Hands-On Review:Crate V-Series Tube Guitar Amps


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Light, low priced, and full of fresh and fiery tube tone

By Ryan Conrad
Musician’s Friend Staff Writer

 

Green and wide-eyed or grizzled and cool, there’s just something  about pure tube tone that grabs guitar players by the ears and makes  them take notice. The Crate Amplifier company is no stranger to this  fact. They’ve got a long roster of artists and guitar stars who tour  with Crate tube amps and a much longer list of satisfied customers  happily rocking out daily with a Crate.

 

V is for valve

 

The principal source of all this valvular pleasure for Crate  customers comes from the long-running V-Series. These little all-tube  titans have shocked quite a few musicians who didn’t expect an amplifier  labeled “Crate” to deliver classic, powerhouse guitar tones. For 2007  Crate redesigned the entire V-Series with features and additions that  tube tone aficionados with bigger ears than wallets will be happy to see  and hear.

 

First up is the little V5—which offers guitarists a slice of tube  tone perfect for practice and recording—generating 5 watts of power  through a 10" speaker. Next up are the V18 amps, a pair of  vintage-voiced 18-watt smokers—one with a single 12" speaker (the V18-112) and one with two 12" speakers (the V18-212). Then come three 33W chime-and-grind bangers: the V33-112 with one 12" speaker, the V33-212 with two 12" speakers, and the V33H, a head-only version, which can be paired with a matching 2x12 cab. Finally, we have a 50-watt sweetheart, the V50-112 with a single 12" speaker.

 

The V50-112 is the only Class AB amp in this line up. From the V5 up to the V33H the V-Series is pure Class A. Each model has had its circuits tweaked  slightly for better performance, was given a snazzy facelift for swank  style, and features a high-tech switching power supply for lighter  weight. I checked out the V18-212 and V50-112 for this review.

 

V is for vibrant

HEAR THEM HERE!

Crate V50 1x12 Tube Amp Demo
Crate V18 2x12 Tube Amp Demo

 

The first thing I noticed about these two amps is their stylish  threads that slyly mix vintage and nouveau designs. While it’s been  proven you can dress up an amp in other colors besides Henry Ford’s  favorite, basic black never goes out of style. Crate custom-designed a  few fancy touches, though, that make the V-Series stand out.

 

A modern satin finish adorns the hardware and control panel, and the  control panel has simple black labels and knurled chrome knobs for an  updated-yet-understated look. The hood-ornament-like emblem on the front  of each amp lends a retro flair, as do the amp handles crafted from  thick, padded black vinyl attached by two chrome footman-style  fasteners—the kind used with old-fashioned dog bone handles. The  protective amp corners are an entirely new design Crate developed just  for the V-Series. Each one is a two-piece unit featuring a small black  piece of metal attached to the corner and overlaid by a larger piece of  metal that shares the same satin finish as the control panel and other  hardware. As someone who’s always looking for gear with distinctive  style, I dig the V-Series’ looks.

 

The second thing I noticed was the switching power supply. Well,  technically I didn’t notice the power supply; what I noticed was the V18-212 and V50-112 were very light. I easily—repeat, easily—loaded out the V18-212 with one hand. No sweating, no grunting, no having to set it down  halfway to my van and switch hands. That’s a 2x12 tube guitar amplifier  being moved over 200 yards and down a flight of stairs without stressing  it. The same applies to the V50-112. Each of these amps is way lighter than any comparable tube amp I’ve ever hoisted.

 

All the V-Series amps—other than the little V5—use a modern  high-frequency switching power supply custom designed by Crate’s  engineering team to behave like a tube amp power supply. Not only is  this advanced power supply lighter, it’s way more efficient, so it  generates less heat and provides superior isolation from power problems  like noise and spikes.

 


Crate V50-112 1x12 Tube Amp

Crate V18-212 2x12 Tube Amp


V is for vintage

 

While stylish and light are both good, what counts when it comes to  amps is the sound. The overwhelming majority of guitar sounds fueling  two generations of blues, country, pop, jazz, and rock music were made  using tube guitar amplifiers. The V-Series is not trying to reinvent  that history—Crate simply offers its interpretation. To accomplish that,  all the V-Series amps have circuits built to deliver the classic guitar  sounds that still resonate with guitar players today.

 

The single-channel V18-212 is a straight-to-the-point amp designed for vintage British sounds.  It’s loaded with two special-design vintage-voiced speakers with a  smooth and warm response. The V18, though, can get downright nasty when  you crank up the Gain knob. Since it’s relatively low in wattage (18W),  it’s easy to get some power-tube distortion flowing, and the amp opens  up with a roaring midrange-heavy overdrive that’s slightly compressed. I  found sonic satisfaction with the EQ and master volume dimed, the gain  about 7 or 8, and the reverb set to about 3 or 4. The V18-212 also took boost and overdrive pedals really well, and excelled at  delivering the definitive overdrive sounds heard on early British blues  albums.

 

If the V18-212 is a British roadster, the V50-112 is a mid-sixties American muscle car. It has two channels (Clean and  Overdrive) and a single 12" speaker. It’s got plenty of shimmering  sparkle and definition on the first channel and raw, throaty overdrive  available on the second channel when you goose the accelerator. The V50-112 also has an effects loop for your pedalboard or processor, a Boost  switch for just a bit more punch, and a Presence switch that nicely  sharpens the upper-midrange for tone with a bit more teeth. While  two-channel amps can sometimes be disappointing, I liked the Clean and  Overdrive channels on the V50-112.  Sonically they fit each other like PB&J and the transition between  them was just as sweet and satisfying. The Overdrive channel felt and  responded a lot like the first channel, just with a lot more gain on  tap. Setting the gain on the Overdrive channel to about 5 or 6 let me  get some hard-edged crunch when I dug into power chords as well as  edge-of-breakup single-note lines and arpeggios if I backed off a bit.

 

V is for victory

 

I was KO’d by the V-Series amps. They represent a lot of amp—and a lot of tone—for the money. While I liked the V18-212 quite a bit, I guess I’m a true American at heart because I came out preferring the flavor and flexibility of the V50-112.  No matter which flavor of guitar tone you prefer, I’m confident you’ll  find the V-Series amps are a phenomenal value for classic tube tone.

 

Features & Specs

 

V18-212 Features:

  • 18W power

 

  • Class A tube circuit design

  • 3 - 12AX7A preamp tubes

  • 2 cathode-biased EL84 output tubes

  • 2 special-design vintage British-voiced 12" speakers

  • Lightweight switching power supply

  • Gain and Level controls

  • Treble, Middle, and Bass EQ controls

  • Spring reverb

  • Power and Standby switches

  • 27-3/4"W x 21-1/4"H x 10-1/2"D

  • 50 lbs.

V50-112 Features:

  • 50W power

  • Class AB tube circuit design

  • 3 - 12AX7A preamp tubes

  • 2 fixed-bias 6L6GC power tubes

  • Lightweight switching power supply

  • Single special-design vintage British-voiced 12" speaker

  • 2 footswitchable channels (Clean and Overdrive)

  • Clean channel Volume control

  • Overdrive channel Gain and Level controls

  • Master 3-band EQ

  • Spring reverb

  • Boost switch (footswitchable)

  • Presence switch

  • Power and Standby switches

  • 24"W x 19"H x 11"D

  • 48-1/2 lbs.