Review: Best Guitar Multi-Effects Processors
Many guitarists enjoy collecting multiple effects pedals for all of their recording and live performance needs, but there’s something to be said about a tool offering multiple effects in one unit. The multi-effects processor is a device which saves guitarists the time and finances necessary for tracking down and purchasing multiple pedals to add to their rig; it also takes up less space on what can often become a crowded pedal board. Logistics aside, they just sound amazing. With so many multi-effects processors available for you to choose from, we’ve outlined some important considerations to keep in mind in our list of the best guitar multi-effects processor in 2021 and our buyer’s guide below.
Line 6 M5 Stompbox Modeler Guitar Multi-Effects Processor
Zoom G3X Guitar Multi-Effects Processor
Line 6 Line6 Pocket POD Guitar Multi-Effects Processor
Boss ME-80 Multi-Effects Pedal
DigiTech RP360 Guitar Multi-Effects Pedal
Line 6 M13 Stompbox Modeler Guitar Multi-Effects Pedal
VOX STOMPLAB1G Modeling Guitar Floor Multi-Effects Pedal
Comparing the Best Guitar Multi-Effects Processor
The 2.5 pound Line 6 M5 Stompbox Modeler multi-effects processor immediately looks impressive, with its compact design and all-metal black-finish chassis. As the smallest in the company’s M series, the M5 is still able to pack quite a punch in terms of the variety of effects contained within a single unit. There are way too many effects to truly dive into here, but just know that you’re getting carte blanch of all you’ll ever need in terms of guitar effects.
This device offers 19 delays (including analog echo, reverse, tube echo, and stereo delay), 23 mod effects (jet flanger, panned phaser, and pattern tremolo), 17 distortions (facial fuzz, buzz saw, and colordrive), 12 compressors and EQs (tube comp, graphic EQ, and 4 Band Shift EQ), 26 filters (Q filter, pitch glide, and tron up), 12 reverbs (vintage plate reverb, chamber, and cave). Yes, you can really have a field day messing around with this thing.
There’s also a backlit LCD screen which allows for a clear and readable display. You can also store up to 24 effects as presets so you can recall them instantly, whether you’re going to be using certain sounds frequently onstage or in the studio. A built-in tuner is an added bonus, and a tap tempo function allows you to accurately sync time-based effects with the song you’re actually using the effects in.
The Zoom G3X Guitar Effects & Amp Simulator Pedal goes above and beyond when it comes to the versatility and dynamic range of sounds that most players have associated with multi-effects processors. 94 effects and 22 amp/cabinet models certainly provide a range of styles and sounds to any guitarist’s palette, but Zoom doesn’t stop this units capabilities there. The G3X’s built-in expression pedal can alter both the input and output volume of the processor, as well as be used to affect delay time, modulation speed, and pitch bend.
Three LCD screens are matched with their own foot switches and parameter knobs, making a unit that is easy to understand and use; it’s intuitive to have the separation within the pedal so clearly laid out in a visual manner. The onboard Looper allows users to layer up to 40 seconds of performance using the effect configuration of their choosing, and also offers playback so that you can jam on top of the sounds you just made. Finally, included Steinberg Sequel LE software means you can hook the unit up to a computer and have it act as an interface with 2-inputs and 2-outputs, giving you the ability to lay down tracks with zero latency.
Packing a multitude of tonal options with you to a gig or recording session just got a lot easier, thanks to the Line 6 Pocket Pod. Clocking in at 0.375 lbs and sporting a design that’s just two inches high by five inches wide, this battery-powered multi-effects processor offers the same quality of sound and range that Line 6’s bigger products come stocked with at a fraction of the cost and size. This unit comes equipped with 300 preset sounds, including choices that have been dialed in by artists such as Tim Mahoney (311), James Valentine (Maroon 5), Steve Pedulla (Thursday), and more.
