Review: MXR EVH 5150 Chorus Pedal

(Image credit: MXR)

The first time I ever saw Van Halen live was back in 1988 at the Monsters of Rock Festival. It was a full-blown guitar player’s wet dream to be able to watch some of the most cutting-edge guitarists of the time, such as George Lynch from Dokken, Rudolf Schenker and Matthias Jabs from the Scorpions, Kirk Hammett from Metallica — and of course, Van Halen — perform that day. And, more importantly, to hear whether these guitarists’ tones and chops lived up to their accolades. 

For the most part, no one disappointed, but it seemed as if everyone overcompensated with more volume and gain roaring from their Marshall and Mesa Boogie stacks. So by the time Van Halen (who were the headliners) hit the stage, what struck me most was that Eddie Van Halen’s tone was so noticeably different from the previous acts. It was unmistakably a chorused sound, with a wider intensity and clearer definition that was diametrically opposed to the analog chorus modulations of say, Andy Summers of the Police. Eddie’s tone was remarkably bigger and better, and even more precise, and he easily stood head and shoulders above every other guitar player that day with a sound that had more pleasing depth, which — as a byproduct — enhanced the gain blazing from his amp. 

Granted, back then Eddie was using some serious processing power from rackmount units to achieve that sound. But now, MXR, working closely with Eddie Van Halen, have managed to inconceivably cram that same huge effect into a singular stompbox called the EVH 5150 Chorus, and OMG, the tone is crushing.

FEATURES The MXR EVH 5150 Chorus sports the same striped paint job found on MXR’s signature EVH pedals, except this time around it’s in a visually striking dark blue and cream motif. Three controls for Intensity (chorus effect), tone (EQ shape) and volume are atypical of most chorus pedals, but considering EVH needed only one knob on an MXR Phase 90 for phasing, it makes sense that one control for chorusing is sufficient for him as well. Probably the only fussy parts of the 5150 Chorus are the input and output level pad switches located on either side of the pedal. But no need to be flustered, they’re merely there to accommodate guitarists who require low level impedances and optimum signal-to-noise performance (hell, the manual even tells you where to set them to start). The pedal is powered by a single 9-volt battery or 9-volt power supply, features mono and stereo outputs and an internal true/buffered bypass switch for more flexibility.

PERFORMANCE Well, let me get this out of the way: Van Halen fanatics, yes, this pedal firmly nails the “Little Guitars,” “(Oh) Pretty Woman” and “Summer Nights” tones right out of the box with almost no fiddling. It’s so eerily close that you have to admire the MXR folks for being able to recreate this kind of cleanly wet-chorusing in a pedal without sounding warbly, and with a simple control set. The EVH 5150 Chorus excels when used with distortion or high-gain amplifiers without sounding digital, and even making your guitar sound doubled. Setting the Intensity knob roughly between 10 and 12 o’clock will pretty much get you EVH’s tone — but will also very closely mirror Ty Tabor’s chorused tones found on King’s X albums Gretchen Goes to Nebraska and Faith Hope Love. The tone knob is a nice addition for sharpening the attack or dulling the chorus for more warmth, and the volume knob has two flashing LEDs to indicate where to set the best signal-to-noise ratio. The EVH 5150 Chorus also sounds beautiful on a clean setting, so you really do get the best of both worlds.

STREET PRICE: $199.99 MANUFACTURER: MXR, jimdunlop.com

The Intensity knob sets the amount of chorusing from richly textured to detuned vibrato

In standard operation, the mono output allows for a wet/dry mix, and in stereo, the mono output becomes 100 percent dry signal and the stereo output is 100 percent wet

• THE BOTTOM LINE The MXR EVH 5150 Chorus is a pristine sounding chorus optimized for high-gain rigs and totally nails EVH’s wide-range, stereo-chorused “Diver Down/5150 sound” in a stompbox