Even for serious tone-hounds, ‘multi-effects pedal’ is no longer a dirty term. Thanks to powerful DSP capabilities, the synthetic-sounding units of the past have matured into one-stop solutions capable of producing authentic effects plus amp and cab simulations that are tough to distinguish from the real thing. It’s little wonder that many guitarists are ditching dedicated stompboxes and elaborate pedalboards for these multi-talented devices.
Buying a multi-effects pedal: What to look for?
Some multi-effects pedals were designed to deliver a handful of key effects, while others may focus on offering a DSP smorgasbord, expandable with as many downloadable amp and speaker simulations and effects as the internet can provide. It can be tempting to compare them simply by numbers, though that may not be the most beneficial approach.
Like purchasing any other piece of gear, it’s important to consider what you would actually need. Smaller-form devices such as the TC Electronic Plethora X5 can easily fit in with other stompboxes on a pedalboard, while more substantial offerings such as the Kemper Profiler Stage were not only designed to outright replace your pedalboard, but your amplifier and cabinet as well.
Compared to the plasticky multi-effects pedals of the 1990s, these days, modern multi-effects pedals come much more fully-featured. It’s common for most to be equipped with a built-in looper, or to double as an audio interface. But some will even boast Bluetooth connectivity for app-based tone sculpting, or utilise Impulse Response tech to let you mimic (and replace) pieces of gear from your rig. These options could come at a premium, however, so it’s vital to decide if they would truly benefit your setup.
The best multi-effects pedals in 2020 – at a glance:
- TC Electronic Plethora X5
- Carl Martin Acoustic GiG
- Mooer GE250
- Line 6 POD Go
- Eventide H9 Max Harmonizer
- Line 6 HX Stomp
- Boss MS-3
- Tech 21 Fly Rig 5
- Nux MG-100
- Behringer FX600
- Kemper Profiler Stage
- Zoom G3Xn
- Boss GT-1000
- T-Rex SoulMate
- HeadRush Gigboard
TC Electronic Plethora
+ Infinitely expandable
+ Easy to operate
– No amp modelling
First teased way back in September of 2019 as the long-awaited ‘TonePrint Pedalboard’, the plethora opens up TC Electronic’s signature TonePrint technology into something more versatile and customisable. The unit itself lets you put together preset ‘boards,’ each made up of five different effects – most directly mimicking a TC Electronic classic, such as the Hall Of Fame reverb. You can also add your own effects to the mix with an external effects loop, and wirelessly edit presets using your phone and the TonePrint app. With cab simulation and a rather busy I/O section, this unit is certainly capable of replacing an entire pedalboard/amp rig.
While it may not offer the same deep-level signal chain manipulation as some of the more powerful products on this list, if you’re already a fan of TC Electronic’s effects this might be for you.
Price: £395/$750 Type: Multi-effects w/ Toneprint Amp Models: N/A Effects: 75 Toneprints (5 at a time, 127 custom pedalboard combinations) I/O: 2x quarter-inch inputs, 2x quarter-inch outputs, quarter-inch send and return, MIDI in/thru, 1x quarter-inch expression out
Carl Martin Acoustic GiG
+ Designed for acoustic players
+ Lightweight and portable
– Slightly pricey
When discussing multi-effects units, it’s usually electric players who are being considered – perhaps they’re looking to condense a spaceship-sized pedalboard into a single unit, or are looking for something more portable than a vintage tube amp. But for the acoustic player, multi-effects pedals often take a suitably more subtle approach – one that does just that is the Carl Martin Acoustic GiG. It does what it says on the tin, in that it focuses on the things acoustic players need most when playing live.
There might not be a component-level simulation of a Klon, but there is a preamp, a compressor, echo, reverb and a boost all neatly packaged into one portable unit. They’re also all voiced to take piezo pickups, so there’s none of that unwanted ‘quack’ you might get when using an electric-focused unit. To make gigs go easier there’s also a tuner and tap-tempo for the echo, as well as the option for XLR or quarter-inch out. And, if you’re concerned about feedback when boosting your signal, the Acoustic GiG is loaded with a phase inverter.
