There was a time when the thought of an affordable multi-effects unit would strike fear into the hearts of tone-conscious guitarists, but as this list of the best budget multi-effects pedals proves, this category of stomp has come on leaps and bounds over the last few years.
Now, we can all agree that a spaceship-like array of pedals on a mammoth pedalboard is very Instagrammable. Still, at the end of the day, it isn't necessarily cheap or practical. Therefore a budget multi-effects is ideal for players just starting out with the world of effects, those with limited funds, or even those in need of a gap-filling pedal to cover numerous sounds.
While there are some trade-offs in tactility and modularity, a great-sounding multi-effects unit can be an excellent option for many different players. In this guide, we're looking at some of the best budget multi-effects pedals on the market today from the biggest names in stompboxes. We've also got some helpful 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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
NUX are no strangers to the multi-effects game, but the new MG-400 may be their best unit yet. This value-packed modeler builds on what NUX established with the MG-300 and adds user friendly features that every guitarist will enjoy.
Hidden inside are two powerful DSP chips which power the impressive White-Box Amp Modeling algorithm and Core-Image post-effects. Better yet, the new MG-400 introduces moveable signal blocks for an extra level of flexibility.
For us, the NUX MG-400 is a reliable, robust, and fantastic sounding multi-effects unit that punches well above its weight.
Best budget multi-effects pedals: Buying advice
What do I want in a budget multi-effects pedal?
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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.
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.
Find out more about how we make our recommendations and how we test each of the products in our buyer's guides.
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