Replacing a pedalboard with a single pedal would have been unthinkable for most serious guitarists 10 years ago, but a lot has changed in the world of desktop and floor-based multi-effects units. If an enormous reduction in the size of your rig sounds mouth-watering to you, our guide to the best multi-effects pedals will definitely be of interest.
When digital processing became powerful enough to emulate digital-sounding effects and organic, analog effects, the arrival of multi-effects truly began. And boy have they arrived.
Though early units such as the Zoom 505 hardly set the world on fire, advancements in modern guitar tech have allowed them to make a serious comeback, only now they’re packing much more in the way of useful tools for the modern player and producer.
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These days, it's almost mandatory for multi-effects to offer far more than just effects. From amp simulations to accurate impulse responses, the focus now is on tonal accuracy and versatility. That said, there’s still a place for simpler models which deliver good quality, interesting effects. Let’s take a look at some of the best multi-effects pedals around right now.
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Best multi-effects pedals: Our top picks
In terms of both cost and its power, our number one choice for the best multi-effects pedal is the Line 6 Helix LT. While it’s going up against some serious competition in that price bracket, the Helix LT offers up the perfect blend of usability, performance and impressive sounds which makes it a great investment in your playing career.
Also worth a shout is the Neural DSP Quad Cortex; it might look and feel a bit like you’re controlling a leftover component from a mission into space but once you get to grips with it, your opinion on what a modern multi-effects unit is capable of may be changed forever.
Best multi-effects pedals: Product guide
If the HX Effects doesn't quite cover your needs - say, if you need amp modeling, or if you own a Line 6 Variax guitar - then the Helix LT offers all of the processing oomph of the full-fat Helix, but in a slimmed-down package without scribble strips or all of the inputs and outputs of the flagship.
Whether it's on-stage or for studio use, the LT is simply a beast, with great quality amps, effects, cabs, mic sims... you name it.
It's got eight assignable patches on the front panel, as well as bank change, tuner and tap switches and the best user interface of any multi-effect on the market, including Fractal Audio’s Axe-FX III, which is three times the price. What's not to like?
Part of the attraction to multi-effects units is the sheer potential for experimentation. All those glorious sounds, just waiting to be tweaked and changed. But how much tweakability would be considered too much? Have we reached peak tweak? Not if you ask Neural DSP, whose Quad Cortex is, it claims, the most powerful floor modeler on the planet. A big claim, sure, but it’s easy to see why.
What you’ve got, essentially, is a floor-based supercomputer where every calculation, every process, every action and every interaction is designed purely to achieve the most advanced levels of tonal control and sonic fidelity there has ever been. You can stack amps, effects and anything else as far as your imagination will let you.
We’d find it nigh-on impossible to run through the full feature-set here, so be sure to check out our full review which is coming soon, but if you’re serious about guitar, and have the cash to support your aims, then the Neural DSP Quad Cortex should be front and centre of your shortlist.
Read the full Neural DSP Quad Cortex review
Boss has been the market leader in compact effects pedals since the early ‘80s, and chances are, if you're reading this, you own at least a couple yourself.
With its recent 500 series of studio-grade pedals - the DD-500 delay, RV-500 reverb and MD-500 modulation - the company brought its expertise to a new form-factor and a higher-ticket area of the market. If you looked at the release of those pedals and thought "if I had a board of just those three, I'd be set," you'd be far from alone, and that's exactly what the GT-1000 delivers.
Obviously it's not just those three units in the box; yes a lot of algorithms were ported over, but there's also a state-of-the-art amp and cab simulator, as well as an IR loader.
Read our Boss GT-1000 review
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With no screen, the HX Effects relies on scribble strips and colored lights above the footswitches in order to indicate what's going on to the user and to edit patches.
It sounds like that shouldn't be enough to compete with the larger units, but this stripped-back interface is elegant, and packs all of the effects of its larger brothers. This means that it has all the firepower to make it the best multi-effects pedal you can buy, particularly if you play live.
Moreover, besides the standard delays, mods and reverbs there's also some gems like the particle verb, which is a clear nod to boutique effects.
There are only six patches available on the front panel, but if that's an issue then you could always integrate it into a traditional pedalboard setup. It's not drastically more expensive than a single Strymon big-box pedal, and size-wise it's about twice the size of a Whammy.
Read our Line 6 HX Effects review
We’re big fans of the versatile TC Electronic TonePrint pedals, which have always offered a nice selection of user-changeable effects at a highly reasonable price. With the TC Electronic Plethora X5, the team there has brought each of the pedals from the TonePrint line together, in doing so creating a sort of TC Greatest Hits tour.
With the Plethora X5, you can chain up to five TonePrint pedals together from a list including the Flashback, Hall of Fame, Corona, Vortex and many more. These can be placed in whichever order you prefer, although you can run into limitations with the DSP if you attempt to stack five reverbs or delays, for example. These configurations are then stored as ‘scenes’, ready to be recalled whenever required. TC has added further pedals via firmware since its launch, making this a superb, compact solution with enormous creative potential.
Read the full TC Electronic Plethora X5 review
Fractal Audio has always existed as this kind of aspirational brand, the stuff mere bedroom guitarists see their favourite pros swearing by. With all that kudos, however, comes a huge price tag which puts paid to most people’s attraction. With the Fractal Audio FM3, however, that might be set to change. This compact, full-featured multi-effects unit might still cost slightly north of $/£1k but it’s being positioned as a portable, all-in-one gigging and recording machine which could place it firmly on the radar of a new audience of tone-conscious players.
