Danelectro’s Cool Cat range has been a pleasant surprise for anyone who has tried any of their funky-looking but great-sounding boxes. Although a number of pedals (Transparent Overdrive, Drive and Fuzz) now have second incarnations, partly due to rumours of boutique-“inspired” circuits, much of the original lineup is still going strong and with good reason. Indeed, the Cool Cat Chorus is Danelectro’s fourth mass-produced chorus pedal and, some would argue, their best, thanks to the many advantages the company’s latest format brings with it as standard.
On The Surface
If any stompbox stylistics will split opinions, it’s Danelectro’s and the Cool Cat series is not one to buck the brand’s unique, but ultimately bizarre, trend. Where other companies are happy to settle with a non-descript rectangular box, Dano have gone one “better” and created some kind of half-car, half-animal-paw hybrid with a kerazy logo. On the plus side, this will liven up any pedalboard lacking in character but whether such a flamboyant personality is wanted is another matter entirely.
Still, to concentrate on appearance is to ignore all the fantastic features Danelectro have, ahem, crammed into this crazy cat. True bypass, metal enclosures and jacks, as well as a blinding blue LED come as standard in the Cool Cat series and the Cool Cat Chorus is no exception. Four controls for mix, EQ, speed and depth make this the most versatile cheap chorus on the market, particularly when compared to its closest true-bypassed competitor, Electro-Harmonix’s Small Clone. Unfortunately, the sheer number of knobs also brings with it a number of extra problems; top-side controls may prevent inadvertent setting changes mid-stomp but they also make turning the damn things much harder than on a regular stompbox, particularly with regard to the stacked mix/EQ controls. Fortunately, power preferences are the simple Boss 9V kind, ensuring that the Cool Cat Chorus isn’t quite the most finicky feline on your board.
It’s only upon hearing a Cool Cat that you realise exactly why they’ve been such a success; close your eyes and you’d believe that you were listening to a far more expensive pedal. Indeed, not only does the Cool Cat excel in its basic chorus tones, but the range of sounds available make it worth much, much more than its unassuming asking price.
All controls set to 12 o’clock provide a rich, deep sound and, with a couple of tweaks, dependent on your guitar and amp setup, it’s perfect for adding a touch of shimmer to an exotic chord progression. The EQ and depth knobs are particularly effective for avoiding the sometimes seasick, but always overused, 80s chorus effect, making this cat an ideal candidate for the clean grunge and metal tones popularised by the likes of Nirvana and Metallica in the early 90s. If, however, the 80s are still your proverbial thing, a touch of distortion and a few open chords can help to capture some of that perm-addled magic.
One of the pedal’s greatest strengths lies in its ability to make full use of the mix control, thanks to the effective depth knob. Indeed, true vibrato sounds can be obtained by simply cranking the mix and gradually adjusting the depth to your liking. This can capably reproduce the wobbly sounds heard on Blur’s early work but carries with it a slight alteration of your guitar’s tone which the EQ can’t quite offset. Still, this is to be expected when tonal control is assigned entirely to the pedal, without any of the guitar’s original signal.
Another area in which the Cool Cat succeeds is emulating leslie/rotary speaker tones. A common request for chorus pedals, this sound is best achieved through faster speed and lower depth settings and can add an element of fragility or a psychedelic vibe, depending on your playing style. Considering how highly praised my old Arion SCH-1 is for this very task, I was impressed at how well the Cool Cat held up and, in the case of its enhanced control, superseded the old plastic relic.
Interaction with other pedals is an important area for stompboxes, particularly when it comes to modulation and gain, but, once again, the Cool Cat doesn’t disappoint. The pedal responds well to picking dynamics and there were no detectable clipping issues with high output humbucker signals. Indeed, I had great fun placing the Cool Cat after a high gain fuzz and, combined with a digital delay, was able to emulate a number of square wave synth tones surprisingly convincingly.
Despite a somewhat overzealous exterior design, the Cool Cat Chorus offers a remarkable feature set at an incredibly impressive price point. While it certainly holds up to pedals double, and even triple, the cost, it does have a number of unique quirks that might dissuade potential buyers. For one, it’s not the quietest chorus when used with gain but still considerably more so than Electro-Harmonix’s offerings. Additionally, the stock chorus sound is more of a square wave than a triangle and, as such, its undulating movements may be interpreted as somewhat “sharp”. However, to ask for a wave shape feature on an already overcrowded control panel would be ludicrous, especially considering the troubles already experienced on this front. However, any drawbacks pale into insignificance upon hearing the lush chorus tones this pedal is capable of and, at such a cheap price, there’s no reason not to give this cat a loving home.