Multi Effects Pedals - Are They Actually Worth Your Money? February 09 2014

bass guitar black and whiteYou're telling me I can get 20+ effects, in once device, for under £80? Multi effects pedals sound great don't they? But they may not be the perfect solution that you think they are.

Not for all players anyway.

In this post we'll look at multi effects in a little bit more detail and hopefully help you decide if you should buy one over a traditional pedal.

Firstly, What exactly are They?

Most of you can probably skip this section and go onto the next one. But to a beginner guitarist, there's so much equipment out there, and things can get a little confusing. So let's get our definitions straight.

Generally speaking, a multi effects pedal can provide loads of different effects in one device – overdrive, distortion, delay, flanger, chorus; you get the point (if you want a full list of all the effects available click here).

Many can also emulate different preamp types such as British, tweed and classic.

They usually come in a relatively large plastic (or metal for the more expensive ones) housing and have some sort of digital display where you can set everything up. They're more like a mini computer than an effects pedal. Many have foot switches too which let you conveniently change the effect / setup currently active.

Reasons You Should Get One

So let's look at some of the reasons why you should get a multi effects pedal (or MFX as the cool kids say). Well firstly they give beginners a lot of room to experiment and get a handle on the different sorts of effects. This is simply because of the sheer number of effects available on one device – it's pretty much all of them. You can actually customise your sound quite a bit too, as some have rudimentary equalizers built in, as well as the pre amps. This is perfect if you're trying to play a song by your favourite band, but are lacking a certain effect or type of guitar sound.

The effects themselves also allow for a decent amount of customisation. For example, you can choose the extent and rate of the effect.

I remember when I was a beginner guitarist, and I bought a multi effects pedal. I wanted to play some heavier genres of music. The distortion on my amplifier just didn't cut it. Even when it was maxed out. The multi effects pedal had some really high gain modes, and these were great for making my guitar sound more suitable for the songs I wanted to play.

Probably the main reason to get one is cost. Let's say you want to play around with 8 different effects . Even with cheap £20 pedals this could cost you £160. That's not including the cables & power supplies too. Then there's the space issue; you don't want your setup to start looking like this:

Image by artist David Byrne

 So in conclusion they're: 

  • Very low cost per effect.

  • Don't need lots of leads.

  • A great way to experiment.

  • Don't take up much space.

  • Some have downloadable content / upgrades

Reasons You Shouldn't Get One

But it's not all good. If we're looking at the lower cost multi FX pedals, the problem is, they just don't sound as good as pedals. You can really tell they're digital, unlike with many pedals which can give you that “I can't believe it's not digital!” feel. Also, even though you can customise the effects, you have no way near as many options as you do with an actual pedal. You can't customise your sound any way near as specifically.

When you're a beginner, this may not be much of a problem. You might find it harder to tell the difference between a below average effect, and a good one. You'll just want to hear the effect in the first place. However the more you play, the more you improve. So eventually you will be able to hear the difference, and you'll want to make further changes to its sound. When it gets to that stage, maybe you'll wish you bought even a low cost pedal.

It may depend how serious you think you will be about playing the guitar. Buying decent pedals (they don't need to be a pro standard!) early on can actually be an investment.

Multi effects pedals aren't really a good choice if you intend to gig either. When was the last time you saw even a small local band use a multi effects pedal? They can be very unreliable live. It's often necessary to make minor adjustments during a live set – this also can be very hard with a multi effects pedal. With a normal pedal you just kneel down and adjust your pedal. Two seconds and you're done. But a multi effects pedal will require quite a bit more messing around.

One last point is this - even though you get lots of different effects for one low price, do you realistically need them all? Most guitarists, unless you're into really experimental or progressive stuff, will only need a handful of pedals. You could get two decent pedals for the price of one multi effects pedal. For example our X Drive Overdrive is just under £40 but will be suitable for practically all guitarists, except maybe very experienced / pro guitarists (and even then it's a great backup!).

So the negatives are:

  • They don't sound all that great.

  • They're not that good at gigs.

  • You can buy a few good pedals for the price of one multi effects.

  • Less ability to fine tune the effect.

Oh God Not Another Generic “It Depends” Answer

Yes I’m afraid it is. Multi effects pedals are great for beginners & very casual players who want to experiment, don't plan on improving quickly, and definitely won't be doing any gigging in the near future. 

However for players who are perhaps a bit more serious about the guitar, several low cost pedals, or one or two decent mid range pedals probably will be the better choice. You will realise how limited your multi effects pedal is sooner or later.

Of course there are some more expensive multi effects pedals which can sound great. For the purposes of this article (because it's aimed at beginners) we've assumed the multi effect is question is a relatively cheap one.

If you've got a little bit more money to spend then it really does come down to personal preference. Do you want one device which can do lots of stuff, or a single pedal which really specialises? Many guitarists (mostly perfectionists after perfect tone!) wouldn't go near multi effects, but others who lean towards more experimental styles swear by them. Otherwise it could cost upwards of £300 to even begin to get the effects they need.

Hopefully you now have the information you need to make the decision yourself. It really is a choice which needs to be made on your specific set of circumstances.