Black Cat Pedals is our pedalmaker of the week! Rather than try and explain the long history and tradition of Black Cat, I'll leave that to Tom Hughes, owner and chief maker as well as an noted expert on pedals in general (check out his excellent Analog Man's Guide to Vintage Effects)
Says Tom "Basically, Black Cat Pedals was started in 1993 by a guy named Fred Bonte. Fred used to be Eric Johnson's tech and road manager back in the the late '70s when Eric was with the Electromagnets. I got to know Fred when I worked at Analog Man (circa '02). Analog Man carried Black Cat, and I ended up talking to Fred quite a bit. I even interviewed him when I was writing Analog Man's Guide To Vintage Effects. At one point, I wanted to get a bass fuzz. The choice for me was between the Black Cat Bass Octave Fuzz and the Z Vex Woolley Mammoth. Since Analog Man carried both brands, I got to audition the pedals side by side. The Z Vex was small and compact and looked so much nicer, and the packaging had everything a boutique guitar pedal should have. But in the end, I went with the Bass Octave Fuzz. It was big and ugly compared to the Z Vex, and it didn't even come with a box. But the sound won me over.
I was always a fan of Fred's designs, but the finished pedals often suffered from poor workmanship. And they were housed in clunky enclosures with dymo labels for graphics. Definitely not very boutique looking. But that's the way old school techs did things, and Fred was definitely about as old school as you could get. Honestly, Fulltone did the same thing when he started, but he refined his packaging and presentation, and Fred never really did.
Over the years I tried to offer Fred help, advice and encouragement, but it never seemed to make enough of a difference. Eventually he got to the point where he was having trouble managing things and the brand was really suffering. So I offered to buy the brand and build the pedals in a way that I thought would do justice to his great designs.
The newly revamped Black Cat line was launched in August 2009. From my experience at Analog Man, I figured I already knew pretty much what I needed to know to run a boutique guitar effects company. But once we got started I quickly realized it's not as easy as it looks. The past five years have been quite an adventure, and at times the learning curve has been perilously steep. Fortunately, we've had a great crew of people to help us along the way. At the heart of our crew is a core group of people who have helped make Black Cat Pedals what we are today:
Our master technician and head pedal builder is Greg Radawich. Greg has been with us since we relaunched the line. He had been a hardcore DIY pedal builder for more than five years before coming to work for Black Cat, so he had a solid background to begin with. The man is a pedal building MACHINE! He works in our shop 45 hours a week and has singlehandedly built more than 3000 pedals. He is ably assisted by Donato Gelato, who has been with us for two and a half years. Donato is an engineering student, amp builder, and our team mascot. He helps with various tech tasks, such as preparing subassemblies, drilling boxes, and he builds the OD-1 and the Super Fuzz. Donato recently redesigned the tone stack for the Bee Buzz and Wee Buzz to double the range of the tone control without affecting the gain structure of the circuit.
Black Cat Sara is the member of our team who has been with us the longest. She started with For Musicians Only, our parent company, before we relaunched the line. Sara is our Admin Extraordinaire, and handles almost as many tasks as I do, including customer service, processing orders, sales, marketing, social media, bookkeeping, photography, and many other things too numerous to mention. Sara plays the guitar as well, so she helps with testing each and every pedal before it ships. We've got a nice routine: Sara plays, and I turn the knobs and check all the functions. She's got a good ear too, so she can hear if something isn't quite right with a pedal as well as I can. Of course, the role Sara is best known for is as our Black Cat spokesmodel, appearing in our ads and videos.
We've branched off since we started into other designs that did not involve Fred Bonte. But we try to maintain the spirit of Fred's original vision in everything we do. There's a certain practical, old school approach that keeps us connected to our Black Cat legacy. That's also what keeps us from giving in to trends, making useless novelty effects, or mindlessly copying well known designs that have already been done to death just so we can have a "one of every flavor" pedal line. I'm sure we could sell more pedals if we did those things, but that's not what we're about. As far as design philosophy, I like what Mike Piera once said about Analog Man, "We make tools for tone that working musicians can use." That's pretty much how I feel."