Individual Effects vs. Multi-Effects Pedals
An important decision when it comes to effects pedals is whether to stick with the traditional route – a bunch of solo-function stompboxes connected together and mounted onto a pedalboard – or to make the most of technology with a multi-effects unit.
Making the choice means considering the pros and cons of each and thinking about what you want from your effects setup. Here are some considerations:
The undeniable advantage of using individual effects pedals is flexibility. You can choose to use a Big Muff Pi or a DS-1 as your go-to distortion, for example, or any distortion you like. Not only do you have free reign over your individual components, you also have complete control over the order of your signal chain, and if something stops working, you can simply remove it and carry on. On-the-fly parameter adjustment is also easier with most stompboxes.
The main downside is cost – an individual pedal can cost anything from $50 to $150 or even more, with each purchase compounding costs (and making your pedalboard less portable). Additionally, each pedal needs cables and power supplies, and they aren’t free either.
A second issue is portability. It’s really quite an ordeal to pack up an entire pedalboard of individual effects to go to a gig. Then you have to set it all up again at the venue, break it down again when you’re done, and set it up again when you’re back home. For this reason, some people use use individual effects at home or in the studio, but get a multi-effects unit for playing gigs, etc.
Multi-effects units like the Digitech RP500 and Zoom G5 save you money and space. Packing humongous ranges of effects, the range of sonic possibilities is immense. Many allow you stompbox-like control over which effects are active, and high-end options let you control the order of your signal chain too. However, you’re limited to whichever effects are on the unit, and sometimes navigating the preset sounds requires a little too-much tap-dancing. Parameter adjustments on the fly can also be difficult, and if your stand-alone multi-effects unit breaks, you’re basically stuck.
Making Your Choice
Ultimately, if you only use a select few effects, and you want the very best tone and more control over your setup, individual pedals are the way to go. For a more portable, larger selection of admittedly slightly lower-quality sounds, multi-effects units offer a much more affordable way to expand your tonal palette.
By the way, I’ve posted a TON of in-depth reviews of all the best multi-effects pedals here: