Crate FlexWave FW65 Guitar Combo Amp Front Panel
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Hands-On Review: Crate FlexWave Series Guitar Amplifiers

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Great amps for demanding guitarists

By John Crowe

You don’t have a lot of money to spend but you want the good stuff? No problem, at least in the guitar amp realm. Crate has you covered with the new FlexWave Series. Whether you’re looking for a small woodshedding amp or something big, powerful, and professionally capable, there’s a FlexWave amp that is just the right size, has all the right stuff, and is almost ridiculously affordable. The FlexWave Series starts with a couple of 15W practice combos (one without reverb and an 8" speaker, and one with spring reverb and a 12" speaker). It jumps next to a 65W 1x12 combo, and then to a 120W 2x12 combo and a head version of the same with matching 412 cabinets.

Common threads

All of the FlexWave Series amplifiers have Crate’s FlexWave Evolution 5 preamp circuitry. This isn’t exactly a new technology for Crate—it has been a primary feature of Crate’s solid-state designs since 1990 when it was patented. FlexWave solid-state technology provides the distorted lower frequencies and harmonics with clean highs of hard-driven vacuum tubes that guitarists quest after. It does it by bouncing or flexing in response to the guitarist’s picking technique. Soft notes are rendered more cleanly and notes played hard have more punch and grit. The FlexWave amps offer everything a good solid-state amp should offer: solid, dependable functionality with a great variety of tones.

A key component to the FlexWave Evolution 5 preamp sound is the patented Sequential Cascading Gain technology that uses three stages of distortion. According to Crate engineers, each stage colors the sound differently depending on the instrument being used with the amplifier and the amount of gain being applied. Gain Stage One adds output to your pickups, but the tone remains unchanged. Gain Stage Two adds definition and highs for a punchier sound. Gain Stage Three adds even more gain and upper end sparkle for clearer note articulation and definition. The result is more clearly defined notes at each stage with a great variety of distortion tones at your disposal.

Another cool feature of the FW65 and larger models is a built-in tuner. It’s located on top of the amp and is especially easy to read. It’s on whenever the amp itself is on so you can constantly monitor your tuning.

Crate FlexWave Series FW65 Guitar Combo Amp

The little guys

With FlexWave Evolution 5 preamp circuitry, even the 15-watters are satisfyingly toneful amps, making them exceptional among practice combos. The FW15 and FW15R are both two-channel amps—clean and distortion—with three-band EQ for flexible tone shaping, a stereo input for play-along, and a headphone output that cancels the speaker so you can practice into the wee hours without being pummeled by a horde of sleep-deprived roommates.

The FW15R adds the glorious spaciousness of genuine spring reverb to the tonal mix and has a 12" driver, which is especially cool for a practice amp. Both the FW15 and FW15R weigh only around 15 pounds so they are easy to pack. Both feature an extension speaker output—so if you want a bigger sound you can just add another speaker.

The big boys

The next FlexWave I tried out was the FW120. This is a big-gig rig without qualification: 120 watts, two 12" speakers, three channels, and casters! The casters (removable) are important—this is a big sucker. It also is a fully-equipped combo. Its three channels cover the full range of guitar tone: clean, red-hot overdrive, and face-melting modern high-gain distortion. Each channel has its own independent controls and is footswitchable with an included three-button switch. The Clean channel is equipped with three-band EQ so you can dial up a strong, knifing lead tone or mellow it out to show your softer side. The Overdrive channel has its own three-band EQ plus Gain and Level. This is quite a flexible channel, getting everything from a light bluesy distortion or violin-like sustain to downright gritty dirty. The High Gain channel begins at over-the-top and goes from there. It has only three controls: Gain, Level, and a Shape knob. The Shape control, as the name implies, shapes the tone wave—basically, it’s a mid-lift/mid-scoop control. Turn it one way to enhance the mids for a focused, bone-crusher sound, the other way to dial in a very chunky power-drive scooped sound. The choice is yours and you only have to turn one knob.

Crate FlexWave FW120 Combo Amp

The Crate FW120 combo features three independently controlled channels in addition to a state-of-the-art DSP effects block.

The FW120 could call it quits right there and consider itself complete. Instead it provides a very nice DSP effects block with reverb, modulations, and delays—efficiently organized and all settable with just three knobs. One of these knobs is dedicated to the reverb level, the other two select chorus, flanging, phasing, and delay, and set level choices for each. For example, you can select chorus with low, medium, or high depth; phaser with low, medium, or high feedback; short delay with low, medium, or high levels; or medium or long delays with a choice of levels and numbers of repeats. It’s simple, easy to use, and gives you a lot of choices. The effects also sound fantastic.

Channel tracking is another cool feature the DSP section offers. It allows you to set up the effects for each channel, store the settings, and then automatically recall them when you switch from one channel to another.

Crate FlexWave FW120H Guitar Amp Head

The rest of the FlexWave family

There is, naturally, a head version of the FW120 with all the same features and a pair of 4x12 cabs to go underneath—an awesome full stack that you can actually afford. For those who consider the FW120 models overkill, there is a sweet little 65W single 12 combo, the FW65, with the same channels and features as the big models that’s easier to transport and certainly not what you’d call underpowered. I used it for rehearsals with my band and it fit snugly into the mix while playing rhythm guitar parts. The FW65 opened up nicely to step out for some scrunchy leadwork all helped by judicious use of the three-band EQ and the Shape control which I turned slightly to the left to boost the lows and highs. My guess is that this will be the most popular of the FlexWave models. All of the FlexWaves are well built, well designed, fully featured, and low in price. For what they deliver, you can’t do much better.

Features & Specs

FW15:

  • 2 channels
  • 15W Evolution 5 preamp
  • 8" speaker
  • 3-band EQ
  • CD/MP3 input
  • Headphone jack
  • External output

FW15R:

  • Same as the FW15 with reverb and 12" speaker

FW65:

  • 3 channels with independent controls
  • 65 watts
  • 12" speaker
  • DSP effects
  • Channel tracking
  • Included footswitch

FW120:

  • 3 channels with independent controls
  • 120W watts
  • 3-band EQ
  • 2x12" speaker
  • DSP effects
  • Channel tracking
  • Included footswitch

FW120H:

FW412A & B:

  • 4x12" speakers
  • 120W power handling
  • Stereo or Mono
  • 4 or 8 ohms
  • Slant front (A)/straight front (B)

Tags: Amplifiers

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