A Brief History of Peavey Amplifiers: A Legacy of Quality and Affordability

The story of how Peavey became one of the largest audio manufacturers in the world is one of humble beginnings and a well-deserved reputation for quality, value and innovation. Growing up as a guitar or bass player, you’ve probably owned or played your fair share of Peavey amps, since the company’s catalog is so affordable, diverse and well distributed.

After graduating from Mississippi State in 1965, Hartley Peavey started his company above his father’s music store, building amps one at a time. Since then, Peavey has proven to be a pioneer in all facets of solid-state and tube-driven amplification, which has led to the design of some of the world’s best and best-selling amplifiers, including the Bandit and the 5150.

Not only is the company passionate about sound, it is equally passionate about build quality and affordability. Peaveys are known for their innovative circuitry, being built like tanks and for being affordable enough for musicians at every level, across the globe.

Humble Beginnings

In 1961 Hartley Peavey made his first amplifier and adorned it with the instantly recognizable company logo, which he designed himself in high school. When he launched the company four years later, Peavey produced only two amplifiers: the Musician and Dyna Bass. Both models were high-wattage, solid-state amplifiers that included simple features for the working musician.

In 1973, Peavey began development on a series of vintage Fender Twin inspired amps, with 6L6 power tubes and two 6C10 pre-amp tubes. These amps had a different sonic signature than the Twin and had their own unique sound. Since solid state was all the rage back in the 1970s, later versions capitalized on new technology, which enabled the combination of solid state pre-amps with tube power amps.

The vintage series was the precursor to the now popular all-tube Classic series, which features an EL84 power section that effectively combines classic Vox- and Fender-type tones in one convenient and versatile amp for use in many different styles of music.

Peavey Musician

Peavey Classic

Solid State Dominance

With solid state amps becoming increasingly popular in the ‘70s and early ‘80s, Peavey developed what is arguably its most famous solid state amp: the Bandit.

Peavey Bandit

Conceived in 1980, the Bandit since has gone through many revisions and Bandits still are being produced today with Peavey’s own TransTube technology. This innovative feature emulates the sound and feel of a tube amp using solid state power. Peavey accomplished this by modeling the overload characteristics of the amp and transformer as well as emulating the sound of asymmetrically clipping tubes.

Early model Bandits are instantly recognizable by their multi-colored knobs and silver panels adorning the sides of the grill cloth. Varying in wattage over time, the Bandit has become a reliable tool in the solid-state amp lover’s arsenal.

More Gain for ‘80s Metal Players

When hair metal first hit in the ‘80s, players required more gain for new playing techniques, such as two-handed tapping and sweep picking. Marshall was ahead of the curve for this particular sound with the coveted JCM800 2203, but Peavey offered its take on that circuit with the Butcher and VTM series. Instead of Marshall's usual EL34 tubes, both series of Peavey amps used 6L6 power tubes, which yielded a darker sound and a less apparent upper-mid presence.

Many compare the VTM to a hot-rodded JCM800 and the Butcher to a normal JCM800, but even though these amps may share similar tonal characteristics, they are definitely their own beasts. These amps are extremely versatile and can be bought for much less than comparable competitors.

Peavey Butcher

Peavey VTM

Modern Metal Mayhem

In the early ‘90s, more players began demanding even more gain, power and options, and Peavey moved to the front of the pack, via the three channel Ultra Plus, a currently undervalued amp.

The Ultra Plus could cover any genre of music with its crisp-and-spanky clean channel for country; crunch channel for rock’s cutting midrange; and ultra-channel for searing leads and metal riffs.

Using an active EQ section, the user could boost or cut any frequency with precision and dial in his own desired tone. Peavey seems to favor 6L6 power tubes, and at 120 watts this head could do the job for any situation. It was a precursor to the Triple XXX series, which was a slightly modified version of the Ultra Plus, but it featured updated aesthetics, including a metal faceplate akin to a Mesa Triple Rectifier. Peavey since has come out with the Triple XXX II, which features switchable power tubes from the stock EL34s to 6L6s.

Peavey Ultra Plus

Peavey Triple XXX

The Most Famous of Them All

The 5150 was unleashed in 1992 after a two year collaboration between the creative minds of amp designer James Brown and guitarist Eddie Van Halen.

Featuring two channels, a 120 watt all-tube 6L6 power section and a shared EQ, the 5150 was able to produce a variety of rock and metal tones. The rhythm channel could be set clean or crunchy, but the lead channel is what this amp is famous for. With its super high-gain sound, it could be used for anything from tight and aggressive metal riffs to blistering lead tones. This led to the 5150 II with separate EQs for each channel, which made the amp even more versatile. In 2004, EVH parted ways with Peavey and the amp was rebranded as the 6505 and 6505+, along with the 6534 and 6534+, which feature an EL34 power section for a more British flavor.

Peavey 5150

Peavey 6505+

Since its creation, Peavey strives to make powerful, affordable amplifiers so that every musician can have the means to own one and the privilege to play through one.

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