The Peavey 5150 is almost synonymous with metal and hard rock. It has seen many iterations over the years, but today we take a look at the classic that Eddie Van Halen created.
The Peavey 5150: Eddie’s Greatest Creation
Look, I am one of the biggest Van Halen fans in the world. I’m not kidding at all, and I can prove it by telling you that I didn’t even bat an eye when David Lee Roth left the band. Because while Diamond Dave was a huge part of the Van Halen sound, it was Eddie that held my attention. His guitar acrobatics were like something from the future, and way ahead of his time. If you don’t believe me, go listen to “Dreams” right now, and tell me that song doesn’t rock.
Eddie Van Halen wasn’t just a great songwriter though, he also designed all kinds of guitars and gear. His collaborations with famous designers is stuff of legends these days. The Peavey 5150 amplifier is one of those inventions that he designed to get his unique sound. Eddie was always chasing tone, and he had a wall of Marshall amps that served him well over the years. But he needed something that really defined him, and that’s where the Peavey 5150 steps in.
But the famous “Brown Sound” was not so easy to just put in a box and sell to the public. Eddie was meticulous with his design ideas, and nothing short of the best was going to have his name on it. Peavey was up to the challenge, and it was an interesting journey to get to where we are today. Because if you play the guitar, you know what a 5150 is, don’t you?
The Peavey 5150 was used by so many artists in the metal and rock community, it is hard to find an album made in the 90’s that didn’t feature this amp as the primary guitar tone. This is a testament to the versatility, but also proof that it had a sound that no other amp in its class could even dream of having. If you needed a high gain tone, and other amps just weren’t cutting it, bring in the 5150! Even today, the 5150 is used every day on stages and in studios.
So what makes this amp so special and legendary? Today we do a deep dive into the amp itself, and the history behind it. Building this monster from the ground up. Strap in, and put in your ear plugs, because its going to get LOUD. Let’s go back in time and find out where the 5150 came from, and how it changed heavy music in ways Peavey and Eddie could never predict.
All of the power of the OG 6505, in a smaller, gig ready package! 20 watts of tube tone will light up the stage of the studio! he 6505 MH has two channels that follow the same gain structure and voicing of its iconic big brother to produce the devastating, overdriven tones that have defined the sound of modern metal music for more than two decades. The channels share EQ, lush reverb and an effects loop. Channels, crunch, effects loop and reverb are all footswitchable. features a built in attenuator for quiet playing.
Peavey 5150: Beginnings…
Eddie had approached a few companies about making an amp. But he had some pretty high standards that needed to be met. The amp had to be affordable to guitar players everywhere, and have zero compromises in all-tube tone. The famous Marshall Plexi and other amps that Eddie was using definitely didn’t meet this standard. So in 1989, Ed has his first talks with Peavey Electronics, who already made a name for themselves in the affordable amp market.
The fact that the company was built on being the “working man’s amp” was already very appealing to Eddie. There was a rumor that Eddie had a tweaked-out Marshall that he brought to Peavey as an example, but the main engineer James Brown (not that James Brown!) says “I have never seen that Marshall amp”. He denies that Eddie ever brought a Marshall to him. But Eddie definitely had specs and design ideas that he gave to James, and over two years they traded prototypes back and forth. Testing them on the road, and in the studio.
Once the finalized design was decided on and the initial models rolled out, the Electro-Voice Audio Company immediately responded to Peavey, saying that the “EVH” logo on the amp was too close to the company’s own logo. Peavey refused to back down, calling the comparison silly. But to avoid any legal issues, Eddie and Peavey decided to change the logo to his actual signature for the next batch of amps. Neither party wanted to rock the boat, and the signature is now an important part of the visuals of the 5150.
The original “Block Letter” versions of the amp, before the signature change are highly sought after. The claim was, that something changed between the block letter, and “signature” versions. But this is only half true. Peavey had run out of Sylvania tubes, so the new “signature” amps had Ruby Brand tubes instead. The claim was, this changed the tone. In reality, tubes have very little impact on the tone of an amp. The speakers are much more important! Don’t believe me? Watch Glenn Fricker’s video on the subject.
The controversy doesn’t stop there though, because one of the main components of the Peavey 5150 was a “Printed Circuit Board” or PCB. Audiophiles and amp collectors see this type of technology as “impure” since it is relying on computer parts, and not just tubes and traditional components. The amp had a total of 5 preamp tubes (4 actually, one is a phase inverter), and the PCB acted as a buffer to the power source. This stopped unwanted nuances of power problems, that a touring musician would find on the road at varying venues. But tube amp purists were turned off by the inclusion of modern technology.
