Tested by Darrin Fox
Simplicity can be a beautiful thing. And Crate's fire-breathing 100-watt BV120HB abides by that adage as it's a no-frills, no-nonsense, easy-to-maneuver tone machine. The BV's cosmetics-complete with see-through metal grate and graffiti-esque font on the control panel-add an air of swagger and attitude to its look. And when placed atop Crate's BV412SVB-a Celestion Vintage 30-loaded, 13-ply birch cabinet-you have a menacing looking rig that's ready to take on all comers.
Inside the amplifier's steel chassis is a main PC board that grips the majority of components, including all the tube sockets. On the outside, the black Tolex covering on both the BV120HB and its accompanying cabinet is pretty clean, although there are a couple of minor rough spots on the head.
With the included two-button footswitch, you're able to switch channels and kick in the BV120H's effects loop (which sports a switchable -12dB pad for accommodating stompboxes). The reverb-a mini-Accutronics tank-is not footswitchable. I'm typically critical of small-tank 'verbs because they simply can't measure up to the canyon-like glory of a full-sized tank. Well, the BV's is one of the best small reverbs I've heard, and it adds spacious warmth to all of the amplifier's tones. Very nice.
Channel 1's controls consist of a single Level knob and an EQ complement of Bass, Mid, and Treble. With my Gibson SG plugged in, I was greeted with a muscular-even husky-clean tone that remained devoid of any breakup until I reached an intense, ear-tickling volume. This is an ideal setup for players who want their clean channel to stay clean. With a Strat, the BV's chime and clarity were greatly enhanced, particularly when I used the Strat's clucky in-between pickup settings. Overall, I found the BV's clean channel to be much more inspiring with single-coils, though I did have to fiddle with the Treble and global Presence controls to mitigate some spiky high-end transients. Still, from jazzy comping to nasty funk stabs, the BV was able to deliver a respectable range of clean textures-and at deafening volumes.
Channel 2 offers the same controls as Channel 1, with the addition of a Gain knob. On this channel, humbucker-equipped guitars shined, particularly a PRS McCarty. With the Gain control about halfway up, I was knee-deep in a froth of sizzly distortion that made pinch harmonics leap from the speakers. These tones also exhibit a nice purr in the midrange and a rather punchy low-end response. For my taste, turning the Gain halfway up produced enough distortion, but for those who dare ask for more, it's there-albeit at the expense of some clarity and note-to-note definition.
By turning the Midrange control all the way down, the BV delivers a taste of more modern rock/metal tones. The midrange scoop isn't that severe, and, personally, I find it refreshing that a simple knob-twist doesn't change the BV's overall character-especially as Channel 2 offers a very musical midrange that should be preserved.
I also ran Channel 2 with the Level control all the way up, and used the Gain knob to control the amp's output volume. This yielded an old-school, plexi-Marshall-type flavor with a swift attack, as mildly distorted yet snarling lead lines and brutish power chords spewed from the 4x12. But beware: As the power amp is doing most of the dirty work in this configuration-i.e. giving you the grind-running the BV this way could endanger your hearing.
Even disregarding the BV120HB's sweet street price, there's still a lot to like about this amp. Its distorted sounds offer enough tonal goodies to satisfy a high-gain shred head or a classic rocker, and its clean tones can cover all the stylistic bases any player would need. In addition, this sucker can deliver truly earthshaking volume-and if you're someone who adores the massive power of old-school arena rock, there certainly ain't nothing wrong with that!