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January 15
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Hip Kitty Panetone Combo Amp Review

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Hip Kitty Panetone Combo Amp Review
Download Example 1
Les Paul neck pickup thick lead tone
Download Example 2
Hamer Korina Special P-90 raunchy rhythm tone
Download Example 3
Fender Strat Clean Tone
Recorded with an SM57 into a Chandler LTD-1 mic pre with no EQ.  Apogee Symphony I/O into Pro Tools 9HD.  Slight amount of Lexicon small hall reverb added.
Designed to be flexible, simple and full of pure, warm and full tube tone, the Hip Kitty Panetone concentrates on simplicity and tone rather than arrays of switches and knobs. Built entirely in the USA, Hip Kitty’s wares have impressed me before, most recently in the guise of the Hip Kitty Kitty Box 50-watt head. The 25-watt Panetone combo is a very different beast. But even with its lower power, there’s a lot of clean headroom that gives you room to move and a range of grittier tones that make the Panetone a great all-around amp.

Basically Well Dressed
Our review amp came dressed in a cool red-with-black vinyl and matching black grill, corners and handle. The 50 pound, 20 1/2” x 11” x 24” Panetone also comes standard with removable black casters that raise the overall height to 27”. I’m not used to seeing 1x12 combos come with casters but considering its weight, they’re a very nice touch. The cabinet is a partial open back and houses a 24-hour burned-in Jensen 12” Falcon speaker.

The front panel layout is simple and classic. From left to right there are power and standby toggles followed by a white jewel indicator lamp. Six chicken head knobs control Master Volume, Presence, Bass, Middle, Treble, and Volume. On the back are dual speaker outputs, a .5 amp fuse followed by an external bias control with test points, an IEC power jack and a 4A Slo Blo fuse.

The Panetone is rugged, sturdy and looks ready for the rigors of the road. The design and assembly are also clean inside and out—point-to-point hand wired and powered by a pair of matched Tube Amp Doctor 6V6s. Preamp tubes are NOS 5751s, which can also be substituted with 12AX7s, and the tube rectifier is a 5U4GB. An optional tube buffered effects loop can be added as an upgrade. Transformers are special design and made in the USA.

The Panetone loves pedals. With the ability to clean up the sound readily, I found myself itching to try fuzzes and gain pedals that would make less versatile amps sound sickly and oversaturated.

The only slight nit I have is that the lettering on the chassis was hard to read while standing because it is inset ever so slightly. To read what I was adjusting, I needed to kneel down to read the controls. Fortunately there are only six of them so once I knew the layout it wasn’t much of an issue anymore.

Play Range
With my trusty 2008 Fender American Standard Stratocaster plugged in and all the controls set to noon, the amp exhibited a full, warm and balanced clean tone with just enough break up to push the sound into gritty territory with a harder attack. In general, though, the sound was quite dimensional, the semi open-back design helped fill the room up nicely, and the amp has a wide sweet spot as you vary pick attack and guitar volume.

The amp idles very quietly which is both a testament to its quality and a little deceptive considering how much volume you can coax from the Panetone—usually this much projection comes with a little hum of warning. Pushing the Master and Volume to full revealed the basic nature of the Panetone’s gain structure. It was tough to summon a ton of gain from the Strat, but it was more than dirty enough for classic rock. I found that louder volume settings prompted me to back off the Treble and Presence to keep it from biting too much, and with the Volume at maximum the sound was a bit too spitty on the gain side for my taste. Backing the Volume down a little helped take that edge off, however. And in the neck position the tone was beautiful, dynamic and very clear. Rolling back the volume on the guitar cleaned things easily too—if you’re looking to get Doobie Brothers, ‘70s studio-style clean tones, you could do much worse than a Strat and the Panetone Hip Kitty.

The output from a 2003 Les Paul R8 reissue accented the treble and presence more than I’d like. But even with the treble and presence dialed out almost entirely, the combination of Panetone and high-output humbuckers gave me plenty of top end to cut through just about any mix or band situation. There were times I found myself looking for a little more bass. And the open-back design and speaker choice definitely emphasize the high- and mid-range content. But on the whole it’s a balanced amp that negotiates those compromises with style.

That balance also means the Panetone loves pedals. With the ability to clean up the sound readily, I found myself itching to try fuzzes and gain pedals that would make less versatile amps sound sickly and oversaturated. Interestingly, setting the amp to slightly overdriven actually seemed to be the best way to achieve pedal bliss in my tests—if there’s one thing the Panetone really likes it’s to be pushed.

The combination of 6V6s and the Jensen helped lend note definition and articulation in solo runs. Personally I like a little bleed in between notes on the top end of the fingerboard which is why so many of us like to use gain pedals. But with a little stompbox overdrive, it was easy to get.

The Verdict
The Panetone is quite a flexible amp with a great clean tone and an edgy distortion that leans a bit toward the bright and biting. It loves pedals, and those of us who use pedals with amps will welcome that capability. There are a lot of thoughtful design touches—from casters to the ability to bias the amp externally. With its pedal-friendly performance, I could easily see this being used as a go-to session amp for Nashville studio cats or a killer simple rig for the club guitarist with a pedal board. Whether sparking with a Strat or barking with a Les Paul it’s the kind of amp that forms a great tonal foundation for a really wide array of players.
Buy if...
you want a portable, reasonably powered 1x12 combo that takes pedals with ease
Skip if...
you need bells, whistles, and channel switching or monster gain
Rating...


Direct Price $1755 - Hip Kitty - hipkittyproducts.com
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