Starr, whom Shifty credits with owning one of the best vintage guitar collections he’s ever seen, explains how he got into guitar at age six thanks to the influence of his dad, who was a bluegrass rhythm player.
But he turned to his mum, the rocker in the family, to help him get his first electric guitar: a Mosrite copy which he played through his sister’s stereo with some old-school technical finessing. (He eventually blew the stereo, which didn’t go over well with his sibling.) Starr and Shifty swap stories about getting their kids into guitar—Starr’s son wasn’t interested until he played guitar hero, when he discovered Allman Brothers and Van Halen.
Starr says his playing has never been too bogged down in theory—“I know what sounds good to me and what feels good to me,” he says—and he details how he came to his hybrid picking, middle-finger “crutch” style of lead-playing. For the scorching solo on “Waiting for the Thunder,” off their 2016 record Like An Arrow, Starr messed around until he found the right shape and sound. He used a 50-watt 1976 Marshall JMP, running through a 4x12 cab with Celestion Greenback speakers, and the same guitar he’s playing in this episode: a 2014 Gibson Custom Shop Southern Rock Tribute Les Paul, an homage to the smooth riffing of Duane Allman, Gary Rossington, and Dicky Betts.
You can hear those southern rock pioneers in Starr’s solo, which starts in the low register before slinking its way up the neck to a blistering crescendo. “Tom Waits said, ‘Our hands are like dogs, and they go to familiar places,’” says Starr.
Producer: Jason Shadrick
Executive Producers: Brady Sadler and Jake Brennan for Double Elvis
Engineering Support by Matt Tahaney and Matt Beaudion
Video Editors: Dan Destefano and Addison Sauvan
Special thanks to Chris Peterson, Greg Nacron, and the entire Volume.com crew.
The Van Halen-loving star sideman for Chris Cornell, Melissa Etheridge, and Don Henley, welcomes PG to his tone temple to see signature Suhrs, eight amps in a flash, and his core pedalboard.
Pete Thorn has constructed a dream career on being heard, not seen. He’s toured the world backing Chris Cornell, Don Henley, Melissa Etheridge, Jewel, and Japanese rock icon Tsuyoshi Nagabuchi (even performing at Mt. Fuji for over 100,000 fans on the biggest concert stage ever assembled in Japan). For a self-proclaimed “guitar nerd” (check out Pete’s 2011 album under the same name), it was a 21st century guitarist’s goal. After that, what does one do in between tours to stay busy and relevant in a modern world? You become a beloved YouTuber, of course!
His channel is a great destination for gear demos and comparisons, but Pete’s content stands out with his simple, and east-to-apply tone tips. (It’s worth noting that Pete did this very thing inside Premier Guitar for years with his “Tone Tips” column. Check it out!) The fun, diverse, informative videos Thorn has delivered have blossomed into a parallel profession with a built-in audience pushing 250k subscribers.
While PG was on the road in SoCal, Thorn graciously invited Chris Kies into his Hollywood-based recording sanctuary, where his YouTube channel takes form. The hour-long chat covers Thorn’s signature Suhr gear (guitars, amps, and humbuckers), he shows how his setup can switch between eight tube amps in a flash (only outdone by his ability to interchange cabs, mics, and speakers in a snap), and we dive deep into Pete’s primary pedalboard.
Brought to you by D’Addario XS Coated Strings.
Suhr Signature II
As you’ll soon find out, longtime luthier John Suhr and Pete Thorn go together like peanut butter and jelly, or, in this case, alder and maple. Suhr and Thorn have collaborated on several pieces of signature gear, and the above Pete Thorn Standard HSS is their latest. The S-style is built with a 2-piece alder body, roasted maple neck with a “Pete Thorn ’60s soft-V profile (a digitized copy of one of Thorn’s 2008 S-style Suhrs), ebony fretboard, Wilkinson WVS130 bridge, and Suhr pickups (V63 single-coils with a Thornbucker II in the bridge). Thorn is always trying the newest string offerings from Ernie Ball, and he’s currently using Primo Slinkys that are gauged .0095, .012, .016, .024, .034, and .044.
For His Spiritual Guitar Godfather
“I’ve talking a lot about Eddie Van Halen in this Rundown because he’s my spiritual guitar godfather. I’m a Van Halen nut and this guitar is something I had to have,” admits Thorn. After realizing that much of Eddie’s mind-blowing guitar work for Van Halen’s first albums were done on a 1976 Ibanez Destroyer, Thorn was on the prowl for his own. He recently acquired this “lawsuit-era” ’76 Destroyer in a Huntington Beach parking lot after securing the purchase online. The surprise of the score was that the pickups are early TV Jones P.A.F. humbuckers, because the owner that sold it to Pete actually bought it from the company’s founder Tom Jones. Pete’s thoughts: “Whatever’s going on in the pickups, they sound fantastic!”
