Bad Cat Panther

When Bad Cat prowled onto the scene in 1999, guitarists heralded the company as the heir to the class-A throne previously occupied by Matchless. After several years of redefining EL84 chime and clang, the cats at Bad Cat have introduced their first 6V6-powered, class AB design. The mean and stealthy Panther (head $2,865 street as tested; $3,205 with reverb; 2x12 cab $739 street; retail N/A) offers 35 watts of purring, growling sound that is voiced by two 12AX7s in the first channel, and two 12AX7s and an EF86 pentode in the second channel. A 5AR4 rectifier tube rounds out the Panther’s glass menagerie.
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The front panel has separate inputs for the two channels, and you can use the supplied footswitch (or an A/B/Y box) to change and/or combine the channels. Plugging in with a Gibson Les Paul, I clicked on channel 1, and was met with a huge blooming clean sound with the volume at 11 o’clock. This channel has a 3-band EQ with a 5-position Mid Sweep control, but it hardly mattered where I set these knobs—the sounds were amazing, with gorgeous upper mids, sparkling treble, and tons of lows. Turning the volume up introduced more grind for a delicious ZZ Top vibe with lots of sustain, but the Panther always cleaned up great when I rolled down my guitar’s volume. Channel 1’s Master Volume control (which can be switched out of the signal path) makes it easy to produce these tones at any level.

Switching to channel 2 (with the left foot-switch button) brought on more grit and balls, courtesy of the preamp’s EF86 tube. This channel has a different voice, but it definitely maintains all the depth and dimension of channel 1. In lieu of a 3-band EQ, here you have the choice of a passive 5-position tone knob or active bass and treble controls. (If you want to use the master volume control, however, you’ll need to select the active bass and treble. The master is automatically bypassed when you use the 5-position tone knob.) Once again, Bad Cat provides a lot of tone-shaping options, and there’s nary a bad one to be found. The highs can get overly bright when maxed out, but it’s easy to tame them with the global Cut knob. The only weirdness came when really laying into a high D, which was accompanied by a bizarre ghost note. Even this couldn’t maul my Bad Cat buzz, though.

The Panther would be an amazing amp if two channels were all you got. However, blending the channels with the footswitch produces an even thicker tone with more gain. And by setting the first channel clean, you can get incredible dynamic response where when you dig in (it adds definition while channel 2 delivers the grind). Now, you can dial in a variety of awesome tones, simply by varying the output levels of the two channels. Bad Cat has definitely taken a unique approach here, and it’s tough to fault the Panther on any level. Bravo!