-of-phase tone that just didn’t sound natural.
Overall, the Bad Cat Hot Cat is fantastically designed and constructed with top-quality components, it looks very cool, and its overdrive tone could give any 4×12 stack a run for its money.
Bad Cat Hot Cat
Type of Amplifier: 30-watt all-tube combo or head.
Features: Made in the U.S. all-tube class A circuitry, Celestion speaker, high-quality components and cabinet, high gain, external speaker-out, five-year warranty.
Price: $2,599 to $3,199.
Contact: Bad Cat Amplifier Company, Corona, CA, ph. (909) 808-8651, www.badcat amps.com
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Aug. ’02 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.