Price: £479/$630 Type: Multi-effects for acoustic guitar Amp Models: N/A Effects: 5 (preamp, compressor, echo, reverb and boost) I/O: 1x 1/4” inputs, 1x 1/4 output, 1x XLR out, 1/4” send and return
+ Third-party IR loading
+ Amp profiling capabilities
– Not as fully featured as the GE300
Mooer‘s latest multi-effects unit is a fair bit more portable and every bit as powerful. Taking cues from the GE300, There are 11 blocks into which you can load a combination of 180 effects. These can run into 70 included amp models, as well as 32 impulse-response-based speaker cabinet models. The support for third-party IRs has also been expanded to allow for higher-resolution files compared to the GE300. If this hefty number of amps doesn’t quite cut it, or you don’t want to abandon your regular amp rig entirely, the unit also lets you use Mooer’s Tone Capture tech to create a model of your real amplifier.
Price: £366/$450 Type: Multi-effects w/ IR loading Amp Models: 70 Effects: 180 I/O: 1x 1/4” input, 2x 1/4”outputs, 2x XLR outputs
Line 6 POD Go
+ Plenty of amp models and effects on hand
+ Third-party IR loading
– No XLR outputs
Line 6’s brand new Pod Go debuted at Winter NAMM 2020, and from what we heard there it certainly impressed. At first glance, it has more in common with the Helix than the old Pod units, and that’s true under the hood too, as it runs off the same base modelling software. This means it comes loaded with more than 300 amps and effects taken from Line 6’s Helix, M-Series and legacy libraries. If that’s not enough, it also accepts third-party IRs.
It’s a little more streamlined than the fully fledged Helix units, letting you run up to six simultaneous amp, cab and effect blocks at any one time. The new Snapshot feature also lets you create four further variations on a preset and switch between them at the push of a footswitch. There’s also the notable addition of an expression pedal, which has been squeezed into the unit’s relatively small footprint of 313 x 520 x 148mm.
Price: £513/$630 Type: Multi-effects pedal w/ IR loading Amp Models: Over 300 Effects: Over 270 I/O: 1x 1/4” input, 2x 1/4″ main out, 1x 1/4” amp out, 1/4” send and return
Eventide H9 Max Harmonizer
+ Deeply programmable
+ Studio-quality sounds
– Limited controls for tap dancing
While Eventide’s H9 Max Harmonizer is reminiscent of HAL 9000, we assure you it isn’t out to murder you. It does, however, have killer, studio-quality sound, a wealth of onboard effects, and deep programmability to appease even the most critical tone snob. The H9 Max may very well be the desert-island pedal for sessionists and studio musicians.
The H9 Max loads its algorithms from Eventide’s TimeFactor (delay), ModFactor (modulation), PitchFactor (pitch shifting) and Space (reverb) pedals, as well as a few designed specifically for it – there are 49 algorithms in total.
These include standard ones such as chorus, phaser, overdrive/distortion and vibrato, but also far-out ones like a pitch-shifting, delayed fuzz and the Space’s acclaimed BlackHole. So the H9 feels right at home on your rendition of Black Dog as it does on any Tom Morello lick. And needless to say, these algorithms sound identical to those on the full-sized pedals.
In terms of controls, you only have one knob and five buttons to summon all those sounds. But they’re streamlined enough: The X, Y, and Z buttons each activate a particular parameter, whose value can then be adjusted via the dial. These are just the ‘top-level’ parameters on each effect that Eventide believes to be the most commonly accessed. Bringing up the others requires some button-mashing action. To toggle between presets or algorithms, hit the Presets buttons and begin scrolling with the big dial.
The real magic of the H9 Max lies in Eventide’s H9 Control app. Think of this as the ‘command centre’ for the stompbox. It lets you load and create presets, manage parameters, and even control the H9 remotely via Bluetooth. The app is also the home for the tonne – more than 500 – of presets and algorithms that you can download.
Price: $699/£629 Type: Multi-effects stompbox Amp Models: N/A Effects: 49 I/O: 2x 1/4” inputs, 2x 1/4” outputs
Line 6 HX Stomp
+ Compact size to fit onto pedalboard
+ 300 amps, cabinets and effects
– No onboard expression pedal
The smaller sibling to Line 6’s HX Effects, the HX Stomp is a compact programmable unit brimming with amp and cab sims, effects as well as impulse response (IR). The HX Stomp’s array of capabilities makes it well-suited to different usages. You can deploy it as a ‘super stompbox’, an add-on for other modellers, an audio interface or as a main guitar rig.
