I keep noticing that most pro artists do not use individual effects, not even the most high end individual effect pedals, but instead, this big multi effect type of units. Are they custom made? Why are them better than single and good quality stomp boxes chained together?
Are they custom made?
Usually no. There are many competing products that are popular among professional guitarists and bassists that combine effects and amp simulations into all-in-one devices. The most popular product lines include:
- Fractal AxeFX
- Line 6 Helix/HX and POD
- Kemper Profiler
Why are them better than single and good quality stomp boxes chained together?
All-in-one pedalboards and rack effects units have become very popular because they have many advantages over separate effects and amps and the only disadvantage, tone quality, has been much mitigated over the years since the first amp modeler was released in 1996. The advantages of amp and effect modeling include:
- Reliability - Integrated systems eliminate having several separate power and signal cables that could each fail, and it's easier and cheaper to buy two digital rigs so you have a backup if one fails than it is to buy two of every pedal, cable, amp, etc. in an analog rig.
- Cost - Even the most expensive amp modeling systems cost less than a professional quality amplifier and set of effects.
- Flexibility - With a digital system, you can change amp sounds and effects chains easily and instantly.
- Ease of setup - Making an analog pedalboard and amp all connect and work together well is a big challenge. There are often unforeseen problems with power supplies, signal impedances, ground loops, etc. Plus you have to put a microphone in front of a real amp, while digital systems have direct outputs for the PA and monitors.
- Portability - Digital systems are much smaller and lighter than analog pedals and tube amps. Particularly when touring, this is a huge advantage.
That said, some touring artists still want their exact pedals on stage and want to take advantage of easy switching, control, and programability, so they use effects switchers and MIDI control pedalboards to remotely control their effect pedals and amplifiers. A company called Rocktron/Bradshaw pioneered this concept with their AllAccess system in the late 80s. The popular brands in that space include:
- RJM Mastermind
- VoodooLab Ground Control
As the digital modeling systems have improved and become more popular, fewer and fewer artists at all levels are taking the heavy, expensive, and delicate analog, vintage, and tube equipment to stages. That said, the fine details of tone quality that actual analog effects and tube amplifiers have still not been perfectly replicated digitally (and may never be), so many musicians at all levels still use the real thing on stage, and even more so in recording studios.
...most pro artists do not use individual effects, not even the most high end individual effect pedals, but instead, this big multi effect type of units.
"Most" is carrying a lot of weight here. You see lots of guitar rigs in Premier Guitar and on the website, and there are variations from guitar-and-amp to really bonkers setups. I think Vernon Reid's is the wildest.
The home and studio rig can vary from the van tour rig and the fly rig where you rent a local backline, and the big tour rig, where your roadie can switch between a wall of heads in case one breaks down mid-solo.
Often, especially in big-tour rigs, the individual effects pedals are in a rack backstage and there's a controller unit in front of the guitarist, so that, if you aren't back when it's time to switch in the chorus, your roadie can hit it for you, but that's the big time. The second photo is likely that.
I suspect the first one is a multi-effect unit, but I couldn't tell you which one. I have an old multi-effect unit, but I don't like it, because I can't get my clean tones as loud as my distorted tones. New ones are different because of the technology used to create the sounds. I've definitely been people suggest getting a Kemper or HX Stomp with IRs close to your amp in case you blow a tube, which suggests that they're close.
But, in the rigs of many professionals, there are many pedals with many pedalboards.
Are they custom made?
They can be. David Gilmour of Pink Floyd had a board in the 1970s that powered it, replacing batteries, and replaced the patch cables. There are still people who will put together custom boards, but their benefit is cutting and soldering patch and power cables to make it all fit, and maybe sourcing cooler pedals and pedal power units. There are companies that make products that make the oddest of setups off-the-rack easy.