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A long time ago I owned the BOSS PW-10 V-Wah and I loved it until I connected up to an incorrect power supply destroying the circuitry. I often see artists such as Matt Bellamy using a bunch of individual "single use" effects pedals wired into his loop fixed to a small board.

On the other hand we have the multi-effects pedal boards such as the BOSS GT-10 Guitar Effects Processor which do it all in one. This kind of package seems like a great deal when you think of the totalled individual prices of each effect (as I am sure BOSS's marketing department would let us know), but I have never really witnessed much widespread use by large bands.

The question then, is what really (when it comes down to it) is most beneficial for performance and experimental playing, a lot of individualistic pedals or a single big old "effects processor" like the GT-10? Is it worth the larger one-time payment? and where are all the cool people which use them?

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pros use stacked effect processors... –  Anonymous Jan 13 '11 at 23:48
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SOME pros use stacked effect processors. Others use all sorts of separate boxes, wired using custom switchers and signal conditioners. –  Anonymous Jan 14 '11 at 6:18
    
Rafael Bittencourt, from Brazilian heavy metal band Angra, uses a BOSS GT-10 live. Maybe Angra isn't a major act absolutely speaking, but they can be regarded as a "large" band within many contexts. –  Rafael Almeida Jan 14 '11 at 17:59
    
And, Peter Torn, who's definitely a pro, is known to use TC-Electronic's G-System in his main board, and their Nova in his travel board. He supplements them with some individual external effects. Many pros have drawers in their rack for separate effects, controlled by effect switchers. So, it's obvious they do what it takes to get the sounds they want and don't necessarily rely on racks and/or multi-effects. –  Anonymous Jan 15 '11 at 21:26
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... and some pros don't use effects at all (except the colour added by their amp) –  slim Sep 22 '11 at 15:33

15 Answers 15

and where are all the cool people which use them?

Here's list of artists that use the AxeFx -- an all-in-one effects unit and preamp that's of the seriously highest degree. Notables: Steve Vai (who's using it live as an effects processor along with his Legacy amps), Dweezil Zappa (who uses two of them to cover the sonic ground demanded by his Zappa Plays Zappa tour), Ty Tabor, John Petrucci...it's a good list of varied players. Those are four I know use them live, confirmed in the flesh.

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I prefer the pedals because of the simplicity factor. All too often those multi-effects pedals just have too much going on [too many lights, settings, features]. Sure you can assign the pedals on the multi-units, but I know for sure that my 'white box' is my Red Witch chorus, and my little 'orange box' is my MXR phaser, etc.

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The big problem with an all-in-one box is you have to like all the sounds. For instance, I use a Pod X3 for recording into my computer, and it has a so-so chorus. Comparing it to my TC-Electronic chorus makes the Pod's chorus sound pretty bad. My Boss and MXR compressors are easier to control and I prefer their "sound" also, over the Pod's.

Prior to my X3 I had the Digitech modeler and got some good sounds from it too. Not all the sounds were to my liking, which is why I switched. Well, that and because I use Macs and their support of Macintosh is abysmal.

More expensive units, like the AxeFX might sound better for more of the effects, but I'd be surprised if every sound was killer or what you want. Being able to tweak to get there is important. That's where having individual effects is nice - if you don't like the sound of one you can replace it with something else retaining all your other sounds.

It's a trade-off and a pain trying to find a combo you like but we all go through it.

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I have the TC Nova system, and I would say that all the effects are excellent quality. So, it is possible to get high quality out of a multi unit. The issue is that they're all high quality TC, so that's the only flavor you're getting. –  yossarian Jan 14 '11 at 15:31
    
I've looked at their G system, which is awesome, and the Nova, and would love either of them. TC has "their sound", but it is very nice sounding. Peter Torn's demo video of the Nova on TC's site has some great tones. –  Anonymous Jan 14 '11 at 17:44
    
Yeah. The unit rocks. But it is a very specific set of sounds you can get from it (I assume the G would give you more latitude). –  yossarian Jan 14 '11 at 21:16
    
I think we're only a few years away from some seriously powerful CPUs in the pedals that will make very realistic modeling available for reasonable prices. Line6 did a decent job on the X3; I'm eager to get my hands on the new generation to see how it does. –  Anonymous Jan 14 '11 at 21:29
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"It's a trade-off and a pain trying to find a combo you like but we all go through it." -- the journey we all take. Amen to that. –  Ian C. Jan 15 '11 at 20:37

There is a middle ground between the two - made available by the use of a loop switcher. This effectively allows you to program combinations of individual effects pedals to turn on when you need them. Take a look at the GigRig:

http://www.thegigrig.com/

This gives you more of an individual sound that buying a multi effects pedal off the shelf. The upside of the multi effects pedal is that it's convenient and compact - but I don't believe that many pros use multi-effects pedals - maybe as a backup.