Here’s Suhr’s first Pete Thorn Standard signature model, with quite a different recipe than the HSS. This one has a chambered mahogany body with a maple top, mahogany neck with an “even slim-C profile,” an Indian rosewood fretboard, and a pair of Pete’s Suhr humbuckers—a Thornbucker+ in the bridge and a Thornbucker in the neck. Like its successor, this one also has jumbo stainless-steel frets, Suhr locking tuners, a Wilkinson WVS130 bridge, and a Graph Tech TUSQ nut.
Sweet as Cherry Pie
This cherry Gibson ES-335 looks new or neatly relic’d, but it’s from 1963. It fell into Pete’s lap nearly 20 years ago and wasn’t an astronomical price because it had a broken headstock (and has since garnered another wound by Thorn) and one of the previous owners went at the bridge pickup cavity with a chisel trying to get at the electronics. The sweet sauce that makes this baby sing is its ’60s, low-wound P.A.F.s—original in the neck and early patent numbered in the bridge—that sound like honey tastes.
A Crusher for Chris Cornell
This meaty, hulking 2000 Gibson Les Paul Custom toured with Pete when he backed up Chris Cornell. It would see the stage for Soundgarden smashers like “Spoonman” and “Outshined.” This guitar took a lot of abuse while onstage with Thorn, as he’d often end the night ripping off the strings one by one and Cornell would slam his microphone into the pickups. During these collisions, nothing ever broke (except the strings). However, one slow-motion fall off a guitar stand onto carpet caused this axe to need headstock surgery. He dropped in a set of Thornbuckers and swapped out the gold hardware for chrome.
Not a Bad Day
During a Chris Cornell tour stop in Nashville, Thorn ventured into Gruhn Guitars to find a pre-CBS Fender Stratocaster. He walked out with this sunburst ’64. That night, he got to play it alongside Peter Frampton, starting a longtime friendship. “There’s just so many great things I remember about that day. You know, these times in your life where you’re going to have bad days, this wasn’t going to be one of them. This was a good day [laughs]. This guitar just gives me great memories.”
Thorn’s collection wouldn’t be complete without this EVH Striped Series Frankenstein named “Frankie.” It’s got the paint job, the exposed electronics, and the Floyd Rose. The rest is up to Pete. “How can you not have fun with a guitar like this? I’ve seen Paul Gilbert with one—and he’s a diehard Ibanez guy. I’ve seen Andy Wood with one—and he’s a longtime Suhr artist. We all have signatures, but we had to have one of these Frankensteins to shred on. We all bow down to the church of Eddie,” confesses Thorn.
For a dude whose main business is making videos and playing riffs, you need to maximize not only space, but inspiration. Before you is Pete Thorn’s twin tower of tone that can cover any amp sound he needs. Starting in the top left and working our way down, we have a 1972 Marshall JMP 1986 model pumping 50W, a handful of Synergy Amps modules (Synergy IICP, Engl Powerball, Soldano SLO, Vai Signature preamp, Engl Savage, Friedman BE-BB, Bogner Ecstasy, Bogner Uberschall, and a Fryette Pitbull), a Soldano SLO-100, a Jim Kelley Reverb, and a Suhr SL68. The right side is home to a Universal Audio OX Amp Top Box, a Suhr Hedgehog 50, a Top Hat Amplification Emplexador, a Suhr Pete Thorn PT100, and a Komet Concorde. Possibly the most impressive part of this whole structure is the Ampete Engineering 88S-Studio Amp and Cabinet Switcher that allows Thorn to switch between all these amps with a smash of a button.
Upside Down Cabinet Cake
The Ampete 88S runs all those amps into a late-’70s Marshall 4x12 loaded with Celestion Black Back G12M 25W speakers and mic’d with a Shure SM57 and an Audio-Technica AT4050.
Pete Thorn’s Pedalboard
For a pedal-loving session-booked YouTuber-guitarist, you gotta believe Thorn is stuffed to the gills with stompboxes. What’s above is the board he relies on for most demos and videos while performing in his Hollywood hideaway. Top left, he has a Source Audio ZIO, MXR Echoplex, Suhr Riot, Maxon Apex 808, J Rockett Archer, Ryra Tri-Pi Muff, a Strymon Mobius, and a DryBell Unit67. Elevated above them rests a Strymon TimeLine, a pair of Eventide H9s, an MXR Phase 95, a Suhr Woodshed Comp, a Boss FV-500L Foot Volume Pedal, a Dunlop CBM95 Cry Baby Mini Wah, and a DigiTech FreqOut. Everything is controlled by MusicomLab EFX-LE II Audio Controller and MIDI Pedal, and a TC Electronic PolyTune 2 Noir Mini keeps his guitars emotionally and sonically stable.
