Guitar Multi-Effects vs. Single Pedals

Since the birth of digital effects, analogue stompboxes have feared for their lives. However, it’s only until recently that digital has come anywhere near the tone of analogue pedals.

Should you buy a multi-effects unit, or build up a pedalboard of individually-selected pedals so that you have the exact effects that you want at your feet?

Jed Van Wyngaardt

Jed Van Wyngaardt

Purists would scoff at the idea of replacing a board of beautiful analogue effects with a pedalboard-shaped computer that processes all of your guitar effects. However, in the modern age, digital multi-effects make a compelling argument for ditching the old-school pedalboard.

Tonally they aren’t far off and the ease-of-use is simply too good to deny, but which one should you go for? Let’s look at the pros and cons of each…

Single Pedals or Stompboxes

Single pedals represent the simplest way to get a standalone effect. The pedal market is flooded with stompboxes and with modern innovation, a lot of these analogue effects will actually have more than one effect, but strictly speaking – a single stompbox gives you a single sound.

Pros of using single stompboxes

  • Stompboxes are easy to mount onto a pedalboard.
  • Single stompboxes are easy to move around within a pedalboard chain. For example: If you want compression before or after your drive pedals, it’s easy enough to change the order of your pedals by physically swapping them around.
  • The ‘single-effect’ nature of stompboxes means that they do what they say on the tin, and you won’t suffer from option-paralysis by having too much choice.
  • There aren’t any small, pesky screens to navigate. You can use the knobs available and your ears to find a sound you like with ease.

Cons of using single stompboxes

  • Stompboxes need to be individually-powered. Often, you’ll need a costly power brick to power multiple pedals properly at once.
  • If you want a different type of effect, even to experiment, you’ll need to go out and buy one.
  • Pedalboards can get big and heavy and you’re limited by the effects that you have on your board.
  • Buying individual pedals can become costly.

multi FX vs single fx

Multi-Effects Units

Multi-effects processors have come a long way since their inception, and they’re only getting better. Units like the Line 6 Helix and Boss GT-1000 have made them a genuine alternative to all-analogue pedalboards without sacrificing tone.

Multi-effects units process a digital algorithm on-the-fly, rather than allowing your signal to pass through resistors and other analogue components that change your tone within a single stompbox. These effects units use DSP chips and as the world perfects digital chips in computer technology, consequently, our digital guitar effects improve.

Pros of Multi-effects units

  • Loads more effects and combinations at the flick of a switch.
  • Multiple types of the same effect. For example: Loads of different delays rather than just ‘digital delay’ or ‘tape delay’ to experiment with.
  • Much easier to experiment with sounds that you normally wouldn’t buy. Who would go out and buy a Ring Modulator?!
  • Easier to experiment with combinations of effects before commiting to buying specific stompboxes.
  • Can be powered by a single power unit rather than multiple outputs from a power brick.
  • Much more scope to edit effects and parameters that you may not touch on a single effects pedal.

Cons of Multi-effects units

  • Having to use small digital screens.
  • Presets are often average and need to be tweaked and edited for use.
  • Too many options can make it confusing and difficult to settle on a sound. Having multiple options makes it harder to choose.
  • They typically don’t sound as good as their analogue counterparts – jack of all trades, master of none.

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Bonus Round: Use DAW Software To Experiment

If you record your guitar with an audio interface and a DAW (or computer software made for recording like Garageband or Pro Tools), you can experiment with different guitar sounds! These programs will often have a built-in guitar amp and pedalboard emulator, and this is a great way to get a feel for sounds.

I used the American Tweed sounds on Amplitube long before I decided that I loved vintage Fender amps with tons of spring verb. It’s a great and affordable way to experiment. You can then go out and buy the analogue equivalents.

multi FX vs single fx 2

Conclusion

If you’re after an all-in-one solution, then multi-effects is the way to go. It’s also much easier to recall complicated presets and signal chains at the touch of a button. Perfect for session players or guitarists in cover bands that want to setup all the different sounds for their set. Or, if you’re still learning and want to experiment or even save a bit of money, go for a multi-fx unit.

However, if you’re after that ‘holy-grail’ tone that you want to become known for, you’re probably going to have to do it the hard way. There’s something incredibly satisfying about dialling in the tone in your head with your analogue pedals knowing that a multi-effects unit hasn’t got ‘your preset’. At least not yet.

Whilst a multi-effects unit might be incredibly versatile, it won’t give you better tone than an analogue, single stompbox chain would. The choice is yours. Personally, I like to use analogue gear with single stompboxes in the studio and a Kemper live – simply because it’s easier to load in and out!

If you liked this article then click here to read all of our Labs articles. If you want a guide to multi-effects pedals click here. Or if you want to read about individual effects click here for our all-encompassing guides.

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Jed Van Wyngaardt
Jed Van Wyngaardt
Jed has worked on our shop floor, handled guitar content on the site and now leads the digital content team. He's equal parts rock frontman/guitarist and wannabe folk singer-songwriter. Jed's a PRS, Tele and Orange Amps lover with an unhealthy obsession with fuzz, octave and ambient effects.

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