During their early days, guitar and bass multi-effects pedals received quite a bad rap from gearheads and amateur musicians alike, and often for good reason – there just was no mistaking the overly thin, digital, and fizzy sounding multi-effects units for the standalone analog pedals, amps, and cabs they tried to emulate.
Audio technology has come a long way since then, however. Now, with some seriously impressive gear on the market – like Fractal Audio’s Axe-FX II, the Kemper Profiler, and the Line 6 Helix – many big-name bands and artists are actually switching over to multi-effects processors due to the sheer versatility they offer.
While the aforementioned higher end tech can easily cost upwards of $1,000 and what you pay is certainly what you get in this field, there are still many great options for those on a tighter budget as well.
Best Multi-Effects Pedals Under $500
Released in 2013, the Line 6 Pod HD500X is an all-inclusive multi-effects floorboard for both live and studio use. Line 6’s Pod line of multi-effects processors, dating all the way back to 1998, has previously been featured on albums by such famous artists as Meshuggah, Fear Factory, and Periphery, among many others.
The Pod is a quality audio interface, multi-effects unit, and amp modeler offering not only (100+) effects, (30) amp simulations, and a selection of (16) speaker cabinets, but even various microphone models that can all be mixed and matched freely to create both regular as well as dual amp setups and achieve virtually any sound imaginable.
The Pod HD500X comes pre-loaded with 64 presets and can store up to 512 user-created sound patches in total. You can also find a wide selection of downloadable custom user-created patches from Line 6’s website.
The unit contains a built-in chromatic tuner, a 48-second looper, an expression pedal for controlling freely assignable amp and effect parameters (e.g. volume and wah), tap tempo, and all the input/output options you could possibly need, including a USB connection for quick and easy recording.
That said, if you’re new to the multi-effects world, the huge range of options on offer here can be extremely intimidating at first. This isn’t alleviated by the Pod’s tiny, monochrome onboard display, which is far from intuitive to navigate through and doesn’t even begin to give you a complete overview of what’s possible.
If you really want to get everything you can out of this unit (and if you don’t, this is probably not the pedal for you), be prepared to spend some time wading through the manual and scouring online forums for tips and tricks.
It does, however, come with free Pod HD500X Edit software, a graphical editor that makes creating your own patches an absolute breeze, but you will need to be connected to a computer to make use of it.
One small problem with the Pod is that there is a very slight, though noticeable delay between changing presets, which sometimes makes silky smooth transitions difficult and is not ideal in a live situation, but thanks to dual amp options and the free assignability of effects to any of the footswitches, there is usually a way around this within a patch.
Although you can find proponents (and critics) for the sound quality of nearly every multi-effects pedal out there, the general consensus is that within this price range, you will not find one with better quality amp modeling and configurability than the Pod HD500X. As said, however, this pedal is far from plug and play, and realistically, you will never even use half the options it has to offer.
However, if you don’t like your creativity bridled by a lack of customizability and don’t mind a bit of tweaking to get exactly what you need, the Pod HD500X has you covered. What’s more, for some truly versatile and unique sounds, the Pod can also be combined with Line 6’s Variax modeling guitars.
2. Boss GT-100
Boss are another major player in the multi-effects game and their GT-100, released in 2012, is a straight competitor to the Line 6 Pod HD500X. Priced about the same as the HD500X, the Boss GT-100 is a USB (cable not included) audio interface, multi-effects pedal, and amp modeler.
The Boss GT-100 comes with 400 total patch locations (though 200 factory presets), 80+ effects, and 25 amp models. The unit has 6 freely assignable footswitches, an expression pedal, dual LCD screens, tap tempo, and the looper offers 38 seconds of mono and 19 seconds of stereo looping.
In terms of the pure number of effects and modeling options, the Boss thus falls short of the Pod HD500X, but chances are you’ll still have more than you’ll ever care to use, which, in the end, makes you less likely to get bogged down in all the details.
The downsides of the Boss compared to the Pod HD500X are a lack of XLR and S/PDIF outputs. When it first came out, the GT-100 also lacked dedicated software, but to fix that, Boss has since released the free Tone Studio editor for easy tone editing and sharing.
Furthermore, while amp modeling quality is a fairly contentious topic, many users seems to agree that the Boss doesn’t quite compare to the Line 6 Pod in this regard, especially when it comes to high-gain tones, where the former can sound a bit thin and digital.
