There once was a time when the term 'jack of all trades, master of none' applied to multi-effects pedals, but as an increasing number of guitar players will now attest, that's no longer the case.
Yes, with the rapidly expanding DSP capabilities of modern processors, a good multi-effects pedal can now cover all the tonal bases, giving you a one-stop solution to all your effects - and in some cases, amp - needs.
Another genus of multi-FX has also reared its head lately, too: the analogue combination unit, which crams a handful of useful effects - say, overdrive, distortion and delay - into one compact enclosure.
A good multi-effects pedal can now cover all the tonal bases
So, whether you crave menu surfing and precise numerical tweaks or plug-and-play simplicity itself, we've got you covered.
Read on for our guide to the finest multi-effects processors money can buy, and be sure to also check out our countdown of the best multi-effects guitar pedals for beginners, which suggests a few more wallet-friendly options.
Line 6 Helix
There are a massive 1,024 preset locations onboard the Helix, organised into eight setlists that contain 32 banks with four presets each. Each preset can have up to four stereo signal paths, each made up of eight blocks populated with amps and effects.
With the current count of 41 modelled amps, seven bass amps, 30 cabs, 16 mics, 80 effects and the option of loading speaker impulse responses, there's great potential for sound creation. Line 6 has implemented an easy editing system, complete with a joystick, and – get this – touch-sensitive footswitches offering a shortcut to parameter adjustment; you can even use these with your feet to select a parameter before adjusting it with the pedal treadle!
"The Helix is a real powerhouse that can be used on its own or as the centrepiece of an extended gear system."
FULL REVIEW: Line 6 Helix review
The AX8 features the same core modelling engine as the Axe-Fx II for identical sound quality, but has different CPU power and offers just one rather than two amp blocks in its signal chain.
It's still pretty potent, though, with 512 onboard presets that are built from a series of blocks. You get amp and cabinet blocks plus blocks for the most commonly used effects, and a looper.
"A complete rig you can carry to a gig in a backpack and it could also take care of your recording needs. Axellent!"
FULL REVIEW: Fractal AX8 review
Line 6 Firehawk FX
This Bluetooth-enabled device is a large floor pedal not entirely dissimilar in size and layout to the Line 6's successful POD HD500X. Some of the Firehawk FX's digitally modelled sounds are HD models, also familiar to users of the POD HD series, while the rest are taken from the POD Farm software.
In all, you get a choice of 108 amps, 120 effects and 24 cabinets to use in your presets, each of which is put together using a series of blocks.
There are blocks for amplifer/cabinet, gate, volume, wah, stomp (distortion and more), compressor, EQ, modulation, delay and reverb - you can also have a block for the real-world stompboxes and pedals that you can connect into the external effects loop, and there's also a looper that's activated by a single footswitch.
"The Firehawk FX offers plenty of bang for your buck for home practice, recording and - given its rock-solid build quality - gigging, too."
FULL REVIEW: Line 6 Firehawk FX review
Fractal Audio FX8
Fractal Audio became aware that many players have their own favourite amps, so while they don't need the Axe-Fx's amp sims, they may be interested in the effects – and this was the concept behind the new FX8: taking just the effects from the Axe-FX II and putting them into a floor unit that has a basic working format of a pedalboard with eight simultaneous, instantly available effects blocks, each home to an effect of your choice.
128 different preset pedalboards are stored onboard in banks of eight, and each preset has features that can go beyond just switching the individual effects on and off.
"There are no compromises here: this is the most comprehensive and best-sounding all-in-one effects processor you can currently buy today."
FULL REVIEW: Fractal Audio FX8 review
The ME-80 features a set of ingeniously designed footswitches that can be used in two ways: either to switch a collection of individual effects pedals, or for instant recall of complex patches featuring multiple effects.
The patches are constructed from up to eight simultaneous effects, including, if you want them, COSM amp sims. The actual range of onboard effects is really wide, featuring all of the standard stuff you would expect, plus some new things such as Boss's Tera Echo, which incorporates Multi Dimensional Processing (MDP) technology to create a range of ambiences.
The ME-80 also has tap tempo, tuner, a phrase-loop function with 38 seconds of recording, and a built-in USB audio interface for recording to a DAW that includes the possibility of recording a dry sound while listening to the ME-80's effects, and then re-amping it later.
"An affordable do-it-all effects solution for onstage use and recording."
FULL REVIEW: Boss ME-80 review
Zoom MS-100BT MultiStomp
The MS-100BT loads its models through a wireless Bluetooth connection. A free app, StompShare, provides a virtual effects shop with a range of stompbox effects that you can try out, purchase and add to your MS-100BT to be used like any of the pedal's pre-loaded effects.
The MS-100BT has 50 patch memories, and there are 92 effects models of many varieties (rather than 47 in the MS-50G) to complement the eight amps, which include Fender, Vox, Marshall, Two- Rock, Diezel and Engl models. Up to six models can be used simultaneously in a patch in any order, though the actual combination of models depends on the amount of digital signal processing available.
"The most practical, cost-effective way to expand your pedalboard by adding a single pedal."
