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Best budget multi-effects pedals 2022: affordable multi-FX units for guitarists

Best budget multi-effects pedals 2022: affordable multi-FX units for guitarists
(Image credit: Future)

While a spaceship-like array of pedals on your 'board is very Instagrammable, it's not necessarily cheap or practical. For players just starting out, or those with limited funds, one of the best budget multi-effects pedals is a good alternative. For others players, an affordable multi-effect unit can plug a gap on a pedalboard, giving access to different effects that won't be used on every song.

While there's some trade-offs in tactility and modularity, multi-FX have come a long way since the Zoom 505s of our youth. Here we're taking a look at some of the best budget multi-effects pedals on the market today. We've also got some useful buying advice in case you're new to this world.

Best budget multi-effects pedals: Our top picks

At the budget end of the best budget multi-effects pedal spectrum, there's not much that can beat the Zoom MS-70. It has decent emulations of all the key effects you could want, as well as an active community creating and sharing patches of more esoteric sounds. It's as compact as they come, and it's full stereo.

If you have stand-alone drive pedals and a larger budget, it's worth looking at the Boss MS-3. It's more than the cost of a single Boss 500 series pedal, but the combination of loop switching for your existing pedals, combined with a smorgasbord of Boss effects on tap means it's the perfect pedal to round off a pedalboard. Not only that, but it has EQ, noise suppression and a tuner, freeing the space those utility pedals would take up.

Best budget multi-effects pedals: Product guide

Best budget multi-effects pedals: Zoom MS-70CDR

(Image credit: Zoom)

1. Zoom MS-70CDR

The budget beast

Specifications
Launch price: $149/£104
Effects: 86
Footswitches: Bypass
Sockets: Stereo In/Out, Power, USB
External patch loading: Yes
Amp simulation: No
Bypass: Buffered
Reasons to buy
+
Solid effects
+
Compact
+
Affordable
+
6 simultaneous FX 
Reasons to avoid
-
Not quite the bargain deal in the US it is in Europe 

CDR stands for Chorus, Delay, Reverb, and the MS-70 has over twenty algorithms in each category to choose from. Astonishingly for such a small pedal, the MS-70 can run up to six effects at once, in whatever order you choose. This flexibility means it's ideal for rounding out a cramped pedalboard with additional sounds that you might not use often.

The MS-70 can also load patches, and it's here the magic lies. There's a community around the pedal, making and sharing patches of everything from normal delays to exotic reverbs.

Add to that a chromatic tuner function, and there's a reasonable argument to be made for just replacing your tuner with the MS-70 and getting all the other features for free.

Best budget multi-effects pedals: BOSS MS-3

(Image credit: Boss)

2. Boss MS-3

The pedalboard finisher

Specifications
Launch price: $399/£419
Effects: 112
Footswitches: 4 patches, Memory/Manual
Sockets: Stereo In/Out, 3x Mono Send/Return Loops, USB, Control out, MIDI out, 2x Expression in, Power
External patch loading: Yes
Amp simulation: No
Bypass: Buffered
Reasons to buy
+
Very flexible
+
Great FX
+
Utility functions 
Reasons to avoid
-
No MIDI in
-
Not as useful if you don't have other standalone pedals 

The MS-3 is technically a loop-switcher, aimed at being the core of a small rig. It's also a capable multi-effects unit in its own right though. Besides an intuitive interface and great core sounds, it benefits from Roland's excellent Librarian software for editing on a computer.

A common complaint of modelling FX is that they emulate distortions and overdrives quite poorly. While this is no longer a given with modern units, the MS-3 sidesteps this with its loop switcher functionality.

The majority of players are likely to lean on the MS-3 for delays, reverbs, modulations and pitch effects, leaving core drive sounds to pedals in the three integrated loops. Moreover, the MS-3's built in EQ, noise gate and tuner eliminate the need for other utility pedals on a small board.

In this way, the MS-3 can be used either as the starting point to a small, flexible board, or the final pedal to round one off.

The MS-3 can even be used to switch the channels on an amp as part of its patch switching, for extra flexibility.

Read the full Boss MS-3 review

Best budget multi-effects pedals: Line 6 M5

(Image credit: Line 6)

3. Line 6 M5

Because size isn't everything

Specifications
Launch price: $149/£169
Effects: 100+
Footswitches: Bypass, Tap
Sockets: Stereo In/Out, Expression, Power, MIDI In/Out
Amp simulation: No
Bypass: Switchable
Reasons to buy
+
Excellent FX
+
Flexible
+
Full MIDI control
+
Compact 
Reasons to avoid
-
Only one effect at a time 

Given the number of features it has and its MIDI control, the Line 6 M5 is nothing short of a steal if you have a small MIDI-routed setup. 

