A multi-effects processor attempts to recreate the sounds of many different stomp boxes via digital modeling, all in one box. They are usually larger than a regular analog pedal and the classic guitarist’s debate is which are better, multi-effects units or single stompboxes.
The consensus is decidedly mixed, with a lot of guitar players firmly in one corner or the other, and probably more still using a bit of everything. (If you are in the market for a multi, check out our top multi-effects processors for under $200. –Dave)
One thing to consider is how you are going to use your pedal(s). If you are just starting out, (and you ain’t got no money!), and want to sample a bunch of different sounds, then you might want to go with a multi-effects box. You’ve got a ton of different sounds to play with–it’s a knob tweaker’s paradise.
Especially if you are on a budget, a multi-effects unit can open up the world of phasers, flangers and ring modulators. And then later, when your ear (and wallet) are ready for a little more, you can go for the classic sounds of a dedicated, analog stompbox like an MXR or Fuzzface.
Here are some good reasons for both.
1. Analog Sound: Purists will claim that stompboxes will always be superior to digital multi-effects due to their analogue circuitry. To them, digital is a bit sterile, without the organic and evolving textures that classic guitar pedals can give.
2. Ease of Use: With their volume, tone, and effects dials mounted on top, your sound can be changed easily with an analog effects pedal. Back off the gain slightly here, ratchet up the phase there, a simple turn of the knob and you get the tone you want. Compare that with the tedium of scrolling through menus and settings that you get with multi-effects units. Menu-Settings-Distortion-Gain-Level-Yawn! And don’t forget to hit save twice or you’ll have to do it again! Compared with this, pedals are a model of simplicity and ease of use.
3. Mixing It Up: When building your pedal board, you can put the classic sounds of all the different effects giants together. Start off with your Vox wah for the Hendrix sound, mix it with a Boss DS-1 for that Cobain wail, then maybe an Electro Harmonix Memory Man for that Edge-style delay. Get a multi-effects unit and you’re pretty much stuck with that company’s sounds, or their approximations of what they think are classic sounds.
4. Looks: A row of stompboxes just looks cooler than a multi-effects board, enough said.
Multi-Effects Unit Pros
1. Power Supply: Although it won’t last as long as a single pedal, one of the main benefits of the single multi-effects unit is that they only require one power source. Get yourself a good adapter and you are sorted. You can of course buy a dedicated pedal board that comes with its power supply for your stompboxes, but that’s going to cost you.
2. Pre-Programmed Sounds: Even the cheapest budget multi-effects unit will have a large selection of effects and sounds, and patches to store your sounds on. Instead of dancing around the pedal board then in the middle of songs, you can preset your sounds and move between them easily in the course of the song without any hassle.
3. Don’t have to buy/carry around a ton of short cables: Another cost saved with the multi-effects unit are the short leads that you won’t have to buy to connect all the stompboxes together. An added bonus to this is that you’ll often find that one of those leads will be creating a buzz, and you’ll have to go through each one to find the problem. Another little hassle avoided with the multi-effects unit. They also provide noise gates to get rid of any hiss and hum from your sound if you use a lot of gain or fuzz.
4. Portability: You’ll save yourself a lot of effort if you have all your sounds programmed into the multi-effects unit rather than needing a whole board full of pedals if you’re a gigging guitarist. Single pedals also have a habit of growing legs after gigs, so you’ll be glad if you only have one unit to keep an eye on apart from your guitar and amp.
5. Variety: Unless you’re rich or a particularly skilled thief, it’s going to take you a while to amass all the sounds you get from a single multi-effects unit with single stompboxes. Also, bear in mind that multi-effects won’t just include one type of reverb or delay either, they have a selection, as well as your distortions, overdrives, fuzz etc. all in one pedal!
In the end
…as always, let your budget and ear make the final decision. If you’ve only got $100 to spend then maybe you go with a multi-effects processor. If you’ve got $100 now, and maybe could fork out $100 later, then you might start picking up individual pedals. Then let your ear be the final judge.
Tell us about your setup in the comments below! –Dave