If you’re in the market for some new guitar effects pedals, then you may be wondering if the best option is to go for a a few individual pedals, or one multi-effects pedal.
It’s a bit of a debate over which is the best option. So in this article, I’ll go through all the pros and cons of each, to help you decide which is the best option for you. So let’s get started.
The Quick Answer
Individual effects pedals are great if you’re looking for a high quality specific effect, and you want a lot of options and control over your tone. Multi-effects pedals are perfect if you want something that is compact, easy to use, cost-effective.
Here’s a quick rundown of the pros and cons of each pedal type.
Individual Effect Pedals
More options and versatility
Easiest to use and setup
Can choose specific effects
Easy to swap out if broken
Compact and space-saving
What are Individual Effects Pedals?
So first, we’ll start by going through exactly what individual effects pedals actually are. Well, the name is a bit of a clue.
With single effects pedals, you’ll just get one effect included. You can turn this effect on and off easily by just pressing the switch on/off with your foot.
Most individual effects pedals come with a few controls which allow you to adjust different parameters of the effects.
For example, delay pedals, which sound like a note is being played back repeatedly often come with several controls. often come with These controls include: “level”, which allows you to control the volume, “time” which refers to how long it takes for the delay effect to kick in after the original note is played, and “feedback” which refers to the number of repeats of a note you will hear.
Here’s a list of some of the most common individual effects pedals:
- Distortion: these add sustain and gain.
- Overdrive: these sound crunchy and saturated.
- Reverb: this is a type of echo effect.
- Delay: this takes a note and plays it back repeatedly.
- Fuzz: these give you a noisy and fizzy sound.
- Boost: these give you a volume or gain increase.
- EQ: these allow you to adjust the treble, mids and bass frequencies.
- Modulation: these include tremolo, phaser and chorus pedals.
- Wah: these pedals were famously used by Jimi Hendrix.
What are Multi-Effects Pedals?
Now, let’s move onto multi-effects pedals. Again, the name is pretty helpful here. They are also referred to as multi-FX units, and they contain several different effects on the same pedal.
Most typically, you’ll get effects like distortion, overdrive, chorus, flanger, reverb, delay. The number of effects you’ll get depends on the specific multi-FX unit you have.
For example, you can get pretty compact multi-effects pedals which contain 3-4 effects, or you can get much larger ones containing over 10 effects.
You can control these effects in the same way as you do with individual pedals. Each effect has it’s own on and off switch which you can stand on to turn on/off. Of course, since you get more effects, multi-FX units are larger, as they need to fit more buttons on.
Which Are Better?
So now you know what multi-effects and individual effects pedals actually are, let’s decide which is the best option. To keep things straightforward, I’ve picked several important factors, and i’ll compare each pedal type to see which is the winner in each category. Here are the factors we’ll be considering:
- The options
- Pedal chain ordering
- Ease of use
- How easy it is to fix issues
First, I think we should consider what kind of options are available if you purchase either a multi-FX unit, or individual pedals.
One of the best things about individual pedals, is that there are absolutely tonnes of different options available. When you use single-effects pedals, you can purchase the exact model you want, to give you a specific impact on your tone.
However, with multi-effects pedals, your options are more limited. Sure, you can get very high quality multi-effects units, but what if you want a Tube Screamer pedal, and a Boss Delay pedal, well you’ll not be able to if you just go with a multi-FX unit. You’re really just stuck with what you get.
It can also be a hard time finding a multi-effects unit which has every effect that you’re looking for, and no surplus ones. Often you can find yourself having to purchase a more expensive multi-FX pedal with more effects because you needed a specific one that smaller units were missing.
what’s the winner?
In terms of the number of options available and the versatility they give you, individual pedals are the clear winner. You can pick and choose exactly what you want, and you don’t have to have any effects that you don’t actually need.
Pedal Chain Ordering
The world of effects pedals is pretty complicated. Not only do you have to choose the type of effects you want, the model, brand, and dial in the specific controls, you also have to consider what order you want your pedals to go in.
If you’re new to guitar pedals, and you’re not really sure what I mean by pedal chain ordering, then definitely check out my post on the best pedal chain order. But here’s a quick rundown of what I mean.
