I'm a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.
The Peavey Bandit
It might sound strange to call a solid-state combo amplifier with a single 12-inch speaker a classic, but the Peavey Bandit might just make the cut. This amp has been around for over three decades, and legions of guitar players have owned, played or otherwise encountered a Bandit at some time in the careers.
I knew the Bandit well during my time in bands. Several guitar players I worked with utilized one as a practice amp, but these were the Solo Series version. It wasn’t a bad amp at all and certainly got the job done for practice and low-volume rehearsals.
A few years later I was looking for a small combo amp for my apartment. In bands, I used a Peavey 5150 stack, but that was way too big and way too much power for my needs. For a while, I used the 212 version of the 5150 and loved it. But, at a weight of nearly 90 pounds it offered a little more exercise than I was looking for whenever I wanted to move it.
I went through a bunch of combo amps looking for the sounds I wanted. I knew I wanted a basic amp, and something that didn’t require pedals to sound good. I just wanted to plug in and play.
My search led me back to a certain music store, and the same guy who turned me on to the 5150 years earlier. He suggested the Bandit, and when I chuckled and waved my hand he told me to shut up and play it before making a decision.
Needless to say, I was very surprised by the newest version of the Bandit. The amp not only had the gain I was looking for but the kind of responsiveness I’d really only found in tube amps prior to this. And, it sounded much bigger than a 1x12 combo ought to. At 80 watts (100 watts with extension cab) I knew it even had to power to jam with a drummer if need be.
My Bandit is an American-made TransTube Series II “red stripe” version with the block logo. This was the last version to be made in the USA. Back then, much of Peavey’s gear was American made, but that would change soon enough. It has a single 12” Sheffield speaker, which I loved in the 5150 series cabinets as well
Look, let’s not get crazy here. The Bandit didn’t sound better than my 5150, and in most cases, it won’t outgun a good tube amp. But it is a pretty awesome box of sound for the money, and I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of it.
Here's a look at this great little combo.
The Bandit’s controls are very simple. This is basically a two-channel amp, Clean and Lead, but each channel has a voicing switch. This makes it (sort of) like having several amps in one.
I’ll get into the nuances of each channel shortly, but first, let’s cover some of the other features.
All the way to the right on the front panel there is a bank of master controls that impact both the Lead and Clean channels. From left to right they are:
- Reverb: Spring reverb, and very good in my opinion. I’ve played many amps where you need to crank the reverb to ten to get a halfway decent sound. I keep this control around 5. Anything higher and it starts to sound a little trippy, but that’s a good thing. You want that kind of range in your spring reverb control.
- Presence: Used to dial in a little high-end sizzle. I keep it around 4 since I’m not especially a fan of sizzle. On the 5150 (now the 6505) this control is used in conjunction with the Resonance knob.
- Resonance switch: The Bandit doesn’t have a Resonance knob, but it does have a switch with the options of Loose or Tight. One of the things I love about this amp is the low-end thump. It sounds like a little stack in some ways. Part of the reason is the size and design of the cabinet, but I think the way Peavey voiced the amp has something to do with it too. Setting the Resonance switch to Loose brings a little more thump, where Tight dials it back a notch.
- T. Dynamics: Possibly the most confusing and misunderstood knob in the history of the electric guitar. Even the owner’s manual that came with the amp wasn’t entirely clear on what to do with it. Here’s the deal: Turning this counter-clockwise is supposed to have the effect of reducing the power of the amp, to replicate the overdrive of a lower-wattage tube amp. As you likely know, tubes generally sound better when glowing hot, and small-wattage amps can sound great when pushed hard. By comparison, you need to crank a 100-watt amp to blistering volumes to get the same tube saturation. So, even though solid-state amps have no such issue, that’s the idea. Does it work? Yeah, pretty much. I keep my T- Dynamics control between 25 and 50% and I do think it makes the overdrive a little richer.
The Clean Channel
The Clean channel has a switch that allows you to toggle between two voicings:
- Modern: Rounded and bassy, a fuller sound. This is the setting I use most often.
