Are you a beginner looking to get started in collecting pedals for your first pedalboard?
Or are you a professional musician considering a new approach to effects?
Whatever your experience level, effects pedals play a big role in playing the electric guitar and these units have evolved in recent years to not just include one effect, but multiple effects under one box.
In this article I’m going to compare multi effects pedals vs individual pedals and go over the pros and cons for each, so that you can decide which type is best for your rig.
Individual effects have been around since the late 40’s and have continued to grow in popularity into the 2020’s. There must be a lot of great reasons to continue exploring the literally thousands of individual effects out there, right?
Let’s look at some of these.
Pros of Individual Pedals
There are literally thousands of individual guitar pedals out there, and almost all of them sound unique or have a special feature that separates them from one another. The sky is the limit in terms of the sounds you can get from combining individual pedals. This in turn means that individual pedals help make every guitar player sound different from one another.
They Can Be Modified
The reason why there are so many unique individual pedals out there is not because pedal builders are inventing new circuits every time, but rather because builders are modifying circuits that already exist.
This is good news if you’re a tinkerer, because you can learn how to change your analog pedals if there isn’t a pedal out there that does what you want. Analog circuits are fun and can be learned/understood by just about anyone, making individual pedals a great platform to learn circuitry on.
They Retain Their Value
Individual pedals don’t suffer from obsoletion or depreciation like digital multi-effects do. The technology is simple and can last for decades when taken care of.
As a result, individual pedals are a sounder investment. If anything, some pedals increase in value over the years. While this may not be the best reason to buy guitar gear, it’s comforting to know that if you had to, you could get most of your money back from selling your pedals.
Cheaper Up Front
Most high quality pedals cost around $100-$200, but they can be as cheap as $30 or even less used.
This makes individual pedals a quick and cheap way to get inspired or to get new sounds out of your instrument.
Fun to Collect
Ever hear of G.A.S?
It stands for Gear Acquisition Syndrome, and it’s a real thing especially when it comes to individual pedals. Because they are so affordable and fun to play, it’s easy to start collecting effects pedals.
If you buy a Multi-Effects pedal from Boss, you have to use all Boss effects.
Not the case with individual pedals. You can use delay effects from one company, modulation, from another, and use your own modified fuzz pedals.
Then, when you have a gig with your other band, you can mix up a whole different batch of pedals to achieve new sounds.
They Can Be a Statement
Because there are so many options to choose from, and because guitar pedals are so unique, the pedals that you choose can make as much of a statement about who you are as an artists as your choice in guitar or amplifier.
Cons of Individual Pedals
More Expensive “Per Effect”
While individual pedals are cheaper than multi-effects pedals in terms of unit price, they are much more expensive “per effect”.
For example, even though a great budget overdrive like the Nobels ODR-mini only costs around $79 new, a multi-effects that costs $300 and includes even just 30 effects means that each effect is $10.
Pedalboard Space Becomes a Premium
Pedalboards can be as big or small as you like, but there always comes a day when you have to play Tetris on your pedalboard to make sure you can cram every individual effect possible.
If you’re unsuccessful, it means buying a bigger board. This means heavier load-ins, more space in the van, and less space to move around on stage.
As their names suggest, Multi-Effects pedals are any pedal that houses two or more different effect types under one pedal enclosure.
While these pedals have been around for decades, the technology has only just not gotten good enough for them to be competitive with individual effects. These are now a great option that guitarists can consider, but they have their draw-backs in addition to their perks.
Let’s take a look!
Pros of Multi-Effects Pedals
Simple or Complex
Multi-effects come in a wide array of styles.
They can be as simple example is the Strymon Flint, which has both Reverb and Tremolo effects in it. On the other hand, multi-effects can be jam-packed with every effect type there is, like in the Line 6 HX Effects.
While multi-effects are more expensive up front, they are almost always less expensive “per effect”. This means that if you can afford to pay more up front, multi-effects units are a great way to collect every type of effect in one, affordable purchase.
Grab ‘N’ Go Rig
These days, multi-effects pedals are often housed in robust, small enclosures that weigh less and are more durable than traditional pedalboards loaded up with individual effects. Because you don’t have to connect effects together with patch cables, you can rest assured that you don’t have any faulty connections.
This makes them a great option for working musicians that need to take a rig on a fly-date, or that just want a reliable rig for club dates.
The technology has also reached a point where some multi-effects pedals have amp modeling and speaker cab simulation, meaning you can plug straight into the Front of House and you can leave your amp at home.
Some even allow you to customize your effects. This goes for the sound, as well as their functionality, giving you the ability to call up specific, customized presets at the touch of a single button.
Cons of Multi-Effects Pedals
More Expensive Up Front
While multi-effects are a steal in terms of “per-effect” cost, they can be out of reach for some who can’t afford paying hundreds of dollars up front. If you have less money to work with up front, individual pedals may be a better place to start.
Limited to One Company’s Effects
What you see is what you get with multi-effects. While multi-effects can be a one-stop-shop for all your effects, they are typically all coming from the same manufacturer/designer. Individual effects, on the other hand, let you combine your favorite builders for every effect type. Some multi-effects have an effects loop, which allow you to patch in third party pedals.
Overwhelming for Beginners
There’s a lot to learn when it comes to pedals and having multiple effects under one pedal can be intimidating. There can be a lot of controls to figure out and if you don’t know what they are all meant to do, this can overwhelming.
On the other hand, this can be a great way to jump into the deep end and learn by doing if you’re interested!
Do You Have To Pick One or the Other?
So, there you have it – the pros and cons of multi-effects pedals vs individual pedals. Is one better than the other?
It depends on how you plan to use them!
Personally, I use both on my pedalboard. You can look at the photo above to see my travel board, which includes an HX Stomp (multi-effects) alongside individual effects.
I use the Stomp for my modulation/time based effects, while my overdrive, EQ, and Compression pedals are individual effects that I really like.
My advice: Try both!
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Davis Wilton Bader is a professional guitarist/writer based out of St. Louis, MO. He plays in the bands Lumet and The Outskirts.