The Line 6 Pocket Pod can be used in a practice/performance rig in front of the amp, or you can simply plug headphones into the unit to access a range of sounds that makes practice unlimited, both in location and ability. The Pocket Pod also comes with a built-in tuner which can be set to mute, so onstage tuning can be discrete and quick. A USB connection also allows users to hook the Pocket Pod up to a computer, allowing them to customize their own tones as well as organize their own preset libraries for quicker and easier access.
The BOSS ME-80 is an ideal tool for guitarists who are ready to hit the stage but don’t want to have to dance around with dozens of guitar pedals at their feet. The wide scope and reliable quality of the BOSS brand is all here, including multiple overdrives and distortions, pitch shifters, delays, wahs, mod effects, and more. The setup on this processor is designed for the guitarist whose hands are busy playing, so dialing in the sounds you want is as simple as stomping your foot down on the multiple footswitches.
Of course, if you want to get hands-on with sculpting your sound, there’s no shortage of knobs and dials to precisely craft the tone that fits the song perfectly. The ME-80 also comes with free Boss Tone Studio software that gives guitarists the option to edit and organize their library on their computer. This function also allows players to preview and download free patches from the Boss Tone Central website.
They say that good things can come in small packages and that can definitely be said about the DigiTech RP360. Unassuming as its physical form might be, this guitar multi-effects processor really packs a punch, with 126 effects (including 32 amps, 18 cabinets, and 74 stompboxes). Although all of these sounds are able to be edited, you can also dive right in and work with 99 factor presets. Find a sound that you like? Simply save your own creation in one of the 99 available user preset slots.
You can also loop the sounds that you create with this pedal via a 40-second looper. 60 high-quality drum patterns are also included to allow you to build up riffs or song ideas in a way that is presentable and easy to record to. DigiTech lives up to its name with the addition of a USB port that makes it easy to transfer and load the pedal’s presets from your computer for editing and further tweaking via the included editing software. The USB port also gives you to ability to record guitar tracks into DAWs like GarageBand, Pro Tools, Ableton, and more.
The guitarist seeking a single unit to produce a wide range of sounds and tones will feel like a kid in a candy store (or more accurately, a guitarist in a guitar store) when using Line 6’s M13 multi-effects processor. More than 75 effects pedals are grouped here, including the already popular Line 6 staples such as the DL4 delay, MM4 modulation, DM4 distortion, and FM4 filter modeler. Line 6’s nomenclature for their effects organization is based around “Scenes.” Each Scene can hold up to four presets, and guitarists can run up to four Scenes at once. Needless to say, this puts a lot of “crayons” in your creative toolbox.
While this may seem like a lot to keep track of, the M13 makes it all quite fun and intuitive to navigate through, thanks in no small part to the four LED screens that adorn this unit. You’ll be able to comb through your virtual rig in a way that instantly feels welcoming and exciting, thanks to the bright and flashy interface. The M13 also includes an on-board looper, giving guitarists 28 seconds of record time. The loop can be run pre- or post- effects, which gives you more control over how you choose to process your sound.
It’s easy to overlook the Vox Stomplab IG guitar multi-effects processor, but that is also part of its appeal. The unit only weighs 20.8 oz and its size is 5.7 by 2.24 inches, making it a welcome compact addition to the effects rig of any guitarist who finds free space becoming an issue. Despite its tiny size, the Stomplab IG holds 103 effects including 44 different amp configurations, 18 drive effects such as Octa Fuzz and Brit Lead, 12 cabinet models to choose from, nine modulation effects, three Reverb settings, and more.
Beyond having all of these presets to choose from, guitarists can also create their own settings and save them in the 20 user programs available in the processor. The IG also comes equipped with a three-LED-driven tuner that also comes with a mute function; not only can you save even more real estate in your effects rig, but you can also make tuning adjustments onstage without anyone in the audience knowing!
Guitar Multi-Effects Processor Buyers Guide
Multi-effect processors add a variety of variables, as it’s rare to find a single piece of gear that will serve every need you’ll ever have in your rig. Fortunately, they can often serve multiple purposes quite well, making them an adequate addition to your setup.
