usa player se­ries Cub iii 15r combo

Bad Cat brings its Cal­i­for­nia-built amps fur­ther within reach as it un­leashes a new range of af­ford­able PCB mod­els

Guitarist - - Contents - Words Nick Guppy Pho­tog­ra­phy Neil God­win

Good news for those who covet the il­lu­mi­nated Bad Cat badge is that since the be­gin­ning of this year, with the in­tro­duc­tion of the USA Player se­ries, Bad Cats are slightly more af­ford­able than be­fore. The USA Player amps are made in the same Cal­i­for­nia fa­cil­ity, but utilise high-grade printed cir­cuit boards in­stead of the tra­di­tional point-to-point con­struc­tion the com­pany is famed for. Can printed cir­cuits equal or even im­prove on point-to-point?

That’s one ques­tion we’re ask­ing here, as we look at prob­a­bly the most pop­u­lar prod­uct in the new range, the USA Player Se­ries Cub III 15R combo. It might be an unwieldy name, but the Cub is a nicely pro­por­tioned amp, with an im­mac­u­lately cov­ered birch ply cab­i­net. An il­lu­mi­nated Bad Cat logo sits over the grey sparkle grille cloth, light­ing up just the cat’s eyes on standby and the whole logo in Play mode – most cool!

In­side the Cub’s steel chas­sis, one large high­qual­ity PCB holds all the preamp valves and front-panel con­trols, to­gether with the chip that pow­ers the Cub’s dig­i­tal reverb. Smaller

boards ac­com­mo­date the out­put valves and a cou­ple of rear panel com­po­nents. The gen­eral stan­dard of sol­der­ing, lay­out and com­po­nent qual­ity is very good: there isn’t much in the way of hand wir­ing, but what there is has been neatly fin­ished.

The Cub 15R is a sin­gle-channel de­sign with a cou­ple of neat twists, the first be­ing a footswitch­able preamp valve choice, of­fer­ing ei­ther a 12AX7 or the more gained-out EF86. There’s a vol­ume con­trol that sets preamp gain, to­gether with con­trols for bass and tre­ble. A sec­ond tog­gle switch called Fat adds more of a mid boost. There’s a reverb level con­trol, and a Cut con­trol that op­er­ates in the same way as on tra­di­tional Vox de­signs, work­ing on the power am­pli­fier and rolling off tre­ble as the knob is turned clock­wise. Fi­nally, there’s Bad Cat’s K-Master con­trol.

The rear panel is where you’ll find a pair of speaker outs, an im­ped­ance changer switch and a pair of send/re­turn jacks for the Cub’s se­ries ef­fects loop. There’s also a footswitch jack for a sin­gle-but­ton footswitch to re­motely change the Cub’s preamp valve. De­tail hunters will be in­ter­ested in a tiny la­bel at­tached to the Cub’s Bad Cat-badged Ce­lestion Vin­tage 30, which says ‘Made in UK’. While nearly all Ce­lestion loud­speak­ers are made in China to­day, Ce­lestion main­tains a small pro­duc­tion line in Ip­swich, build­ing

some Al­nico driv­ers, to­gether with other speak­ers, for a few man­u­fac­tur­ers who in­sist on UK fab­ri­ca­tion. Over­all, the Cub looks good and is built to last, ex­ud­ing plenty of high-end bou­tique mojo.

Feel & Sounds

The Cub pow­ers on smoothly with lit­tle elec­tri­cal hum and hiss; how­ever, on this sam­ple there was slightly more me­chan­i­cal hum com­ing from the choke than we’d ex­pect to hear. Chokes are in­duc­tors that of­ten look like small trans­form­ers and they fil­ter out rip­ple from mains AC and usu­ally gen­er­ate a lit­tle me­chan­i­cal hum. On our sam­ple, for live use, it would never be no­ticed, but for home or record­ing some might find it a lit­tle in­tru­sive.

This aside, we’re very im­pressed with the Cub’s wide tonal range, thanks to the clever dual-valve preamp de­sign. The EF86’s drive char­ac­ter is more ag­gres­sive and tooth­some, while the 12AX7 of­fers a smoother and more con­trolled dis­tor­tion. The Fat switch adds a size­able mid boost that more than makes up for the lack of midrange con­trol, and the very clever K-Master con­trol acts as a sort of buffered master vol­ume, al­low­ing the full out­put whether the preamp is driven or not, be­stow­ing a much wider dy­namic range than you’d nor­mally ex­pect from a pair of EL84s. The Cub’s built-in dig­i­tal reverb is ex­cel­lent, with a warm smooth de­cay. The UK-made Vin­tage 30 loud­speaker sounds dif­fer­ent to its more com­mon Chi­nese equiv­a­lent, with a warmer less peaky midrange and de­tailed tre­ble, de­spite the new-speaker stiff­ness that al­ways takes a few hours use to re­move.


For coun­try, jazz, blues or clas­sic rock and other in-be­tween gen­res, the Cub III 15R is a great choice, blend­ing tweed Fender growl with Vox-in­spired grind for an im­pres­sive range of tones, with a su­perb reverb. We think most folk would be hard-pressed to hear any dif­fer­ence in qual­ity be­tween the PCB-based USA Player se­ries ver­sion and its more ex­pen­sive hand-wired equiv­a­lent. The ad­van­tages of a good PCB de­sign are con­sis­tency and re­li­a­bil­ity, while Bad Cat’s build qual­ity and the Cub III’s unique tones make it good value for money in our book, too. Get your claws into one soon.

1 1. The Cub’s preamp valve can be changed from an EF86 to a 12AX7, ei­ther from the front panel or a footswitch

2 2. The K-Master vol­ume con­trol is a spe­cial master vol­ume that al­lows the preamp to run clean or driven with full out­put vol­ume at all set­tings

4. Bad Cat amps are one of just a few man­u­fac­tur­ers to in­sist on using UK-made Ce­lestion speak­ers

3 3. The Fat switch boosts up the midrange for too-bright sin­gle coils


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