Despite the problems, Eddie toured with the 5150 for the first time in 1990-1991, and it was officially released to the public in 1992. It had the features that any modern guitarist would love to have. More gain than you could ever possibly use! The 5150 was essentially a “custom shop style” amp, but readily available to the public at an affordable price. The original specs were:
- High and low gain inputs
- 120 watts (RMS) into 16, 8 or 4 ohms (switchable)
- 2-channel preamp switchable on front panel or remote footswitch
- Rhythm channel: pre/post gain, bright and crunch switches
- Five 12AX7 preamp tubes and four 6L6GC power amp tubes
- Channels share 3-band EQ
- Presence and resonance controls
- Switchable post-EQ effects loop
- Preamp output
- Footswitch included
- Lead channel: pre/post gain
The amp became a hit among many upcoming artists in the 90’s. Two British producers were known for using them in the studio, Colin Richardson and Andy Sneap. Colin and Andy got their hands on some 5150 amps, and it changed the way they dialed in the guitars for metal albums. If those names sound familiar, then you are probably a metal fan, since they did so many albums in the 90’s and early 2000’s. The Peavey 5150 was their weapon of choice, and guitarists everywhere soon caught word of the “tone”. Among them in the 90’s were:
- Cradle Of Filth
- Machine Head
- Napalm Death
The Peavey 5150 was a hit among guitarists and producers alike. It became the “go to” amp for pretty much everyone. I have owned two in my lifetime, and I may eventually buy another one! The tone is super versatile, and it can be dialed in however you want. The clean channel was always a point of contention, and many reviewers said it sounded “lifeless and sterile”. But to be fair, Eddie rarely used the clean channel himself. He used his volume knob to adjust the guitar, and clean up the signal. So the clean tone may have been a little…overlooked.
The Peavey 5150 became a staple of the metal sound, and soon it was all over every album that had a heavy distorted guitar. Bands would request a 5150 in the studio, whether they were big stars or a new act just starting out. The mark had been made, and to think that this was an affordable tube amp for gigging guitarists! The 5150 is on all of your favorite metal albums, even today!
This was all a massive success for Peavey, and Eddie Van Halen. It became one of the best selling amps of all time. Peavey was now known as more than just the “pawn shop affordable” brand, and the entire reputation of the company changed. Suddenly Peavey was no longer the butt of jokes about being cheap. But where the hell do you go after you make the perfect guitar amp?
You make it even better!
The Peavey 5150: Makeover Time!
By 1994, the Peavey 5150 had seen a huge amount of appreciation from the guitar community. There was just one problem with the 5150, and it was a problem I ran into myself. It was a big amp to carry around, and I rarely got to crank it up because it was so LOUD. Eddie teamed up with Peavey again to make a 2×12 combo version of the amp. But it had to offer something new, and not just be a combo version of the head. Eddie was always changing things up, as he made notes on tour.
It featured all the same specs as the original, except it was only 60 watts. It came with 2 Sheffield speakers that most people immediately replaced, because they were very…ordinary. If I am being fair…I can’t believe Eddie signed off on these speakers. The Sheffield speakers are kind of a joke these days, as we all used Celestion speakers with the Peavey 5150 combo. But the combo was a huge step in the right direction for the regular gigging musician, and it was designed to still get heavy as hell. I used one for about 3 years, and it held up to all kinds of abuse.
There were some new features with the combo. The clean channel had a “bright” switch that improved the tone a little. The two channels had a shared EQ system, which some people saw as a downside. I never had any problems with it. The combo also had a master resonance and presence control this time. This made dialing in a crunchy high gain tone with a ton of midrange easy. It will cut in the most dense mix, live or in the studio.
The changes that were made in the 5150 combo were carried over to the next model, but the 5150 series would not see a redesign until 1999. These changes though, were a huge reason to buy the combo over the head version of the 5150. I know that the resonance control was a big part of my tone, and added a new dimension over the head unit. That is, until Peavey released the new announcement…
The Peavey 5150 II
In 1999, Peavey announced that the new 5150 was on its way, combining the features that everyone loved about the combo with the original head unit. The aesthetics stayed about the same, since the 5150 had become so instantly recognizable. Stages all across the world saw the 5150 in action, in all kinds of rock bands and metal acts. It became almost an icon, and you knew the band was going to be rocking when you saw a 5150 on stage.
Eddie Van Halen and James Brown (no relation!) thought about what they could change based on customer response and the last 10 years of Eddie himself using the 5150 on stage. Eddie had made notes over those years, and he had some suggestions. They decided to add another 12AX7 preamp tube, as well as the resonance and presence controls that were popular with the combo model. Eddie also suggested to only have a single input jack. James made 3 prototype heads for Eddie to try out, and delivered them to him.
