Price paid: $ 80
Purchased from: Railroad Bazzar
Ease of Use: To me, MXR build quality is top notch! This M-115 Distortion III is no exception. Built with a heavy duty case, quality input/output jacks and the tactile feel of the switch are hallmarks of MXR. These pedals are made to last. Even the box it comes in is quality. There are output, tone, and distortion knobs - Eddie Van Halen actually uses these MXR knobs to replace those on his Fender Wolfgang guitars. Some pedals are plastic, others have crappy jacks - there really is nothing on build quality that I can deduct for on MXR products. // 10
Sound: Marketed as a distortion pedal it may be worth the time to actually listen to it - it sounds very different on a solid state amp versus a tube amp. Connected to a solid state amp you can get some pretty decent crunch and slight metal tones out of this - on my 40 watt Fender Hot Rod Deluxe Python Edition amp things were a bit surprising.
This amp is not known for having a 'metal' sound to begin with but it is all tube and very clean - and very powerful. Played with a Fender Stratocaster with Seymour Duncan pickups on the clean channel, the MXR Distortion III really does not give even the slightest hint of 'metal' tones even with the distortion knob on the pedal cranked. The pedal has the ability to add significant volume with it's own volume knob so some balancing between it and the amp is in order. With the amp pumping out about 110db @ 3 feet distance, the MXR Distortion III can really throw some authoritative 'crunch' tones for rhythm playing, for example. There was little if any coloration, noise, or anything distracting about the sound. It just wasn't what I would consider a 'distortion' pedal - more like an Overdrive pedal perhaps. That's not a bad thing though, if you are looking for AC/DC, Cinderella, or Dio type sounds. The tone is balanced I would say - not thin or boomy but retains all of the bass, mids, and highs I get with it in the bypass mode. By comparison, I played an Electro-Harmonix Nano Pocket Metal Muff with the same amp and the two distortion pedals are worlds apart in sound - EH Nano for 'metal' ( a bit thin though) and MXR Distortion III could be considered a high quality crunch pedal. I personally think should not be Distortion III, or Overdrive III, but perhaps a Crunch III would be more accurate - particularly with tube amps. The sound gets more edgy with solid state amps.
I hate to do it, but because one might expect 'distortion' similar to other pedals and it is marketed as such, I'm going to have to knock off a few points to bring it down to the 'crunch' level. It is still a superb pedal, but you should know going in that it is warm, organic, and different that any digital distortion pedal. // 7
Reliability & Durability: I really think MXR builds quality stuff - plain and simple. Eddie Van Halen, Dime Bag, Zakk Wylde seem to think so as well. True hardwire bypass preserves your tone, the cast case is built like a tank, and all knobs and switches are sturdy and have a great feel. I would not hesitate to use this in a gig without another backup pedal - there are no cheap parts on MXR products. It should last decades. // 9
Overall Impression: I play a Fender Stratocaster through a 40 watt Fender Hot Rod Deluxe Python amp - mostly 80s metal/rock such as Dio, Iron Maiden, Kiss, Great White, Dokken. With the tubes cracked pretty good and the distortion on the pedal wide open I can get a great sound for all but perhaps Iron Maiden, and even then, it's not that bad - not harsh edgy metal sound but more like a smooth tube Overdrive - but better. This has a sound character of it's own, and I have other distortion pedals, but I couldn't think of not having this Distortion III on hand.
You should consider what type of music you are going to mostly play and then listen to this with the type of amp you play though the most (solid state or tube) - it is going to sound a little different on each. Harmonic content, tonal balance and tube-crunch are what I think are the strong points about this product. I've had this pedal for at least six months and I've found it's place - all 'distorion' pedals are not created equal and nor are they intended to cover all pallets of rock or metal music. Overall I am very pleased with this pedal and the company. // 10