I'm a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.
The EVH 5150 Overdrive
Normally, I stay away from signature gear. As a guitar player, I want to sound like me, so there is no point in playing a guitar, amp or effects pedal designed specifically for or by another guitarist. That’s not to say there isn’t some great stuff out there that peaks my curiosity. It’s just not a direction in which I’ve often gone.
The exception, for some reason, is Eddie Van Halen's gear. I played his Peavey 5150 amps for years without feeling a darned bit silly, and I think his Wolfgang guitars are awesome. The amps his company puts out through his EVH brand are amazing too. It’s not because they make you sound like him, though they could. It’s because, in my opinion, they’re really, really good in their own right.
I’ve been eyeballing the EVH 5150 Overdrive pedal for a while now. It’s supposed to capture a bit of the magic found in Eddie’s EVH 5150 III amp, the rig he currently uses to get his legendary Brown Sound. I’ve read and heard good things about this pedal, and when the price came down a little bit I decided to go for it. In this article, I’ll explain why I think this is a great pedal.
If you don’t feel like reading the whole article, the takeaway is this: the pedal is outstanding, and if you are into rock and metal you should get one.
If you want to know more, read on!
Construction and Features
The 5150 Overdrive is a solid little box. Construction quality is very good, as expected from an MXR product. The knobs, jacks, buttons, and switches all appear well made like they can take some abuse. The battery compartment under the unit is easy to access and manipulate. It does protrude a little, which causes the pedal to wobble on flat surfaces, but it came with little stick-on rubber feet to eliminate this and stop the pedal from sliding.
The features are straightforward and effective. The pedal basically has everything you need to manage the distortion side of your sound, including a noise gate and powerful EQ.
Features and Controls:
- Gate: A noise gate is a nice addition to a high-gain pedal. You can adjust the threshold, and the little knob lights up when the gate is engaged. I am usually not a big fan of noise gates as they always seem to interfere with note sustain, and I expected it would just turn this knob off and forget about it. However, it is actually really useful and I never notice it when I am playing. I set it around noon.
- Output: As expected, it controls the output signal to your amp. I try to balance it with the clean output sound of my amps. However, if you use a tube amp and you don’t intend to rely on the clean sound you can crank it up all the way to push your tubes hard. You can also back off this control for some excellent low-volume sounds. Even at low volumes, and even through a tube amp, you can get a huge amount of distortion.
- 3-Band EQ: Bass, Mid and Treble. These controls are super responsive. If you were only going to rely on the 5150 for your tone shaping they would certainly do the job. How I set them depends on what amp I’m using and how I have it dialed in. I’ll get to that more in a bit.
- Gain: This control goes from warm and bluesy, to face-melting high gain. Even around twelve o’clock, you get a lot of distortion out of this thing. I’m going to talk more about sound below, but for now let’s just say this pedal is extremely versatile when it comes to the amount and quality of distortion you can dial in.
- Boost: Increases gain and compression when engaged. I usually leave it on. One of the knocks against this pedal is that the boost isn’t foot-switchable, but I don’t really care. Just think of it as an extra tool to help you get the sound you want.
The front plate is pretty simple – input and output, and a power supply jack. Again, everything appears to be top-notch quality.
One more thing I like: When you engage the pedal it lights up a bright-blue indicator on the top. Not just useful, but it looks pretty classy too!
MXR calls this an overdrive pedal. I don’t know why. When I think of overdrive I think of my Ibanez Tube Screamer, or even my TC Electronic Dark Matter, which does overdrive really well but edges closer to metal-like distortion with the Gain turned up.
Overdrive is typically subtle and warm. However, there is nothing subtle about the EVH 5150 Overdrive with the gain cranked. This is full-on 5150-style American high gain like you’ll find in the EVH amps today, and like I remember from my old 5150 amp. I like it.
That’s not to say you can’t get warm sounds out of this pedal, because you sure can. Again, the Gain control is very versatile, and you can dial it back for lighter sounds. However, I don’t know why you’d choose this pedal if that was your intention.
Will it make you sound like Eddie Van Halen? If the Brown Sound is what you are after you’ll find it here, in a simple little box. But that’s not why I bought this pedal, just like I didn’t play a 5150 amp because I wanted to sound like Eddie. It’s the 5150 sound – high-gain, rich and crunchy. For me, it is about finding my own way to utilize those characteristics.
Is the MXR EVH 5150 Overdrive good for metal? Yes, it is. I think I’ve already talked enough about the level and quality of the gain, and the EQ lets you dial in anything from modern extreme sounds, to old-school thrash and ‘80s hard rock.
I’ve been using the 5150 with my Marshall DSL40C tube amp and my Peavey Bandit “Red Stripe” solid-state amp. For guitars, I’ve been using my Gibson Les Paul Studio, my Heartfield Talon and my Fender MIM HSS Strat. Like the 5150 amp, this pedal lights up any pickup, regardless of output, though of course the DiMarzio Super Distortion in my Talon pushes it a little harder.
Through the Marshall, this thing really cooks. I can manage anything between vicious extreme metal distortion to something more Van Halen-esque, and it maintains that Marshall overall vibe.
However, I’m finding I actually prefer the 5150 Overdrive with my solid-state amp. I set my clean channel with the EQ flat and manage the tone from the pedal. It’s very rich and full, and I feel like the true sound of the pedal really comes through. I’ve said it before: The clean channel on a Peavey Bandit is a great “blank slate” for effects pedals, and that certainly rings true here.
The EVH 5150 Overdrive Pedal
Here are a few of the settings I’ve been messing around with. These are with my Bandit with the EQ (including Presence) of the amp set to noon straight across. I’d love to hear about any settings readers are using as well, so add them to the comments if you feel like it!
Note: There are no numbers on the EQ knobs, so in my examples, I’m using the standard (but in this case imaginary) 1-10 scale. Also, I've left out the Output and Gate settings intentionally. Set those to your personal preference or dependent on your amp.
5150 Overdrive Pedal Settings
'80s Hard Rock
I recommend this pedal for guitar players who already have an amp capable of good clean sounds, but feel they are lacking something in the distortion department. You can upgrade your amp if you want to, but putting the EVH 5150 Overdrive in front of it can give it a new life for a lot less cash.
This is a powerful, versatile distortion pedal that can do everything the gain channel on your amp can do, except maybe better. The sound here isn’t quite on par with an EVH 5150 III but it is very, very good.
I also recommend this pedal for guitar players who are Van Halen fans. I know there are certain guitarists out there who like to collect the guitars, amps and effects and get as close as they can to that Brown Sound. They learn all the songs and play them with their Van Halen gear.
I write this with a bit of a smile on my face, because I know I’m awfully close to getting sucked down that rabbit hole myself. In any event, I don’t think there is a Van Halen fan out there that would be disappointed in this pedal.
Finally, I recommend this pedal to guitarists who love that American high-gain sound. That's me, and that's why I got this pedal. This is a sound I’ve been infatuated with ever since I first discovered the 5150, almost 25 years ago. The MXR EVH 5150 Overdrive has quickly become my favorite pedal in my collection, and one of my favorite pieces of gear all around.
Check it out. I bet you won’t be disappointed.
Michael James (author) on March 16, 2020:
@Nacho - Thanks for the kind words! I often think of putting up some YouTube videos with demos of all of my pedals, amps, and guitars but not sure that will realistically happen. I feel a little more encouraged to do so after your comment, though!
Nacho on March 15, 2020:
Nice article man, I like your approach. It would be great if you can do a video review of the pedal used with the clean channel of a peavey bandit and with a guitar with humbuckers. This would be very helpful to illustrate the point of the clean channel of a peavy bandit as a great blank slate to test pedals, and help people looking for metal tones with a limited budget. Please let me know if that would be possible.