Fender Australia | RRP $1,799
Eddie Van Halen (EVH) is one of the most influential players in musical history. Morphing rock, blues, classical and heavy metal into a musical melting pot is no mean feat, and this iconic musician is honoured most recently in the aptly named 5150 Iconic Series.
EVH’s influence extends far beyond his playing, most famously in his Frankenstein Stratocasters, heavily modified and refinished guitars featuring all of his wildest routing and switching ideas rolled into one, and the 5150 series of amps.
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Originally built by Peavey in the 90s, the famous (or infamous depending where you stand) ‘block letter’ 5150 (characterised by the bold, block-lettered “5150” adorning the front of the amp) is possibly the most widely used, imitated and revered amp in hard rock and metal. Characterised by crunchy mids and searing gain, the 5150 rose to fame because of its present mid frequencies and controlled, albeit steep roll off on the bottom end. The handy ‘Resonance’ and ‘Presence’ knobs to boost lows and highs respectively, made the amp very easy to dial in.
The 5150 II is just as famous, sometimes more so because of the revised circuitry and extra controls. The last few years have seen the introduction of the EVH 5150 III and metal guitarists across the world are using them live, in the studio, and for practice as they harness everything we’ve loved about the 5150 and then some, providing cleaner cleans and more gain when required for a particularly modern sound. The Iconic 5150 Series, however, really pushes to pay tribute to the original 5150 for that classic sound, providing a very stable base to build on via different pedals, pickups, and cabinets.
For those who have played the recent EVH 5150 III heads and cabinets, the 5150 Iconic Series 80W Head is the perfect canvas to paint your masterpiece. It features only two channels, and both feature less gain than the 5150 III, but for good reason.
The original 5150 was designed as a base for Eddie to build his unique tones, lead sounds, and ‘brown sound’ upon. The clean channel is super dry, but warms up fantastically with a phaser or chorus as EVH himself would have done. In addition to the two channels, it features two boosts in the form of an ‘Overdrive’ for the Clean channel, and ‘Burn’ for the Gain channel, designed to mimic the push of the ‘Bright’ and ‘Crunch’ of the original Block letter 5150 and 5150 II.
It’s important to note that James Brown, the designer of the original 5150 was involved in the design and build of the entire EVH Iconic Series, so if you’re not splashing out a lot of cash for an original 5150 (are the 90s ‘vintage’ yet? Yikes!), the 5150 Iconic Series units are about as close as you’ll get. The 80W head ranges from super dry cleans right up to soaring, crunchy gain, and everything in between. You can harness a snappy, bluesy drive or a gain-y and articulate tone for shred, and the inbuilt single knob noise gate can handle any noise between your chugs.
The 5150 Iconic Series 80W Head is an 80W guitar amplifier head with a handy half/full power switch for more appropriate bedroom volumes, so you can still push those ECC83 preamp tubes and 6L6 power tubes into saturation. What’s more, the back of the amp features a speaker simulated line out via an XLR and a power amp mute so you can silently record, practice, or chase tone! There’s an effects loop for your time-based effects, or for an extra noise gate to really stomp down on any hiss or buzz from the preamp, mostly inevitable with so much gain under the hood.
The 5150 Iconic Series 80W Head also includes a two button footswitch to toggle between channels or boost your signal (the ‘Overdrive’ and ‘Burn’ settings discussed earlier). The 5150 Iconic Series 80W Head can be paired with the matched 16-ohm 160-watt 5150 Iconic Series 4×12 Cabinet, but the switchable ohms from 4, 8, or 16 makes it a perfect match for any cabinet. The original 5150s offered a massive 120 watts of power, while the 80W Iconic Series Head offers a little less power but makes it a better match for most cabinets!
All in all the entire 5150 Iconic Series pays homage to one of the most famous amplifier designs in history. The 5150 is loved by some and emulated by many. Those that love it, revere it, and those who don’t – well it’s not the 5150’s fault that it’s become such a widely used amplifier for its wide variety of applications! The Iconic Series – whether you’re looking into the 80W head reviewed here or 40W combos, they are a home run. They toe the line between paying homage to one of the best players and amps of our time, but also make it fresh and new for the modern world.
If you want an original 5150, you can buy one. If you want a 5150 with some modern additions to make it more playable, recordable and practical – the 5150 Iconic Series 80W Head might very well be your next purchase.