EVH 5150III Amplifier Review
(michael_britt | Posted 2009-12-17)
The new Fender-made EVH 5150III amp is the latest in the line of signature EVH amps, formerly made by Peavey. The amp gurus at Fender put real Fender tone into the clean channel of this amp and the gain channels are pure Eddie all the way. Now, before I begin, I must confess that Iím not a big-hair rocker or metalhead. I tend to prefer vintage amps, but Iím not at all opposed to trying new stuff and my idea of ďenough gainĒ is in the Plexi realm, maybe with a toe in the JCM800 pool.
So letís begin. First of all, this amp is a beast. Itís large. Itís heavy. It has a bunch of knobs. The cool thing is that itís got a bunch of knobs... and Iím quite happy with a volume and tone knob, mind you. Most 3-channel amps on the market skimp on the clean channel in favor of face-melting distortion on the other two channels. Many of them only have controls for Volume, Bass, Middle and Treble. The beauty of the 5150III in my opinion is the ďGainĒ knob on the clean channel in addition to the aforementioned V, B, M, and T controls. Plus, thereís the handy Presence control in the power amp section. The addition of the Gain knob makes this amp special for players like me. You see, I donít like a sterile, wimpy clean sound that sounds like you just took your Les Paul and plugged it into a walkman. For those of us who like Fender amps turned up to about 5-6 with just a hair of grit when we hit it hard, itís there in Ch. 1. If you like your Fender amp turned up to 8-9, just turn up the gain some more and you still have the Volume control to level the overall volume with the other channels.
So if you want the thin, strummy, ďIím a sensitive MetalheadĒ clean youíre covered, but thereís also a huge range of spanky Country sounds and Mike Campbell rootsiness in this amp as well. You have to keep in mind that youíre not playing through a low-wattage Princeton and that you have 100 watts on tap, so the feel is going to be a tad stiffer, but the tradeoff is that you have a lot of headroom and your amp wonít get lost behind a loud drummer, which has always been an issue for me. Ch. 1 also takes pedals very well and in my experience in a live setting with the tone controls at 12:00, I use Ch. 1 about 80% of the time, sometimes with a boost or an overdrive pedal in front, depending on the needs of the song.
Moving on to Channel 2... This channel enters Plexi world. Eddieís sound in the 70ís was pure cranked Plexi and for me, Channel 2 is great. The range of gain available via the control layout (G, B, M, T, V---all three channels have the same layout of controls) is pretty big, very similar to a non-master Marshall. For my needs, Ch. 2 has more than enough gain to be used as a lead channel. The tone is thick and throaty with just the right amount of mids to sound like a Marshall but with more bottom end on tap if you need it. If you need that whack-in-the-face attack, thereís still the separate Presence knob for each channel. Iíve used this amp with a variety of speakers and cabinets and itís not really very picky. It sounds great with the EVH cabinet with modified Greenbacks and Iíve used mine a lot with an open-back 212 loaded with a Vintage 30 and a Celestion Gold. This is not a one-dimensional rock amp, although it does rock!
Ch. 3 is an extension of Ch. 2, but with what sounds like about 4 gain stages added. It gets really thick very quickly and I find myself having to turn down the bass at lower volumes. With my style of playing, I use it for true-sounding 80ís rock covers but I seldom get the Gain past 11:00. For those harder players, there should be enough gain for most of you. I wouldnít be a great judge on the overall tightness of the sound compared to, say, a VHT or Diezel. To me, itís probably a touch more organic than those with a warmer (dare I say ďBrown-erĒ) overall tone and smoother attack. Keep in mind, this amp was designed by Eddie, who I think tends to favor a saturated but fluid attack.
The bells and whistles include a rugged 4-button channel selector/fx loop off/on selector and a pretty darn good fx loop so your delays and reverbs fall after the amp distortion as God intended. Yes, your soundman will tell you to turn down, but itíll be kinda hard to hear him because itís hard to stop playing this amp long enough.
If I must be critical... The amp is big and heavy. Theyíve added extra handles on the sides so you can recruit friends to help you with it, which is nice. The amp is a pc-board design made in Fenderís Mexico plant. That may scare boutique buyers, Iím not sure, but mine has been pretty bullet-proof over a year and a half of road and studio use. And it doesnít sound like a glassy, class A work of art or a Trainwreck. Itís thick and punchy, a little gnarly, and your notes will smash together just a little bit, but it gets loud and itís a manís amp. Be warned, although it can be run at quiet levels the preamp tone alone doesnít open up until you get the output tubes working with the Volume knobs up past 9:00. If youíre looking for a really versatile 3-channel amp that takes pedals like a pro, I prefer this to anything near it in the price range and even many above it. Despite the many knobs, it doesn't take a lot of tweaking to make it sound good. Set the tone knobs around noon and tweak little bits from there. The clean channel goes beyond ďusableĒ into ďhey, this sounds good!Ē and the gain channels make you think you sound like Eddie... the verdict is still out.