Even if you don't, it's got a huge number of effects lifted from popular Line 6 stompboxes, as well as a tuner. This makes it a true Swiss Army knife solution to round out a pedalboard. It has expression input as well, meaning you can create custom dynamic effects.

The only drawback of the M5 is that it can only run one effect at a time. Many of the other pedals on this list are instead designed to build up a mini chain of effects.

Best budget multi-effects pedals: Mooer GE-200

(Image credit: Mooer)

4. Mooer GE-200

The giant killer

Specifications
Launch price: $225/£249
Effects: 70
Footswitches: 2 multi-function, 1 Control
Sockets: Mono In, Stereo Out, Aux in, Expression, USB, Headphone out, Power
External patch loading: Yes
Amp simulation: Yes
Bypass: Buffered
Reasons to buy
+
Solid core FX
+
Built-in drum machine and looper
+
55 amp models and 26 IRs
+
External IR loading 
Reasons to avoid
-
Desktop editor isn't as good as competitors 

A pared-down version of the larger Mooer GE-300, the GE-200 is a huge amount of firepower at its price point. There's all the effect types you could want, along with utility functions like a noise gate, EQ and looper.

Most importantly, the GE-200 has a decent user interface. With such a complicated unit, great sounds without a way to work with them would have been a frustrating missed opportunity. Luckily, the GE-200 is intuitive enough to not be reaching for the manual every five minutes.

The stock models and IRs are pretty decent, but the GE-200 also supports external loading. This means they're easily replaced if you have models that you prefer.

Best budget multi-effects pedals: Boss GT-1

(Image credit: Boss)

5. Boss GT-1

The no-brainer

Specifications
Launch price: $215/£169
Effects: 108
Footswitches: 2 multi-function, 1 Control
Sockets: Input, Aux in, Phones, Stereo Out, Expression, USB, Power
External patch loading: Yes
Amp simulation: Yes
Bypass: Buffered
Reasons to buy
+
Great FX patches
+
Portability 
Reasons to avoid
-
Looks cheap 

Boss are no strangers to multi-FX, and the compact GT-1 is their latest entry offering. It's small enough to fit in a gigbag, and features the same core GT engine as found in their higher-spec units.

Multiple FX can be combined into a single patch using a relatively intuitive interface, even if it's not the best around. The draw is very much the FX, which as you'd expect from Boss, are top-drawer.

Like many other modern units, the GT-1 can be hooked up to a computer, and new patches downloaded from Boss Tone Central, opening up loads of additional possibilities.

Finally, the GT-1 can be used as a USB audio interface to record guitar, perfect for making quick demos.

Best budget multi-effects pedals: Zoom G3XN

(Image credit: Zoom)

6. Zoom G3XN

The updated classic

Specifications
Launch price: $249/£185
Effects: 68
Footswitches: 3 multi-function, 2 Bank, 1 Tuner/Tap
Sockets: Input, Aux In, Stereo Out, USB, Power
External patch loading: Yes
Amp simulation: Yes
Bypass: Buffered
Reasons to buy
+
Tactile interface
+
Dedicated bank switches
Reasons to avoid
-
Look is a bit 1995 

Zoom should know what they're doing - after all, their 505 unit defined consumer-grade multi-FX in the first place.

Where other pedals use a screen to show a virtual signal chain and per-block navigation, the Zoom opts for more of a tactile 'board' feel, with three 'pedals' in a row.

Each patch supports seven simultaneous effects, with five amp and cab simulations to choose from. For home use, practice spaces, or even small gigs, the complete signal chains offered by the Zoom are likely to be enough for many players.

Although you can load and recall patches via the computer software, you can't load external IRs. Granted, the models on this generation are a head-and-shoulders improvement on past efforts, but it's worth being aware of.

Best budget multi-effects pedals: Mooer Black Truck

(Image credit: Mooer)

7. Mooer Black Truck

The intuitive option

Specifications
Launch price: $269/£239
Effects: 7
Footswitches: OD, Hi-Gain, EQ, Mod, Space, Tap
Sockets: Input, Stereo out, FX Send/Return, Phones, Power
External patch loading: No
Amp simulation: No
Bypass: Buffered
Reasons to buy
+
Straightforward and intuitive
+
Solid core sounds 
Reasons to avoid
-
Not as flexible as other options 

The Black Truck is the high-gain sibling of Mooer's Red Truck, though it's possible to get great low-gain sounds from it. Unlike the LCD-screen heavy offerings available elsewhere, the Black Truck opts for a larger, more intuitive front panel, with every parameter accessible.