Powering the HX Stomp is Line 6’s acclaimed DSP and HX Modelling technology, which were both used for the brand’s flagship Helix guitar processors. As for tone options, you won’t be left wanting: the unit arrives with over 300 sonic choices spanning amps, cabs, and effects. There’s also a treat for fans of Line 6’s legacy effects, with the brand porting over effects from its M-series pedals along with four classic stompbox modelers: DL4, MM4, FM4, and DM4. Topping the feature set are a vividly coloured LCD screen and three capacitive-sensing footswitches featuring LED rings.
Price: $559/£558 Type: Compact multi-effects pedal Amp Models: 77 (with 37 cabinet sims) Effects: 206 I/O: 2x 1/4” inputs, 2x 1/4” output, 1/4” send and return, MIDI in/out, 1/4” expression in
+ External loop switching system
+ Well thought out UI
– Planning ahead required
If you’re on the hunt for an effects loop switcher with a quality multi-effects engine, look no further than Boss’ MS-3. Although the device stands out as a routing workhorse – it has three independent effects loops – it also fills in the gaps for effects that you may be lacking. MS-3 boasts over a hundred effects spanning conventional types like OD and reverb on top of unique options such as Slicer and Slow Gear. What’s more, you can deploy six of these simultaneously in a patch.
And while the MS-3 can fill the gaps in your current rig, it does require some planning – especially if you’re thinking about using it in a live performance. A limitation with the MS-3 is the inability to change the sequence of the loops, so chart your signal paths carefully.
Thanks to the large LCD screen, navigating the many effects menus is relatively painless. It may take you a few tries if you’re unfamiliar with Boss’ user interface, but you’ll get there quickly. Alternatively, you can also hook the unit up to the computer via USB and use Boss’ free editor software to plan your presets.
To tie things up, the MS-3 also has a wide array of I/O options at the back, including MIDI and expression control. Once you’ve set it up to your liking, you’re going to love how the MS-3 integrates with your rig.
Price: $559/£439 Type: Multi-effects pedal w/ external loop switching Amp Models: N/A Effects: 118 I/O: Input (1x 1/4” instrument, 3x 1/4” loop returns, 2x 1/4” control in/expression), output ( 2x 1/4” main, 3x 1/4” loop sends, 1x 1/4” control out) MIDI out
Tech 21 Fly Rig 5
+ Quality sounding effects
– Limited functionality
Released in 2014, Tech 21’s Fly Rig earned plaudits for offering great tone in a slimmed-down pedal format. Besides its wealth of effects, the original Fly Rig’s star feature was the all-analogue SansAmp technology, which gave it the sound and feel of a real stompbox.
With the fifth version of the pedal, Tech 21 has updated the original Fly Rig recipe with an independent reverb – which lets you modify room sizes – a tuner, an XLR output as well as an effects loop. This gives it a total of five effects. The SansAmp technology has, of course, been retained, alongside familiar options such as the Plexi/Cali crunch option along with the vintage tape echo features tap tempo.
Price: $425 Type: Multi-effects pedalboard Amp Models: N/A Effects: 5 (boost, plexi, blonde, delay and reverb) I/O: 1x 1/4” input, 1x 1/4” main output, 1x XLR balanced output
+ Entry-level price
+ Onboard amp emulations
– Not the best sounds
The NUX MG-100 is an entry-level multi-effects processor that’s tailored to beginner guitarists. And it has a price tag to match: it’s only $100.
It gives you a taste of effects-chaining by letting you pick out eight effects – from a total of 58 – and have them engaged simultaneously. The pedal’s effects library includes your customary drives, reverbs, modulations and delays alongside utility options such as a compressor, a six-band EQ as well as a noise gate.
In addition to the 58 effects, the MG-100 also arms you with 13 amp and 11 cabinet emulations. You’ll have a choice of classics – such as tweed Fenders, an AC30 and a JCM800 – as well as a curiously named “Death Zone” amp model.
