There was a time when the term 'jack of all trades, master of none' applied to multi-FX, but as an increasing number of guitar players - and this buyer's guide to the best multi-effects pedals on the market - will now attest, that's no longer the case.
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.
Fully fledged amp modellers are now available in floor units, with Fractal Audio's AX8 and the Line 6 Helix leading the charge, complete with approximations of classic guitar amps and a bevy of impulse responses (IRs).
Another genus of multi-FX has also reared its head lately: a switching system for existing pedals paired with hundreds of built-in effects - thank you, Boss MS-3 and Line 6 HX Stomp.
Then there's the analog-style combination unit, which crams a handful of useful effects - say, overdrive, distortion and delay - into one compact enclosure, such as Tech 21's Fly Rig 5.
A good multi-effects pedal can now cover all the tonal bases. Best of all, despite the initial outlay, multi-effects also offer the best effect-per-pound/dollar ratio money can buy. So, whether you crave menu surfing and precise numerical tweaks or plug-and-play simplicity, we've got you covered.
1. Line 6 Helix
The best multi-effects pedal for pro players
Launch price: $1,499 / £1,211 | Type: Amp modeller/multi-effects pedal | Effects: 70 | Amp models: 41 guitar, 7 bass | Connections: Standard guitar input, standard aux input, XLR mic input, standard main outputs (L/mono, R), XLR main outputs (L/mono, R), standard stereo phones output, 4x standard send, 4x standard return, s/pdif digital in, s/pdif digital out, AES/EBU and L6 Link out, Variax, MIDI in, MIDI out/thru, USB, 2x expression pedal, Ext amp, CV | Power requirements: Mains power (IEC lead)
The dual-DSP-powered Helix combines amp and effects models in a large, rugged floor pedal. 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! There are some great sounds here, especially when you get beyond the factory presets and shape things to your own taste. The Helix's advantage lies in its comprehensive input/output and signal routing ability, which can facilitate just about any guitar-related studio or onstage task you can think of. However, if you don't need all that connectivity, and want to save a bit of cash, there's also the Line 6 Helix LT.
Read the full review: Line 6 Helix
2. Boss GT-1000 Guitar Effects Processor
The Japanese pedal giant shoots for the high-end with its latest multi-effects
Launch price: £849/€850/$999 | Type: Amp modeller/multi-effects pedal | Effects: 116 | Connections: Input jack, main output (L/MONO, R) jacks, SEND1 jack, RETURN1 jack, SEND2 jack, RETURN2 jack: 1/4-inch phone type - Sub output (L, R) connectors: XLR type - Phones jack: Stereo 1/4-inch phone type - CTL4, 5/EXP2 jack, CTL6, 7/EXP3 jack, AMP CTL1, 2 jack: 1/4-inch TRS phone type - USB port: USB B type - DC IN jack - MIDI (IN, OUT) connectors | Power: AC adaptor
After the success of the DD-500, RV-500 and MD-500 units, Boss's GT-1000 is a floorboard combining all three. Sleek and modern, it's a formidably robust beast. To the rear, there’s the usual array of inputs and outputs, including USB recording out and an input for an additional expression pedal plus jacks to insert two mono pedals, or one stereo external pedal and a nifty send for amp channel-switching. In terms of editing, it’s not the most intuitive. For example, when you switch between patches in a bank, you’re not just turning off, say, a ‘Tube Screamer’, but switching to a different chain that doesn’t have a gain block - standard in rack-style processing, but tough for beginners. Sounds-wise, the 32-bit, 96khz sampling finds the GT-1000 punching above its weight, and on the effects side, there’s a wealth of modulations, delays, reverbs and drives. If you run a larger, more traditional pedalboard, perhaps the so-called ‘Bossfecta’ of the MD, RV and DD-500 series units would provide more flexibility, but for most players, the GT-1000 is a highly practical solution.
Read full review: Boss GT-1000 Guitar Effects Processor
3. Fractal AX8
The best amp modeller in a floor-based unit
Launch price: $1,099 / €1,699 | Type: Amp modeller/multi-effects pedal | Amp models: 222 | Effects: 175+ | Connections: Input, 2x output, 2x XLR main output, 2x FX send, 2x FX return, s/pdif digital output, MIDI in, MIDI out/thru, USB, 4x pedal/switch connectors | Power requirements: Mains power (IEC lead)
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. There are 222 amp models, over 130 Factory cabs, plus 512 User Cab memory slots and loads of effects. Everything has a massive amount of editable parameters to get the sound just right, either accessed from the AX8's physical controls or via the free editing software if you connect it to a computer. With rock-solid construction, the AX8 lays out its 11 footswitches in an easily accessible manner. All of them can be assigned to a host of tasks, all aimed at making your onstage experience go as smoothly as possible. Sound-wise, Fractal's realistic amp tones, carefully tailored cabinet models and crystal-clear effects give you tones that can stand up next to any conventional amp and effects rig. If you like the idea of an Axe-Fx II but aren't keen on the rackmount format or thought it out of your price range, the AX8 may be right up your street.
Read the full review: Fractal AX8
4. Boss GT-1 Guitar Effects Processor
The best affordable multi-effects pedal for beginners
Launch price: $199 / £169 | Type: Multi-effects pedal | Effects: 108 | Connections: Standard input, standard outputs L(mono)/R, minijack aux input, minijack phones output, CTL/EXP socket, USB | Power requirements: 4x AA batteries, 9V power supply
Featuring a sound engine derived from the bigger, premium-priced GT-100, the GT-1 contains 99 preset and 99 user patches each built from a chain of blocks that can draw from 108 effects, including 27 amp/speaker sims and a 32-second looper. The first two footswitches scroll through patches, while the third (CTL1) footswitch is used to turn an effect, or a combination of effects, on and off in a patch, or for tap tempo. Sonically, there's some great stuff here. Many of the presets are playable straight off the bat, but the wide range of effects means that you can get really creative with your own patches. As you'd expect from Boss, the modulation effects are a highlight, as well as the delays and reverbs, particularly the Tera Echo. We've heard better pitch-shifting though... While the COSM amp sims will give you an approximation of the real thing for recording, at this price, you don't get the playability and detail of high-end modelers. Likewise, the overdrives and distortions work really well when building a patch but, used as solo effects, have less of the impact of real analogue pedals. The acoustic guitar simulator is class, though. For live use, the GT-1 doesn't have the flexibility of bigger units where you can switch individual effects, although you could get by in a live situation with careful sequential use of your own patches and the CTL1 button.
Read the full review: Boss GT-1 Guitar Effects Processor
5. HeadRush Pedalboard
Top-notch amp modelling, tons of effects and a killer touchscreen
Launch price: $999 / £899 | Type: Amp modeller/multi-effects pedal | Amp models: 33 | Effects: 42 | Connections: Standard guitar input, mini-jack stereo aux input, standard main outputs (L/Mono, R), XLR main outputs (L/Mono, R), standard stereo phones output, standard Send (L/Mono, R), standard Return (L/Mono, R), MIDI in, MIDI out/thru, USB, expression pedal | Power requirements: Mains power (IEC lead)
The HeadRush Pedalboard's quad-core processor-powered DSP platform enables a faster and more guitarist-friendly user interface, reverb/delay tail spill-over between presets, the ability to load custom/third-party impulse responses, a looper with 20 minutes of record time, and more. The unit's most notable feature, however, is the seven-inch touchscreen, used to edit patches and to create new ones. In form, the Pedalboard most closely resembles Line 6’s Helix in that it has a treadle and 12 footswitches with LED ‘scribble strips’ showing each switch’s function and a colour-coded LED for each. There are several modes available for calling up sounds, easily changed by a couple of footswitch presses. In Stomp mode, the two footswitches to the left scroll through and select Rigs, while the central eight footswitches call up stompboxes within a selected Rig. Then in Rig mode, the left switches scroll through the Rig banks, while the eight select rigs. Sound-wise, there's no 'fizz' here, even on higher-gain patches, and the closer you get to a clean amp sound, the more convincing it is. If amps matter to you more than effects, the HeadRush is well worth looking into. And if you're after something with a smaller footprint, there's also the HeadRush Gigboard.
Read the full review: HeadRush Pedalboard
6. Line 6 HX Stomp
The power of the full-fat Helix in a compact pedalboard-friendly form
Launch price: $559 / £558 | Type: Amp modeller/multi-effects pedal | Effects: 300 | Amp models: 41 guitar, 7 bass | Connections: 2x input, 2x output, 2x send/return, USB, MIDI in, MIDI out/through, headphones, TRS expression in | Power requirements: 9V power supply, 3,000mA
The HX Stomp contains 300 effects, including the Helix, M Series and legacy Line 6 patches, as well as the amp, cab and mic options of the full-fat Helix. It even supports loading impulse responses, so if you have modelled your own amps, or purchased commercial IRs, they can be loaded as well. Cramming not only the sounds of those units, but also a full-colour screen into a unit the size of the HX Stomp is certainly impressive and no mean feat. With MIDI in and out, there’s clearly been some consideration for those that want to incorporate the HX Stomp into a rig controlled by a pedal switcher. In that context, it’s easy to see the attraction. Though the HX Stomp is limited in terms of its controls on the front, it’s highly customisable, and offers a broad palette of professional-grade effects to explore. For the guitarist that wants specific modulations, delays or a cab sim on tap ‘just in case,’ the HX Stomp is a smart, compact solution, and the capacitive footswitches make assigning and editing a relatively error-free procedure - it’s unlikely you’ll need to refer to the manual much at all. And if you don't need the amp models and fancy a few more footswitches, there's also the HX Effects.