As it's designed to be a complete portable board, it also includes utility features like an EQ and guitar tuner, as well as a case.

Though most players will use it in 'live' mode, where what you see is what you get, it is possible to build up patches where the individual blocks are routed in a custom order.

Although it doesn't include amp simulation, there is speaker simulation on the headphone out port, as well as a level control to help with silent use.

Best budget multi-effects pedals: Cooper FX Arcades

(Image credit: Cooper FX)

8. Cooper FX Arcades

The out-there option

Specifications
Launch price: $299
Effects: 8
Footswitches: Bypass, Aux/Tap
Sockets: In, Out, Exp, MIDI, Power
External patch loading: No
Amp simulation: No
Bypass: True
Reasons to buy
+
Great sounds 
+
Innovative
+
Expandable and customisable 
Reasons to avoid
-
Cartridge-based expansion isn't for everyone 
-
Price 

Cooper FX make the popular Generation Loss VHS simulator and Outward Reverb. They've also collaborated on one of the most exciting boutique pedal projects of the last few years, the Dark World.

The Arcades is their attempt to make a modular digital effect that combines all of their different experiments and pedals into a single platform.

To manage patches, there's no fancy software suite. Rather the Arcades takes its cue from retro arcade machines and uses a series of hardware cartridges.

Each card has eight patches and user presets can be saved to it. For each patch, there are three parameters, and a system parameter, such as clock, wet/dry or tone.

The Arcades ships with the 'Pastiche' cartridge, a curated set of what Cooper FX consider the beginner's 'best of' all the different patches available on the different Arcades cards.

The Arcades is a deep and complex pedal, and this is its only downside. It can replace several exotic pedals on a board, but you're not going to get the best out of it without the manual to hand.

Best budget multi-effects pedals: Buying advice

Best budget multi-effects pedals: Boss MS-3 with four cables connected to the back of the unit

(Image credit: Future)

What do I want in a budget multi-effects pedal?

There's a lot of different things that you might want from a budget multi-effects pedal.

Of course, the most important thing is how good the pedal sounds. Though this is somewhat subjective, most budget multi-effects these days will sound good. Whether or not those sounds and all their various parameters appeal to you is another story.

Even if some of them aren't useful to you as a player, to a point, more effects or patches means more options, so that's an important number to know.

Can I run patches simultaneously?

It's also important to know if patches can be run simultaneously, and if so, how many. For example, on modern delay units like the Boss DD-500 you can run two patches in series or parallel. This sort of functionality is even more important on a multi-effect.

Whether or not the pedal has amp simulation is an important factor, as amp modelling is difficult and taxing on a DSP chip. As a result, normally at the budget end of the market you wouldn't expect to see decent amp modelling.

This has changed in recent years, however, with some units offering modelling that's good enough for practice use. Some pedals allow for loading of studio-grade external IRs, which takes the pedal into viable gig-use territory.

Best budget multi-effects pedals: close up of the Boss GT-1 footswitches

(Image credit: Future)

Can I edit each effect?

Some units will have more editable parameters per patch than others, while some have software companions, and allow loading and saving. This means that useful patches can be shared by a community of users. Some pedals like the Zoom MS-series have an enthusiastic community around them, with a subreddit to share patches and advice.

Do I want mono or stereo?

A key question is whether the pedal is mono or stereo, and what inputs it has. Some have a built-in expression pedal, while others allow for an expansion unit to be plugged in. The ability to expand either the number of footswitches or to add expression is very useful, especially if the stock unit is compact.

Is the user interface important?

Finally, the user interface is the most important feature besides core sound. If the pedal feels good to use, then you will enjoy using it. Intuitive pedal design isn't a given though, and even pedals with touch interfaces sometimes get it wrong. In recent years, the best interface has been that of the Line 6 Helix series, but other manufacturers have been working hard to catch up.

Alex Lynham is a gear obsessive who's been collecting and building modern and vintage equipment since he got his first Saturday job. Besides reviewing countless pedals for Total Guitar, he's written guides on how to build your first pedal, how to build a tube amp from a kit, and briefly went viral when he released a glitch delay pedal, the Atom Smasher.