St. Louis Music has been building Crate amplifiers since the late 1970s, and straight out of the chute, they gained a reputation for being well-designed, good-sounding, affordable, and oh-so-cute in their little crate-like cabinets.
Through the years, the Crate lines has evolved. The latest progression in the line is, in terms of design, something of a step back. Cognizant of the ever-growing popuarity of tube amps, Crate recently launched its all-tube V series combo amps, the V1512 and the V5212. These are different from the company’s Vintage Club series in that they offer much more gain and, on the 50-watt model, feature built-in effects.
These amps are very solidly built, as their weight bears testament. Aesthetically, they offer a crossover look between vintage and modern.
The V1512 features 15 class A watts and a 12″ speaker. The top-loaded control panel has the stanard 1/4″ input, plus controls for gain, low-end boost, treble, mid, bass level indicator, and on/off switch. The internal speaker can be disconnected and a 16-ohm cabinet may be plugged in via a 1/4″ jack. Three Groove Tubes 12AX7s and two EL84 power tubes provide the heart of the operation. For test guitars, we used a ’70s Strat, a ’59 Esquire and a ’70s Ibanez Artist.
Setting the amp to clean, and playing the Esquire, we dialed in a downright decent country tone that was very punchy and sparkly, with nice low-end response. We had to keep the gain control way low, as it would start to break up as we pushed it. Same with the Strat and Artist… but keep in mind, this is a high-gain amp.
As we pushed the gain, though, we easily found great blues tones that were again very punchy and responsive. We kept the treble backed off, as it tended to get a little fussy when cranked! And as we cranked the master volume, the tone stayed tight, even with the bass dimed.
As we drove the gain progressively harder, it came on strong, but was never brittle or soft. Smooth and tight was still the order of the day. With theArtist we had plenty of gain for metal. Wherever we set the gain it was smooth and tight with the speaker almost wanting to jump out of the cabinet at higher gain settings.
The reverb, for being a small tank, was very nice. Yes, you can get decent surf tones by cranking the reverb. Volumewise, this is a loud little amp that would work well onstage and in the studio. It has one channel, so you’ll have to mix it to your liking.
The V5212 features 50 class A/B all-tube watts with two 12″ speakers. It uses four 12AX7 preamp tubes and two EL34 output tubes, all supplied by Groove Tubes. The amp features channel switching and digital effects, and includes a footswitch for channel selection and selecting between two effects presets. Control-wise, the first channel features volume, treble, middle, and bass.
The second channel features gain, treble, middle, bass, and level. The master section which affects both channels includes DSP selection, DSP master level and presence controls. Standby and on/off switches are next to the indicator.
The digital signal processor features the most commonly used effects and presets for a handful of combinations – very cool, and very useful!
For our test run, we started with clean settings on the first channel. With the Esquire, we again were able to achieve fat, punchy, and sparkly country sounds; a desirable clean tone found in much more expensive boutique amps. With the Artist, we got the same clean tones, and with a slight edge when the volume was boosted. Very fat blues tone.
The presence control allowed us to dial in that right amount of sparkle.
We set channel two for various amounts of distortion. With the Esquire, the V5212 produced a smooth, fat distortion. We were even able to make the Strat sing with considerable fat by simply backing off the treble – it produced plenty of pleasing sparkle while retaining the low-end. The 5212 sounded very wet and tubey with the Strat. Very pure.
Using the Artist, we toyed with the gain and were able to get a great very responsive blues tone.
When we cranked the master, the amp really stepped into its own, typical of pushing the output tubes. Again, we had to watch our treble settings.
Then we toyed with the effects processor, which colors the way it should, and did not color the amp’s overall tone. You can switch between two effects presets via the footswitch – all effects are very usable. Volume-wise, this amp will fill almost any situation you encounter, and an extension speaker cab can be tagged on.
The V5212 covers three important bases – great clean tone, great overdrive tone, and great value. In short, it may be one of the most versatile and affordable amps on the market.
Both V amps are screamin’ tube units with the affordability any player can partake of.
Type of amp15-watt 1×12″ combo.
Features Class A tube circuitry, V series 12″ speaker, 15 watts – all tube, class A design, three Groove Tubes 12AX7 preamp tubes, two Groove Tubes EL34 power tubes, external speaker jack, 16-ohm operation, spring reverb.
Type of amp 50-watt 2×12″ combo.
Features Four Groove Tubes 12AX7 preamp tubes, two Groove Tubes EL34 power tubes, external speaker jack, 16/8-ohm operation, 15 built-in digital effects effects level, line in/out.
Contact Crate/St.Louis Music, 1400 Ferguson, St. Louis, MO 63133, phone 800-738-7563, crateamps.com.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Jan. ’04 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.