How to get classic EVH 5150 tones using guitar modelling

The 5150 brand covers a multitude of products, but centre stage is the backline that Eddie Van Halen endorses and he has a major involvement in design and construction.

It was as much Eddie’s tone as his playing, that shocked a generation of would-be pop stars into becoming guitar heroes instead. The track Eruption from Van Halen’s self-titled debut album showcased EVH’s two-handed tapping style and phenomenal phrasing, but it was the tone of his turbo-charged Marshall head that got everyone guessing as to how to capture his sound.

No mean tech himself, Eddie has used the services of some of the world’s top amp hot-rodders over the years, including Rheinhold Bogner and the legendary Paul Rivera, who provided the amp EVH used on the iconic solo in Michael Jackson’s Beat It.

From those early hot-rods has come a clearly defined set of sounds and features, encapsulated in a best-selling range of amplifiers currently managed by Fender. Over the years, most 5150s have used 6L6 power valves, however, the current 5150 flagship is powered by EL34s - a nod to the original amps that inspired it.

The 5150 is a three-channel monster with a big, punchy clean sound that overlaps into a crunch that many amp designers would be more than happy to use for solos, topped by the huge lead channel that packs so much gain it teeters on the edge of nuclear meltdown, yet retains massive dynamic punch and attack.

This is Van Halen’s infamous ‘brown sound’; M&Ms and Variacs aside, it’s one of the most extreme (yet fun) lead channels on any guitar amp, and probably why Eddie smiles so much when he’s playing guitar.

1. The front panel

There’s a functional simplicity in all 5150 amp designs; it’s the tone that matters and if you look at the 5150III LBXII you’ll see clever touches like dual-concentric knobs that provide separate gain and volume control, considerably expanding the flexibility of this model.

2. Rear control panel view

Located on the rear panel of the LBX is the resonance control, which governs the output stage’s low frequency response and is a critical part of dialling in the 5150 sound. All 5150 amps have had a resonance control; the flagship head has one on each of its three channels, underlining this feature’s importance.

3. Effects loop

While effects aren’t a big part of Van Halen’s tone, they’re an important one. The MXR Phase 90 is one component used on early classics like Eruption and Hot For Teacher. EVH also likes reverb and a juicy plate or Hall effect will get you in the ballpark.

Get the tone #1: Beating Beelzebub

Van Halen’s Running With The Devil may have been recorded with a hot-rodded Marshall, but it showcases the range of distortion and dynamic control that modern EVH amps provide, from almost clean rhythm double stops to full-on jabs and solo, probably achieved by hitting the strings soft then hard. A big reverb fills out the gaps. This is a great test for any amp modeller’s input response.

  • Phaser depth 3, speed 3
  • Reverb plate approx 1500ms

Get the tone #2: Fly catcher

While Van Halen sit much more comfortably in the classic rock genre, the 5150 amp was adopted wholesale by many metal bands, including Trivium, who were 5150 users around the time of their breakthrough album Ascendancy. The track Like Light To The Flies combines compressed, heavy distortion for rhythm and the totally epic dual guitar solo, with a light fairly short reverb.

  • Compressor depth 5
  • Chorus depth 3, speed 3
  • Room reverb approx 500ms

Get the tone #3: A low blow

One of the stand-out tracks from Machine Head’s second album (The More Things Change...), Ten Ton Hammer’s detuned riff requires some real low-frequency punch and the 5150’s resonance control provides the ideal solution for pushing the lows to the front of the mix. To add in a little ambience to proceedings, add a touch of short room reverb.

  • Compressor depth 6
  • Reverb approx 300ms

Mod squad

Find the EVH 5150 model in your amp or software

  • Line 6: PV Panama
  • Fender Mustang GT: Metal 2000
  • IK Multimedia AmpliTube: Amplitube Metal Lead V
  • Native Instruments Guitar Rig: Van 51 
  • Yamaha THR10X: Brown I/II
  • Blackstar ID: OD2/6L6
  • Vox Valvetronix: US Metal Std
  • Marshall Code: DSL100/6L6
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