The MG-100 doesn’t only excel in the effects and amp/sim categories – its in-built drum machine and looper make it great for gigging and practice, too. The former equips you with 56 rhythm patterns, while the latter allows unlimited overdubs of 40 seconds each. With these in tow, practice should be a breeze.
Price: £81/$99 Type: Multi-effects pedal Amp Models: 13 (11 cab) Effects: 58 I/O: 1x 1/4” input, 1x 1/4” output, 1x aux input
+ Affordable price tag
+ Stompbox form factor
– Limited capabilities
It’s probably a surprise to see this one on a list of best multi-effects pedals. But for the price of four packs of strings, Behringer’s FX600 is one of the most value-for-money stompboxes – let alone multi-effects units – you can find.
The pedal arms you with six modes – flanger, chorus, phaser, delay, tremolo and pitch shifter – but there are no drive or ’verbs available. They’re all digital effects, though, so expect them to be clear, bright and a tad shrill. And you can only run one effect at a time.
Unlike other multi-fx units on this list, the FX600 doesn’t have an LCD screen. It does, however, feature a user-friendly layout of four controls, which includes an output knob, two parameter knobs as well as a mode selector. The two parameter knobs have contextual functions that differ from effect to effect. For example, in the pitch shifter mode, Parameter 1 adjusts the higher octave while Parameter 2 tweaks the lower octave. But when you’re on the phaser, chorus or flanger, the former adjusts the effects’ speed, and the latter their depth.
Price: £49/$60 Type: Multi-effects stompbox Amp Models: N/A Effects: 5 I/O: 2x 1/4” inputs, 2x 1/4” outputs
Kemper Profiler Stage
+ Game-changing profiling technology
+ Infinitely expandable
– A serious investment
Since its release several years ago, Kemper’s Profiler amp has set the benchmark for digital modelling amps. And at Summer NAMM in July, the German company repackaged its flagship product as a floor unit: the Profiler Stage.
Like its larger sibling, the Profiler Stage is a fully fledged multi-effects unit and amp modelling beast. The new device features Kemper’s game-changing Profiling technology – touted to replicate the sound of any amp – along with an exhaustive library of real-world amp profiles.
As for controls, the floorboard unit sports five preset buttons – that grant access to your rigs – and four buttons that trigger up to four effects (or groups of effects) within a chosen rig. There are nine classes of effects, ranging from distortion to wah to pitch shifters, with several modes in each class. Many of these are, like the amps, based on real units, which include Tube Screamers, UniVibes and even a Fender spring reverb tank from 1963.
These effects are complemented by a tuner, looper, effects loop and tap tempo feature. You’ll also be able to easily view all your changes on stage via the Profiler Stage’s smart two-colour display, which automatically tunes the contrast and brightness settings to your environment.
Price: £1,450/$1,700 Type: Amp Modeling Profiler, Multi-FX Pedalboard Amp Models: Hundreds preinstalled Effects: 72 onboard (expandable with downloads) I/O: Inputs (1x 1/4″ instrument, 2x 1/4″ sends), outputs (2 x 1/4″ main, 1x 1/4″ return/profiling, 3x 1/4″ return, 2x 1/4″ monitor outputs, 2x XLR outputs), MIDI inputs/outputs
+ Straightforward, three ‘stompbox’ operation
+ Classic amp simulations
– Doesn’t have the best sounding drive
Despite missing out on some of the newer features in the G1X Four, the G3Xn still has a catalogue of versatile attributes that merit its inclusion in this list. It’s larger, too, with three stomp pads and sets of controls compared to the G1X Four’s two.
Like its newer counterpart, this pedal features 70 high-quality digital effects that span distortion, overdrive, EQ, compression as well as more obscure types such as Seq Filter, Reverse Delay and OSC Echo.
In addition to its effects library, the G3Xn also features 10 of the “most realistic” amp and cab emulations that Zoom claims to have ever crafted. Highlights include a Marshall JCM800, Fender Twin Reverb and Mesa Boogie Mark III 1×12 cab.
In the same vein as the G1X Four, the G3Xn also features a drum machine – with 68 rhythm patterns – an expression pedal and an in-built looper, with a longer capacity of up to 80 seconds per loop.