- If you have multiple pedals, you’ll need to connect them all together using patch cables, which are just short cables designed to connect pedals.
- Pedals only have one input and one output, so you can only connect a pedal to two other things at a time. These can either be, another pedal, your guitar, or your amp. Hence, you get a chain of pedals all joined together.
- The order of this chain, affects how each pedal sounds. For example, a distortion pedal will sound completely different if you put it either before or after a reverb pedal.
Take a look at this post on how to connect effects pedals to your amp and guitar if this doesn’t make any sense to you!
So hopefully, you understand how important this pedal chain order actually is.
With individual pedals, you have complete flexibility to place your pedals in whatever order you like. But with multi-FX pedals, you don’t get this freedom. They are usually already set up so that the effects run in a specific order. This limits the different kind of effects you can actually create, as you’re more fixed in.
What’s the winner?
Individual effects pedals give you a lot more freedom when it comes to pedal chain ordering than multi-FX units. This gives you a lot more versatility and options so that you can create a unique tone that’s specific to you.
Ease of Use
It’s also really important to consider how easy each type of pedal is to choose, when considering which to buy. After all, one of the main advantage of effects pedals is that they allow you to change your tone super quickly, without having to mess with your amp, so ease of use is very important.
We’ll start with multi-FX pedals. These are very easy to setup. You just need two cables and a power supply. You can simply power up your pedal, and connect it to your amp with one cable, and your guitar with the other, and you’re good to go.
Another great thing about multi-FX pedals, is that they often come with presets. These are great if you’re a beginner and you’re sussing out each effect. It can save a lot of time if you just use one of the presets to get started.
Individual effects pedals on the other hand, are a little more complicated. If you have 4 pedals for example, you’ll need three patch cables, a cable to connect your pedals to your amp, another cable to connect them to your guitar, then your power supplies and a pedal board to keep everything neat.
You also don’t get the addition of presets. With single effects pedals, you’re more on your own when you’re figuring out the different controls and how to get the best sound.
what’s the winner?
Multi-effects pedals are much more beginner friendly, take less setting up and are simple to use.
So we’ve been through which is easier to operate, but we also need to look at how much versatility the controls on each pedal type actually gives you.
With multi-effects pedals, you’ll usually get a pretty straight forward setup. You’ll be able to turn each effect on and off, and adjust the level of each effect. But unless you’re purchasing a more premium effects pedal, then you won’t get that much control over specific parameters.
Individual effects pedals on the other hand, give you tonnes more control. With each specific pedal, you’ll get around 3-4 controls on each, allowing you to adjust the volume, tone, and other features, so that you can dial in the exact effect you’re looking for.
what’s the winner?
Individual effects pedals give you a lot more versatility as you get more controls to adjust. Although this makes them a bit more complicated to use, it means that you can dial in a very specific effect, which you can’t do as well with a multi-FX unit.
One of the biggest differences between multi-FX pedals, and individual effects pedals, is how much space they take up.
If you are only using a couple of effects, then you won’t need too much space. However, if you want several different effects, then things start to get a bit messier.
Most guitarists use pedal boards, to keep all the pedals in order. But if you want to use a lot of effects, you’ll need a pretty large pedal board to keep everything neat and tidy. Take my pedal board for example. My BCB-60 comfortably fits around 7 pedals, but it takes up 71 x 41 cm of floor space.
Multi-effects pedals on the other hand, are more compact. Since you only need to connect them to a single power supply (unlike individual pedals which need a power supply for each pedal), you don’t need as much space. For example, an multi-FX pedal with around 7 effects, usually only takes up around 30 x 20 cm.
What’s the winner?
The winner in this category has to be the multi-effects pedal. They take up far less space due to their compact design.
Another thing to think about when comparing multi-FX pedals and individual effects pedals, is how easy it is to fix any issues.
Of course, in an ideal world, this won’t happen very often. However, guitar effects pedals are electronic devices, so things can go wrong with them sometimes, even if you look after them, and purchase high quality pedals. So it’s important to think about how you can solve these issues.
