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This article was originally published in issue #20
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We reviewed the awesome EVH 5150 III 100 head back in issue 10. But now there's a 50 Watt combo version. We gave one to Michael Casswell, a dedicated 5150 fan, to see if the magic scales down.
I'm sure we all know what to expect when an amp has EVH written on it. Eddie Van Halen's quest for tone is now legendary. He knows what he wants both from an amp and an amp manufacturer and he will not put his name to it until the tone in his head is delivered, originally by Eddie's own tortured self hot-rodded Marshalls, then by Peavey recreating a more reliable version of that huge high gain sound with the 5150 and 5150 II, and now with Fender Mexico giving us the EVH 5150 III series.
The 5150 lineage is an area I'm personally very familiar with, because my main stage amp back through most of the '90s, when I swapped from using rack equipment to amp heads and pedals, was one of the very earliest Peavey 5150s that came to the UK, and apparently, was one of the first off the production line, coming with a 00 serial number. I still have it, and although the fat high gain sound was awesome, it lacked a good clean tone, a quality which Peavey tried to address with the second incarnation 5150 II. I bought one of those, thinking it might be like my original but more versatile, but they had changed the essence of it somehow and although it now had an OK clean sound, the high gain sound was not fat and was a bit 'fizzy'. I sold that version, put my original 5150 in storage and moved over to Marshalls.
Then, for reasons never fully explained, Eddie decided to see if Fender could build his amp, and out came the three channel 100 Watt 5150 III, which is a monster of an amp. My colleague Jamie Humphries reviewed one back in issue 10 and gave it a glowing review. This review 5150 III is the new 50 Watt combo version of that amp. It still has three channels, but channels one and two share the same EQ, which works for me. Both are voiced really nicely and you could go from Funk, to Blues to high gain Rock and Metal just on these channels alone. Channel three, however, definitely takes you to another place when it comes to gain, and sounds every bit as good as my original old '91 Peavey version. OK, and I hate to admit it, but it probably sounds better. What I really like about these Fender versions is although they give you bags of saturation, you still get the pick attack at the front of the note, which is something I always look for on high gain amps. Fast runs and lines will be much more focused and defined when you can hear the front of every note.
A very cool feature on this version is a power attenuator that can take the amp from an incredibly loud 50 Watts right down to whisper at one Watt. The sound and tone don't change, just the volume. That's a very thoughtful inclusion, and means you can actually tame the beast for more civilized situations - or, if that's the mood you were in, you could wipe out the rest of your band and most of the audience with the full 50 Watts! There is also a very usable reverb on board, which actually does sound good, plus a resonance control round the back, and the whole thing is foot switchable with the supplied foot switch.
Some of the tone purists out there might say it's full of printed circuit boards, or that it's made in Mexico, or it doesn't sound like an amp from the old days when we used to have to pierce holes in our speaker cones and turn all the knobs on full and wear flares to get the tone..... blah blah etc. etc. Well if they opened their minds a little and just listened to what this amp can do in the right hands, then they would have to agree this amp does sound great and is as versatile as you like. Yes, it is big in size for a combo, but every note that comes out of it will sound big, and it does come supplied with castors to take the sting out of carrying the 84 lbs (38 kilos), plus there are handles on top and on either side. The twin Celestion G12 M speakers sit in what looks like a double skinned ported closed back cab, which means it will throw those bass frequencies out as far as it will throw the mids and highs.
Take the EVH link away from this amp and it would still be a great product. Never buy something because it has a big name associated with it, only buy it if it is good. This amp is very good and it's quite well priced, too. I want the 100 watt head version but if a combo is more your style then you simply have to check this one out.