Ok, so you are looking for a small, reliable and good sounding multi-effects unit. You are also on somewhat of a budget and want a good bang for the buck. One unit that complies with these criteria is the Boss ME-50. There are lots of sounds to choose from and it’s built with the high level of Roland/Boss quality. It is versatile, extremely easy to set up and program, and the learning curve is small. You can choose between 22 types of overdrive/distortion, 11 modulation effects, 11 types of delay and 6 expression pedal settings. Also built into the ME-50 are 4 different types of reverb, a compressor and a noise reduction circuit. For added versatility there is an acoustic guitar simulator in the Tone Modify section and to complete the package there is a built in tuner. A compact unit that measures 15-1/8″x 8-7/8″ and weighs in at 7lbs can handle just about any type of gig. Power requirements are by 6 AA batteries or a Boss PSA series wall wart. Browsing the Boss ME-50 website page you can learn about even more features than I have mentioned. Because there are so many effects, features and settings this unit will be lengthy in its review and because of this I will not be able to go into every parameter in great detail.

On the Bench: On the bench the ME-50 is built just like a Boss pedal; solid! Everything seems to be heavy duty and gig worthy. The expression pedal is smooth and the on/off switch is that of a typical wah pedal when pushed all the way forward. The controls and knobs are laid out well and are very easy to understand because of how everything is labeled. The LED indicators are located near each function and are easy to see and correlate to each effect. Unlike a typical effect pedal there is a dedicated on/off power switch located near the ¼” jacks. The bottom of the ME-50 has ample sized rubber feet so it will not slip or travel during performance.

In the Shop: I opted to use batteries with the ME-50 and put in 6- Energizer Lithium AA’s that you would use in a digital camera. As a side note the batteries have been in for many hours and have lasted a very long time. I would estimate from memory that the unit was used for around 40 hours and it is still running. As they say; your mileage may vary.

After I hooked up the cables I selected my Lentz S-type model with true single coil pickups, light weight ash body and maple neck. The test amp was my 5F6-A Bassman clone using Mercury Magnetics transformers, Sozo caps, carbon comp resistors, a Larry Rodgers tweed covered pine cabinet and 4- Weber VST, 10A125 speakers. Current production Sovtek 12AX7LPS’s and Tung Sol 5881’s were used and the GZ34 was an N.O.S. General Electric. The amp was hand built by me here at 300Guitars.

I wanted to use the ME-50 as a small group of pedals not using any presets in banks. Just a simple little set-up. My settings and pedal choices were as follows. For the overdrive sound I chose the Scream setting which is modeled after a Tube Screamer- Drive at 1 o’clock, Bottom at 3 o’clock, Tone at 12 o’clock, and Level at 10-11 o’clock. The Chorus was next and it was set with the Rate at 11 o’clock, Depth at 11 o’clock, and Level at 1 o’clock. Delay was set on 100-500ms for a slapback with the Time at 7 o’clock, Feedback at 8 o’clock and Level at 1 o’clock. The expression pedal was set on Wah. When the expression pedal is not acting as an effect it is a volume pedal. The Tone Modify section was left off but that is where you can access some different tones for fine tuning different guitars and engaging the acoustic guitar simulator. Compression was set with Sustain at just before 12 o’clock and the same for the Level. This can be used as a clean boost if you do not like to use compression. I liked the Spring Reverb which I just used a light splash of to add some depth and the NS (noise suppressor) I set at 12 o’clock. I will talk about the Master Level later in this review. One thing I added to the mix here is the Boss FS-5U external footswitch to actuate the compressor.

After spending a few minutes choosing these effects and settings it was time to stop tweakin’ and start rockin’. While I was wiring up the unit I decide to route the ME-50 through my Little Lehle – Looper/Switcher. I was interested in hearing what the difference would be going straight to the amp vs going through the ME-50 even if all the effects were off. I set my 5F6-A type amp plugging into the Normal channel with the Volume between 9-10 o’clock, Treble 2 o’clock, Bass 9 o’clock, Middle 12 o’clock and Presence at 2 o’clock. 

The Lentz S-type through the ME-50, into 5F6-A amp sounded great. The Spring reverb setting gave just the right amount of ambience and sounded well, springy. The other reverb settings sounded good but I am a little “old school” and opted for the vintage spring sound. It did a pretty nice job of capturing that vibe. If you hit the guitar harder it will “spring” more so there are some dynamics built in to the algorithm.

Still playing clean I engaged the compressor and the sound got nice and clucky for chicken pickin’ and also sounded great for funk chord playing. When holding long notes or chords the sustain was nice and even. You can get a big jump in volume with the compressor for a boost effect for solos.

Next up was the Scream overdrive setting. Using the middle pickup I could get some Texas mojo happening and with the addition of the Bottom and Tone control I could fine tune the girth of the bottom end and the brightness of the top end. Both the Bottom and Tone control had plenty of range to accommodate many different guitars and amps. Again plenty of volume available from the Level control. One cool feature of the Drive control was that the drive effect goes way beyond a stock TS type pedal. The last bit of range on the Drive pot is called Turbo. If you like the sound of the TS setting and want to have a thicker more saturated overdrive just dime the Drive control and its there, still retaining clarity. Using the compressor with the overdrive yielded a Gilmour-like singing overdrive. By turning down the guitars volume control you could clean up the overdrive so it behaved almost like an analog pedal. I am a big fan of the volume control and use it constantly for different tones.

