Are you looking to get classic Eddie Van Halen sounds from your guitar and amp? In this MXR EVH 5150 Overdrive review, I’ll show you how this pedal can give you his early Marshal Plexi-based “brown sound,” all the 5150 tones, and everything in between!
Eddie worked closely with MXR to create an overdrive that was true to the sounds he became famous for.
If you are looking for a pedal that can take you from subtle breakup to full-on high-gain distortion without loss of note articulation, then keep reading to learn more.
What Is The MXR EVH 5150 Overdrive?
Eddie wanted a pedal that guitar players could use with their guitar and amp to create the Van Halen sound. Although technically speaking, this pedal is based on the Blue channel of the EVH 5150 amplifier; it is a very versatile stompbox.
The MXR EVH 5150 Overdrive gives you Eddie’s trademark saturation and articulation, which covers the full complement of hyper-driven tones that he used throughout his entire career, from the early classic “brown sound” to all the high-gain sounds that followed.
Although it technically has “overdrive” circuitry, it sounds a lot more like a high-gain distortion pedal on most settings. It naturally scoops the mids just enough to give you that Marshall “Plexi” sound but has a dedicated Mid adjustment knob to increase its tonal range.
MXR-Dunlop Company Profile
MXR was founded by Terry Sherwood and Keith Barr, who initially started an audio repair business for stereos and other musical equipment. Eventually, they designed and marketed the Phase 90 effect pedal. Its popularity led to the development of the Distortion + and the Dyna Comp pedals.
They continued to expand their product line until Jim Dunlop bought the MXR brand in 1987. Dunlop continues to produce the original MXR pedals and a range of modern MXR pedals like the Carbon Copy.
Who Is The MXR EVH 5150 Overdrive For?
The MXR EVH 5150 Overdrive is primarily for guitar players who want to attain the Eddie Van Halen family of tones without duplicating Eddie’s actual guitar and amp setup.
This pedal can easily replicate all his classic sounds and a variety of other overdriven and distorted sounds that can cover rock, blues, and many metal situations.
If you’re looking for totally “scooped out” monster-metal sounds, you may have to look elsewhere.
Despite its versatility, the pedal is especially good at covering Eddie’s 5150 sounds because it is modeled after the EVH 5150 amplifier’s Blue channel.
Unfortunately, this pedal is not priced for the beginning player on a budget, although it is possible to find a good deal on a used MXR EVH 5150 Overdrive in good condition and ready to rock.
How The MXR EVH 5150 Overdrive Works
This section will give you a quick summary of what you need to know to understand how the 5150 Overdrive works and help you decide if it is the right pedal for you.
MXR EVH 5150 Overdrive Specifications
Here are the basic specs for this pedal.
|Output, Bass, Mid, Treble, Gain
Bass ±5 dB, 30 Hz
Mid ±5 dB, 650 Hz
Treble ±5 dB, 10 kHz
|Noise Gate Adjustment Knob
|Illuminates Yellow When Active
|Increases Gain And Compression, +6 dB Preamp Gain
|Illuminates Blue When Pedal Is On
|9 Volt Battery or Power Adaptor – Not Included
|Height: 1.5″ x Width: 5″ x Depth: 3.75″
For a pedal that does so much, the controls are laid out logically, which makes it intuitive and straightforward to use. It won’t take you long to learn the settings for the sounds you want.
Here are some of the best ways to begin using the pedal.
First, try setting the EQ and gain knobs to noon with the volume level to taste, with the noise gate & boost off.
You can tailor your sound from there. Check out MXR’s suggested sample setting in the diagram to the right.
The boost switch will give you extra gain and compression, which increases sustain and helps make the harmonics pop out without significantly increasing the volume.
Add and adjust the noise gate if you require a higher-gain sound or have single-coil pickups. It monitors your noise level and comes on and off automatically, which is visually indicated by the knob’s display light.
Features And Benefits
Check Out These Great MXR EVH 5150 Overdrive Features.
Three-Band Passive Tone Stack EQ Section
The Bass, Mid, and Treble knobs make this unit very flexible. It can infuse your rig with Eddie’s sound or let you easily dial in your own overdrive and distortion options.
Multi-Stage Analog MOSFET Circuitry
This specially-designed circuit keeps the pedal’s output natural and warm-sounding at all gain settings.
