Episode 23 of the Bite-Size Guitar Podcast looks at the differences between single and multi-effects pedals and which may suit you best.
The type of pedals you choose to use can have a big impact on the type of tones you can use. Find out how single and multi-effects pedals compare in this episode.
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Check out the below guides to learn more about different types of pedals you might want to get:
- Best Guitar Pedals – learn how to build the ideal pedalboard for your playing style
- Single Effect Pedal Reviews
- Multi-Effects Pedal Reviews
- Comparing Line 6’s multi-effects pedals – while there are plenty of other brands to consider, this guide gives you a good overview of the different types of multi-effects pedals out there
- Effects Pedals on Acoustic Guitar
There are a lot more guides and reviews on this site, so start with the above guides and use the site’s top menu to learn more about specific effects or pedals.
Guitar Effects Course
The Guitar Effects Course covers everything you would want to know about all types of guitar effects. You’ll learn how to identify different effects by ear, how each type of effect works, and how to combine different effects.
The course also explains how to set up different tones from scratch with plenty of audio examples along the way.
Podcast Episode 22 Transcript
Hi, I’m Aaron from guitargearfinder.com and this is episode 23 of the Bite-Size Guitar podcast.
In this episode, I’ll talk about the main differences between having a rig that uses single effects pedals or a multi-effects pedal.
I’ll talk about how to choose between them and what it’s like to use the two types of pedals.
I’ll just quickly mention that this episode will clearly be more for electric guitarists, but if you’re an acoustic guitarist, you might still want to listen. Depending on the style of music you play, you may find that some effects pedals work really well with your playing. I have a couple of guides on the website talking about effects pedals for acoustic guitar, so check it out to hear some examples.
Single vs Multi-Effects Pedals Basics
Okay so let’s start by looking at the basic differences between single effects pedals and multi-effects pedals.
Single effects pedals are your typical stompboxes. Each pedal does a different thing. You can get a pedal to give you a distorted tone, a pedal to add some delay, you can get a wah pedal, or a chorus pedal, or hundreds of different effects.
The basic idea with single effects pedals is that each one gives you a specific type of sound or effect. You plug your guitar into one side of the pedal and plug your amp into the other side of the pedal. Or you can connect a series of pedals together so you can access a wider range of tones and effects.
Multi-effects pedals are different in that they do everything all in one unit. Multi-effects pedals usually have hundreds of different effects built into the pedal and you can pick and choose any combination of effects you want. You could set the pedal to give you a basic tone with one effect, or you can add multiple effects all at once.
From this basic description, you might already have an idea of which direction you might want to go.
If you think you’ll only use one or two different types of effects, you might like the idea of using single effects pedals. Or if you like the idea of having a wide range of effects available at any time in one pedal, you might like the idea of having a multi-effects pedal.
Before you make your mind up, let’s take a closer look at each type so you can make sure you choose the right pedal for you.
Why Choose Single Effects Pedals
A lot of guitarists start out by buying a single-effect pedal. For me, my first pedal was a distortion pedal. While my little practice amp did have two channels, it was awkward trying to switch between the channels during a song to switch from a clean tone to a distorted tone. So it made perfect sense for me to get a distortion pedal.
For some people, the first pedal they buy is a wah pedal. A wah is a fantastic first pedal to get because it’s such an expressive effect that really helps you get your guitar to speak.
One of the benefits of buying single effects pedals is that they can be a lot cheaper than a typical multi-effects pedal.
You can start out with one or two pedals and slowly build up if you want. You could buy anywhere from five to ten pedals before you start to reach the average price of a multi-effects pedal.
Having said that, there are plenty of single effects pedals with big price tags. For example, you can buy a new Ibanez Tubescreamer for around $80 to $100 US Dollars. I just looked up some popular boutique Tubescreamer based pedals and they vary from around $100 to over $300. Or you could find a budget clone of a Tubescreamer starting at around $30.
So it’s possible to build a pedalboard at any budget level with single effects pedals. You can build a good sounding pedalboard with budget pedals, or splash out for high-end pedals.
This leads to the second big benefit of using single effects pedals and that’s the number of options you have. In a multi-effects pedal, you usually only have one or maybe two different options for each type of effect. They’ll give you a few distortion options, one chorus, one phaser, one flanger, and so on.
With single effects pedals, there are literally hundreds of different options for each type of effect. There are hundreds of fuzz pedals out there, each one with a different sound.
As I mentioned, you can buy a Tubescreamer effect pedal for anywhere from $30 to around $300. It’s the same for delay pedals, phaser pedals, fuzz pedals, and every other type of effect.
Now the wide range of options for each type of effect can be overwhelming, but it is still a benefit because if you put in the time to find the right pedal for you, you can end up with far better results than relying on the effects built into a multi-effects pedal.
So to recap, the main reasons you might consider buying single effects pedals is the lower cost of individual pedals – if you do your research, the range of different options you have for each type of effect, and the flexibility to build up your rig exactly how you like it.
If you know you only want three effects in your rig, you can build up a simple rig with three pedals.
The big limitation with using single effects pedals is that you can only use the effects you’ve bought. If you learn a new song that uses an effect you don’t have, the only way you can use that effect is to buy another pedal. I know that sounds obvious, but compare that to somebody with a multi-effects pedal. If they want to play a song with an effect they’ve never used before, they simply need to go into their multi-effect pedal settings and add that effect to their signal chain.