Price: £139/$220 Type: Multi-effects pedal Amp Models: 5 (5 cabinets) Effects: 68 I/O: Inputs (1x 1/4″ instrument, 1x 1/8″ TRS aux in), outputs (2x 1/4″ main out, headphones), MIDI USB
+ Bona fide Boss effects algorithms
+ Valve-like response
– Fully featured, but pricey
The GT-1000 is regarded as Boss’ top multi-effects unit, and for good reason. It features the brand’s proprietary AIRD technology, a wide gamut of amp models and a suite of effects algorithms taken from the DS-1, DD-500 Digital Delay, MD-500 Modulation and RV-500 Reverb.
At the heart of the GT-1000 is Boss’ AIRD (Augmented Impulse Response Dynamics technology), which is also used in the Tube Logic software found in the brand’s Katana amps. This piece of tech mimics the interactivity and complexity of tube amps and, in the GT-1000, balances out dynamics between all the other components in your signal chain. The result: you can use the processor with any amp and still nail the same results.
What’s unique about the GT-1000 is its method for handling effects and amp models. Rather than individual effects, the device relies on patches, which are the sum of effects, amps and their corresponding parameters. You won’t be able to configure your signal chain in the traditional sense, but the upside is the ability to string together extremely sophisticated chains and toggle between them at the stomp of a footswitch.
Thankfully, the floorboard sports 10 footswitches, six contextual knobs and a large display to help you create and recall patches. Or, fire up the Boss Studio app to design everything on your computer or mobile device. Meanwhile, a suite of I/Os – including MIDI, XLR and two effects loop – is sufficient for most studio and stage needs.
Price: £923/$1,400 Type: Multi-FX Amp Models: 24 Aird amp outputs Effects: 145 I/O: Input (1 x 1/4″ instrument, 2 x 1/4″ return), output (2 x 1/4″ main out, send, 2x XLR sub out)
+ 10 toggleable presets
+ Compact size fits well in gigbags
– Limited in terms of effect types
As its name suggests, this multi-effects pedal combines four of the boutique Danish brand’s most beloved effects into a single unit. These include the Møller overdrive, Mudhoney distortion, Replica/Reptile modulated delay and Room-Mate reverb. There’s also a boost option that arms you with up to 14dB of additional volume.
T-Rex’s focus is on tone quality, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a multi-effects pedal that sounds as good as this. Each effect has its own dedicated footswitch and suite of controls, which resemble those on the actual stompboxes, for easy operability. And the rightmost switch serves as both a tap tempo for the delay and to call up the tuner – very handy on stage.
You can use the SoulMate in one of two modes: live or preset. The former sets the board as five individual pedals that can be customised on the fly. And the latter lets you toggle between 10 presets (in two banks of five), which can either be individual effects or a chain of them.
Price: £640/$820 Type: Compact multi-effects pedal Amp Models: N/A Effects: 5 (boost, overdrive, distortion, mod delay and reverb) I/O: Input (1x 1/4″ instrument, 1x 1/4″ return), Output (2x 1/4″ L/R , 1 x 1/4” send)
+ Intuitive UI
+ Support for third-party effects
– Limited foot controls
HeadRush’s Gigboard is a petite version of the Pedalboard, the brand’s flagship multi-effects processor that was released two years ago. Other than its portable form factor, the newer device retains many of its predecessor’s features – it has the same quad-core processor, Eleven HD Expanded DSP software and seven-inch touchscreen.
On the effects front, the Gigboard features HeadRush’s comprehensive library of over a hundred amp, cab and mic emulations – these range from Plexis and tweeds to ribbon mics and 8×10 cabs. For effects, you’ll have six classes to choose from: distortion, rotary, dynamics/EQ, modulation, reverb/delay and expression.
And if these aren’t enough, there’s always the option of loading custom or third-party effects such as those supplied by Celestion.
Price: £495/$820 Type: Multi-effects Amp Models: 34 (plus 15 cabinet sims, 10 microphones) Effects: 48 I/O: Inputs (1 x 1/4″ instrument, 1 x 1/8″ aux in, 1 x 1/4″ FX return), outputs (2 x 1/4″ L/R, 1 x 1/4″ external amp out, 1 x 1/4″ FX send)
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