Multi-effects pedals are one of the best ways to gain access to dozens of common guitar processors in a single unit. They certainly take convenience to the next level, and today’s digital processors have never sounded better. It’s common for guitarists to use amp modelers and effects processors both live and in the studio, thanks to the range of sounds they can achieve. Relatively speaking, it’s also much more affordable to purchase a multi-effect unit versus numerous amplifiers and pedals.
What Is a Multi-Effect Pedal?
A multi-effect pedal, sometimes called an effects processor and frequently part of an amp modeling preamp, contains digital emulations of guitar effects like distortion, overdrive, fuzz, reverb, delay, phaser, flanger, chorus, and more. It’s more economical than purchasing pedals individually, and you have a world of sound right at your fingertips in a single device.
While dedicated effects units made to be paired with an amplifier exist, today’s best multi-effect processors also contain amp and cabinet models for a complete tonal solution in one package. Digital preamps and effects are now just a part of how guitar players build their tone and rigs.
When Would You Want to Use a Multi-Effect Pedal?
Versatility is the number one advantage digital preamp and effects processors have over traditional amps and pedals. They’re incredibly useful for silent practice, direct recording, running straight to a PA live, or running through a power amp and speaker cabinet. It goes without saying that having 50 amps and 100 effects in one box offers a much wider tonal palette than buying one tube head and a few pedals. Many players still prefer the “feel” of valve amps, but the convenience of digital processors cannot be understated — and besides, the sound quality these days is oftentimes indistinguishable from the “real thing,” as well.
The 8 Best Multi-Effects Pedals for Live & Studio Guitar Sounds
1. Neural DSP Quad Cortex – Best Overall
The Quad Cortex by Neural DSP was one of the most hyped new modelers in recent years. It’s a guitar/bass modeling preamp and effects processor with integrated DSP for advanced signal chains, a 7″ touchscreen, over 50 amps, over 70 effects, and over 1000 cabinet simulations. You can run the Quad Cortex in Stomp Mode, where the individual switches can turn on or off any effect you assign to it, in Scene Mode to switch on or off multiple “blocks” in a signal path (i.e., amps and effects), or Preset Mode to line up your favorite variety of tones all next to each other for easy access.
2. Line 6 Helix – Best Studio Multi-Effects Pedal
Somewhere in between the Fractal Axe-Fx and Neural DSP Quad Cortex, the Line 6 Helix was the most celebrated advancement in digital processing. Pictured here is the floorboard unit, while it also comes as a rackmount unit or a native plugin. The floorboard unit can act as a standalone digital rig (with over 300 amps, cabs, and effects), or it can integrate into an existing one as an advanced controller. Line 6’s Helix may be one of the most flexible and intuitive digital processors ever.
3. Boss MS-3
The Boss MS-3 is a cool little unit. As a standalone device, it contains 112 built-in effects, a tuner, noise suppressor, looper, and global EQ. As a switcher, you can integrate your existing pedals and recall custom patches using a single footswitch. The MS-3 even has the ability to change channels on your amp, if you decide to use it that way. In many ways it acts as the “brain” of an existing amp/pedal rig.
4. Fractal FM3 – Best Portable Multi-Effect Pedal
The Fractal Axe-Fx is one of the best known digital effects processors for guitarists and bassists, and they haven’t stopped continuing to develop new and engaging products over the years. The FM3 is a compact unit harnessing the same processing power as the Axe-Fx III, with over 280 amp models, thousands of cabinets, and hundreds of effects. It works beautifully as a multi-effects unit, as a portable recording device, and so much more.
5. Boss GX-100 – Best Budget Option
Boss is not a newcomer to multi-effect units. The GX-100 is the culmination of decades of experience. Armed with 23 meticulously modeled amps and over 150 effects, the GX-100 is a rig (or many rigs, really) in a box. It’s also considerably more affordable than lots of similar products out there. The GX-100 can run by itself, or easily integrate into an existing rig as an effects unit.
6. Line 6 HX Effects – Best For Live Performances
If you boiled the Helix down to just its incredibly modeled effects, you’d have the HX pedal. It contains over 100 effects with the ability to chain nine of them together simultaneously. The HX Effects can take total control of your rig, supplement an existing pedalboard, or just about anything else. For those who don’t need the excess many other digital processors offer, the HX Effects is the perfect multi-effect pedal — slap it in front of your amp and you’re good to go.
7. Mooer GE200 Multi-Effects Pedal
The Mooer GE200 may be inexpensive, but it’s certainly not cheap. Containing 55 amps and over 150 effects, it’s a highly capable processor with plenty of horsepower under the hood. Not to mention, it’s also extremely compact and portable, whether you’re taking it to and from the stage, the rehearsal space, or the studio.
8. Line 6 M5
We’ve seen a lot of Line 6 on this list, and rightfully so — they’ve pioneered much of what we consider modern digital preamp/effects processing as we know it. The M5 is a simple stompbox modeler. It features over 100 different effects, but it utilizes dead simple “one effect at time” functionality. This would be a great choice for anyone who doesn’t want to deal with a steep learning curve. The M5 is also perfect for players who don’t necessarily want a bunch of fluff they’ll never use.