Eddie tried out all 3 of the prototypes, but something weird was going on with one of them. One had a totally unique tone, and Eddie loved it. Eddie told James at Peavey about this special amp, and how it sounded better than the other prototypes. Eddie and James could not find a difference between the amps for a while, even when they took them apart. But then they discovered that an employee accidently put a 2.2 mic capacitor in one, instead of the 22 mic capacitor that was in the design. When Eddie found out it was a total mistake, he loved the amp even more.
This led to another combo design from Eddie and James in 2003. This time, they made the combo a 40 watt model. Unfortunately, this amp was never released. James Brown left Peavey around this time, and to Eddie’s dismay, the amp was never approved for release. There are spec sheets floating around the internet, but unfortunately, we never saw the actual amp and no prototype was made. The 5150 II Combo is just lost to history now.
The Peavey 5150 II was a popular amp, but it was not anywhere near as popular as the original. Peavey had lost its biggest amp designer with James, and Eddie and James were a team. Despite the success of the 5150 II, Eddie had some serious decisions to make. His creative partner was gone, and Peavey was starting to have some internal issues. Eddie made the tough decision to leave Peavey and he never returned.
The Peavey 6505
With Eddie Van Halen out of the picture, Peavey had lost its biggest cash cow. But that didn’t stop the company from releasing the 6505. The “65” is the year that Peavey began, and the “05” is the first year of the amp’s production. The 6505 was exactly the same as the Peavey 5150 in every way, as Eddie didn’t own the exact design of the amp. Eddie only owned the “5150” name, not the actual design of the amp.
The public had some problems at first with the change, thinking that since it didn’t have the 5150 moniker, it wasn’t as legit. Peavey made a statement at the 2005 NAMM show about the amp, stating that the circuitry is exactly the same as the 5150. Side by side demos were done, and it was conclusive that the 6505 was indeed, identical. The 6505 had a rocky start, but once people realized it was the exact same amp, sales came back.
Peavey sold a ton of 6505 amps, and made the 6505+ in the place of the 5150 II. These sold well since the 5150 amps started to go up in price on the used market. Many touring bands started using the 6505 since the 5150 was no longer available. To be fair, the two amps really are identical in every way. I have used a 6505 in the studio before, and it sounded great considering how familiar I am with the 5150 tone. This became the flagship model for Peavey, and it is still a popular amp today.
But Eddie was restless, and he wanted to refine the 5150 a little more. Luckily, he a had just made a deal with Fender to produce his products. The brand name would be “EVH” in big block letters, and Fender would only make the products, while Eddie designed them.
The 5150: Refinements, And Present Day
As we discussed in another article, we saw Eddie move over to Fender/Charvel for all of his signature gear. This started with just guitars, but then the 5150 III was announced. This is a overhaul over the original Peavey 5150 in a lot of ways. The Peavey 5150 and 6505 have remained 2 channel amps. The new 5150 III is a three channel monster, with all kinds of cool design choices. Fender gave Eddie Van Halen free reign with his new EVH product lineup, and it shows!
Eddie has said many times that while the Peavey 5150 was very close to everything he ever wanted, the Fender produced 5150 III is his Excalibur of an amp. Every channel has its own EQ section, and finally we see a dedicated clean channel that sounds great. The 5150 III has been a massive hit with guitarists everywhere, and it comes in many different forms. It even comes in the combo version for gigging guitarists. These are still made to be “affordable” as well, just as Eddie would have wanted.
The newest version is called the “ICONIC” series, and it is a block letter 5150, with all of the modern appointments. These are boutique quality, high gain beasts that Eddie would be very proud of, I’m sure. The legacy of Eddie Van Halen lives on through these EVH branded instruments and amplifiers and I am positive that Eddie was proud of all of his accomplishments.
The Peavey 5150: Wrapping Up…
I think we all appreciate Eddie Van Halen for his playing, since he basically changed the landscape of guitar playing forever. I am glad that his technical prowess is still studied today, and I am sure it will be for years to come. I often say that Eddie Van Halen is just as important as Jimi Hendrix, and I truly believe that. He changed the way we all look at guitar.
But his inventions also live on. The Peavey 5150 and 6505 are testaments to his high standards for quality, and affordability. His designs are just as iconic as the man himself, and the 5150 will always be the “go to” amp for guitarists that need a superior high gain tone. I hope his legend lives on for as long as there are people that love guitar, because Eddie…you were a true hero. The real deal.
The EVH 5150 Iconic 40-watt 1x12 combo amplifier captures classic Eddie Van Halen tone like never before. A must-have for any Van Halen aficionado, this 40-watt, two-channel amp features a 1x12" custom-voiced Celestion EVH speaker designed to Eddie’s specifications. Powered by two 6L6 output tubes and two 12AX7 JJ preamp tubes, the closed-back EVH Iconic combo amp is built to deliver unmistakable Van Halen sound. Boost control over both Clean and Gain channels, along with Overdrive and Burn switches, help to shape the EVH tube tone into something entirely original.