It’s most important to assess exactly what you’re looking for. Do you need a pedal to be primarily used live or do you want a rack unit designed for easy studio integration? Are there particular effects that you want to use the processor to cover? You’ll definitely want to test your options before buying, but there are several things to keep in mind before even getting to that point.
Multi-effects processors offer up several different effects types or categories. Some processors specialize in one specific type, while others provide a wide range drawing from all of them.
Overdrive effects encompass all kinds of distortion, overdrive, and fuzz sounds. These are great for loud rock music, heavy metal, and any other genre that requires an effect to highlight solos or lead melodic lines.
Filter effects alter the equalization frequency of the processed guitar sound. These include high and low pass filters, envelope filters, and any other effects sweeping through, cutting out, or boosting the high, mid, and low frequencies. Filter effects can clean up and fix an undesirable sound, or transform it to take on specific characteristics not normally found in a guitar; for instance, utilized so a guitar signal sounds more like a synthesizer
Reverb and Delay
Reverb and delay effects don’t so much transform guitar sound as they enhance it, often by providing an echoing reverb or repeated delay to the signal. These types of effects can be as basic as reverb and delay, but can also include reverse mode in which the signal is played backwards, echo, and more.
Flanging duplicates the original signal of a guitar’s output but delays one signal by a small and gradually changing period. The resulting sound is similar to a comb filter effect – one that has been characterized as “sucking air” and/or “the Darth Vader effect.”
Although wildly popular as a guitar effect, flange was first popularly utilized by producer George Martin during recording sessions for the Beatles. John Lennon would often use the effect on his vocals; in fact, historian Mark Lewisohn claims that it was Lennon who first gave the technique it's namesake. The first Beatles song to feature the flanging effect was “Tomorrow Never Knows” on their album Revolver; almost every single song on that record had some sort of flanging effect on it.
Whether used subtly to suggest a spacey feel or cranked all the way up to create an unnatural, synthetic-like sound, flanging is a guitar effect that doesn’t seem to be losing popularity anytime soon.
Chorus duplicates the original output signal and alters it slightly so that the signal sounds like it’s being voiced by multiple sources – or, as the name indicates, by a “chorus” of instruments. Chorus is a great way to thicken up the sound of a guitar part, and can be used with other effects such as distortion to expand multiple layers of tones within a signal.
Perhaps one of the most instantly recognizable uses of chorus in popular music is the beginning intro guitar riff to “Come As You Are” by Nirvana. Like tremolo, chorus effects are often built into guitar amplifiers; however, working with processors like pedals (which are solely designed to produce this effect) will almost always result in a better and more nuanced sound.
Phasing (also referred to as phase shifting) does exactly what its title suggests – a signal is duplicated, and then that new copied signal is shifted to be out of phase with the original signal. The resulting sound creates a spacey, “whoosh” effect that brings to mind watery atmosphere.
While signal phasing can sometimes be an unwanted by-product of audio recording, the effect began to be used intentionally on psychedelic records in the late 1960s, notably on “Itchycoo Park” by the Small Faces. The effect was later popularized in decades to follow from guitarists such as Eddie Van Halen, Queen’s Brian May, and Incubus axeman Mike Einziger.
Many recent processors allow you download and update the library of effects within the unit as new ones become available. This can be accomplished via memory cards, Bluetooth technology, mobile apps or digital downloads to refresh the processor’s library of sounds and effects. Although this is a relatively new technology within the world of guitar multi-effects processors, this is likely to become the standard in the years to come.
Usability and Customization
While processors come pre-built with the sounds and organization already pre-determined, many guitarists enjoy multi-effects units because of their ability to change their workflow as well as the sounds/effects they produce. For instance, many units come with blank slots in their effects libraries so guitarists can tweak and edit sounds on their own before saving them as presets for later use.
In addition to crafting and shaping the sounds, users can also control how the effects are accessed through the processor; a guitarist can save specific sounds so they’re readily available by simply tapping a button or flicking a switch. This is especially useful for guitarists playing live who need to have specific effects at their fingertips (or more accurately, their feet) for quick and easy recall.