Peavey designed and released the Peavey® 6505® amplifier as the original 5150®, for one specific artist. But in the hands of many other musicians and producers, it quickly took on a life of its own and redefined the sound of modern metal music. Renamed the 6505® in honor of Peavey's fortieth anniversary (1965-2005), that legacy continues today. This is the story of how the 6505® changed the sound of metal forever.
ineteen ninety-two was a crucial year for guitar-based rock music. Thrash metal had peaked. Hair metal evaporated. Grunge went Platinum. And the guitar amplifier that would soon eviscerate them all was about to inspire a new generation of players and producers to remake metal in its image.
At the headquarters of Peavey Electronics, a team of engineers was putting the finishing touches on the 5150®, a new breed of high-gain guitar amplifier outfitted with nine tubes, a hyper-responsive tone stack, and the soon-to-be patented Resonance control—the lynchpin to its groundbreaking tone.
When it finally hit stores that year, the 5150® turned a lot of influential ears around the world, especially hard rock and metal guitarists who were looking for a new sound to complement the extreme new music coming from the underground. Guitarist and budding metal producer Andy Sneap was working in a Nottingham, U.K., guitar store when the first 5150® hit the street.
"I first heard the 5150 when I was actually selling them in a guitar store in my hometown," said Sneap. "I was also working as the 'metal guy' at a local 24-track studio, so that was around the same time I started using the amp in the studio.
"The Peavey 5150 was a huge step forward for high-gain amps to me. Previously we had tried to mod amps or do little tricks with pedals before the preamp. This was the first amp you could plug straight into for that heavier, thrashier tone."
As Sneap's reputation for production grew, he struck up a friendship with established producer Colin Richardson, who already had major projects with Carcass, Napalm Death and Bolt Thrower under his belt. The two immediately found common ground in the new Peavey amplifier.
"I was right there at the beginning," remembered Richardson. "I was working with Carcass [on Heartwork] and we were having trouble with the guitar tone. The guitar player mentioned there was this new amp in the country by Peavey. I think we rented it from a company in London, and as soon as it came up to the studio we tried it out. It was like the missing link we had been searching for."
Back across the Atlantic, a new band named Machine Head was starting to grab the attention of record labels. Fronted by Robb Flynn, formerly of Bay Area thrashers Vio-Lence, Flynn formed Machine Head and began recording demos that, along with bands like Pantera, would up the ante for extreme heavy metal.
Roadrunner Records signed Flynn's new band and hired Richardson in late '93 to produce Machine Head's debut, Burn My Eyes, a landmark record whose aggression and guitar tone would influence countless musicians. But the sessions didn't come easy at first. Flynn and Richardson's initial guitar-tone experiments in particular were uninspiring.
"We were going through trying to get a modern, heavy tone," said Flynn.
Richardson added, "We were all scratching our heads. I had done the Carcass album about nine months before that, so I mentioned the Peavey to Robb and the band, and he was like, 'I have a friend who keeps raving about this new amp. I think it might be the same one you're talking about.' So we drove about an hour away to borrow it."
As soon as they plugged in the Peavey 5150®, the mood lifted. Flynn liked what he heard.
"Within a minute, we knew that was going to be the tone," he said.
"It's got a really incredible midrange growl that works so well," Flynn added. "We tune down to B, and I noticed that was a problem we were having with some of the amps—the way the midrange was scooped, the low tone was getting mushy and it was hard to get that definition. And when we came across that amp, it was crushing."
The marriage of the new Peavey amplifier with the downtuned modern metal of Burn My Eyes was potent, and its influence spread throughout the guitar world. Metal had grown heavier and faster than ever, and players flocked to the 5150® in part for its ability to keep extreme low-end tight where other amplifiers couldn't. The secret was a circuit called Resonance, invented for the amplifier by longtime Peavey engineer Jack Sondemeyer.
Positioned in the amp's master section, Resonance alters the "damping factor" around the speaker's resonant peak—in effect, the amp controls the transient response of the loudspeaker. The higher an amp's damping factor, the more control the amp exerts over the speaker. Resonance reduces the damping factor at lower frequencies, causing dramatic changes to the low-end response and allowing the speaker to recreate the low frequencies with clarity and punch. The patented Peavey Resonance circuit was key to bringing metal's new lows to the masses.
"When you throw in the Resonance, you almost get an extra sub-harmonic that is below where the bass is," said Richardson. "I've found that messing around with the bass and the Resonance, or the two together, you can get the low end exactly where you want it, with the tightness and also a lot of thump from the amp. They're some of the heaviest tones I've ever tracked."
Richardson and Sneap worked together on the second Machine Head album, The More Things Change, with Richardson producing and Sneap mixing, and repeated that collaboration on Napalm Death's Inside the Torn Apart. From that point on, the duo's credits grew independently to include a who's-who of metal artists: Arch Enemy, Killswitch Engage, Trivium, Testament, Bullet For My Valentine, Chimaira, Slipknot, As I Lay Dying and more.
Up-and-coming producer and guitarist Jason Suecof, who moved to Florida in the early '00s to be closer to the region's famed metal scene, is one of the musicians who found inspiration in the Peavey 5150®/6505® tone, which by then was ubiquitous in metal music—most of which was going through Richardson, Sneap, or both.
"I learned a lot about the 6505 tone from listening to the records Colin and Sneap recorded," said Suecof. "I definitely think they helped pioneer that sound."
By then, Suecof was busy building his own reputation, and eventually his own studio, Audio Hammer, with the Peavey 5150®/6505® as one of his go-to amplifiers. He quickly hooked up with locals Trivium to work on their debut album, Ember to Inferno. By Suecof's next project, God Forbid's Gone Forever—which Richardson mixed—he was in the league of his heroes. He worked on the following two career-making Trivium albums, as well as with artists such as Job For A Cowboy, The Black Dahlia Murder, Black Tide, All That Remains, August Burns Red and Whitechapel—the leaders of metal's new school.
"I think I've used the 5150 or 6505 on every single album I've done," he said. "I haven't stopped using it because it has consistently been awesome for me. There's no reason to go looking for tones that are out of place for what you're doing. I think the amp just provides the perfect tone for any metal situation."
With the launch of the 6534™ Plus, which uses EL34 power tubes for a more "British" tone, the Peavey 6505® Series is leaving its mark with more artists than ever. Bands like The Devil Wears Prada and Asking Alexandria are taking the Peavey sound to new heights.
"It might be on 60-70% of releases that have come out in the last 20 years," said Richardson. "If you put a metal record on, I'm sure Peavey is over 50% of what you're hearing."
Machine Head guitarist Phil Demmel summed up the amplifier's lasting appeal in metal music.
"You can't play these riffs without the tone matching it. The amp has to be the conduit between the fingers and the ears. You need that to be able to carry it, and that amp does. It adds to it; it enhances it. I think that amp just has that lightning in a bottle. I think it's been the cornerstone [of our sound]."
Added bandmate Flynn, "And now that guitar tone has pretty much defined a generation of guitar tone."
5150® is a registered trademark of E.L.V.H. Inc. All rights reserved.