The audio quality and overall sonic potential still remains in the elite tier, with more effects, amp models and other tools than you’ll realistically ever need, yet the smaller overall footprint makes it easy enough to sling in a backpack. Full audio interface capability, and the ability to run directly into a PA in full FRFR style makes this a highly capable, extremely interesting package for the stage or the studio too. Honestly? This one is easy to recommend.
Read the full Fractal Audio Systems FM3 review
With a huge amount of processing power on offer, the distortions on the HeadRush are really something to write home about. Drives have rich higher-order harmonics and plenty of headroom, interacting in a startlingly amp-like way with the on-board amp models and performing excellently when being used to boost a real-life amp in the room.
Though the HeadRush has the normal array of effects you'd expect - vintage delays and choruses, modern versions of the same effects and some stereo variants - there's nothing truly outside-the-box here. If you're looking for wilder, space-cadet sounds, then - unlike with the Boss and Line 6 units - you'll have to look at expanding to at least a couple of extra pedals alongside this floorboard.
Also, though it looks good on paper, the touchscreen is often more annoying to use than a regular joystick or arrow keys.
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If the thought of lugging around an amp head and full pedalboard is filling you with dread, then maybe the Kemper Profiler Stage is the right choice for you.
This robust and compact preamp combines the ever-popular Profiler Head and Remote foot controller into one neat package, giving you all the functionality of Kemper’s previous products, but with the added benefit of freeing up some much needed space in the car!
We know this is a list of the “best multi-effects pedals” but the Kemper Profiler Stage is way more than that. At its heart, it’s an incredibly powerful amp modeler used by many guitar players to reproduce the sound of almost any amplifier imaginable.
The Profiler Stage organizes amps, effects and speaker cabinet simulations into Rigs, which are stored in 125 banks of five, resulting in endless tonal possibilities.
Read our full Kemper Profiler Stage review
After a decade slugging it out at the lower end of the market with their distinctive micro-effects, Mooer has changed tack, and recently started releasing ambitious digital pedals.
The GE300 is its flagship unit and, fully loaded with excellent effects and a fantastic monosynth patch, it certainly delivers the goods. Our only issue with the unit itself is that by default the footswitches have the assigns on the second row, which seems a bit backward compared to competitors.
The other problem with the GE300 is that Mooer's success is built on them being highly price-competitive. As with the Ocean Machine, its Devin Townsend signature pedal, the company's gone upmarket with the GE300 and there’s a price tag to match. The GE300 is a serious piece of kit, but it's hard to recommend it over the Helix LT when they're both around the same price.
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A sleeper hit in some corners of the online pedal community, the Zoom is deceptively deep. Powerful enough to keep up with any single-pedal sized digital effect, yet versatile enough to take the place of a multi-effect in a pedal chain, the MS-70 models a variety of vintage and modern boutique effects within a tiny, stereo enclosure.
Its real power is being able to use six of its effects simultaneously in a chain, allowing for very expressive and unusual sounds to be created. Best of all, since it's so small, even if you only use those sounds in one song on the setlist, the MS-70 doesn't take up much space!
The Tech21 isn't quite an analog option, but for multi-effects it's about as close as you can get. Although it's possible to make analog delays using old-school 'bucket brigade' chips, reverb effects require digital processing, and as a result the Fly Rig 5 is a hybrid unit.
Still, Tech21 knows how to make a fantastic drive, and the Fly Rig 5 boasts a Plexi SansAmp and a boost, meaning it can be used in front of an amp or straight into a powered PA for maximum flexibility.
The delay and reverb are solid, if nothing to write home about - the real selling point here is how tiny this little beast is. If you don't require more than a simple delay and reverb besides drive options, then this is one of the best multi-effects pedals out there, especially as a back-up or - as the name suggests - fly rig.
The out-of-the-box sounds of the MG-300 are seriously impressive. Its simple user-friendly design with expression pedal, tactile controls, push-buttons and a color screen is easy to navigate - you’ll barely need to crack open the manual. The MG-300 doesn’t overwhelm you with too many features either. It packs only the necessary garden variety of desirable amp models and classic effects – all of which are fantastic in tone and feel – along with 25 built-in cabinet IRs that combine four classic microphones with three positions, while you can also load third-party IR files via NUX QuickTone edit software for added versatility.
This pedal’s audio modeling secret weapon is the TSAC-HD (True Simulation of Analog Circuit) algorithm, which delivers studio-quality guitar tones that actually sound authentic and dynamic compared to other modelers. Add in 56 built-in drum beats and a 60 second loop function, and the NUX MG-300 punches impressively above its weight for price, portability and sound.
Best multi-effects pedals: Buying advice
The most important things to look for in a multi-effect pedal are ease of use and its bank of effects. After all, if it's not easy to use, it's unlikely to be as useful a tool, and certainly nowhere near as much fun.
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Different multi-effects units focus on different sets of effects. Some stick closely to basic versions of staple sounds like delay, modulation and reverb, but many others also try and throw in a few wildcard effects - the kind you'd normally have to shell out big bucks for on boutique FX pedals.
It's also worth considering how many parameters the unit typically offers per patch. Generally speaking, the more powerful the unit, the more parameters it offers. This can be a double-edged sword, however, as too many parameters can lead to option paralysis, where the number of available settings can be overwhelming.
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As you move up the price bracket, you’ll start to see extra functionality like loopers, amplifier and cabinet sims, and often the option to connect directly to a computer and record. This begins to move the needle away from being ‘just’ an effects unit and more into a versatile stage/studio processing powerhouse. With all this in mind, take a look at our top picks of the best multi-effects pedals for guitarists - just click the 'product guide' button above.