Multi-effects pedals are a relatively new digital alternative to individual effects pedals that essentially combine all your pedals into one device. If you are struggling to decide whether to go the traditional route and purchase individual effects pedals or invest in a digital multi-effects pedal, I’ve got you covered. In this article, I will break down the differences between multi-effects and individual effects pedals to help you decide which route is better for you.
What are individual effects pedals?
A standard effects pedal is a small box that changes your guitar or bass’s sound when your instrument is plugged into it. Each type of individual pedal will have a different effect, and you must invest in several pedals if you want to have a few different sound options to choose from on your pedalboard. Read my in-depth article on effects pedals to learn more about individual pedals.
What is a multi-effects pedal?
A multi-effects pedal is a digital version of a standard stompbox effects pedal. They will usually have a minimum of 3 different switches and up to 10. These switches can be allocated an effect from the multi-effects pedal’s preloaded library or loaded with a digital file. While individual stompboxes generally are analog, multi-effects pedals are digital. The main difference between analog and digital is that analog uses a continuous electrical signal, while digital effects are non-continuous.
Multi-effects pedals vs. individual pedals
Both multi-effects pedals and individual pedals serve the same purpose: to change the sound of your instrument by adding an effect. But the pedals differ in terms of what they are good at. Here are some pros and cons of multi effects pedals.
Pro: multi-effects pedals have TONS of options
If you are after versatility, multi-effects pedals are the clear winner. Some multi-effects pedals have hundreds of effect options, from which you can choose 5 to 10 to use at one time. On the other hand, if you want to use several different individual effects pedals, you’ll have to invest in the specific pedals you wish to use.
Con: “a jack of all trades is a master of none”
One major downside of multi-effects pedals is that they do not generally sound as good as individual pedals. For example, if you just need a great-sounding distortion pedal, I recommend going for an individual analog over a multi-effects pedal, as it will sound much better. Individual pedals specialize in a particular effect, so instead of being able to use an entire library of mediocre guitar effects, you can use a single effect that sounds pristine.
Digital pedals essentially artificially mimic the sound of analog pedals, so cheaper multi-effects pedals may have plenty of different options to choose from, but none of them will sound very good. However, as digital technology improves, these pedals are beginning to sound better and are an excellent choice for guitarists looking for a versatile “one-stop-shop” effects system.
Pro: multi-effects pedals have presets, which makes switching pedals a breeze
Multi-effects units usually have preset options that make switching between effects or channels very easy. You can go through the backlog of effects and settings on the pedal and designate an effect to each “stompbox” switch. This is great for gigging musicians who want a pedalboard that is foolproof and compact. For example, if your multi effects unit has 4 switches you can set it up like this:
Switch 1: Clean channel with a hint of reverb
Switch 2: Crunchy tube overdrive
Switch 3: Powerful lead guitar channel with distortion and boost
Switch 4: Clean modulation (phaser or chorus)
Con: multi-effects pedals are more complex to set up initially
Individual effects pedals are much simpler devices that only affect your sound in one way. In contrast, digital multi-effects pedals are much more complicated and can be programmed to have many different effects. Setting up a multi-effects pedal may involve installing downloaded effects to the pedal and customizing each of the switch settings. Individual pedals require very little customization and are much more foolproof to use.
Pro: individual effects require more equipment
If you want to use more than one individual effects pedal, you must set up your pedals in the proper order and plug them into each other using separate quarter-inch cables. But multi-effects pedals don’t require as much equipment. You’ll simply need to plug one cable into the pedal and one cable from the pedal to the amp.
Con: multi-effects pedals don’t usually sound as good
Multi effects pedals are digital effects, while most stand-alone stompboxes are analog. Analog pedals generally have a warmer, more authentic sound since there are fewer complexities in the process of changing the sound of the guitar.
Con: having more options makes choosing an effect more difficult
Some multi-effects pedals will have up to 10 types of reverb, delay, distortion, overdrive, and more. So choosing the right sound can be difficult and time-consuming. That being said, having access to tons of different effects can be beneficial to guitarists that are want to experiment.
Are multi-effects pedals or individual pedals cheaper?
Guitar gear is rarely cheap, so you should always expect to pay a pretty penny for good quality equipment. Both individual pedals and multi-effects pedals are relatively expensive, but their price can vary greatly. For example, a simple budget multi-effects pedal may cost only $200, while a quality model with tons of settings and features can easily set you back over $1,000!
An individual effects pedal can cost as little as $50. However, you’ll likely need at least 4 to 5 different pedals to set up a pedalboard. So, you can expect to spend around $200 to $500 for a few basic individual pedals.
In general, a pedalboard set up using individual pedals will cost more than a multi-effects pedal.
Which is better?
It is hard to pin down which type of effects pedals are better, as it depends on the type of musician you are and what you are looking for in a pedal.
Buy a multi-effects pedal if…
You want to experiment with different sounds, want the most convenient option, and don’t mind sacrificing sound quality for versatility.
Buy individual effects pedals if…
You want your pedals to sound great, you want your pedals to have a simple, intuitive interface rather than digital screens, and you don’t mind having to use more equipment and cables in your setup.
Multi-effects pedals are fairly new to the market. While they may not sound as authentic as individual analog pedals, they are still great pieces of equipment that many professional musicians use for convenience and versatility.