The $28,000 Eddie Van Halen question
A great thing about the Guitar Center’s in Colorado is that they are unlike any other GC’s I’ve ever visiting in that they actually let you play the fun expensive stuff. My buddy Kevin at the Arvada, CO GC totally hooked me up this evening in giving me some personal time with the $25,000 EVH Frankenstein guitar, the $2,000 5150 III amp and the corresponding $1,000 4×12 speaker cab. I have to say it was a real treat to check this stuff out for myself, as I’ve been hearing so much about these things. So here are my $.02
The amp was cool, but not what I was expecting at all. I was a fan of the old 5150 II amp (used to own one as a backup) and the new 5150 III is very different, IMO. As it has been reported, the resonance controls have been removed and I really missed that. I amp has a saggy low end that I suppose suits Eddie’s style, but not mine! The 5150 III is also no where near as aggressive as the earlier 5150 series amps. I guess at the end of the day, it does lend itself to sounds more similar to EVH’s old Plexi Marshall Super 100 (on channels two and three), but that’s about it. This is *NOT* a versatile amp. It does one thing fairly well, and this is lend itself to sounding like Van Halen. I guess that’s cool, but it was way more limiting to me based on my personal style. I thought the clean channel was better than any of the previous 5150’s, but that’s not really saying much. It does not have much headroom at all.
For comparison purposes, I brought along my Diezel Herbert MKII which is currently sporting 4 EL34’s and 2 6L6’s. What ever the 5150 III could do, the Diezel did it better……way better. I suppose that’s not surprising since the Herbert was around $3,800 new!
As for the guitar end of things, I brought my Suhr Standard with a basswood body, maple top and one piece maple neck to do some real EVH comparisons (it was the most “Wolfgang-like” of anything that I owned). I was shocked at how similar the Frankenstein felt and sounded to my basswood Suhr! The major difference to my ears was that the Suhr’s DSH bridge pickup was a bit hotter than that of the Frankenstein’s, but not by much. I bet Suhr’s DSV or SSV would suit that EVH sound just fine! That was really surprising. I was really expecting a lot more magic from that pickup. The best part of the Frankenstein was the neck. It was certainly wider than any of the previous EVH signature model guitars, and had huge frets. It was very comfortable to play……Van Halen licks on! Interestingly enough, with the whole “relic” thing going on here, the neck came complete with dirt and a slightly sticky feeling. I was happy to play my Suhr again after handling that guitar. Seriously.
In the end, it was certainly fun to check out the guitar and amp that everyone’s been talking about. However, I was certainly relieved to see that I was more than close enough to those tones with the equipment I already had. I think the thing I actually liked the best was the speaker cab…..it sounded GREAT with my Herbert. From what I hear, its basically a clone of a late 60’s/early 70’s Marshall 4×12 with original Celestian Greenback speakers. I heard the guys over a Wildwood Guitars did a comparison with a period correct 70’s Marshall 4×12 and they sounded practically identical. So I guess the secret speakers in Eddie’s new cab are re-engineered old Greenbacks. Wild.
Fast forward six months….
Following the amp-fest I recently hosted, I’ve been re-evaluating my amp arsenal. I’ve had several opportunities to play through the EVH 5150 III head and cab (not to mention a lot of time with the cab and a variety of other amps at the amp-fest) and I’ve been finding myself drawn to the unique “million dollar midrange” that the EVH 5150 III features. I guess I first started to really think about it following some good exposure to some Cameron Marshalls.
I’ve to A/B’d the EVH 5150 III with a few of my guitars and another of my amps (Custom Audio Amplifiers OD100 Classic Plus) and continued to be intrigued by it. I was actually pretty amazed at how much easier soloing was with this amp. It was knarly, and rough around the edges, but it was also quite inspiring…..and that’s what gets me.
I have a nasty habit of needing to purchase gear that inspires me to play differently or to write new material. The EVH 5150 III was doing that time and time again.
So now I’ve taken one home to play through my rig in my studio. First impressions are that this amp is significantly more versatile than I originally thought. In fact, I’d say that its the cabinet (featuring re-tweaked 25-watt Celestian Greenbacks) that was actually the limiting factor. I prefer to play through higher efficiency speakers (currently use Eminence Governors in my Custom Audio Amplifiers 1×12 cabs) and the EVH 5150 III really has started to shine through those speakers. The low end is much tighter than I recall (then again, almost anything sounds loose next to a Diezel Herbert), and I really don’t miss the Resonance controls of this amps predecessors (5150 and 5150 II).
Speaking of which, the last time I tried the EVH 5150 III (before I bought it) I had the opportunity to compare it not only to my OD100 Classic Plus, but also a Peavey 6505+ (the renamed 5150 II following EVH’s departure from Peavey). I had very fond memories of my 5150 II…..I loved the way that amp recorded and felt to play. In fact, I though I did some of my best playing through one of those. Fast forward to present day and I thought the new EVH 5150 III sounded even better than the 5150 II (6505+) played through the same cab. The 5150 III is certainly an evolutionary step forward…..more refined. So far, so good. I’m admittedly still in the gear “honeymoon” period, but I expect to write a full post about the amp along with clips to compare it to the others in my “stable.” What can I say….I have no problem being wrong!