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When it comes to guitar gear, there is no absolute right or wrong.
Some people like digital or solid-state gear. Others like analog or tube gear. Some people like to use individual high-end compact pedals. Others like multi-effects units that have everything conveniently in one place. And still others use a mix of different pieces of gear to achieve interesting results.
I’ve found that most guitarists sound just like themselves no matter what they plug into. So, that means your tone is more in your fingers than anything else. But you will still have your preferences in terms of what you like and don’t like.
Multi effects units are convenient for a lot of reasons. They often have a great recorded sound. You don’t have to carry dozens of compact pedals to do everything you can with a multi effects processor. Plus, you can pull a lot of different tones out of a multi effects unit, whereas your amp might be a little limited in this regard.
So, what are some of the best units on the market? Read on.
1. HeadRush Pedalboard Guitar Amp & FX Modeling Processor
One glance at the HeadRush, and you’ll know instantly it’s a little different from other multi effects units. For one thing, it has more switches than knobs! Too many knobs can seem intimidating, and can slow down your tone crafting process as you mess with an endless set of options and second guess your own ears.
As with most multi effects units, the HeadRush contains over 100 effects, amps, cabinets, and microphone models, giving you a great deal of tonal flexibility. It also comes with a high-resolution touch interface, a MIDI input and output, as well as a looper with up to 20 minutes of recording time.
But again, it isn’t about the features, since most of the same ones can now be found in most multi effects units, and even plugins for Digital Audio Workstations. It’s the fact that it sounds great. But then again, you would sure hope so.
2. Line 6 POD HD500X Guitar Floor Multi-Effects Pedal
Line 6 is a company that specializes in multi effects and modeling.
The POD HD500X isn’t necessarily their newest offering – but it is still among one of their most popular. POD units have been around for a long time, and are loved by many guitarists (but also hated by some). One of my favorite guitarists, Pete Lesperance (from Harem Scarem), used to use a POD for recording his parts on their albums, so if you know what you’re doing, you can pull some great tones out of it.
The HD500X includes a large collection of HD amps and effects, gives you the ability to customize your setup to the nth degree, can be a great piece of gear for both live and in the studio, and more.
You can get a great price for this Line 6 unit.
3. DigiTech RP1000 Integrated-Effects Switching System
DigiTech is another known name in the multi effects space, and that’s probably because their pedals are generally affordable, and easy targets for beginners. Then again, I know seasoned players that also love these units, so you just never know.
The RP1000 is no exception. It’s been specifically designed to work with your existing setup of amps and effects. It contains over 160 amps, cabinets, stomp boxes and effects, and comes with a built-in expression pedal.
And you know what? The DigiTech doesn’t sound half bad. As with most units, it’s mostly about knowing how to set it up with your rig to get an optimal sound. That may take some experimentation and fiddling, but for a lower price than some of the others, there’s basically no reason to complain.
4. Boss GT-100 Guitar Multi-Effects Pedal
Boss is a well-known name in the effect pedal worlds. This isn’t to suggest their products are necessarily the best – of any pedals, they tend to be the most modified by their users. That should tell you something.
If you buy the GT-100, you will get everything mentioned in the product description: COSM amp models, most common effect types, dual-LCD user interface, and so on.
But for me, that’s where it stops. This is just my opinion, and you may feel differently about Boss’ offerings. But I find the tones artificial and lacking. The GT-100 is a major improvement over the GT-8, no doubt, and as with past GT units, it still has everything conveniently in one place, but I don’t find the tones quite as convincing as I think they should be.
Still, the Boss is worth a look, and it could just be the right one for you.
5. Zoom G3Xn Multi-Effects Processor With Expression Pedal For Guitarists
There are a lot of great multi effects processors on the market now. But when I first started looking at them, they were still in their infancy and many disappointed me.
The Zoom G3X was the first pedal that truly impressed me, and the G3Xn (shown above) is the newer improved version. With the original Zoom G3X, I listened to one sound clip after another, and I thought to myself “this is great”. But I wondered if I was setting myself up for disappointment. Would it sound just as good if I bought one and brought it home to try it out?
Well, I will say that not all tones are authentic or of the best quality, but I was not disappointed. In many ways, it was exactly what I was looking for. Great tones, great stomp box effects, a looper, a tuner, XLR out, and so much more. And I simply couldn’t believe the price!
That’s still how I feel about the Zoom G3X. Sure, you get what you pay for, and you can get even better units for more, but in some cases, it’s not worth the upgrade, because a $400 to $500 unit might only be marginally better, if at all.
The G3Xn is essentially the newer, better version of the G3X. It has new amp and cabinet emulators, and allows you to use up to seven effects at the same time.