Where the Boss GT-100 shines, however, is its effects (especially the delays) and ease of use. The Boss can handle twice as many effects as the Pod simultaneously (16 vs 8 respectively) and while you’re still dealing with a complex piece of equipment that has a bit of a learning curve, its EZ Tone feature lets you quickly dial in a genre-based tone, which is a great starting point for creating your own sounds.
The Boss GT-100 also has USB reamping capabilities, for which you would need a separate audio interface with the Pod HD500X.
In general, we would have to say that the Boss GT-100 is the better option for live use, while the Line 6 Pod HD500X has an edge in the studio. This is supported by the fact that the GT-100 is simply built like a tank and its bright, configurable, dual LCD screens are much more readable on a dark stage.
Unlike the Pod, the GT-100 can also change patches instantaneously and has “spillover”, meaning reverb and delay carry over when switching between patches, providing a seamless transition crucial when performing onstage.
In a loud live setting, the differences in amp modeling quality are much less noticeable as well (if at all), whereas in a controlled environment like a recording studio, the slight nuances in tone quality will be more evident. However, both units are still built with both applications in mind, so if one of them has a feature you especially like, don’t be afraid to use it in “less favorable” conditions.
Best Multi-Effects Pedals Under $300
The multi-effects pedals available at this price range generally have fewer configuration options and as you will also notice a slight dip in amp modeling quality, particularly when it comes to dynamics, many users recommend just sticking to the effects by bypassing the amp modeling and running the pedals straight into your own amp.
The choice of effects, however, is still quite diverse and will give you a good overview of what’s out there and what is possible in general when it comes to multi-effects processors.
Like the previous units, the Digitech RP1000 functions as a multi-effects pedal, USB audio interface, and amp modeler, though available at a nearly half the price. It features a single though large and bright display, ten footswitches, an expression pedal, includes dual XLR outputs, a built-in chromatic tuner, tap tempo, and a 20 second looper, all packed into a solid metal construction.
The RP1000, first released in late 2008, comes with 55 amp models, 25 cabinet models, 86 effect models, 100 factory presets and 100 slots for user-created ones, free dedicated editor software, and Cubase LE4 recording software. That’s a lot of goodies for the price!
However, the true selling point of the RP1000 seems to be that it can also function as a “switching system”, meaning you can switch between your own amp’s preamp and the Digitech’s amp models with the press of a single button, in addition to controlling any external stompboxes via the Digitech.
You can technically also do this with the aforementioned pricier processors (using the same, so-called “4-cable method”), but not without changing the wiring every time you want to switch. This makes the Digitech RP1000 a great choice for those that are generally happy with their own amp, but are looking to complement it with an all-in-one effects floorboard.
The fairly low price for this wide array of features, however, does reflect some limitations. Firstly, the RP1000 is incapable of running multiple similar effects (e.g. delays) at the same time, aka offers no effect stacking.
The factory presets (most of which are simply not that great) are also unalterable and you can only make minimal changes to the order of effects in the signal chain. In addition, many users report being unsatisfied with the quality of the harmonizer, citing “off-sounding tones”. And finally, as with the Line 6 Pod HD500X, the issue of latency when changing patches is also present.
Overall, the Digitech RP1000’s effects are of high quality, and what it does especially well are distortions and high-gain tones, which is something most multi-effects processors tend to struggle with.
The pedal’s ten whole footswitches also come in handy during live performances, but if you’re looking for something a little smaller, there is also the more compact Digitech RP500, which has five, but sports the same processor, minus a few effects models, and can be had for slightly less.
2. Boss ME-80
The Boss ME-80, released in 2014, is basically the GT-100’s little brother. Like the others so far, it functions as an amp modeler, USB audio interface, and multi-effects unit. The ME-80 has eight footswitches, an expression pedal, a small two-digit display, a chromatic tuner, tap tempo, and a 38-second looper, though no XLR outputs.
With the ME-80, you get 9 preamp models, around 70 total effects, 36 factory presets, and 36 slots for user-created tones. You cannot use the 4-cable method to bypass your amp’s preamp, though the ME-80’s USB connection does offer reamping capabilities.
So, while the range of effects is still pretty decent, overall, the ME-80 is much more trimmed down than its competitors. You can, however, use multiple delays simultaneously, though stacking other effects is still limited.
What makes the this pedal unique, however, is a more physical approach to patch creation and editing. Instead of having to find your way through complicated menus, everything on the ME-80 can be done using onboard knobs and selectors (though a software editor is also available).
