… full disclosure, right here, right up front, before I even talk about the EVH 5150 iii: I’m a huge Eddie Van Halen fan.
Whenever I struck a rock pose in front of a window or mirror with friends, (before I even started learning guitar!) I was usually mimicking Eddie. Okay, maybe sometimes David Lee Roth too. lol
When I started learning guitar, Eddie’s licks were the ones I spent the most time on and first ventured to master.
When I continued progressing, and really decided to pursue this as a career, song after song of his I studied and honed (sometimes painstakingly by lifting a RECORD PLAYER needle over and over again!) to slowly build up an arsenal of his stylistic tricks.
And when I want to learn a really inspiring new song to this day, I still dip into Eddie’s repertoire to find something amazing. Studying his unique approach has expanded not only my mind, not only my skill set – his decisions in the recording studio have dramatically influenced how I produce a GOOD guitar amp tone.
So when I talk about the EVH 5150 iii amp, just know that there was probably no way possible that I’d DIS-like it… unless Eddie really screwed up the engineering and quality, which I’m very happy to say he did NOT!
Does it have some weak points? I found one, but even that was addressed and fixed as of this year, as we’ll discuss later in this article.
So, let’s put this snarky puppy through its paces and I’ll show you what it can do…
… and why I rarely play anything else! 😉
My own personal EVH set-up consists of the ivory 5150 iii 50-watt head, connected to the ivory 5150 iii 2×12 cabinet.
These two units were perfectly engineered to connect to one another, such that you can slant the cabinet back on the two steel legs that are on each side of the cab, while the head stays securely fastened with two hefty bolts on either side.
I love that, because now I don’t have to have any of my guitar fed through my monitors if I’m using floor wedges – my amp and cab is pointing right up to my ears so I always hear it perfectly, no matter what anyone else does.
If you’re using in-ear monitors you’ll need a little guitar in them, but I still leave it pointing at my head so I don’t need as much. Obviously you’ll need to discuss this with your soundman to come to a happy medium… we’ve all had our share of “you’re too loud” sound engineers, right?! lol
I have to add to that, not only is it a great design from the sound standpoint, these two units LOOK outrageously cool and impressive when slanted back and delivering the goods. Whenever I take this rig on a gig I feel like a proud parent or something about it – it’s grown up to be everything and more that I could’ve dreamed!
Because of its small size, the amp is easily carried at 35 lbs. Or, since the cabinet is on wheels, just stick the amp on the cab at your car and wheel the whole thing in… easy-peasy.
The front panel content gives ya what you’d expect on an amp, no surprises. All you need to craft your sound is right under your fingertips.
Eddie chose chicken head knobs for his amps. A great choice! I much prefer these to other smaller, rounder little nubs that you find on other amps. When you’re a long way into a stage gig, sweaty from being under the hot lights, it’s a lot easier to grab one o’ these chicken heads than the others, lemme tell ya!
This 5150 iii comes with TWO CHANNELS. Both of them have the same controls:
There also one global PRESENCE knob on the front that makes an interesting modification to both channels and, obviously, to your sound if you want it. It definitely adds some sparkle to the tone, as it’s basically boosting the ultra-high frequencies. I usually have mine set at around noon.
That’s it! Nothing too pretentious or complex, just strong, basic sound sculpting controls that are easy to finesse, just like Eddie has always preferred it.
BACK In Business!
The rear of the unit gives us a lot of options for hooking up other gear, as well as further tailoring our tone a bit.
Besides the obvious things you’d expect on an amp back, they also included a number of helpful additions:
- a MIDI port, which is really helpful if you’re hooking up any MIDI-capable processor, like I did
- a Preamp Out, with which you can send your dry, unprocessed signal to a mix board. I’ve done this once, but won’t again, because honestly the amp sounds SOOOOO much better mic’ed there’s just no comparison. You could also use this to go into another amp or another amp’s Effects Return tho’.
- A Resonance knob, which will globally increase your low frequency response if you feel your fans are thinking “Where’s the beef??” I have mine set at almost full, but that’s just me… I like to be the elephant in the room when I solo. lol
- Load Impedance switches that allow you to use this amp with 4 Ohm, 8 Ohm, or even 16 Ohm cabinets. You want versatility… you GOT it!
Because of the extreme LOUDNESS of this amp (don’t let the ’50 watts’ moniker fool you!) I only run one speaker cabinet out of the amp, but there are two ports should you choose to go all surround-sound on us. ‘-)
Eruption… of Sound!
This amp is loud.
So loud that I rarely have to turn it above noon. Seriously. And if I’m playing live, every sound guy has asked me to have it at about 8 o’clock. Can you believe that – eight o’clock!!
