A Hands-On Review of the Bad Cat U.S.A. Player Series Cub 40R
This past weekend, I had the opportunity to spend some time at Martel Music Store to test drive an amp that has caught my eye in recent trips: Bad Cat’s Cub 40R 1x12 combo, from their U.S.A. Player Series. This particular series of amps features the same level of craftsmanship and tone that players have come to expect from the boutique Southern California-based company, but at a more attainable price point for the average player. If you’re of the mindset that a lower price results in sacrificing tone or the quality of the components, then this amp will throw your philosophy into serious question. This series features the same no-expense-spared build quality of Bad Cat’s hand-wired amps, complete with proprietary speakers built by Celestion, but with the time and material savings of a military-grade circuit board. This crucial difference results in a roughly $1,000 retail savings when compared to a comparably-spec’d Bad Cat hand-wired amp.
The Cub 40R is loaded with a pair of EL34 power tubes, which was a source of curiosity but also mild trepidation for me. I have always loved the mammoth clean headroom of a 6L6 power section and also the glassy edge-of-breakup mids of an EL84 power section, but I have previously been left uninspired by EL34’s, generally finding them to be voiced a bit too dark or lacking presence for my taste. Upon plugging in a BilT Revelator with Lollar Jazzmaster pickups, and dialing the volume to about 30% and the K-Master volume to about 50%, I realized that I simply had not previously played through a well-constructed, high-end EL34-powered amp. The headroom with the volume dialed back was huge and clean, but with a wonderful midrange presence that was simultaneously thick and creamy but also glassy – a seemingly perfect marriage between a 6L6 and EL84 power section. The tone was nothing short of miraculous with the Revelator in the middle position. With the volume now dialed a bit higher, and the K-Master rolled down, the pair of Lollars and the Cub 40R composed a symphony of girthy and harmonically-complex edge-of-breakup tones that dripped with a sweetness that is simply hard or impossible to achieve with any amp I’ve previously tried. Although I do not typically play with a ton of overdrive, I could not resist flipping the pre-amp selector from 12AX7 to EF86, dialing the volume all the way up, and leaving the K-Master at about 30%. The tone was pure J. Mascis. I could not help but belt out the openings riffs of Dinosaur Jr. tunes ‘Tiny’ and ‘Freak Scene,’ but I was most amazed when I attempted to play a finger-picked, slowed-down rendition of ‘Feel the Pain,’ and I had to remark that the touch sensitivity of this circuit was unlike anything I’d ever heard. I came to learn that this is not coincidence, but is the result of the meticulously-crafted patent-pending K-Master control. According to Bad Cat, “this groundbreaking analog circuitry can achieve any amount of gain at any desirable volume while keeping tone and touch response 100% intact.” This feature can prove highly useful for players of many genres, but I particularly feel that blues players who enjoy a bit of grit in their tone will go wild for this circuit.
Just because we were enjoying the tone so much, Corey and I decided we should hook up a Bad Cat 2x12 extension cab to the Cub 40R. With a 2x12 speaker configuration, this amp moves some serious air, all while retaining the glorious tone we experienced from the 1x12 combo. The 2x12 spread just made it that much more delectable. The Cut control, which to my ears sounds like a mid-focused presence control, sounded especially pleasing in this mode. Dialed at 75%, the Cut control gave the Revelator a highly-pleasing acoustical emphasis which sounded divine in all of the pickup positions. To cap it all off, the studio-grade plate reverb proved to be always tasteful and never overbearing, even when cranked.
Playing on the Cub 40R gave me a sense that I had not experienced in a while from playing on some boutique amps. Aside from the absolutely stellar tone, this amp achieved the nearly-impossible feat of being thoroughly professional but without ever feeling pretentious or overwrought in its approach. To put it simply, this amp sounds incredible and is thoroughly fun. What more could you ask for from an amp?
-David Elliott, writing for Martel Music