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Fender has once again joined forces with Eddie Van Halen to expand the 5150III amp family. This time the result is a smaller 50-watt version of the master’s signature amp. It’s driven by two 6L6s and seven 12AX7s, which glow inside the amp’s ivory shell (black is also an option), and the three channels are configured to deliver clean, crunch, and molten lead tones. The clean and crunch channels share EQ, gain, and volume knobs, and a pair of presence and resonance knobs adjusts the high-end cut and low end. An included footswitch controls channel-switching and engages the amp’s serial effects loop. And in a classic Fender-inspired design move, there are two metal plates with thumbscrews mounted to the bottom of the head, which securely lock it to the EVH 2x12 cab when it’s leaned back on its tilt-legs.
Using a Stratocaster on the clean channel with the preamp gain set just under 10 o’clock delivers a clean tone that works well with arpeggios and rhythmic interludes, but doesn’t have quite as much girth or sparkle as you might expect. Paired with a Les Paul, the crunch channel delivers a thick, woody midrange and snappy low end that sounds closer to Eddie’s famous brown sound than just about any previous 5150 model. Crunch is easily the most versatile channel of the three, with enough range of gain to pull off everything from classic to modern hard rock.
With a Les Paul, the third channel delivers a raucous and sizzling overdrive with more gain on tap than most players will ever use. In fact, there’s not much of an audible difference in tone when the gain is turned up past 1 o’clock. The snappy attack is very intense, and perfect for modern thrash metal. But it’s nearly impossible to reign in that aggression without sacrificing a lot of high-end character, and this limits the amp’s ability to pull off more dynamic lead work while keeping the tone robust.
Watch Ola Englund demo the amp:
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