True Bypass Switching
True bypass helps keep your guitar’s tone pure when the pedal is deactivated by removing its circuitry from the signal chain. This is especially important if you’re running many effects pedals in series, like on a pedalboard.
Road-Worthy Housing With Custom EVH Artwork
This pedal has a subtle FrankenStrat look that gives it a cool look and a bit of an ominous presence on your pedalboard that begs to be turned on. It is built to endure the rigors of the road.
What I Like About The MXR EVH 5150 Overdrive Effects Pedal
Gain Settings Clean Up Nicely
Turning down the guitar’s volume knob cleans up the sound at any gain setting without drastically changing the tonal characteristics that you dial in with the pedal’s Bass, Mid, and Treble EQ knobs.
This allows you to get overdriven and “clipped” sounds that are articulate enough to use on harmonies that go beyond playing power chords. Even complex chord voicings ring out crisp and clear so that every note is easily identifiable.
Even at low volumes, finger-tapped sounds ring out with delightfully crisp harmonic overtones.
Adjustable Noise Gate control
The noise gate is powered by the Smart Gate® circuit, which reduces unwanted noise while retaining note response time, dynamics, and harmonics.
The gate has a slower reaction time when you hold sustained notes and increases appropriately as your playing speeds up. The control knob illuminates yellow when it is active. You can see the noise gate go off and on as you start and stop playing.
Activating the +6dB Boost switch adds gain and natural-sounding compression to your tone. It gives you the extra “kick” you need to make your solo sound great and “evens out your sound” without drastically changing the overall tonal parameters of your settings or output volume.
What You Might Not Like About The MXR EVH 5150 Overdrive
You really have to go out of your way to find the downside of this pedal. Here are a few things you might consider.
Noise Gate Does Not Completely Eliminate The Background Noise
With the Volume and Gain knobs dimed, you can hear background noise from the pedal, even if you turn the noise gate knob all the way up. This can become noticeable, especially if you use single-coil pickups and 4×12 cabinets to move a lot of air.
To be fair, this is one of the tradeoffs that allows the pedal to avoid latency and preserves all the notes’ dynamics as you begin to play. Still, it is quite effective at removing the majority of unwanted noise from your playing with any rig setup.
Takes Up A Lot Of Space On Your Pedalboard
The pedal’s housing could be a little more compact by rearranging the control knob configuration. etc. If you’re not putting it on an already overcrowded pedalboard it won’t be an issue.
A Little Pricey, Even For All That It Does
Let’s face it, not everyone has $200 to spring for an effects pedal, but when you consider the fact that it can save you the cost of buying an EVH 5150 amplifier to get Eddie’s sound, it can actually save you money.
AC Power Adaptor Not Included
The MXR EVH 5150 Overdrive can run on an internal 9 Volt battery or an external AC power adaptor, such as the Dunlop ECB-003.
A power adaptor is not included with the pedal, and the ECB-003 will cost you an additional 11 or 12 dollars.
ECB-003 Specs: 9V AC @ 670mA 5% regulated. Size: 2.1mm x 5.5mm, Barrel: negative center
Note: Be sure to use a power adaptor with a negative center barrel!
Is The MXR EVH 5150 Overdrive Legit?
So, is this pedal just another overdrive/distortion unit among the dozens of “me-too” contenders out there? After all, how many pedals can you have? If you have a pedal addiction, like I do, that might be a tricky question to answer.
The MXR EVH 5150 Overdrive was designed by the MXR R&D team in close collaboration with Eddie Van Halen to create a wide variety of musically usable tones.
Eddie’s ground-breaking “brown sound” and his modern high gain 5150 tones, including the Blue channel of the EVH 5150 amplifier, are all in there.
This pedal is totally legit and is the next best thing to having Eddie’s guitar and amp setup. If this is the sound you’re looking for, buying this stompbox is a no-brainer. Of course, you’ll have to supply the countless hours of practice it takes to approach Eddie’s playing technique. ??
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the most common questions asked about this pedal.
Will The MXR EVH 5150 Overdrive Make You Sound And Play Like Eddie Van Halen?
Eddie’s overdrive pedal allows you to duplicate the tones he used on his recordings and in concert. Although Eddie’s sound came primarily from his mind and fingers, this pedal can definitely get you moving in the right direction.