Read the full review: Line 6 HX Stomp
7. Eventide H9
Otherworldly, studio-worthy effects from the harmonizer legend
Launch price: $579 / £489 | Type: Multi-effects pedal with app control | Effects: 9 included (additional available to purchase) | Connections: 2x input, 2x output, expression, USB, MIDI in, MIDI out/thru | Power requirements: 9V power supply, 500mA
The H9 is a pedal that can run all of Eventide's stompbox effects. All of the effect algorithms (including their associated presets) are available for purchase, but several come already built in - you get Chorus and Tremolo/Pan from the ModFactor, H910/H949 and Crystals from the PitchFactor, Tape Echo and Vintage Delay from the TimeFactor, and Shimmer and Hall from Space - and algorithms are being updated on a regular basis. The complex effects algorithms feature loads of editable parameters. The H9 has both wireless (Bluetooth) and wired (USB) connections for the free H9 Control editor and librarian software (iOS app, Mac, Windows) for editing, creating and managing presets, changing system settings and purchasing algorithms. This pedal has been designed to take full advantage of this and it works brilliantly, especially so on an iPad where a few finger swipes zap the pedal through thin air to produce instant results. Other one-effect-at-a-time 'chameleon' pedals exist out there, but the H9 pushes the genre's envelope.
Read the full review: Eventide H9
8. Boss MS-3 Multi Effects Switcher
Multi-effects and switching combined: the best option for pedalboards
Launch price: $559 / £439 | Type: Multi-effects pedal and switching unit | Effects: 112 | Connections: Input, 3x send/returns, 2x outputs, control out, 2x expression/control ins, USB, MIDI out | Power requirements: 9V power supply, 280mA
Boss's MS-3 is an ingenious pedalboard solution that gives you programmable loops for three of your own pedals and a host of built-in effects - 112 to be precise. The MS-3 can switch your amp channels, adjust external effects and integrate with MIDI-equipped pedals. Then there’s the built-in tuner, noise suppressor and global EQ. It’s as if Boss looked at everything players could want from a pedalboard controller and crammed it into one compact unit. There are 200 patch memories for saving your expertly tweaked sounds, each with four effects or pedals that can be switched in or out at will, or four presets that can be instantly recalled. The MS-3 is rammed with pristine modulations, all the essential delay and reverb types, as well as a load of Boss specials, such as the dynamic Tera Echo and sequenced tremolo Slicer. Then there’s the niche yet useful effects, such as an acoustic guitar sim, Slow Gear auto fade-in and that sitar sim you never knew you wanted. The drive tones don’t live up to standalone pedals, but for most players, we’d wager those three switchable loop slots will be used for analogue drives, with the ES-3 handling modulation, delay and reverb. A genuinely exciting pedalboard development.
Read the full review: Boss MS-3 Multi Effects Switcher
9. Zoom MS-50G MultiStomp
Need a huge range of effects from a small space at a low price? Zoom has the answer
Launch price: $169 / £99 | Type: Compact multi-effects pedal with amp models | Amp models: 22 | Effects: 100+ | Connections: 2x input, 2x output, USB | Power requirements: 9V power supply, 200mA
Following a raft of recent updates, the MS-50G now boasts over 100 effects and 22 amp models, six of which can be used simultaneously in any order. Add a chromatic tuner into the equation, and you're looking at a pedal for all seasons. The very playable amp models cover the popular options: there are three Fenders ('65 Twin Reverb, '65 Deluxe Reverb, Tweed Bassman), a Vox AC30 and a Marshall Plexi. You also get a Two-Rock Emerald 50, while a Diezel Herbert and Engl Invader cover the high-gain side of things. Effects include modulation, filter, pitch shift, distortion, delay and reverb. Most are generic, but some, particularly in the overdrive/distortion category, are modelled on well-known devices - the Big Muff and TS-808, for example. Each patch can be constructed from a chain of six effects blocks, each with a modelled amp or effect, DSP permitting. It all adds up to the most practical, cost-effective way to expand your pedalboard by adding a single pedal.
Read the full review: Zoom MS-50G MultiStomp
10. Tech 21 Fly Rig 5
Everything you need for a gig, in the smallest, simplest possible package
Launch price: $350 / £299 | Type: Screen-less multi-effects pedal | Effects: 4 | Connections: Input, output | Power requirements: 12V power supply
Need a portable pedalboard for fly dates? Tech 21 has the answer in the form of the Fly Rig 5: a small but perfectly functional pedalboard, powered by an auto-switching adaptor, so it can be used anywhere in the world. What you get is the equivalent of five stompboxes. The SansAmp is at the heart of the Fly Rig. 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 Tech 21'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. The Fly Rig 5 is an extremely functional unit that contains arguably the most essential effects - you can plug it into a guitar amp or straight into a PA or mixing desk. It's also a life-saver should your equipment go down at the last minute, as well as being the answer to the prayers of guitarists who need to travel light.
Read the full review: Tech 21 Fly Rig 5