So, if you’re not sure what to buy, if you’re new to multi effects units, or you’re looking for something that fits your budget, I think this Zoom will do just fine in a pinch.
Can A Multi Effects Pedal Be Used With An Amplifier?
Yes. But mixing the two can be problematic.
What I mean is that your amplifier already has a certain tonal color. So, if you plug your multi effects unit directly into your amp and use an amp model on your effects processor simultaneously, you’re going to get some interesting results. Your amp will color the tone coming from your effects pedal, and the two won’t always play nice.
Some units, like the RP1000, were built to work around this issue. But many aren’t.
If you’re recording directly from your effects unit, this isn’t an issue, and many of them are designed for this application.
But if you’re plugging into an amp, you might consider taking a different approach. One thing that can work is plugging into the effects return of your amp. This can bypass your amp’s inherent tonal color, but in my opinion often sounds mechanical, robotic, possibly even inauthentic. Another thing that you can do is find an amp with the purest clean tone possible and color it with your pedal (Fender Bassman and Roland JC-120 are popular options). Finally, you could just plug into a proper speaker or PA system.
Basically, there are little workarounds that can work, depending on your rig. If you’re just using the effects from your pedal, and not the amp modeling features, oftentimes this works just fine.
Is It Better To Buy A Multi Effects Pedal Or Many Compact Pedals?
The jury is out on this. It mostly comes down to your preferences.
As I was saying earlier, my favorite guitarist, Pete Lesperance, used a Line 6 POD to achieve his tone for many years. This surprised me, because I had used many similar units, and mostly ended up hating them. For the most part, he isn’t into tube amps either.
I have a friend who insists on high-quality compact pedals. His collection is rather large. And, to be fair, I like how they sound, and they complement his playing style. If you’re willing to pay more, you can get a better-quality sound.
As for me, I tend not to use a ton of effects, and I don’t place a lot of demand on them to help my sound. Delay, chorus, reverb, wah, octaver, maybe the occasional phaser or flange is all I tend to use. If I’m looking for something a little different, I might spend a little more time menu-surfing on my multi effects pedal, but I tend to like the pure sound of an amp (if I like the amp). If I’m recording, I still like the flexibility of a multi effects pedal in case I’m creatively inspired.
Will you get a better sound from compact pedals versus a multi effects pedal? In general, yes, but it also depends on the quality of pedals you’re using.
If I Buy A Multi Effects Pedal, Can I Get Away With Not Buying An Amp?
In some cases, yes, but there are a few things to think about.
First, a multi effects pedal will sound different through different sound systems. If you aren’t a stickler, you’ll probably be okay with this, but if you’re particular about your tone, you might be a little surprised at how you sound through certain systems and certain venues.
Second, and this goes hand in hand with the first point, you’re going to have to rely on the sound tech to make you sound good. Every sound tech is a little different, so they’re all going to mix you differently. Not too big of a deal if you’re happy with the sound coming through a stage monitor, but you won’t know how you’re sounding through the mains.
Neither of these are issues if your sound tech remains the same from gig to gig, and you’re always using the same sound system.
Multi effects pedals are convenient for a lot of reasons. Some sound techs will love you for using one, because they’ll have complete control over your volume and tone (which means they’ll probably mix you well). Some may not care that much. Also, you won’t have to haul around as much gear to get your tones. So, while there are some things to be aware of, a multi effects pedal could potentially be your all-in-one studio and live rig if you want it to be.
Can You Save Some Space Using A Multi Effects Pedal As Opposed To Compact Pedals?
The amount of space pedals can take up on stage can be a bit of a concern.
The friend I mentioned earlier has a massive pedalboard, and it’s a lot of work to haul around. Not surprising considering how many effects he has.
In theory, a multi effects pedal can help you save some space onstage. They tend not to be small, but they also don’t take up a massive amount of space, considering how they tend to come with hundreds of amp models, cabinets, effects, and so on.
Some units, like the HeadRush are specifically built for use onstage and will light up to help you see where the switches are.
How Many Effects Can You Run Simultaneously With A Multi Effects Pedal?
This depends on the exact pedal you’re using, but it’s safe to say they all have their limitations.
In my opinion, after a certain point, too many effects are just too many effects, and I don’t see the point in applying that many. I know some guitarists that are incredible with effects, and they know all the ins and outs. I’m not one of those people, so I don’t try to stack too many. The seven that the G3Xn allow for are just fine with me.
A guitarist’s rig is often deeply individual. Sure, you’ll find the occasional player that doesn’t care that much (i.e. Jack White), but even that is an esthetic or style of sorts.
What works for you may not be what works for others. Don’t worry about that. I had to go through a lot of amps and pedals to find what I liked. You may need to do the same. Be willing to experiment.