The 10 best multi-effects pedals: our pick of the best guitar FX modellers

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(Image: © Future)

There 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.

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: a switching system for existing pedals paired with hundreds of built-in effects - thank you, Boss MS-3.

Then there's the analogue 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. So, whether you crave menu surfing and precise numerical tweaks or plug-and-play simplicity, we've got you covered.

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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)

Comprehensive connectivity
Incredible sound and feel from both amp models and effects
Innovative visual display features
Regular updates
A metal bar close to the joystick might have been useful to protect it from clumsy feet
Connectivity could be overkill for some guitarists – see the Helix LT instead

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

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2. 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)

Rugged and eminently portable
Straightforward to use
Killer Fractal amp models and effects
Screen is quite small compared with competitors
Certain effects combinations not possible due to CPU limitations

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

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3. 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

Super-affordable
Compact and eminently portable
Easy hands-on operation
Good software editor; wide range of available sounds
Patch switching rather than individual effect switching not ideal for live use
Only three footswitches
Not the best pitch-shifted sounds

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

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4. 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, minijack 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)

Excellent amp modelling
Touchscreen, colour-coding, scribble strips
Onboard sounds cover the essentials
Functions as an audio interface
Limited number of models/routing options
No software editor

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.

Read the full review: HeadRush Pedalboard

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5. Line 6 HX Effects

Don't need amp modelling? This is the best multi-effects pedal for you

Launch price: $599 / £540 | Type: Multi-effects pedal | Effects: 100+ | Connections: 2x input, 2x output, 2x send/return, USB, MIDI in, MIDI out/through | Power requirements: 9V power supply, 3,000mA

All the Helix effects and more
Workable, pedalboard-friendly size
External loops for switching
Easy editing
3,000mA power requirement means it won't work with many pedal power supplies

The HX removes the amp modelling and condenses the rock-solid build, intuitive user interface and neat form-factor of the Helix series into a svelte multi-effects box that will fit on a Pedaltrain JR with room to spare. As on the larger units, editing is highly intuitive. Lightly touching a footswitch opens the edit menu for that patch, with the large rotary and left-right buttons used to switch patch and parameters. More complex functionality like editing signal flow isn’t far away from the user - a couple of clicks through the menu gets you there, and makes creating banks of your own a breeze. In terms of sounds, the same high-quality effects from the flagship units are present and correct, with a number of additional effects that have been developed in the meantime. The drives on offer are excellent, and into a small tube amp we also found the boosts allowed us to drive the amp into saturation, or up the ante for soloing. With a real drive in front, the unit was able to keep up, and the interaction between external drive, HX and amp was close to indistinguishable from stacking two real drive pedals.

Read the full review: Line 6 HX Effects

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6. 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

Effects are almost in a class of their own
Flexible way to get Eventide sounds
App-based editing works well
MIDI integration
Can only run certain effects at one time
Still prohibitively expensive for most
Not everyone wants to use an app for editing

The H9 is a pedal that can actually run all of Eventide's stompbox effects (apart from the TimeFactor's Looper). 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. In addition, there's a new UltraTap Delay that's exclusive to the H9, plus a voucher for a free algorithm of your choice. 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

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7. 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

Excellent concept and pedalboard integration
Near-limitless sonic opportunities
Effects sound great
Screen is a little small
Not the best choice for onboard drive sounds

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

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8. 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

Compact size
Wide range of effects (multiple or single)
Surprisingly intuitive interface
Excellent modulations, delays and reverbs
Single-footswitch format can be limiting
Power supply isn't included
Not the greatest drive tones

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

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9. 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

Extremely functional
Great back-up/fly-date/travelling-light option
Can be used anywhere in the world
Functionality is obviously basic compared with some other multi-FX

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

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10. Hotone Xtomp Mini

The most compact multi-effects pedal on the market

Launch price: $249 / £129 | Type: Compact amp-modeller/multi-effects pedal with Bluetooth | Amp models: 30+ | Effects: 110+ | Connections: Input, output, USB | Power requirements: 9V power supply, 200mA

Tiny enclosure
Wide range of effects
Practical bypass options
No screen
Can't load the larger Xtomp's Combo effects
Pointing a phone at the pedal isn’t for everyone
Not easy to change effects

The key to using the Xtomp Mini is an app that provides 140 digitally modelled effects, amp sims and speaker sims, any of which can be loaded singly into the pedal. When you load an effect into the Xtomp, the knobs that tweak the parameters for that effect light up - some in different colours relating to their function - although you’ll have to remember what parameter each controls from looking at the representation in the app. The variety of single effects is outstanding, with models of many well-known types available, some with thinly disguised names: if you want a Tube Screamer, Big Muff, RAT, Phase 90, CE-1, Uni-Vibe and many others, you’ll find pretty accurate emulations here courtesy of Hotone’s Comprehensive Dynamic Circuit Modeling (CDCM) technology. In A/B tests with some original dirt pedals, we find the Xtomp versions to be pretty close and note that the amp sims capture the flavour of the real thing. While the loading of the pedal from a mobile phone is well implemented, it’s not something you’d want to be messing with during a set: getting your phone out, selecting the app, scrolling to the effect you want, loading it and then resetting the knobs for the new effect may be a little too much to ask. But it’s really no hassle if you need to configure it to a particular effect to see you through a gig, and could be a lifesaver for those who play with several different bands and need a different pedal for each.

Read the full review: Hotone Xtomp Mini

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