Multi-effect Pedals for Guitarists: Testing 6 of the Best
All guitar players know it: the addiction and continuous cycle of buying, trying, and discarding various effects pedals. Changing your setup because you didn’t like the sound of the delay’s feedback last night, or because your distortion wasn’t metal enough, or your tube screamer is not driving your amp just right. I feel your pain my friends; I’ve been there too.
For analog junkies like us the traditional way has always been to have one pedal for each effect. Digital multi-effects – those big boxes with lots of buttons and digital recreations of every sound imaginable -have been looked down on or viewed as for beginners only. However, they have been getting better and better each year, and more varied. It’s not uncommon to see professional guitarists on stage now with just one multi-effects box replacing the huge pedalboard of yesterday.
I myself have partially crossed to the dark side and started to use multi-effects pedals in combination with my analog pedals. Now, I have a relatively smaller board, less back pain, and I can go to restaurants more often with my girlfriend since I quit buying new pedals all the time.
So maybe it’s time we took a look at some multi effects and what they can do. We tested a few of them here to give you a taste of the pros and cons of each multi-effect.
TC Electronic Nova System
TC Electronic is known for making very solid products that never break down. They have a range of digital and semi-analog multi effects.
The TC Electronic Nova System has 6 effects buttons, plus one drive and tap tempo button. You can set the routing as either serial or parallel. It can also control external midi devices like another pedal, vocal processor, etc., or it can be controlled by midi for switching channels. You can use it either as an analog setup (individual footswitch for each effect on/off), or in memory mode to switch between preset sounds.
I loved its modulation effects like tremolo, phaser and octaver/harmonizer. On the downside, the chorus and drives weren’t very usable from my point of view.
It’s a bit heavy, but not so big and comes at an affordable price. This is one of my favorite pedals. I used it for a very long time, and it was kind of my best friend for every gig.
Boss is one of the leaders in multi-effect production, and the GT-10 is their flagship model. It has everything a guitarist needs for a gig and can be a stand-alone setup: 4 Buttons of effects and 2 buttons of control plus an expression pedal. It has a looper of 40 seconds, and a USB connection helps you to prepare your presets on computer easily. It also has amp simulation which does pretty good work, so you can plug directly into the PA system and leave your amp at home.
This pedal is very easy to set-up and handle; finding a good sound is not complicated. I didn’t like the sound of its drives very much but its collection of Boss sounds inside is very impressive. It is not the cheapest pedal on the market but it it’s a perfect solution if you want an all-in-one solution.
Line6 M Series
Line 6 is another of the leaders in multi-effect production, and they offer several different ranges for different purposes. The M series from Line 6 are stompbox modelers, meant to replicate the sound of analog pedals in a size and price-friendly way. If you have an analog set-up they fit in perfectly!
I have been using the Line 6 M5, the single stompbox version, with my Nova System and controlling it by midi. So when I switch a preset the M5 jumps directly to the sound I want, which is very practical. The effects are very good and easy to control, even on the stage. The drives are surprisingly good and analog-sounding. The M9 adds the ability to have 3 sounds at once and 24 presets, while the M13 is the large all-in-one solution. You can combine many effects at the same time or just use like an analog setup. And none of them are that expensive, so they are worth checking out!
TC Electronic G System
This pedal is the top of TC Electronic’s offering and is very popular – and deservedly so.
The effects on it are so good, including the drive sounds, that you can’t stop playing. A unique and useful feature are the four effects loops, where you can include other stompboxes in the chain and recall them with presets. It even includes four 9V DC outlets. A very useful solution so that this can truly be a full pedalboard.
The effects processor is mounted under the pedalboard, and it can be separated and put into a rack unit while the controls stay on the floor.
The downside of this one: it’s expensive.
Line6 Helix Floor
I tried this pedal in Musikmesse, and it was one of the best-sounding multi-effects processors that I have heard.
Among its modelling capabilities it has 104 effects, 62 amps, 37 cabs, and even 16 different microphones. Whether anyone could try all of those is another issue, but at least everyone can find the sound they are looking for.
At the beginning it seems complicated to set up but it goes fast after you start to understand it. It has a large screen that is very helpful in programming. Another great feature is that every switch has a small screen showing what that button does - Finally somebody made it right? Like the G System it hsa the capability to add up to 4 external pedals in loops, so you can control your rig with it. Having two programmable expression pedals is also a unique feature.
The Line 6 Helix is certainly one of the best multi-effects pedal in the market but also one of the most expensive.
The Boss MS-3 is the pedal that I’m using currently. It’s small, lightweight, and the effects are very good. Plus, it has three loop channels to include external effect pedals. I include my drive pedals in these and added an expression pedal and a two-button footswitch, and the end result is just perfect. A lightweight and compact pedalboard that sounds great.
You can either use it in memory mode, saving presets with many effects combined into one sound, or in manual mode for each effect on/off like an analog set up. You can easily set up your sounds by connecting to your computer by USB.
Compared to other pedals in the market it is reasonably priced for the size and functionality it has.
Of course pedals are cool, but you should never forget that the primary elements affecting tone are your guitar, amp, and fingers!
These are just a few of the multi-effects on the market. If you want to add your experiences with a different one, leave a comment below.