This makes the process much easier and more intuitive than on most multi-effects units, offering a more user-friendly experience for newcomers and those who simply want to forgo the hassle of maintaining a computer connection for comfortable editing.
This step up in portability is also supported by the fact that the ME-80 can run on 6 AA batteries, with a battery life of roughly 7 hours. While the batteries are included with the pedal, the AC adapter, which you will likely prefer, is not. The construction, as with most Boss products, is practically bulletproof.
In general, the weakest points of the Boss ME-80 are probably its distortions and overdrives, which, to many ears, tend to sound artificial, thin and fizzy when really turned up. Another problem is the tiny screen, which makes the tuner a little awkward, as the limited space makes it difficult to gauge how far off the mark you are.
Its strongest suit, in contrast, would be clean and classic mid-gain rock tones, where the unit manages to maintain a nice amount of warmth. Another cool feature worth mentioning is the Freeze effect, which sustains a tone while the respective pedal is held down, allowing you to play over it and attain a spacey, Pink Floyd-esque sound.
Best Multi-Effects Pedals Under $100
The multi-effects pedals in this category are aimed primarily at bedroom practice and acquainting beginners with the guitar effects realm. The lower price comes mostly from the fact that these pedals do not function as USB audio interfaces and forgo many of the deep-editing features seen in higher-end units.
That said, the choice of effects still covers nearly everything one could want and the sound quality is astonishing, considering the price. There is no reason you couldn’t use these for band practice or even live performances either as long as you’re aware of their limitations.
The Vox Stomplab IIG is an amp modeler and multi-effects processor that comes equipped with an expression pedal for wah and volume control, a two-digit display, and a chromatic tuner. For less than $100, you get 100 factory presets, 20 user preset slots, and 104 modeling effects, including 44 amp and 12 cabinet models.
This portable, lightweight powerhouse can drive up to 8 effects simultaneously and runs on 4 AA batteries (included) for around 7.5 hours or a standard 9V power adapter (may or may not be included). It has outputs for both amp and headphone/mixer connections, and with a strong metal construction, albeit plastic knobs, it’s even durable enough for live use.
The downsides of the IIG are that it cannot be connected to a computer for preset editing and sharing, and although Vox promises ease of use even to novice players, the limited two-digit display means all the (hundreds of) models and presets are represented by obscure abbreviations that require decoding and memorizing via the manual.
The lack of a looper might also be a problem. Another negative is that you cannot toggle individual effects within presets, though you can get around this by simply creating a new preset with or without the (un)desired effect.
While this pedal seems centered around vintage and crunchy hard rock tones, it is not without its selection of less conventional effects and experimental sounds either. If you’re on a budget, the sound quality is sure to surprise you, and beginner guitarists will find a world of inspiration from such a diminutive box.
For a more coherent band sound, Vox even offers a bass guitar version of the pedal, the Stomplab IIB, so you can combo your guitar multi-effects with your bassist.
2. Zoom G1Xon
The Zoom G1Xon is an amp modeler and multi-effects processor with an expression pedal, a chromatic tuner, a 30-second looper, and a drum machine with 68 rhythm patterns. It holds around 100 effects, including 22 amp models, which can be combined freely – up to five at a time –, and offers 100 factory presets that can be overwritten to hold user-created patches.
The G1Xon can be run into an amp or a pair of headphones and comes with 4 AA batteries, which, according to Zoom, can power the pedal for up to 20 hours of continuous use. It can also be powered by an AC adapter or via USB cable, but these need to be bought separately.
The G1Xon appears to be designed primarily as a practice tool. 30 seconds of looping time is very impressive at this price, and the looper can even run simultaneously with the drum machine. The backlit LCD is easier to grasp than that of the Stomplab IIG.
Patches are simple to edit as well as name (up to 10 characters long), and the togglable auto-save feature ensures you don’t accidentally lose any changes you make when tweaking your tones.
As with the Stomplab IIG, the G1Xon’s patches cannot be edited or shared on your computer and the pedal lacks a quick way to toggle individual effects. Price is also kept down with a plastic construction, though most users nevertheless find it sturdy and durable.
As the G1Xon came out in 2014, its modeling tech is about as up to date as it gets and the sound quality is very impressive, considering the price. The drum machine and looper make it a very affordable, capable, and versatile practice tool for any beginner guitarist.
And just like the Vox pedal, the G1Xon also has a bass guitar counterpart – the Zoom B1Xon – for those looking for a more focused sound as a band.