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The modern heavy guitar tone changed drastically since Peavey released the 5150 in the early 90s. This Peavey 5150 review and guide will help you determine if the iconic amp is the right one for you and which of its many variants you should choose.
My bottom line up front: The Peavey 5150 original model and its many reissues are a staple for heavy rock and metal players with an iconic deep, aggressive and filthy high gain channel. The amp is suited for all heavy genres and is extra versatile in that area. Due to its many reissues, you can find both new and used 5150, with new models aiming at a more focused tone while the older models keep the visceral nature of the 5150 sound alive.
Like all revolutionary gear, the 5150 was born out of the hunt for a specific tone. Eddie Van Halen himself and Peavey engineer James Brown designed out of Eddie’s mind an amp that could go from clean to the crunch to super heavy all in the same unit.
A heavy enough tone without the help of additional electronic and stompboxes was hard to get. Guitarists like Eddie Van Halen or Tomi Iommi would tweak their guitar amps, usually Marshalls, and crank them up beyond their limit to get their tone. The 5150 amp from Peavey was the first to respond to rock and metal musicians’ needs successfully.
The amp has seen many reissues over the years. This review will mainly analyze the 5150 Block Letter – the original model launched by Peavey, comparing it to newer 5150 reissues/
Peavey 5150 Specifics
- All Tube Valve Guitar Amplifier Head
- 120-watt all-tube 6L6 power section
- 2 Channels, green for rhythm and red for lead
- Pre and Post gain nobs
- Four gain stages
- Resonance and Presence knobs
- 2 Inputs, high gain, and normal gain
- cascading five preamps – four preamplifiers and one phase inverter
- 3-Band Active EQ (Bass/Mid/Treble)
Peavey 5150 Pros
- Authentic tube amp tone
- Versatile for every rock and metal genre
- Powerful distorted tone with a lot of body and punch
- Excellent quality built with premium parts
Original “Svetlana” power tubes
Peavey 5150 Cons
- You need to purchase a quality cabinet to get the full “5150” tone
- The clean is slightly “sterile” sounding and not very versatile
- Expensive and hard to find with the original tubes
- It can sound muddy if not EQ-ed right
About Peavey Amplifiers
Peavey Electronics Hartley Peavey in 1965 used the attic space above his father’s Meridian, Mississippi, music store as his first base. Half a Century later, the company has an impressive record of 180 patents on audio equipment and instruments innovations.
The company is well known among guitarists for quality, high-gain amps. The 5150 is the flagship model that made the company a household name for heavy music. Along with amps, Peavey also produces a wide range of acoustic and electric guitars.
The last decade was challenging for the company. Due to financial problems, Peavey closed many of its production plants in the US and moved its operations to China. However, they keep the high standards and produce quality amps and guitars, including signature models of famous players.
What are all the different 5150 amps?
The amp’s tone is so iconic that many models have been built and even named after it.
By now, the original model is the Block Letter, named after the EVH letters written in the front of the amp. The following model, EVH Signature, is the same amp with different power tubes and the EVH writing removed from the front. The company had to change its name as it risked a lawsuit from another company.
The Block Letter and Signature 5150 models are now replaced by the modern 6505. An identical amp with different tubes and probably some slight difference in the crafting and electronic.
The 5150II came out in 1999 as an improved version of the original. It looks very similar but has an extra preamp tube, has only one output jack, and separate EQ and Resonance and Presence knobs. Today’s equivalent is the 6505+ series.
In 2007 Eddie Van Halen funded in partnership with Fender, the EVH company with the flagship EVH 5150 made in Mexico. Today’s equivalent is the 5150III, an amp that still sells massively among rock and metal players.
Many other combo models and other similar ones came out the following years. However, you do not need to know about all of them if a 5150 amp is right for you. They all share the same core and tonal characteristics. Which one you buy depends on slight differences, which one is available and your budget.
Peavey 5150 built quality
The Peavey 5150 is a high-quality build from a company that put a lot of effort into crafting it.
The amp was designed by master builder James Brown based on what the Legendary Eddie Van Halen himself wanted out of a high gain amp. Having one of the best rock guitarists of that era as a regular product tester and co-designer is the main reason why it stands the test of time so well.
The original Block Letter and the following series were all made in the US. As with all premium US-made instruments, this amp has been through numerous testing, and quality electronics were not spared.
The parts used are reliable enough to keep the amps working and in high demand even 30 years after production. However, if you are aiming for the original Block Letter 5150 or other old models, you might consider slight fixes and a change of power tubes.
The amp is sturdy enough to tour the world with and survive all means of transport with success. You don’t have to worry about accidentally hitting it or even spilling some drink as it’s rock solid.
Newer 5150 models after 2003 are not Peavey exclusive, and some of them are manufactured in Mexico or even Vietnam. The Vietnam series was not kept in production long due to issues in quality, while the Mexico-made ones are still of excellent quality, even though US-made still have the upper hand.
The newest 5150 reissues, the 6505+ 112 combos, are made in China with high crafting quality. Due to the latest technologies used, these models still compare to the original ones in quality, even though the 90s 5150’s have had extra care into them.
Overall all 5150 amps are high-quality, with the 90’s models betting the new ones slightly in terms of parts used and crafting quality.
Peavey 5150 Components
The rarest component of the original 5150 BlockeLetter was the “Svetlana” power tubes.