The other pro option is to purchased individual rackmount effects (like the Pod PRO, AxeFX etc...) and have a foot controller MIDI switcher to switch the patches or turn effects on/off.

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"I don't believe that many pros use multi-effects pedals - maybe as a backup.". You might want to check out Peter Torn's comments on TC-Electronic's site –  Anonymous Jan 14 '11 at 17:46

When you ask this question you are going to get 99% opinion because it is completely subjective. Plenty of people out there (like myself) absolutely hate multi-FX rigs, while others swear by them. There's no real scientific reason to pick one over the other, but here's a quick match up between their basic features:

All-in-One

Pros: Takes up less space; less expensive than a comparable pattern of boutique pedals, potentially easily configured depending on how intuitive the user interface is, most are software driven, easily powered with a single cable, no capacitance loss across longer cable runs, sometimes easier to use during a gig, most can midi sync with a click track, a single master volume (very big pro here). Good for guitarists that like options and swap between them a LOT.

Cons: Digital, can be annoying to tweak, hard to get some more unique sounds out of them, lack dynamics of some more high quality boutique pedals--specifically overdrives, tend to be very opaque.

Most all-in-one's sound obviously digital. Even the best modeling software out there is hard pressed to emulate analog circuits properly; it's tough to accurately represent hardware in software in many applications, and lots of these systems don't have the computational horsepower to compute the real deal algorithms quickly enough (Fourier transforms are hard, even the fast kind :D). Some people consider this to be a con, but others like the crystalline sound that you get from a purely digital source.

Pedals

Pros: Endless configuration possibilities (this one before that one, etc), more tangible--think of playing with legos vs. configuring sounds in software, arguably more versatile than some all-in-ones because there are a very large number of pedals on the market each with it's own sound, analog sound, digital sound, whatever sound you want, more modular. Good for guitarists who have a settled on a single sound and want to run with it, although a multi-FX unit could provide this same functionality as well if you don't monkey with it much.

Cons: Suffer from capacitance loss across long patch cable runs, way way way way more expensive, but scalable to the users budget, have to deal with inconsistant levels across the board if you have multiple pedals with volume controls, you have to compensate for amp goosing (boosts), potentially less compact than an all-in-one if you have a lot of pedals.

I prefer pedals due to their modularity, and my board is arguably more configurable than any multi-FX rig out there, I just gotta have the scratch to purchase that new cool pedal I want. Note that this only barely scratches the surface of this topic. Many a guitar forum has spent hundreds of pages discussing this exact issue.

I submit that there is no right answer for this conundrum :D.

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Two additional points, with a multi-fx, you can easily dial in different types of the same effect, a little chorus on one patch vs a lot on a different one. This is hard to do with pedals without having multiple versions of the same effect. Second, there are higher end multi-fx that do not sound overly digital. In particular the Nova and G from TC are very good (the Nova even includes analog drive), but these are more expensive than Boss, Pod, Zoom, etc. –  yossarian Jan 14 '11 at 21:19
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"obviously digital" is subjecting and factually incorrect. There are plenty of great sound digital pedals and digital multi-effects units. Should be removed as a con. Also, on the pedal cons list "way, way, way more expensive" isn't necessarily true either. Sky is the limit in both categories. Last sentence is key. :) –  Ian C. Jan 14 '11 at 21:23
    
Hah okay okay, so some of my bias comes out. I tried pretty hard to keep it objective XD. Sounding digital definitely has it's place--I even own and use a pair of T-Rex Replicas on my main board because I can't live without tap tempo. So let me clarify that "I" consider sounding digital to be a con, but your mileage may vary. Thanks for pointing that out. It's not technically incorrect though. A discerning ear should be able to spot a digital delay against an MXR Carbon Copy or similar analog delay in a heartbeat. –  Jduv Jan 14 '11 at 23:23
    
As for the money comment, you're usually going to spend way more on a board than you will on say a Line6 MX10 or something similar. Granted, I know AxeFx rigs run in the 2k range, but my personal gigging board has approached that easily--and if you count all the pedals I have unloaded in the search for "my sound" eclipsed it. –  Jduv Jan 14 '11 at 23:26
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@Kaji: again, depends. I have instant access to any effect, in any patch, in my multi-effect rig thanks to a superior MIDI controller with lots of IA switches. So do the pros... –  Ian C. Jan 15 '11 at 20:36

In my opinion the main advantage of guitar processors is the convenience (easier to carry around, takes less space, you can use them without an amp), while the main advantage of a full effect chain is that it usually sounds better and is easier to tweak with in order to find the sound you are looking for.

