Subtle-to-powerful tone coloring. Effective tone control. Stereo output sounds lively and huge.
Chorus purists may want a rate knob.
Ease of Use:
Players chase Eddie Van Halen’s fabled “brown sound” relentlessly. But Eddie’s tone reputation is not based on brown sound alone. There’s the phaser swirl on “Ain’t Talkin’ ’Bout Love” and the flanger whoosh on “Unchained,” among other sonic fingerprints. And although chorus isn’t a huge part of Eddie’s recorded output, it featured prominently on Diver Down. The new analog MXR EVH 5150 Chorus is built to capture those sounds in a stompbox format.
The 5150 is inspired by the rackmount Roland DC-30 analog chorus used by Eddie during the Diver Down period. It’s the same size as MXR’s EVH 117 Flanger and 5150 Overdrive, and sports EVH stripes-gone-wild graphics in cream and blue. The control panel has knobs for intensity, tone, and volume, along with toggle switches for input level (-20 dB, -35 dB, and -50 dB) and output level (-20 dB and -35 dB), and a pair of output jacks to let you go stereo. Inside the enclosure is a toggle switch that lets you choose between true and buffered bypass (the default setting is true bypass). The rear of the pedal features an easy-to-open, no tools required, battery compartment—a thoughtful touch.
For my test, I used a dual-humbucker super Strat, a stereo amp rig made up of Mesa/Boogie 50 Caliber and Fender Prosonic combos, and a Radial Plexitube for dirt. When used with a dual-amp setup, the mono output feeds out the dry signal and the stereo output sends out the wet, effected signal. And although you can get great sounds from the 5150 without a stereo rig, two amps are the ticket to the 5150’s most immersive and complex tones.
Double the Going Rate
Unlike most chorus pedals, the 5150 doesn’t have a rate control. It isn’t really geared to deliver fast-modulating rotary-speaker-style sounds. But you can use the fixed, slower rate to achieve subtle doubling effects. In the early days, Eddie used an Eventide H949 harmonizer on many of his tracks to create a doubling effect via a very slightly detuned, stereo split. Some of the sounds I got with the 5150 Chorus and a two-amp setup reminded me of those sounds. Even with the intensity knob all the way off, there is a slight doubling effect that is very musical, and even likely to intrigue guitarists with an aversion to chorus. It’s a subtle texture, but when I disengaged the effect, things certainly sounded a lot less lively.
By moving the intensity up to 9 o’clock, the tone to noon, and the volume to 2 o’clock with the input level at -35 dB and the output level at -20 dB, the chorus effect became more pronounced and lush—perfect for dirty rhythm parts like those from “House of Pain.” Using this setting with a clean sound gave arpeggiated chords an animated sheen without crossing the line into over-processed ’80s textures. And with the intensity bumped up to 11 o’clock, the 5150 Chorus also produced a killer Mike Stern-type sound reminiscent of the “pitch change #23” patch he’s used on his Yamaha SPX90 for decades. (It’s a doubling effect usually mistaken for chorus.)
The intensity knob controls the amount of chorus effect. And from about 11 o’clock on, you start to hear queasy, half step, pitch-up and pitch-down effects on the tail ends of sustained notes or chords. These almost evoke DigiTech Whammy-style tones. With the intensity set to around 1 o’clock, the pitch of sustaining, gain-drenched power chords ramps up and down amidst the feedback-laden chaos. It’s a texture that would be great for drone metal. Riding the intensity this high was also ideal for volume-swelled chords and figures, à la “Cathedral,” with the pitch modulations creating a synthesizer-type effect on the decay of held chordal pads. Maxing the intensity can even produce trippy sitar-through-Leslie sounds, with the right tone settings.
The 5150 Chorus’ tone knob can have considerable influence on the overall sound. With the knob fully counterclockwise, the output becomes discernibly thick and cloudier in the low-midrange. All the way clockwise, the sound thins out considerably, emphasizing modulation peaks and even evoking transistor-radio tones at times. Having such a broad EQ range is a great asset for making the modulations subtle or more present in the mix. In fact, I can imagine users applying the pedal in a frequency-boost capacity without the modulation—keeping the intensity off and chiseling out a precise tone niche, and boosting it with the volume knob.
If you’re a diehard EVH fan looking to round out your collection of EVH pedals, getting the 5150 Chorus is a no-brainer. But the great thing about the 5150 Chorus is that, even if you’re not specifically looking to cop Eddie’s thing, it’s flexible and can be used in almost any stylistic context. Given Eddie’s own extremely wide musical range, the 5150 Chorus’ versatility makes perfect sense. And despite the lack of a rate knob, the 5150 is not stylistically limiting. In fact, it often inspires exploration well beyond your own comfort zones and classic Van Halen tones.
Watch the First Look: