5150 Iconic Series 60-Watt 2×12

Little Monster
Price: $349 (each)

When Edward Van Halen released his 5150 head with Peavey in 1992, it quickly grew famous for its massive gain, tight compression, and ability to chug. Co-designed by engineer James Brown, the 5150 has evolved.

The 5150 Iconic Series, now made by Fender, is a throwback to its original sound but adds features for versatility and affordability. A 6L6-powered monster with a multi-stage hybrid preamp, it uses two ECC83S tubes and a pair of custom EVH 12″ Celestions. Its two channels bring additional voicings; Channel One is clean until you push its Overdrive button. Channel Two is naturally dirty and hosts a Burn button. Each has a control for Gain, while they share a three-band EQ and Boost engaged by the included footswitch. Other features include a noise gate, adjustable Boost, Reverb, Resonance, and Presence. The rear panel has a speaker-emulating XLR Line Out, Power Mute switch, effects Loop, preamp output, and a Power Level switch that runs output at 60 or 15 watts. The Boost adds 10db, Burn adds thicker distortion, and the digital reverb adds a nice sheen.

Using a superstrat and Les Paul, the Iconic proved tight, powerful, and articulate while yielding top-end sizzle. The juxtaposition of saturation and compression produces a dark-but-focused sound and vintage-style sag much like the original 5150. It does the Gary Moore/Soldano thing wonderfully and gives guitarists the right tools for Van Halen’s repertoire.

The original block-logo 5150 was a killer one-trick pony. The Iconic combo does multiple tricks. While the dirty channel has received accolades for its incredible lead tones, the clean channel makes it a great platform for time-based effects. Clean tones run smooth to edgy by adding gain via the Overdrive button.

The a Iconic 5150 is versatile and brings an inherent early-’90s Van Halen sound. Still, it’s easy to find your own voice. Fans come for the chug, so those looking to play smooth jazz or that bar mitzvah gig will probably look elsewhere.

This article originally appeared in VG’s August 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.