Because of the true single coil pickups there was some extra noise when using the Scream setting. The NS (noise suppressor) did a good job of reducing the noisy hum without killing the tone or sustain. The tone was actually unchanged and sustain rang out, no problem. At extreme settings of the NS however you may notice a little “chattering” at the very tail end of a long sustained note or chord but the noise was reduced long before that happened.  

The Chorus sounded good and had a nice movement to it. At extreme settings you could get a little seasick. But as far as a chorus effect goes it did its turn very well. You could get a sort of Pretenders or Police sound using the bridge pickup on the Lentz S. I like the fact that all the knobs of the ME-50 can be tweaked on the fly. I can turn up the Rate control with my foot to about 3 o’clock to approximate those mid-late 1970’s Danny Gatton Leslie sounds. The sound he used with the Redneck Jazz Explosion. The other modulation choices sounded good as well except for the Tremolo which sounded a bit sluggish and “blocky”. You have to hear it to know what I am describing. Some of the other effects I personally would not use but they are there and easy to dial up quickly.

For a little more ambience I clicked on the Delay. I liked it because it had a slight analog sound but still retained clarity. I had the Sun Sessions rockabilly sound and by varying the Time control with my foot I could vary the delay as much as I needed up to 500ms. One cool setting was called Reverse in the delay section. You could get a Beatles “Rain-like” effect or experiment with some Hendrix foolery. Nice feature.

Using the wah you could get 70’s disco and funk sounds and combined with the Scream you could get the classic overdriven/wah rock sounds. One detail is that a lot of the “action” of the expression pedal occurs at the bottom of the travel. In other words when your foot is on the expression pedal and your toe is pointed up and heel down more of the effect was realized in that range of travel. For some players that use a separate wah pedal the travel may feel different and may take a little getting used to.

The acoustic guitar simulator sounded decent and sounded more realistic in a live band setting than standing on its own. This feature could come in handy for players in cover bands that need to switch between sounds quickly or do not want to carry another guitar. The sound varied depending on what pickup on the guitar you were using. I thought on the Strat type the middle pickup worked best.

The last thing I wanted to try was hearing the difference between the guitar straight to the amp as compared to going through the ME-50 with no effects engaged. With the guitar going straight to the amp via the Little Lehle (which is 100% transparent to my ear) the guitar and amp sounded organic, fat and had a bit of a raw edge. There was plenty of dynamics and just had an overall classic Strat through a 4×10 Bassman vibe. Then switching the Little Lehle and engaging the ME-50 with no effects on, the tone definitely did change. It seems because of the fact that the ME-50 is digital and not any inherent fault of its own; the tone seemed to have a little less depth and lose a little dynamics. Not enough to kill the deal mind you and not enough to notice unless you did an anal A/B test such as this. But I have to report that there was a little something missing maybe in the 10% range if a number could be assigned to it. One other detail is that when you set the Master Level straight up at 12o’clock there is no difference in volume going through the ME-50 or straight to the amp. This is the exact same level.

On the Gig: There were many good things about the ME-50 that worked well on the gigs. First of all this feature packed unit took up very little room on the stage and because I used the AA batteries I only needed to run two cables; one from the guitar and one to the amp, done. The settings I described above in the shop environment were just about the same on the gig. I had to raise the Level of the Scream a bit as well as on the compressor. I may have turned the amp up a bit too but that’s between you and me and not the sound man. Sorry dude! All else was pretty much the same.

The sound was great in a live band setting and all the effects did their job very well. One of my favorite things as I have already mentioned is that all the levels can be tweaked on the fly like the Rate of the chorus and the Time on the delay. Depending on the tune, you could alter these with your foot on the fly. I was messing with these settings all throughout the gigs I took it to.

The tuner was easy to see on darkened stages and worked great. All annunciations were easy to see as well and were not confusing at all. There is a lot going on and Boss did a great job on the layout.

I had all the sounds I needed in one neat little package that sounded great.

Final Analysis: The Boss ME-50 is a great bang for the buck, multi-effects unit that will satisfy the needs of many different players. Even though this is a digital unit it sounds and reacts more analog-like as compared to other digital effects. Small, reliable and loaded with features for $295.00 brand new! Not bad at all.

To balance this review out there were a few cons. First, the Tremolo effect sounded a little sluggish and did not have a warm, bounce to it like you hear on vintage amps or “booteek” tremolo pedals. It did sound better in a live band situation vs listening to it alone however. Second, if you are going to use the ME-50’s sound banks and presets you can expect a slight lag or delay when switching patches. There is a very short sort of silence that occurs and is only noticeable if you are playing while you are switching. I did not use the banks and presets so it did not affect my needs in any way.

So, you are looking for a small, reliable and good sounding multi-effects unit and you are also on somewhat of a budget and want a good bang for the buck then I suggest the Boss ME-50. It’s like a little warehouse of sounds for the working musician.

You can get more information here on the Boss website.