Mar 20, 2016
Say what you will about Eddie Van Halen, but the man can do no wrong when it comes to gear. Literally every piece of gear that he’s been involved in the development of has just about changed the face of electric guitar playing, from the Wolfgang to the D-Tuna and Floyd Rose and of course, the 5150 series of amps.
Now, the original Peavey 5150 was, obviously, Eddie’s signature amplifier – but as with many of Eddie’s transcendent gear ideas, it has ended up being a favourite in a much more diverse and different demographic, and as you all probably know, is a staple of some of the heaviest metal bands in the world. The original 5150 was unashamedly all about gain sounds – there was no real clean channel, and trying to dial down the gain on the Crunch channel just ended up in a furry, not quite clean but not quite dirty, and essentially unusable tone.
The 5150II model improved on this by adding a separate clean channel with its own gain control. Great – but still, not really what anyone who was buying that amp really cared about.
Eventually, Eddie parted ways with Peavey, and launched the 5150III – in my mind, the first of his signature amps that was really truly worthy of the Eddie Van Halen name. Don’t get me wrong – the original two are firebreathing gain-monsters, but for me they never really came close to capturing that larger than life, organic and harmonically rich gain tone that Eddie was famous for. The 5150III (or 5153 for short) fixed all that, adding a genuinely good clean channel, and crunch and lead channels brimming with that EVH mojo.
5150III – Lunchbox Edition!
Today we’re here to talk about the latest in the evolution of the 5150 – the 5150III 15W LBX.
LBX is cool guy shorthand for Lunchbox (a fact that took me WAY too long to cotton on to). This little guy is essentially the Blue and Red gain channels from a 5150III, crammed into the now-standard EL84 powered lunchbox platform. The front panel is straightforward and uncluttered, and the back panel gives you the Resonance control (which on the full sized head is a great way to dial in some chesty thump without turning the volume up to gig levels) and a 1/4 power switch. Oh, and you get an effects loop too. Construction is industrial-chic, with a bent aluminium chassis full of lightening holes so you can stare right into those glowing tubes full of gainy goodness.
On the whole, it looks like it was designed for easy of manufacture, without compromising structural integrity – the little lunchbox feels more than sturdy enough.
From Blues to Burn!
Actually, let’s start with the “Burn” bit. The 5150III 15W LBX is everything I had hoped it would be from a high gain perspective – brimming with defined, harmonically rich gain that is super hotrodded Marshall by way of Soldano SLO. Here, you have a listen.
Now, when I’ve played the full-sized 5150III in the past at bedroom volumes, I’m always reaching for the Resonance control to add a bit more thump and depth. Interestingly, in the 15W format, I didn’t really feel the need for it – that whole first bit that you just listened to was recorded with the Resonance control on minimum, and I felt like it had just enough bottom end to sound full, but not so much that it got too bloated. But just in case you were interested, let’s cover a range of settings on the Resonance control (and the effect of the 1/4 power switch as well):
Okay, now that that’s done, let’s get to my favourite bit about this amp – it can TOTALLY do genuinely great sounding medium gain stuff, just like big brother. I got my Godin Session with DiMarzio Areas out and got some pretty sweet-tastic blues tones out of the Crunch channel. Check it out!
The rhythm tone that you could hear there is as clean as this amp will get. And that was with a neck single coil pickup with the volume rolled back. If you’re still hoping for crystal clear cleans you should probably give up now, fyi.
The Lunchbox Arms Race
…just keeps getting more interesting! In a world where Mesa are kicking ass with their Mini Rec and Mark V 25, it’s hard to keep up with the Joneses – but the 5150III 15W LBX brings its own special flavour to the mix and more than keeps up on the gain side of things.
Only two downsides for me – lack of a proper clean channel, which would truly have made this an equal player to some of the best heads of any size, and lack of input voltage switching, which would really mean you could take this lunchbox on the road literally anywhere.
The 5150III 15W LBX (gah, that name is a mouthful – let’s call it 5153 Jr for future reference) gets a solid 4.0 F*ck Yeahs from me.