So keep this in mind when building a rig using single effects pedals.
Now let’s take a closer look at multi-effects pedals.
Why Choose a Multi Effects Pedal
The big benefit with a multi-effects pedal is that you get a massive range of effects, tones, and models all in one unit. For example, the popular Line 6 HX Stomp packs in over 300 amps, cabinet models, and effects. That’s more than enough to cover a massive range of styles and tones. Imagine 200 guitar pedals lined up on the floor connected to 50 amps and another 50 cabinets. That’s a ridiculous amount of gear and you can access all of it in one pedal.
When I was learning guitar, the second pedal I bought was a multi-effects pedal. I started noticing that a lot of songs were using effects such as delay, wah, phaser, pitch shifting, and fuzz. Some effects I would only see in one song, so there was no way I was going to buy a pedal for one song. I only had a distortion pedal, so whenever I would play songs that used other effects, it just didn’t feel or sound right.
When I bought a multi-effects pedal, I suddenly could play all of those songs properly. I could save a preset for each song and dial in the perfect settings for each one.
As a beginner, getting a multi-effects pedal was a massive benefit. I was able to learn about all the different types of effects, jam with each one, and figure out which effects I liked and which ones I didn’t like.
That’s something I couldn’t do when I only had a distortion pedal. The multi-effects pedal let me figure out what types of effects suited my style of playing. I added new sounds to my playing that I never would have considered if I stuck to using single effects pedals. For example, I learned that I liked the sound of adding a subtle chorus to my clean tone. That’s now a key part of my own style of playing and it’s a result of using a multi-effects pedal.
This is a big reason why you might want to consider starting out with a multi-effects pedal instead of buying single effects pedals. If you don’t know the difference between a flanger and a phaser, or the difference between overdrive and distortion, a multi-effects pedal is an easy way to learn what those differences are and which types of effects you may prefer.
Then in the future, if you find that you only really like two or three different effects, you could easily sell the multi-effects pedal and buy three single effects pedals. But at least with this approach, you’ll know which single pedals suit you the best. You might discover that you really like an effect that you never would have considered before, just like I did with chorus on a clean tone.
Multi-effects pedals typically cost more than single effects pedals, but the difference is that the cost is all upfront. Once you have a multi-effects pedal, you don’t need to buy anything else because you’ll immediately have hundreds of effects ready to use.
Talk to any guitarist who has a big pedalboard and they’ll talk about how easy it is to just keep buying pedals and how the cost tends to spiral out of control. When you have a multi-effects pedal, you don’t tend to have that same urge.
So if you feel that you might want to play around with a wide range of effects or tones, you may find that a multi-effects pedal ends up being the cheaper option.
The budget multi-effects pedals start at around $150 US Dollars, then can go all the way up to over a thousand. So there’s something for every budget level.
So to recap the reasons you might choose a multi-effects pedal. The big reason is the flexibility you have to access a wide range of effects and tones all in one unit. Multi-effects pedals are typically more expensive than single effects pedals, but if you will be using a lot of effects, they end up cheaper in the long run.
Choosing the Right Pedal for You
Now that I’ve given you a rough idea of what each type is like, your choice may now be easier, or I might have confused you further. It’s not an easy choice between the two options.
The recommendation I have is to think about the music you play and how much you already know about effects and tones.
For example, if the music you listen to only uses a drive tone and delay on the lead guitar tone, then it makes sense to just buy a drive pedal and a delay pedal. A multi-effects pedal would be overkill and you’ll probably never use the range of effects built-in.
On the other hand, if you notice a variety of tones or effects in the music you listen to, I would suggest starting out with a multi-effects pedal. I can tell you from experience that being able to easily access any effects that show up in a song is a big benefit when you have a multi-effects pedal.
A multi-effects pedal is also a great way to learn about tone and effects. Most multi-effects pedals include a range of amp models, so you can learn the difference in tones between a Vox, Marshall, Fender, Mesa Boogie, Orange, or other popular amp models. You can figure out what type of amp tone you like so if the time comes when you want to upgrade your amp, you’ll know exactly which type is right for you.
You may find that while you thought you liked the idea of having a certain amp such as a Marshall, you actually prefer the tone of a different amp you never considered before.
Whether you already have a few pedals in your rig or you plug straight into your amp, hopefully, this episode has given you something to think about.
As you might expect, I have a lot of guides and resources on the website to help you figure out what pedals and effects may suit you best. Check out some relevant guides at guitargearfinder.com/podcast/episode-23/
I also sell an effects and tone course that teaches you about all the typical effects you might hear in music today. If you do want to learn the difference between flanger and phaser, or distortion, overdrive, and fuzz, the course will teach you to identify them all by ear. Check out the link to the course on the website to learn more. Thanks to everybody who has bought the course, as it helps support me so I can continue writing guides on the website and this podcast.
Have a think about what your ideal guitar rig might look like and whether it makes sense to use single pedals or a multi-effects unit. The answer is different for every guitarist, so have a read through the guides on the website to learn more about popular pedals to consider.
Let me know on the page for this episode if you have any questions and I’ll talk to you next time.