FULL REVIEW: Zoom MS-100BT MultiStomp review
Line 6 M13
In simple terms, the M13 contains a chain of four stompbox modellers, featuring sounds from the company's earlier (and hugely successful) four-switch stompboxes, plus the Verbzilla from the Tonecore range. Each modeller has three memories, equating to the three footswitches under each control panel, so you can store three sounds for each of the modellers.
Now, the really good bit is that each modeller can run any of the M13's five main effects types: distortion, delay, modulation, filter or reverb. This means that the three memories for a given modeller don't have to be filled with variations on the same sound; you can put effects where you want them in the signal chain, and if you want four different delays running simultaneously, that's fine.
"Not for the first time Line 6 leads the way with a great sounding FX system centred around its well-known stompbox modellers: the multistomp is born!"
FULL REVIEW: Line 6 M13 review
Zoom has added a treadle to the G3 to create the G3X, which can also be a USB audio interface for recording, and sports a 40-second looper plus 40 onboard rhythms.
With an impressive array of effects and some decent-quality amp modelling, the G3X offers plenty of sonic options as a standalone unit or an add-on to your existing pedals.
"The addition of the treadle increases the sonic versatility of the already handy G3 by a far greater proportion than the extra outlay suggests."
FULL REVIEW: Zoom G3X review
Tech 21 Fly Rig 5
The SansAmp is, in fact, at the heart of the Fly Rig, taking up the centre section of the unit. Stomp on its footswitch and its six mini control knobs light up blue. You get level and drive knobs, three-band EQ and a spring reverb emulation based on the Boost RVB pedal.
In front of the SansAmp, you get the Plexi section, based on Tech21's Hot-Rod Plexi pedal. One footswitch emulates the natural overdrive and distortion of a late-60s Marshall, with sound dialled in with level, tone and drive controls. A second 'Hot' footswitch brings in up to 21dB of boost and can be used independently of the Plexi distortion. Last in the signal chain is the DLA, a delay with tap tempo.
"Slip one into your guitar case and you'll always be covered for sound."
FULL REVIEW: Tech 21 Fly Rig 5 review
The GT-100 is a multi-effects processor with 400 patches onboard, 200 of which are factory presets, with the rest available to save your own creations. Patches are stored four to a bank and all are constructed from a chain of effects blocks that can be placed in any order.
The blocks include compressor, overdrive/distortion, preamp (amp simulation), EQ, FX1 and FX2 (both can host a variety of effects types), delay, chorus, reverb and expression pedal FX. You can also connect your external effects to the GT-100's send and return loop for extra flexibility and include the loop's assignment as part of a patch.
"The GT-100 continues the lineage of this series with sonic and ergonomic advances that make it a powerful tool for both recording and live use."
FULL REVIEW: Boss GT-100 review
Line 6 M9
Aside from a reduced front panel and the lack of a stereo FX loop, the M9's feature list compares favourably with the M13: same effects (109 in all), same infrastructure and the same impressive chunky build.
One important feature that's worth getting your head around is the 'scenes' function. This allows you to recall a number of user-inputted combinations of effects – think of it as 24 different pedalboards if you like – and will prove invaluable if you're the member of more than one band, especially if they're of different styles.
"Compact but crammed with sounds, this is a great alternative to a collection of stompboxes."
FULL REVIEW: Line 6 M9 review
Essentially, the SoulMate is five T-Rex pedals in one: the Møller overdrive, Mudhoney distortion, Replica/Reptile delay and Room-Mate reverb, plus a separate boost, controlled by five effect footswitches. The furthest-right switch acts as a tap tempo for the delay and, held down, activates a built-in tuner, viewable via a bright display on the top-right of the unit.
While you can operate the pedals as individual stompers (we reckon that's how most guitarists will use the SoulMate), there's also the ability to create presets, which you can assign to the five footswitches.
"Anyone after a fuss-free alternative to modelling multi-effects and pedalboards would do well to find their SoulMate."
FULL REVIEW: T-Rex SoulMate review
TC Electronic Nova System
The Nova System offers a series of effects modules in a chain. Seven of the modules (Modulation, Delay, Boost, Pitch, Reverb, Compression and Drive) are assigned to individual footswitches. You also get Noise Gate and EQ modules plus volume, which can be controlled by an expression pedal.
There are three possible routings for the effects - all can be connected serially if desired, but the two alternatives are to have the Reverb and Delay modules connected in parallel so no reverb is added to the delay repeats or to have Modulation, Pitch, Delay and Reverb modules all in parallel so they don't affect each other.
"A classy, versatile and bombproof multi-FX floor processor."
FULL REVIEW: TC Electronic Nova System review
Carl Martin Quattro
The Quattro is housed in a rugged all-in-one metal unit with integral mains adaptor and trailing lead, idiot-proof controls, a tap-tempo switch for the delay and choice of two gain levels for the overdrive.
Along with the single instrument input, we get stereo/mono outputs plus a handy FX loop (placed after overdrive but before chorus) to add in one or more additional, primarily drive-based effect.
"A convenient ready-to-go multi-FX for those of us that love old-style FX and their sound."
FULL REVIEW: Carl Martin Quattro review