Sporting cool, cloth-textured covering, and a honkin’ chrome emblem that would look right at home on the grille of a 50’s-era lead-sled, Crate’s VFX 5112 is an ingenious combination of a gutsy-sounding, EL34-powered tube amp and a DSP processor with 15 factory preset effects. The control panel, located on the top of the amp, features a single input jack, Volume, Treble, Middle, and Bass controls (for channel A); a Channel Select button; Gain, Treble, Middle, Bass, and Level controls (for channel B); a DSP section with a 15-position rotary Mode switch and a Level knob (the only adjustable effects parameter); and a global Presence control. A standby switch makes life easier on the tubes during warm-up (and lets you keep ’em warm during breaks), and the amp is handily equipped with an extension-speaker jack and an impedance switch (8/16).
Each of the chrome knobs has a single tiny indicator dot, which I found difficult to see even in good light, let alone on a dimly lit stage. The VFX 5112’s preamp and output tubes lay horizontally inside the amp with the latter protected by a perforated steel cage. Two top-mounted screws must be removed to take off the amp’s back panel in order to gain access to the tubes—a procedure that’s a little more hassle than I’d prefer.
Channel A sounds fat, tight, and sparkly clean at moderate volumes, and the passive tone controls allow you to easily tailor the sounds to taste. Run the volume up a little higher, and you’re into classic rock and blues territory with lots of fat, chunky grind when you crank your guitar’s volume. The VFX 5112 is very dynamic, and the tones clean up nicely when you turn down your guitar. Activate channel B and things heat up with considerably more distortion, sustain, and harmonics. Here, too, the dynamics are excellent, and the Presence control allows you to obtain just the right amount of brightness and punch from the class AB output stage.
The VFX 5112 comes with a dual-button footswitch that controls channel switching and has a simple programming feature that lets you switch between two different effects on each channel. The effects are quite satisfying overall—I especially liked the Vibrato, the Chorus/Reverb/Delay, and the Slapback settings—but even with three digital reverbs to choose from, I still missed having a good spring reverb. Some of the effects sounded noisy when turned all the way up, and, for some reason, there was also a noticeable volume increase when switching from Delay to Vibrato. As with any quality amp, the VFX 5112 sounds great with humbucker or single-coil guitars, and its well-voiced passive tone controls (which are voiced differently for both channels) allow you to dial in sounds that are as crisp and articulate, or as fat as you like. I found channel A’s Mid knob especially useful for pulling in just the right amount of clucky chime from a Strat.
V for Victory
The VFX 5112 would be a very happening amp even without the digital effects, and there really isn’t a gig or musical style that this amp couldn’t do, and do well. With its hip boutique look, powerful tube tones, and wide range of effects, the VFX 5112 offers just about everything you need in an affordable, gig-ready combo.