An accessibly priced gateway to a high-gain playground.
Killer sounds in a reasonably priced package. Huge gain range.
Begs for more footswitching options.
EVH 5150 Iconic Series 40W 1x12 Combo
The late Eddie Van Halen spent much of his early career in search of what’s now known as the “brown sound.” Years after cracking the code, he helped bottle various versions of the recipe into the 5150 line of amps. Various iterations of these amps are now studio and stage staples, and are often used in heavy genres that transcend Van Halen’s vision.
These amps have never been cheap. But the new EVH 5150 Iconic Series models offer a much more affordable take on 5150 designs and are offered in two versions: a 40W 1x12 combo that retails for a very reasonable $899 and an 80W head version at $999. For this review, we look at the 2-channel combo.
High-Calorie Combo Platter
The 5150 Iconic Combo is powered by two 6L6 power tubes, two ECC83 preamp tubes, and a specially designed 40-watt Celestion speaker, all of which are encased in a closed-back MDF cabinet for tighter, heavier bass response. Closed-back combos are slightly unusual as they are costlier to manufacture and tube cooling can be a concern. Most dedicated EVH tone chasers will probably be happy for the audible effects of the closed-back configuration, though.
The combo has a sparse, utilitarian vibe. Apart from a 5150 logo on the top left corner of the cabinet and an EVH logo affixed to the bottom right corner of the grille, there’s little to distinguish it. The controls are hidden away on the top panel. Here you’ll find gain and volume knobs for each channel, and shared controls for EQ (low, mid, high), boost, reverb, resonance, and presence. There’s also a noise gate control exclusively for channel 2. There are three mini buttons: one for channel switching and the other two for the additional presets for each of the channels.
The rear panel is home to a XLR output (with speaker emulation), a power amp mute switch, a preamp out jack, a power level switch (which lets you choose between 40W or 10W), and an effects loop. The cool thing about this loop is that you can use the return jack to bypass the preamp while the boost, reverb, resonance, and power level remain functional.
A Ton of Gain Unchained
While the 5150 Iconic is a 2-channel amp, each channel has its own switchable low-/high-gain mode, effectively giving you four different gain profiles. Channel 1 has a push button for selecting between clean and overdrive. The channel 2 mini-button, meanwhile, engages the ultra-hot “burn” voicing.
The overdrive preset of channel 1 is essentially a crunch channel, sort of like the blue channel of the 5150 III, but with slightly more gain. Even with the gain at 2, the overdrive preset is pretty distorted. Bumping the gain to just 4.5 yields tones closer to distortion than overdrive.
Channel 1’s overdrive mode ranges deep into high-gain realms and could easily be used as a “lead” channel.
Channel 1’s overdrive mode ranges deep into high-gain realms and could easily be used as a “lead” channel. Channel 2, however, is comparatively hellacious. With gain at just 2 you’ll get output roughly equivalent to channel 1’s overdrive channel with the gain at 8. With channel 2’s gain up to 7, I was well into extreme modern metal territory. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg! Channel 2’s burn mode adds even more heat and saturation, yielding ridiculous amounts of sustain. Single notes seemed to last forever, even without finger vibrato. At times it felt like an EBow at work.
With this much over-the-top gain available, it was a smart move for EVH to include a noise gate on the 5150 Iconic. The gate is helpful, but it has its limits. Even with the gate threshold at maximum, a fair bit of hum and amp noise persists at the most beastly levels.
The Best of Both Channels
If there were a way to footswitch between channel 1’s clean and overdrive sounds, the 5150 Iconic would essentially become a 3-channel amp, with clean, crunch, and lead sounds. But that would likely make the Iconic much more expensive.
In lieu of a footswitchable third channel, though, the boost function, which is footswitchable and adds up to 10 dB of volume, is one way to MacGyver a faux 3-channel setup. I got a pretty workable template using these three settings:
- Channel 1 with gain on 2 and overdrive preset selected. Guitar volume lower for a cleanish sound.
- A boosted version of that cleanish sound, with boost on 8 and guitar volume at maximum for a crunch sound.
- Channel 2 with gain high for a lead sound.
If only there were a way to get a footswitchable setup with four sounds to include the burn preset!
James Brown, the legendary amp designer who worked closely with Eddie Van Halen to create the original Peavey 5150 amp, was recruited by EVH in 2019 to become a principal analog engineer. He was tasked with masterminding the 5150 Iconic series. And it’s safe to say Brown succeeded.
The resulting 5150 Iconic Series 40W 1x12 is a unique amp. It can easily do the Van Halen thing. But it’s also insanely versatile and capable of sounds from clean to ultra-high gain to the most extreme molten metal. It’s also just a great all-around amp. And it’s easy to imagine the 5150 Iconic becoming ubiquitous in the manner of a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe for the heavy-music set.