- Vintage: A little more treble and midrange.
The three-band EQ is very usable and responsive. Don’t expect Fender-ish glassy clean sounds out of this amp. You can certainly dial in a little more sparkle with the High and Presence controls, or by utilizing the Vintage voicing, but overall the clean sounds here are very warm.
I like this for a couple of reasons. First of all, I simply prefer warm-sounding amps. It’s a more basic sound to me, and since I play mostly rock, metal, blues and a little jazz it works perfectly.
Secondly, I think the clean channel on this amp lends well to effects pedals. Putting my Ibanez Tube Screamer in front of this clean sound gets a pretty good blues overdrive. Better, I think, than a few tube amps I’ve owned. If the distortion on this amp wasn’t so good, I might even consider using a high-gain pedal and skipping the Lead channel altogether.
This is why you’re here, isn’t it? I know it is what drew me to this amp. This is a high-gain amp to be sure, and whether you play rock and metal or just need the extra oomph for leads it has a lot to offer.
This version of the Bandit one of the earliest amps to incorporate Peavey’s now-legendary TransTube technology (my Bandit is actually Series II). Solid-state amps have long been trying to sound more like tube amps, and Peavey made some big strides with this Bandit and its siblings in the TransTube II Series.
Personally, I like Peavey’s TransTube circuitry so much I chose their Vypyr over a bunch of other modeling amps largely because of the distortion. I think it sounds very good. But, does it sound like a tube amp?
If you are a tube-amp junkie the Bandit isn’t going to fool you. But, if you are looking for a powerful, reliable combo that sounds good and doesn’t cost a whole lot, the Bandit suddenly sounds pretty darned tubey.
Controls are again simple: Pre and post gain, a very effective three-band EQ and a voicing switch.
The Lead channel has three voicings:
- High Gain: Midrangy, like a 5150/6505 tone. This is the voicing I use most often. I dial the Low in around 8, the Mid around 3 or 4 and the High around 6 or 7.
- Modern: Scooped, something like Pantera-ish tone. (Is that still considered “modern”?) Employing the Reverb and EQ wisely can also grab some classic ‘80s metal sounds. I don’t use it a lot, but it’s fun to mess around with.
- Vintage: Basic overdrive. Honestly, I prefer to dial back the Pre-gain on the High Gain channel when I’m looking for overdrive sounds. I think it has a little more character than the Vintage voicing.
The Back Panel
We’re not done yet. Unlike a lot of affordable 1x12 combos, the Peavey Bandit has some gig-worthy features you might appreciate. On the back panel you’ll find:
- Ground Switch: The obligatory ground rocker switch.
- External Speaker Jack: While the Bandit is rated at 80 watts, adding an external speaker bumps it up to 100 watts. Back then Peavey offered a matching bottom 1x12 to go with it. As I was looking to downsize my rig at the time I didn’t go for it, and I’ve often regretted that. However, any appropriately rated speaker cab will do.
- Power Amp In / Preamp Out: Never used it and I wonder if many people have. It just doesn’t seem very useful for this kind of amp.
- Effects Loop: The effects loop can be turned on and off via the two-button footswitch. I often run a chorus pedal through there and leave it on. I can then turn the chorus on and off using the Bandit’s footswitch.
The Modern Peavey Bandit
Modern vs Vintage Bandit
The Peavey Bandit is still around today, and it is still a great little amp. I think Peavey’s TransTube distortion is one of the best solid-state distortions in the business. If you are a looking for an affordable, reliable amp with awesome high-gain capabilities, this amp is a great choice.
I highly recommend the modern Peavey Bandit for guitar players on a budget who need a reliable amp, especially those who are into metal. The modern Bandit retains many of the hallmarks of my more vintage model, but there are some changes too. The channel voicings are slightly different, with the options of Vintage, Classic and Warm on the Clean channel, and Classic, Modern and High Gain on the Lead channel.