I initially started with an amp and several pedals, but as I had to live between places switched to a Boss GT-3 and still use it. It is also easier to carry to rehearsal rooms.

But I know that as soon as I settle down I will definitely get a real set-up again.

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For ease of use, quick setup and immunity to a venue's foibles I use my Line 6 POD X3 Live almost everywhere, however for specific effects, especially in the studio, I add a whole range of other effects - some digital, some very old school.

When gigging around at festivals last summer I took a good look at kit - it does seem to vary wildly. Some folks use a couple of pedals on stage, and a rack processor backstage. Muse use everything and the kitchen sink.

YMMV

Updated = replaced that board with their new HD500 and it sounds much closer to 'real analogue' - so a couple of the extra pedals I used to carry about are now redundant!

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You're like a POD X3 commercial mate :D. Nevertheless they are a really good unit. –  Jduv Feb 24 '11 at 12:21
    
I love them - you have no idea how much easier it makes touring when I just need one rucksack and a couple of guitars! –  Dr Mayhem Feb 24 '11 at 12:26
    
I hear you man :D. My board is so gigantic it's flight case has wheels on it (o.O). –  Jduv Feb 24 '11 at 14:19

Surprised no one mentioned Native Instruments Guitar Rig. It would require a laptop as well, so I'm not sure if you want to deal with all that, but it makes editing & creating patches pretty easy (this is the main reason I switched from all-in-one pedalboards & rack effects - editing was a pain without the visual element).

You can switch presets with the Rig Kontrol, or control individual effects (you can map pretty much any control to any button on the Rig Kontrol).

I run it into my amp & only use the effects. If you want to use the amp models as well through an amp, the docs say they sound best through a keyboard amp, but I haven't tried this. Been using it since version 3 and love it.

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It's a matter of taste, but here are some factors:

Price: A $100 multi-fx pedal can gives you a set of effects you'd pay much more for in individual pedals.

Convenience: Some multi-fx pedals take the same space as a single individual effect. All multi-fx pedals let you save patches, so it's easy to recall a combination of settings, and switch between stored settings quickly.

Flexibility: Multi-fx pedals tend to have some fixed attributes. For example, the order that effects are applied is fixed. Sometimes certain effects are mutually exclusive (e.g. you can't have chorus and flanger at the same time). With separate pedals, you have complete flexibility to connect them in any order you like.

Control: Individual pedals tend to have a switch or a knob for every setting. That makes the settings very available, visible and tactile. On a multi-fx unit, you'll find yourself using a selector knob to choose a setting, another knob to adjust it, and a digital display showing one (or sometimes a couple more) setting at a time. Changing settings on a multi-fx feels like adjusting a digital watch.

Tone: ... is completely subjective, so I will ignore it.

Noise: If you have five pedals, you have four analogue patch cords between them; that's four opportunities for noise to creep in. If some of those pedals are digital, it's also five opportunities for lag to creep in.

Don't forget that you can mix and match. There's nothing to stop you including a multi-fx unit in your chain of other pedals.

Also don't forget that effects are optional. I saw the great Wilco Johnson a couple of weeks ago. His guitar went straight into his amp, and he sounded incredible.

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Wilco Johnson on the radio this week "Pedals? I'm a guitar player, not a cyclist!" –  slim May 31 '13 at 10:44

I have both a Boss GT-6B and a Line 6 Floor Pod XT Live. The gt6 was a volume sucker(?). No matter what I did it cut the volume by a quarter to half sometimes. The amp modelling was average, and it was impossible to get a fully clean tone at playable levels (without DI-ing into a decent PA). By fully clean I mean without the model adding some dirt, not in bypass mode.

I got a old OC-2 (the Taiwanese one, I know right?) and the gt6 had an oc2 model on it. The stand alone pedal sounds better by a million miles, which I found strange and they're both made by boss... Plus it has the 2nd octave effect. Which is unusable on bass but by the by.

The line 6 is better by a long chalk, but has no dynamics to it. Every time I plug it into the amp it drains all the warmth of the valve in the pre and sounds thin an lifeless. Also, you can't chain "stomp effects" on it, for example, you can't run an octave effect into a distortion effect, unless you use the octafuzz, which is piss poor. The choruses and phasers are good, the delays and reverbs are better.

The boss has been in a case and for sale now for 6+ months. The line 6 rears it's ugly head now and again, but only for silent practice at home as not to wake the neighbours.

For me standalone pedals win hands down every time. With a good, transparent buffer you can use as much cable as you want without capacitance problems. I will soon be using a buffer (depending on the next pedal) into a parallel/blender effects loop, with a programmable 8 loop true bypass series looper in the loop, with all my pedals into the series looper. If that makes sense. The point of the true bypass looper is to ensure there is only one (perfectly transparent) buffer in the chain while all effects are off.

Yes, very, very biased, but my honest opinion.

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Line6's new board, the HD500 gets around your main gripes here - go test one. It still isn't a full set of analogue devices and a valve amp, but it is much closer :-) –  Dr Mayhem Jan 30 '13 at 22:20

I have both. I play at church with my Roland GT6 plugged into a DI box. At home, I have a bunch of pedals that go to a small amp. Because my effect pedal collection is limited, my palate is limited, but I have what I like. Except a delay. I need a delay.

If you plug in a series of effects and get no sound, you have several pedals and the patch cables between that might be the cause of your issues, plus however you power them all. With an all-in-one, there's the instrument cable, the cable to amplification, and the box itself. Much less involved.

But, if you have a pre-programmed box like the GT6, you can dream up a whole lot of sounds and get pretty close, but if you're in the middle of a song and say to yourself "Hey, I want the chorus right now", too bad. Some are more configurable than others for this, but the idea still arises. You can dream up a sound and store it, you can use it later, but changing it mid-song is harder.

So, both have their strengths.

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Interesting discussion. I'm likely going to go with a GT6B, at least for now. Second hand, they are really reasonable. I'm primarily playing bass now, so a touch of compression is usually all I might use, but with the availability of the additional effects, who knows?

I've played guitar for 35 years. Initially, I tried multi-effects in the late 1990s and found that they weren't quite there in my price range, so went back to individual boxes. The advantages and disadvantages that you all have listed for each type (multi-effects units vs. multiple effects).

However, I want to add that Victor Wooten is often seen playing using a GT6B, which surprised me.

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I have a Zoom 707 pedal I've been using for about 13 years. It's a really good pedal and it also has a drum machine. The beats are nothing like the beats I have on my Boss Rhythm DR770 but they're ok to give a beat in the background for keeping rhythm and some extra sound.

I completely understand why some metal or classic rock style players don't like digital sound. I like prefer to play techno beats with acoustic and harmonica sometimes. I have certain digital effects I've tweaked that don't sound digital.

I have also have an Axe 1G and the Zoom blows it away. I do use the Axe sometimes just to play around with but my recording application (audio evolution) has onboard effects anyway.

I record instrumentals and sing and play harmonica over them like a one man band. I walk miles to play sometimes so having a drum machine effects unit and very limited looper in one works for me.

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If you like the tone of your amp and guitar use single pedals. I found out that multi effect pedal boards degrade the tone. Also, creating your own tone and keeping it is much easier when you can customize individual pedal effects rather than going through a effects unit. You can lose all your settings in an effects unit if something goes wrong and it resets to factory settings.
The most important thing to me is the tone of guitar and amp...if you spent thousands for that why degrade it with the tonal characteristics of an effects unit? Some people may have the skill to adjust the units for their style but I like it simple especially in live settings.

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I've had some big multi-fx pedals (like the Line6 m13), and every time I end up back toward using my gigantic pedal board made up of individual pedals.

The biggest reason is sonic flexibility. Ordering and re-ordering my pedals to get my "sound" is very important, along with being able to tweak settings on the fly without having to go through menus, etc.

And someone above mentioned dynamics. I've yet to play a multi-fx pedal that simply wasn't lifeless. The Line6 is a good example. The Line6 Echo Park pedal is awesome. The Line6 Echo Park effect in the m13 is "meh".

I'm not a snob when it comes to digital/analog, but I have through experience come to believe that individual pedals is more important to me than convenience.

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