Eddies sound was also dependent on the guitars, amps, other effect boxes, and equipment settings he used over the years, much of which can be duplicated by reading information that is available from reliable resources in guitar magazines and online.
This pedal gives you an essential starting point. The rest is up to you.
What Is The Eddie Van Halen “Brown Sound?”
Eddie coined the phrase “brown sound” to describe the sound he used to record the Van Halen I album.
He accidentally discovered that by lowering the voltage of a 100 Watt Marshal Plexi, he could get it to saturate more aggressively with the amp’s volume knob turned up to 10, but still sound musical.
He made this discovery by plugging a Marshall amp set for 220 Volt use into a 110 Volt electrical outlet. When the amp’s tubes finally warmed up, it sounded incredible when he played through it.
Eddie started using a Variac (voltage regulator) as a “master volume control” to lower the amp’s voltage to somewhere between 60 and 100 Volts AC, depending on the size of the room he was playing.
So, the brown sound essentially refers to the sound created by an amp operating at a lower than normally-required voltage, as it would during an electrical “brown-out.”
Although Eddie’s sound evolved over the years, it always remained distinctively his.
Do You Need The MXR EVH 5150 Pedal If You Have An EVH Guitar And An EVH 5150 Amp?
You can get Eddie’s “5150 sounds” without the pedal if you have Eddie’s rig, but the pedal will help you dial in his “brown sound” and other great options.
This overdrive unit can add something special to your sound, no matter what equipment you are using.
How Does The MXR EVH 5150 Overdrive Pedal Sound With A Solid-State (Non-Tube) Amp?
This pedal will make your solid-state amp come alive with Eddie’s sound. The 5150 Overdrive was designed to give any rig the sound of a saturated amp, musically pushed to its limits.
Does The MXR EVH 5150 Overdrive Sound Good With Single-Coil Pickups?
Yes, this pedal gives you a great “single-coil Strat” sound with the correct settings. The only issue is noise at the higher gain settings, but the built-in noise gate will take care of most of that.
Single-coil noiseless pickups will give you the best of both worlds, no noise, and a tremendous overdriven Strat or Tele sound.
How Does The MXR EVH 5150 Overdrive Sound When Combined With Other Pedals?
The MXR EVH 5150 Overdrive works great with any time-based or modulation pedals like reverb, echo, phaser, flanger, and chorus.
If your amp has an effects loop, put the 5150 Overdrive between the guitar and the amp’s input jack, and place the other (non-overdrive/distortion/fuzz) pedals between the send and return jacks.
For amps without an effects loop, experiment with the order of your pedals in relation to the 5150 Overdrive to see what works best for you.
Final Thoughts On The MXR EVH 5150 Overdrive Review
Eddie Van Halen redefined the sound of the electric guitar and how it was played. Some of the biggest acts in Rock N’ Roll have adopted his choice of guitars, amps, and playing techniques.
MXR designed the EVH 5150 Overdrive to give you Eddie’s classic “brown sound,” the Blue channel sound of the EVH 5150 amplifier, and everything in between.
The 3-band EQ gives this pedal incredible versatility, which can easily make it the only overdrive unit you will ever need.
Don’t let the “overdrive” designation of this pedal fool you. It can give you everything from subtle breakup to full-on fire-breathing distortion!
The built-in noise gate uses a “Smart Gate®” circuit to adjust to your playing style at any gain level, transparently. It doesn’t get in the way of your picking dynamics.
A +6 dB Boost switch adds gain and compression to your sound without making it noticeably louder.
This is the definitive pedal to get if you want Eddie’s sound without changing the guitar and amp setup you use. It does all the Van Halen tones and every other Rock sound you could hope for, including basic scooped-metal sounds.
For more info, see Van Halen Live Without A Net DVD Review – Mind Blowing!
Tell Me What You Think
Please leave a comment below if you enjoyed this MXR EVH 5150 Overdrive review, have any questions about this product, or want to leave your review.
I will be happy to help you.
- Do you own an MXR EVH 5150 Overdrive guitar pedal or have you played through one? What do you think of it?
- Which of Eddie Van Halen’s classic tones do you like best? Why?
- Is there an overdrive/distortion pedal you like better for emulating Eddie’s tone? Which one?
- After reading this review would you consider buying the 5150 Overdrive pedal?