Excellent Amp All Around
I needed an amp for studio recording but wasn't interested in a half stack which seemed like overkill for my purposes. After much searching for the right combo amp I came across the EVH 5150 III. The price for me is just right, it's a quality amp so it isn't cheap, but it's not several thousand like others I've seen which is more than I wanted to spend. The 5150 is a classic name in hard rock and metal so I figured it would suit my style well and didn't seem like a huge risk to buy.
It was a great decision and has features I really enjoy that other amps don't have. The most notable is the power knob which acts as an attenuator. Basically you can set the amp all the way down to 1 watt if you want, or have it set at the full 50 watts or anywhere in between. The idea behind this is when set down to 1 watt you get the fully driven tube sound without the overall volume being incredibly loud. That's always been the only real draw back with tube amps: you have to have them really loud before the tubes color the sound and they start to really sound good. Not a problem for some people, but I think it's really nice to be able to use an amp and have it sound great without shaking the walls at the same time. On a side note, if shaking the walls is what you are after, this amp gets very very loud, easily can be used as a stage amp and cut through just fine I have no doubts.
It has basically three different gain sounds, channel 1 with gain turned up gives a nice dirty bluesy sound, Im very impressed actually with the bluesy capabilities this amp has considering it's name is so associated with hard rock and metal. Channel 2 has a nice clean overdrive sound that should fit hard rock and metal rhythm sections just fine, Channel 2 on this amp has as much gain as most other amps pushed to their limit. Channel 3 is just a ton of overdrive, perhaps too much. However Channel 3 with gain set at about half way is a great lead tone which would be my personal recommendation. I think rhythm playing on Channel 3 would be too muddy, but for leads it sounds really nice and there is certainly no shortage of gain if that is what you are after. As a matter of fact, this amp has more overdrive/gain than any other amp I have ever played, when maxed out it's simply too much for almost any application, but that's a good thing because it means you have a wide range to choose from. There is a knob in the back that allows you to adjust the bass response. This is another excellent feature that allows you to adjust bass resonance to match your volume and tone, and again allows the amp to sound great even at low volumes. Very nice!
The clean setting is the only place where I have a complaint and deducted a half a star from the rating. The clean sound is nice, but sounds slightly dirty to my ears no matter how far down you turn the gain knob. If you fiddle with it enough you can get a nice sounding clean tone, but it does take some effort and you have to have the gain knob almost completely off to achieve it. Unfortunately it's not as easy and turning the gain to zero, because that kills the volume completely, so you have to find the sweet spot where you don't lose all your volume yet the clean still sounds clean. If you are really into a nice beautiful clean tone I wouldn't say this is the right amp for you, however I doubt many people are hugely concerned with clean tone when looking at a 5150, it's made for rock and metal through and through. I also took off the half star because the reverb is a digital effect and sounds like it, it's just not very natural sounding though it isn't awful, just kind of average. However when added to the lead channel it sounds pretty good, but nothing special.
In closing if you are looking for a rock/metal amp this is a real beast, it is super loud yet the power level knob and bass adjustment allows for the same tone at low volumes which is an excellent feature. There is a world of gain to choose from here, however cleans are just so-so. Very much worth the money if you are into rock/metal, or to a lesser extent blues. The 5150 is a classic and there is a good reason for it, and this version lives up to its name.