Even though MXR is best known for their modulation effects, they definitely know how to mix up a proper distortion sound. MXR M116 Fullbore Metal is easily one of the best distortion pedals you can find for heavier genres of music, while it also offers a very customizable performance overall.
Modern distortion pedals are a very tricky piece of gear to nail down. The market is full of ridiculous ones, which do nothing more but add a tonne of useless gain into your signal. MXR M116 Fullbore Metal isn't one of them. The pedal looks extremely raw, even though it comes in that very familiar MXR chassis. Instead of going with an orange or black color theme, MXR just left the metal untreated. It turns out that this rugged appearance goes well with what this pedal is all about. In terms of durability, you are looking at the standard bulletproof construction that is capable of taking any abuse you can dish out. That is definitely one thing that MXR knows how to deliver. As usual, the pedal can be powered using either a DC adapter or a 9V battery. Overall, there is something attractive about its raw design.
One glance at the controls reveals something very interesting. There's a lot going on with M116 than meets the eye. You have your standard Volume and Gain knobs, but there are also a few other tools at your disposal. MXR went with a three-band EQ that is very responsive and covers a relatively broad range. Then we have the Frequency knob, which works together with the Mid knob to shape up those frequencies ranging from 50Hz to around 200Hz. This way you can fine tune that lower end to work with your mids. There are two more buttons on the pedal. One is labeled Gate and other Scoop. Both of these are self explanatory. Gate serves as your noise gate and is pretty accurate. Scoop does exactly that, it scoops your mids. As hectic as it may seem, all of this comes together perfectly when you start using the pedal.
The beauty of MXR M116 Fullbore Metal is how versatile it can be. The core sound comes in form of that trademark distortion that balances the amount of gain and clarity. With all of the controls available on the pedal,. you can really dial in the tone to fit a variety of applications. For instance, you can tune the pedal to accommodate the generally lacking single coils. And that is without them sounding forced as well. When you introduce a couple of decent humbuckers, this thing really kicks it into a higher gear. In general, MXR hit a very thin line between useless gain and proper distortion. Best of all, you can access this performance without spending a fortune. Those who are into thrash metal can get that scooped tone almost instantaneously, while you can also dial in a thick, modern metal sound as well.
At the end of the day, MXR M116 Fullbore Metal is a very pleasant surprise in a market full of uncontrollable gain bombs. It packs the right amount of heat, but it also features all the necessary tools for you to control that gain. In our book, that's about perfect.