Friday, January 8, 2021


 by Mark King

I own a lot of distortion pedals, A LOT. For me everything changes constantly. For every song I write I test out distortion tone vs clean tone vs acoustic guitar tone. Getting these three very different guitar sounds to all sit right next to each other in a composition can be difficult and requires trial and error to get them right. 

I have a couple of new compositions I'm working on and have not been able to get the overdrive tone I want for these songs. I slowly worked my way through all my usual pedal options, then I read about the 5150 Overdrive and decided to give it a try. 

THE 5150 PEDAL (Effect ON, Gate Engaged = 14.5 mA current draw)

The pedal itself is a rather large cast metal enclosure, similar in size to chorus and delay pedals produced by MXR in the 70's. The 5150 can be powered by an internal 9-volt battery or through the standard inner-minus/outer-plus external power inlet. 

The control layout on the pedal mimics what you'd find on a guitar amplifier. There is a gain control to set the overdrive intensity, bass, mid and treble tone controls and a master volume to set the overall effect level. 

A small boost button increases gain and compression. A small rotary control brings in a noise gate to reduce background noise. 

A standard size footswitch is provided with a blue LED to indicate the pedal is ON. The ON-OFF footswitch is surrounded by plenty of real estate so it's easy to hit the button when you're moving fast.

The input and output jacks are on the top/rear surface so you can snug other pedals up close to the sides of this beast.


This pedal has a LOT of gain available. What you play it through will be the biggest determining factor of whether it sounds like Edward Van Halen. I used it with a 20-watt Marshall Origin head through a pair of single 12" closed-back Marshall cabinets. I liked that sound a lot. The Origin by itself was set loud and clean. The 5150 Overdrive provided all the crunch. With the tone and volume controls on the 5150 I was able to get a very good distorted tone which complemented the unaffected sound. 

The 5150 Overdrive is very touch sensitive and you can significantly reduce the distortion just by turning your guitar down. In this way the pedal reacts similarly to a real tube amp. 

The 5150 tone control circuits mimic the tone-stack design used in tube guitar amplifiers. The tone controls are not super-active but that makes them friendly and easy to use without getting a harsh peak if a knob is set a little too high. 

The noise gate function works well. I'm usually not a fan of noise gates but with all the gain and subsequent noise this pedal can dish out the included noise gate feature is a nice addition. 

With all the tone and volume control this pedal offers there are many shades of distortion on tap. It can do classic rock or metal or blues and all points in between. You can make it bark or sing depending on how you play. 

I had a blast with the 5150 Overdrive when I connected a Dunlop Cry Baby Junior to the input and ran the output to a couple of delays and a reverb.

In another setup with the 5150 Overdrive feeding a 100 watt Marshall head set for pushed-blues tone through a Marshall 4x12 the sound was massive. The tone controls on the 5150 Overdrive help you shape the tone to fit the amp you're playing through. This is not a thin buzzy sounding distortion pedal, it screams with a voice that can only be described as flexible and huge.


My recommendation is buy it! At $199 street price the 5150 Overdrive is not a cheap pedal but the sound is great and the features and adjustability are plentiful which makes it a winner in my book. Many other boutique builders charge $250-$400 for distortion devices that don't have the design pedigree of the 5150. You can definitely spend more and get less with other distortion pedal brands, the 5150 delivers versatile distortion tone for a fair street price.

In the world of distortion pedals this is no one-trick pony. It may be called Overdrive but this MXR 5150 can deliver many satisying distorted sounds. The design was perfected with the assistance of a true icon of guitar tone. The 5150 Overdrive is a keeper for me.

Good music to you!

This review is copyright January 2021 by Mark King. It's not ok to copy or quote without permission. Thanks for reading.