Peavey eventually ran out of these power tubes, and for the next 5150 model in the line, the 5150 Signature – most of the models came with replacement power tubes. The tone is still excellent and almost identical to the Block Letter. However, the slight difference in the original power tubes can be felt by experienced players.
If you can find a model with the original tubes, I recommend you go for it for both the vintage heavy tone and the added value. Be prepared to pay slightly more as they are not produced anymore and are hard to find.
The knobs and body of the amp are metallic blended with some robust plastic. Everything feels right and tight, and you should focus mainly on how the amp sound before getting too technical in electronics.
What is the Peavey 5150 sound?
The Peavey 5150 is generally defined as an aggressive, punchy high-gain tone that can become warm and deep or bright and buzzy by tweaking the amp settings.
Launching the Peavey 5150 Blocklelter in 1992 helped Eddie and all guitarists of the 90s define what heavy music sounded like. Not only that, but it became a blueprint for high gain amp manufactures up to today by giving birth to what is referred to as the “5150 tones”.
When it first came out, it was all guitar players wanted. The flexibility to play leads with a lot of sustain, palm-muted power chords, and clean rhythm guitar makes the 5150 highly flexible with a character of its own. Being used in thousands of famous rock records since it came out, the tone is so popular that most high gain amps today share some similarities with the 5150.
The power tubes sound big and beefy with a lot of body and bottom end. Depending on the setting, you should be careful with the bass knob as too much of it will make your guitar and mix sound muddy.
The 3-band EQ is pretty precise and can help to balance the tone from muddy or too bright to focused and warm. The presence and resonance knobs allow you to fine-tune the power section’s bass and treble response, making the amp fitting for almost any guitar. A humbucker guitar will bring out the best of this amp.
The clean channel is somehow limited and not well suited for pop, funk, or most blues. If you are playing heavy rock/metal, you will fit it well for the genres’ typical clean guitar arpeggios and chord voicings. However, with different pedals and guitars, you can play around with the clean channel and make it “acceptable” even for other genres.
The rhythm channel can be set clean or crunchy, making it appropriate for classic rock, punk, and blues-rock. There are, however, better amps at a lower price for crunch and clean.
Modern 5150 models share the same tonal characteristics but less “filth” in the tone and a more focused approach.
I recommend purchasing the amp only for the high gain tones as there are modern budget solutions today that can easily replace the clean channel. Today many amps imitate the 5150 extensive palettes of tones, but none is as well balanced and visceral as the original 5150 Block Letter.
Peavey 5150 alternatives
Peavey 5150 VS EVH 5150
The EVH 5150 is Fender’s take along with Eddie Van Halen of the classic 5150.
The circuit of both amps is very similar, and the tone and materials used. Comparing the original Peavey 5150 or its modern reissue, the 6505, the first thing to notice is that Peavey stays more faithful to the original heavy tone that made it popular.
The EVH sounds more in control with more focused mids and less low end than the original 5150. It also has more gain, so much that for most rock genres, it’s enough to put the knob to 1 or 2.
I would recommend it more than the original 5150 for most players because it’s smaller, and you can find new ones available for modern genres. If you are after the classic tone, then the original 5150 or reissues are unbeatable.
Peavey 5150 VS Hughes & Kettner GrandMeister Deluxe 40
The GrandMeister Deluxe 40 is a high-quality modern high gain amp with a focused, precise tone.
You can tell just by looking at how well crafted the amp is. It’s also more expensive than most 5150 models. This amp is a Tube head with digital control and digital effects, meaning it blends tubes and modern features like four built-in effects. It has more channels and effects and is better suited for players who like to have many different tones.
The Hughes & Kettner amps are more versatile, but the high gain in the 5150 has a better punch and more of the warm deep tone the old tubes give, especially if you compare it with a Signature or Block Letter 5150.
My suggestion is to check your budget, and if you want the classic tone and can afford extra pedals for the effects, you should go for the 5150.
Peavey 5150 vs Mesa/Boogie Mark Five:35
The Mesa/Boogie is a far more versatile amp, easy to carry, and suitable for almost all genres.
In a way, this amp is a collection of tones rather than a unique amp with a singular character. The vast range of tones comes at a higher pierce than most 5150’s and probably a lack of dirt and aggressiveness for some players on the high gan channel.
Overall the choice depends on how stretched in genres your playing is and your appetite for classic heavy tones.
Question: Who uses a Peavey 5150?
Answer: Famous players who use Peavey 5150’s are Eddie Van Halen, Jerry Cantrell, Ted Nugent, P.O.D., Bullet For My Valentine, and many others. Many heavy records are still recorded with a Peavey 5150 or its variations.
Question: Which is better, the Peavey 5150 or Peavey 5150 II?
Answer: The 5150 II is more versatile than the original one but lacks aggressiveness and power. It all depends on what you plan to use the amp and what tone you prefer. If you are a more “general” player, I recommend the newer model. For only hardcore metal, the original might be slightly better.
Question: Can I play soft rock or blues with a Peavey 5150?
Answer: Yes, you can. However, you should use the as little gain as possible on the lead channel and keep the tone under control.
Final thoughts on the Peavey 5150
If you are into heavy genres, a Peavey 5150 amp will satisfy your heavy rhythm tones and shredding needs.
The original 5150 Block Letter and Its many modern reissues are still an excellent rock and metal amp for everything from punk rock to down-tuned modern prog metal. The vacuum tubes give the sound a classic deep chaotic feel that can be tweaked into a vast range of heavy sounds. A relatively high price tag and some limitations in the clean channel come with it.