Excellent sounds in each channel. Compact for a
powerful 3-channel design. Nice digital reverb.
Ease of Use:
The latest incarnation of the EVH 5150III adds a significant upgrade: namely, independent volume and gain controls for the clean and crunch channels. On past models, shared gain and volume controls for the clean and crunch channels made it tricky to make the clean channel clean enough and still have enough grit for the crunch channel. This revision solves that issue—and significantly expands the amp’s potential.
Heavy Duty Roller
When I pulled the amp out of the box, the first thing I noticed is that this combo is heavy—lifting and carrying it by the center handle isn’t exactly easy on the wrist. Thankfully, the folks at EVH are aware of the amp’s heft, and included casters that can be attached to the amp.
The all-tube, 3-channel amp (clean, crunch, and lead) features seven ECC83S preamp and two 6L6GC power-amp tubes. A Celestion 1X12 speaker lurks inside the 7-layer, birch-ply, closed-back cabinet. The front panel sports mini push buttons to select between channels. There are two sets of controls for gain, low, mid, high, and volume. But channel one and two (clean and crunch, respectively) share the leftmost set via a smart concentric knob design that gives you independent control of each channel. There are shared controls for master, presence, reverb, and power level (the amp can generate 1 to 50 watts).
The rear panel has jacks for headphones, MIDI in, effects loop send and return, preamp out, and two speaker outputs, as well as a master resonance knob. There’s also a load impedance switch to allow you to select from 4, 8, or 16 ohms.
Better Than Blackface?
I started my own test using the clean channel, with gain at 10 o’clock and all EQ knobs at noon. While the clean wasn’t exactly pristine, the tones were super robust, thick, and singing. Fender, who set the standard for clean tones with amps like the Twin Reverb, are partners with EVH, and the EVH III’s clean tones are as detailed as those from many Fender amps that specialize in clean voices. In some settings, I preferred the clean colors from the EVH. And the appeal of these sounds has the potential to resonate among a lot of players apart from die-hard Van Halen fans.
The EVH’s beautiful DSP reverb, by the way, is spacious and angelic, with a long decay. It’s a nice match for the clean channel and certainly adds to the vibrancy of those tones. It is among the best onboard digital reverbs I’ve heard in an amp.
Over on the crunch channel, you’ll hear a fair amount of grit even at the lowest gain levels. With all EQ knobs at noon, “Ain’t Talkin’ ’Bout Love”-type, arpeggiated figures sounded perfectly aggressive and detailed. With the gain up at noon, the amp really started to roar—producing classic, brawny “Panama”-style rhythm tones.
Usually, “crunch” channels connote rhythm playing. But this crunch channel was equally crushing for leads—particularly with humbuckers. Imagine that archetypical hot-rodded Marshall from the ’80s, and that’s what you more or less get here. Even in this 1x12 configuration, the amp sounds and feels massive.
The crunch channel is also versatile. It cleans up nicely with volume attenuation and is perfect for playing typical Eddie-style rhythm moves where dynamics play an integral role (the double-stop boogie figure throughout “Hot for Teacher” is a good example). Single-coils, meanwhile, generate delicious stinging tones that could work wonders in a contemporary blues context—something you might not expect from an EVH amp.
The lead channel has a modern, open feel, but the amount of available gain is especially impressive. With the gain and all EQ knobs around noon, the amp generates incredible sustain. But even if you bump the gain to near-maximum levels, pick attack remains clear and present. Crisp, staccato figures ring with precision and dead-on accuracy. Reducing the high-end content gave me a more liquid sound and softer pick attack that facilitates legato moves.
By the way, the 4-button footswitch (three channels and reverb) that makes dynamic shifts between the three channels possible operated flawlessly. Switching was immediate without any pops or latency.
In addition to his virtuosity and fiery showmanship, Eddie Van Halen is known as an obsessive tone chaser. In the old days, his quest for perfect sounds would lead him to carve out his Strat to fit in a humbucker (a practice that spawned the super-strat era), dip his pickups in paraffin wax to tame feedback squeals, and use a variac to manipulate the voltage going to his amps.
The 5150III is the beastly embodiment of Eddie’s ever-evolving tone quest. It’s inspiring to play. And all three core sounds—clean, crunch, and lead—are superb and useful well beyond Van Halen sound templates.