You still get some great reverb, but no Presence control. The T.Dynamics knob is replaced with a power level switch on the back of the amp, which you use to choose between 100%, 50%, and 25% power output. Honestly, that’s probably a more sensible way to manage lower-power modes.
And, of course, Bandits of today are built overseas instead of designed and built in the USA. I have some mixed feelings about that. American-made Peavey amps were so solidly built it seemed like you could hammer a railroad spike with one and it wouldn’t miss a gig. I kind of miss that, but Peavey gear is still outstanding.
Should You Go New or Look for a Red Stripe?
For me, the Peavey Bandit was one of the best purchases I ever made. I owned a lot of different amps before it, and I’ve owned a bunch since. I don’t think I’d be able to part with my Bandit. It just fills a certain niche and does it really well.
I’d use it in a band situation in a pinch, but it wouldn’t be my first choice. I think it would get the job done though, and it sounds pretty decent at high volumes as well. It certainly has the power and, especially if you are into rock or metal, it has some very good tones.
If you can grab one in good condition for a reasonable price I’d suggesting going for it. There are a lot of different versions out there, so be sure to do your research on whichever year/model Bandit you are considering.
Of course, you can always go new. Today’s Bandit is still a great little amp for a good price, and among the top solid-state combo amps for metal.
I hope this post helped you learn a little more about one of my favorite amps. To me, the Peavey Transtube Bandit 112 is a great example of why you don’t always need to spend a lot to grab a quality piece of gear.
Thinking of Getting a Peavey Bandit?
Michael James (author) on November 12, 2019:
@Frank - Peavey has archived user manuals on their site if you need info. According to the manual, the Red Stripe Bandit is 19.75" x 23.63" x 11.5". I just measured mine and that appears correct.
Frank on November 11, 2019:
Can't get the dimensions of this can anyone tell me them
Michael James (author) on November 11, 2019:
Hi Bif. I honestly don't remember what my original footswitch had on it. What you said sounds correct. The one I have now says Select/Effects on the left and Reverb on the right, even though it still controls the channel select and effects loop. I'm pretty sure it's not my original footswitch, though. If you are just looking for a footswitch, I think any Peavey 2-button switch will work. (You may want to check with Peavey on that.)
Hope you like your Bandit!
Bif on November 11, 2019:
Hi, I just picked up a 2004 Bandit II Redline and I need to find the footswitch time era correct ...what does the correct 2 button footswitch say on it, Select on the left and Effects on the right ? Any info you have would be great, Thank You !
Michael James (author) on July 12, 2019:
@BKKJohn - I have no idea what things are really worth when it comes to that stuff. I can say, for an excellent condition Red Stripe Bandit, I would consider $240 a reasonable price. I would not get rid of the Mesa, but that's me.
BKKJohn on July 11, 2019:
I just found one for sale here in Thailand, excellent condition asking ~$240. Wondering if that's a good deal, and should I sell my Mesa Boogie Subway Rocket?
Michael James (author) on January 28, 2019:
@Don - The Red Stripe really is a surprisingly good amp. One of my great regrets is not getting the extension cabinet for it back then. Glad you still love your amp as much as I do!
Don Kleinsorge on January 27, 2019:
I have had my peavy bandit red stripe for 15 years. I bought the ext. speaker with it. I thought the fender 65 twin reverb would be a better amp , so I bought one from Sweetwater last week. After playing both and comparing the two I realized my bandit sounded just as good and in my opinion blew the fender away. I’m returning it and buying a Country Gentlemen.
Michael James (author) on September 05, 2018:
@Jeff - Mine has a year on the serial number sticker on the back, but not all of them do apparently. If it says Designed and Made in the USA on the front it is 2000-2004. After that I believe they shifted production to China.
jeff on September 04, 2018:
Just picked up a Bandit Red Stripe at an estate sale, I was wondering how to tell what year it was manufactured. Thank you.
Ace on April 11, 2018:
My red stripe sounds like a friedman...