The decision to buy multiple stomp-boxes or to just stick with one multi-fx unit for all of your sounds is a decision that most guitarists will encounter at some point in their musical journey. Often there is some stigma surrounding multi-fx pedals in comparison to multiple more specialised single pedals, although as we will discuss there are many multi-fx units that have proved to be very popular amongst guitarists of all abilities and statuses.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Both
Let’s start with the obvious. Having a decent multi-fx unit on your pedalboard or as your entire pedalboard will have loads of advantages over a bunch of single pedals, the main incentive being that you have just about every sound under the sun available at your fingertips. Of course you will most likely be reaching for your reverbs, delays, and possibly to your drives and distortions regularly from the unit, but on the rare occasion you need a flanger or tremolo this will be readily available should you need it. Most of these units have great preset saving options as well, so you are able to load up a different patch from song to song or sections of songs with all the controls preset to the exact same place every time, making these units super consistent. In terms of cost this could be a cheaper option as well, especially if you’re someone who uses a variety of effects who would otherwise have to buy one pedal for each effect you use!
So there are most definitely a lot of advantages to using a multi-fx unit, but what are the trade-offs? One major disadvantage that is an opinion shared amongst many players is that since these units are digital, this will produce a higher quality for some types of effects than others. Digital reverbs/ delays/chorus/tremolos ect are all highly regarded for their crisp and high-fi nature, but when it comes to overdrives and distortions many players prefer these sounds to come from either analog drive pedals or from their amplifier itself. It’s not uncommon to see players use multi-fx units for their actual effects (reverb/delay/chorus/tremolo ect) and use other standalone pedals for other more specialised sounds, especially overdrive.
Not only this but if you like some of the sounds in your multi-fx pedal but others are a little more sub-par, or you want something specific from another reverb pedal for example (e.g. a shimmer reverb), you would still have to go out and purchase a reverb pedal that does this specific task to then place it next to the multi-fx on your pedalboard.
Continuing on from our example of standalone pedals having the ability to create specific sounds, this is one major advantage of having separate units. In this day and age the guitar effects pedal market is extremely oversaturated with an abundance of options for any specific purpose that a player desires. A lot of pedals will re-create famous tones from vintage amplifiers or studio recording equipment that would have previously been unattainable. Now all a player has to do is jump on YouTube to find a whole bunch of extremely high quality demos showing the sounds of the pedal, so that the player can decide just based on online resources what they want to buy.
This option may suit a player who is looking for specific tones that they are a fan of or are looking to re create (e.g. someone who is playing a Pink Floyd tribute gig will be wanting to have very similar tones to David Gilmour). These specific and extremely high quality pedals may give the player exactly what they are looking for rather than the perhaps more generic sounds found in the multi-fx.
So it’s looking pretty good in the standalone effects corner at the moment, although with more options and the ability to specialise your unique tone does come with some other points to consider. If you’re into the more boutique pedals from smaller companies making these more specialised units, this will of course come with a higher price tag. Over the past few decades the boutique pedal trend has become extremely popular, with people often paying into the thousands for a single pedal due to its rarity and popularity. Once you have a few pedals in your chain this will also mean that other accessories are needed, such as a pedalboard, power supply, cabling, and a road case, further adding to the overall cost. If players are building their pedalboards over time this may not be too much of an issue, but for someone who is in need of a set-lists worth of tones quickly, this could be quite the investment.
Which is Best for Me?
There are obviously a few things to consider when going down the effects route as we have discussed above, but which option will suit the player best really comes down to what sort of musician they are. For example, someone who needs access to an array of different tones from song to song, or even multiple different tones for each song would really need a setup with good preset and patch change functionality, meaning the multi-fx unit would come in very handy here.
This could be a touring musician who needs to access a bunch of different tones from an artists setlist, a cover gig musician who needs to recall tones from different songs from all different time periods throughout their set, or a studio/session musician who needs to come up with tones instantly which sometimes can be more ‘left-of-field’ to create a unique mood over a track. Many of these types of players may also use a hybrid setup, for example having a multi-fx pedal for their wet effects (reverb/delay/chorus/tremolo ect) and singular pedals for their overdrives and distortions.
The type of player who may prefer to stick to the more specialised sounds offered in the singular stomp-box units may be looking to create their own unique tone, meaning this could be someone writing and performing their own music in a band or as a solo artist. This may mean that this player has their sound that they like which is consistent over their material, which would result in them not needing access to the thousands of sounds in the multi-fx. It is likely that they may also need less variation in tones, and may only step on their pedals a few times throughout their setlist, rather than multiple times a song like the session musician.
This would mean that they just need a few basic effects on the floor to give them their core sound. Another example is a musician who is going for a very specific tone of a player that they admire, meaning this could be someone in a tribute act who is trying to replicate the tone of a famous player as closely as they can. This player would be able to find out online what gear this famous guitarist used, to then purchase pedals that replicate this tone very accurately.
Some Examples of Multi-fx Units
If you think that you are on the side of wanting standalone stomp-boxes to create a specific tone, then jump online and research just what sounds you are after so you can see all of the options available to you! If you think that you may be leaning towards the multi-fx route, here are a few options to check out.
The Line 6 M5/M9/M13 series has been popular amongst guitarists for over a decade and still stands up against the more modern and boutique options available. The option of purchasing a unit with the specific amount of specific foot switches with the same library of tones in the unit is also a huge plus, meaning there is the option of the bigger M13 which may appeal to someone is looking to only use this unit as their entire pedalboard, or the smaller M5/M9 units if the player is creating a hybrid setup with other pedals.
The Mooer Red Truck is a more recent addition to the multi-fx market in the last few years giving a solid option of a more simple unit to get a player started with all of the core effects, or for a player who perhaps has a bigger setup but wants something a little more portable for rehearsals or fly dates. This unit is also quite small and would fit in a players luggage or in the front of their gig bag. Regarded as one of the kings of the multi-fx community for some time, the Eventide H9 has had a longstanding reputation for being a high quality and extremely tweak-able unit with a small footprint, making it perfect as an addition to an existing pedalboard. This unit also comes with the ability to tweak the sounds on the app via bluetooth, making it extremely easy to dial in the exact tone you are looking for whilst also being able to save a bunch of presets into setlists.
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