I don’t know how they did it but this 50-watt-er is just insane when it comes to volume. In fact, that’s the main reason I didn’t buy the 100 watt version. I tried them both, playing the 100 watt one first, and found that… dude, I will probably NEVERRRRRRR need more than the 50 provides.
And the 100 watt-er? If you want any buildings demolished I have a better idea than calling in the wrecking balls… Just play the first power chord of “Eruption” with that amp set on full gain and volume.
There’ll be nothing left but quivering rubble.
Everybody Wants Some… of This TONE!
I’ve owned lots of amps over the years, but this one is still my favorite. I can’t tell you how much the tone inspires me when I play it because… well, there just aren’t enough glowing adjectives!
The first and the second channels (that both share the same controls on the left side of the amp face) are my favorites. Here’s the best way I can describe them:
- Want clean and crisp? This delivers it in spades.
- Want to NAIL the sound of Eddie’s tone on the track “Mean Street” (which I did!)? Look no further; you have arrived at your holy grail tone destination!
Now, you can fiddle with the controls to get tones that don’t match the Van Halen records too, especially if you’re playing guitars that are very unlike what Eddie uses. I, however, LOVE the fact that I can nail his tone with this amp and his guitars. It’s incredible. It’s awe-inspiring. It’s… it’s…
Sorry. Don’t mean to get all fan-boy on you, but I’m truly sincere when I say that I will never, ever get rid of this amp. It’d be like selling off a ’65 Corvette Stingray – you’d have to be insane!
If you want to actually here the tone of this beast, “As Is”, as VH would say, jump on over to THIS POST and scroll down to near the bottom. There you’ll see quite a few recordings I did with the amp using NO EFFECTS, just the sound of amp itself, on both the Clean and the Crunch channels.
And did I have a blast doing that?? Oh, yes… oh yes I DID!! :-0
Might As Well JUMP!
This amp is 5-starred almost everywhere you click (just check out THESE REVIEWS to see what I mean!), but there is one issue that plagued the amp when it was first introduced – the VOLUME JUMP.
If you get a 50-watt-er from before 2018, when you change from the Clean channel to the Crunch channel, with either the “Select” button or your foot pedal, there is a significant boost in volume, at least if you are below about the noon setting for Volume. So much of a boost that your sound men will want to pummel you if you click into Crunch-land without fixing the large jump in loudness.
Was it a deal-breaker? Obviously not, because I bought it even tho’ I heard it plainly.
The good news is that now, as of January of 2018, both of the 50 watt-ers available this year, the 6L6 AND the EL34 versions, have concentric dual knobs on the front, that allow you to set the Volume and the Gain knobs separately for the Clean and the Crunch channel. EVH obviously listens to its fans and went the extra mile to resolve this issue swimmingly, so… Fender – YOU ROCK!!
To tell the difference I’ve put these pictures up: knobs like those on the RIGHT, that are completely white, are the old models. Knobs like those on the LEFT, that have the black circle around the knob, are the new models that give you separate controls. Easy to tell which is which when you know what to look for!
If you do have an older one (or are considering picking up a “formerly loved” model!) there are lots of ways to easily fix this niggling issue:
- Put a “Boost” pedal in your signal chain
- Install a 10k voltage divider to 42k. This will raise the clean level to match, tho’ it will increase the gain slightly.
- Buy the Conversion Kit that mods all older models to fix the jump. Kits are due to hit in the 4th quarter of 2018.
- Use a programmable guitar processor and program in the volume adjustment.
I personally went with option 3 to resolve the issue. It gives me the most flexibility and control possible.
The unit I use (which I’ll do an article on soon) is the Digitech GSP1101. It’s a Guitar Preamp/Processor that is specifically designed to be transparent enough that your amp tone isn’t sucked away.
The 1101 is a perfect match for the EVH 50 watt head, allowing its stellar tone to charge right on through, while at the same time providing any effect you could possibly want immediately and cleanly.
By the way, I personally use the 4 cable method to interface with my effects. I started running my rig that way about a decade ago and I’ll never go back. Things never sounded better. If you’re unfamiliar with that, check THIS EXPLANATION out.
Finish What Ya Started…
In the final analysis, what is it guitarists want out of an amp, really?? I think it boils down to these three:
- Great tone
- Long-lived reliability
The 5150 iii 50 watt head certainly gives you all of that, and more. For further specs and to see its cheapest price, check out this link:
Now, obviously tone is a very subjective subject, and what might sound like gold to one shredder will flop like prairie patties to some other axe-man or woman. But either way, this amp definitely deserves attention as one of the best amps available today, with an excellent track record for longevity and road-worthiness and, if you ask me, a tone to die for.
Questions? Comments? Got a 5150 yourself? Thinking of taking the plunge into one? Lemme know in the Comments. Amp-ey love is meant to be shared… dispersed… AMPLIFIED!!! 😉
Now, go… make… sounds!!