I bought this new from Music 123 because it was cheap enough to be curious about. $149. For that money, I love this amp!
Out of the box, mine sounded like crap but still better than those nifty little 5 watt single enders out there. I tried the Epi Valve Jr. and the Peavey ValveKing Royal 8. I guess I just don't like the way single ended power amps sound and I really do use my tone controls.
I believe Crate's intension was that this amp would produce a classic British Rock sound. If they were sucessful, then I have forgotten just how awful that sound was.
I'm an old timer and grew up with Elvis, The Beatles, Steppenwolf and the like. I played country when country wasn't cool.
I like my amps a little cleaner than most and would say I am more a Fender than Marshall fan.
The Crate V18 doesn't have the Traditional Pre-Amp/Master volume control but rather a two stage preamp and a power amp that runs full all the time. Therefore, this amp by design does not really do "Clean" very well. But as a Gain monster, it falls short also. I found the distortion to be kind of harsh. Also, out of the box, my Crate was very noisy when levels were turned above 4 on either the Gain or the Level control.
Sovtek Tubes are the most economical option for tubes on the planet. Crate doesn't appear to screen them very well but if you buy them from a reputable dealer such as the Tube Depot, pay a little extra for screening, You can get decent Sovtek tubes. I chose to go for something a little better, however.
The plus side of this amp is that you can give it an attitude adjustment with just a few carefully selected tubes.
To get a cleaner, brighter V18,
I chose Sovetek EL84M's. Tube Depot recommended these for HiFi as they might be to sterile sounding for a guitar amp. I like them in this amp! I ordered an Electro-Harmonix 12AX7EH tested for Balanced Triodes to use as a Phase Inverter (V3). For the first stage of the Pre-amp (V1) I used a JJ Tesla ECC83S tested for Low Noise and Microphonics and in the Second Stage (V2), I used and Electro-Harmonix 12AU7EH also tested for Low Noise and Microphonics.
I chose these brands specifically for the very qualities I had them tested for. You can save $10 bucks if you go with just the standard testing and will most likely get good results. I spent the money.
The 12AU7 in V2 took some of the boom out of the bass and crisped up the highs. You have to crank the amp up a little higher to overdrive the power tubes and that is what I wanted.
Someone else will have to give tips on how to make it sound good Dirty.
One more thing. Before you go crazy and buy new tubes, try swapping the ones that came with it around a little. Just reversing the power tubes in my crate quieted down a significant amount of hum. Can't hurt and it's possibly a free upgrade!
I've been playing for 40 years. Semi-pro for 10. I play a 80's Ibanez Musician, 90's Strat Ultra, or late model Epiphone SG through a Music Man HD130, Peavey Renown, Lab Series L5, or my old 60's Vox depending on my mood.
For $150, I love this amp. For any more than that, I would have sent it back. I think Crate took too may shortcuts with the tubes and reverb pan. If it were lost or stolen, I wouldn't miss it half as much as the stuff I put into it. If it breaks, it's going to make a decent chassis to custom build one of my own.
But to it's credit, out of the box, it has it's own distinctive sound. Crate claims Classic British Rock. I'm not entirely convinced. Whether that is good or bad is purely up to individual taste. I rated it a 7. I don't think you can go wrong for the price.