Usually, if you have a pedal chain consisting of several effects, and one of them isn’t working properly, then the whole system won’t work. This is commonly referred to as the “Christmas tree light effect”.
In order to solve the problem, you need to go through and unplug each pedal individually to diagnose the problem. And if you’ve got a fair few pedals, this can be a pretty tedious process.
On the other hand, if you have a multi-FX unit, you’ll be able to figure out if there is an issue very quickly. The downside however, is that it means that all your effects can end up not working. For example, if there is an electrical fault affecting the whole effects unit.
With individual pedals on the other hand, you can just remove a pedal from your chain, and carry on using the rest of them until you find a replacement.
What’s the winner?
This one is a draw. It’s easier to diagnose any issues you may have with a multi-effects unit, but it’s a bigger problem if you actually have an issue with your multi-FX pedal, compared to if one of your individual pedals breaks, where you can just swap it out really quickly.
Now we’ll move onto the quality of each type of effects pedal. Things can get a bit grey, when you move onto this area, but it’s definitely something worth considering when choosing between multi-effects and individual effect pedals.
With individual effects pedals, you’re getting something specifically built for providing a certain effect. Whereas, with multi-effects units, you’re getting a product that’s designed to do a lot of different things.
This generally tends to mean that individual effects pedals will give you a better quality of sound than multi-effects pedals.
However, of course, this depends on the specific pedals you’re using. There are plenty of brilliant sounding multi-FX pedals, and some pretty terrible individual effects pedals.
what’s the winner?
Individual effects pedals tend to produce a higher quality sound than multi-effects pedals because they’re specifically designed to provide one type of effect. This more focused approach tends to give better results, but this isn’t always the case.
This is a very important factor to consider when you’re looking at purchasing a new guitar effects pedal. The majority of effects pedals are pretty pricey, no matter if you get a multi-FX unit or individual pedals.
If you only want a few different effects, then you’re cheapest option is to go for individual pedals. You’ll often find pretty decent quality single effects pedals for around $50-100, depending on what type of effect you’re looking for.
On the other hand, if you want a whole raft of effects, then you’ll find that multi-effects units are more cost effective. It usually costs around $400 to get a multi-FX unit with at least 8 effects. But if you were to buy individual pedals, you’d be looking at around $500 or more, depending on the quality of the pedals.
That’s why getting guitar pedals can become a pretty expensive addiction. A lot of guitarists can end up spending thousands just on pedals, which can end up costing even more than the guitar and amplifier in some cases.
What’s the winner?
Multi-effects units are more cost-effective if you want several effects. Individual pedals are cheap to buy if you only want a few effects, but the price can add up, and it gets higher when you consider accessories like pedal boards and power supplies.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I buy a multi-effects pedal or a single effects pedal?
This is a really difficult question to answer. If you’re on a budget, but you want multiple effects, or you’re a beginner looking to get into the world of effects pedals, then you’ll probably get more out of a multi-effects unit.
But if you’re a more experienced player, that doesn’t mind the extra costs, and more complicated nature of individual pedals, then you’ll find you’ll be able to dial in specific effects much better with single-effect pedals.
Which are best for live performances?
Multi-effects pedals are very useful for live performances because they don’t take up a lot of space, are easy to operate and often come with presets. This can save you a lot of time setting up on stage.
However, a lot of professionals use individual pedals even when playing live because they give them more options and versatility, allowing them to dial in their specific sound.
How do you connect individual pedals together?
This is a pretty straight forward thing to do. You’ll need to connect your amp to your pedal using a normal electric guitar cable, and then connect the other side of your pedal to your guitar, again using the normal cable type. If you have multiple pedals, you can connect them using patch cables. Check out this post on how to connect pedals to your amp and guitar for a step by step guide including all the equipment you need.
Which effects do I need?
This depends on a lot of different factors including:
- What style of music do you play?
- Which songs are you playing?
- What does your amplifier sound like?
So there you go! That’s the difference between multi-effects and individual effects pedals! I hope you’ve found this article helpful, thanks for reading. Here are some other posts you might find useful:
- Essential Pedals for Rock Music
- Best Pedal Chain Order
- Reverb vs Delay Pedals
- What Actually is a Compression Pedal?