Crate has a long history in the affordable solid state amp market. Ask a few guitar players you know and I’ll bet a majority of them had a Crate as their first amp. Crate lately has been dipping their toe in the tube amp market offering their V18-112 tube amp at a rock bottom price. Will the age old adage you get what you pay for apply?
First off, the amp is excellently packaged in what essentially amount to a triple boxed enclosure with foam corners. This baby isn’t going to get damaged in shipping.
Cashing in on the current Class A popularity, the V18-112 features a single channel Class A circuit sporting a trio of 12AX7A preamp tubes and dual EL84 output tubes which crank out 18 watts into a single 12-inch speaker rated at 50 watts. The V18-112 features the standard bass, middle, and treble controls along with gain, master volume, and reverb. A partially closed back, line out, speaker out, and standby switch round out the unit’s feature set.
From a cosmetic standpoint, the black tolex provides a polished appearance though feels pretty thin. The amp has a somewhat utilitarian look due to the very square build (the edges aren’t rounded off) and brushed metal corner protectors and logos (“V18” at the top and Crate at the bottom). It’s fairly large for a single 12-inch combo and weighs roughly 40 pounds making it pretty middle of the road concerning portability.
I ran the amp with a multitude of guitars including a PRS Singlecut SE, an SX SST57, and a First Act SFA Edition Sheena CE240. First I auditioned the amp with the tone controls and master volume set to 12 o’clock, the gain set at the first notch at which the amp produced sound, and the reverb off. With all the guitars the amp performed decently, however the darker tonal response seemed to slightly favor the chimier response of single coils. Even with the gain set at this low setting, there was a faint hair on the sound; definitely not a pristinely clean amp. As I inched the gain up, the amp began to exhibit an exaggerated bite to the point of sounding fairly strident when cranked. I found myself reaching for the tone knob on all the guitars to cut the high end. At the highest gain settings, the amp breaks up in an extremely gritty fashion. Fans of smooth overdriven tones definitely need look elsewhere.
Eq controls were fairly effective with the bass control exhibiting a huge boost when turned much past 2 o’clock. Conversely, the treble control didn’t seem to do much dialed lower than around 10 or 11 o’clock. Ultimately, the best tones occurred with the gain low and the eq set fairly flat.
I threw down an Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer and Tech 21 XXL to see how it handled pedals and the results were certainly workable. The V18-112 seemed to favor a few of the higher gain settings from the XXL over the TS9 where it just sounded kind of flat.
Even at the lowest settings, the V18’s reverb isn’t very flattering and is overpowering and super splashy in nature. I couldn’t find even a subtle usage for it. Fortunately, I’m not a big user of reverb in the first place but reverb fans should be forewarned that an external device or amp mod will be necessary.
An 18 watt tube amp should be plenty loud to handle live settings and the V18-112 is no exception. I expected the amp to break up much more progressively with volume increases and was surprised with the tonal consistency through out pretty much the entire master volume control sweep which was slightly disappointing; I was hoping for the soft compression often referred to as “sag” I’d expect from a cranked low wattage tube amp.
The Crate V18-112 will certainly appeal to those seeking an affordable tube amp which is capable of some fairly clean sounds at gigging volume. The amp’s tones are workable but will certainly need some help from a nice stomp box to achieve anything near a smooth lead or even a convincing rhythm tone.
Price: ~$150 to $200
Pros: Affordable, loud
Cons: Poor reverb, high gain settings uninspiring