5 Multi-Effects Units for Seasoned Players

Living in the midst of a stompbox golden age as we are, it's easy to forget about multi-effects. The thing is, though, we're also living in a golden age of multi-effects. In many ways, the stompbox renaissance that we're currently reveling in was a reaction against the many sonic and ergonomic failings of the early multi-effect processors. So, while we've all been drooling over the latest boutique, hand-wired Tube Screamer clone, clever engineers have been quietly ushering in a new era of multi-effects, one which builds upon the early successes, while avoiding the failures. These caters to players who prefer an analog feel and tone, and might still be a little gun-shy about scrolling through menus and saving presets.

Many modern multi-effects processors approach a stompbox-like level of friendliness, sometimes ditching screens and menus altogether, with layouts designed around rugged stomp switches, real knobs, basic, useful effects, and simple navigation. Many have also been designed to be easily incorporated into existing pedalboards, using loops and other flexible routing options to work seamlessly with one's favorite stompboxes. This a wonderful development for players that still want to use an old favorite drive or fuzz pedal for dirt, while harnessing the versatility of a multi-effect unit for modulation, reverberation, or pitch-shifting duties. So, without further ado, let's take a look at a handful of the best multi-effects for stompbox-centric guitarists.

Tech 21 Fly Rig 5

Tech 21's Fly Rig 5 succeeds on all fronts by keeping things highly portable, totally rugged, and blockhead-simple. At just under a foot long, it features Tech 21's Hot Rod Plexi, legendary SansAmp analog amp modeler, Boost RVB reverb, and Boost DLA delay pedals all melded into one highly versatile unit. Tech 21 has trimmed the fat in all the right places, providing everything you need and nothing you don't. The drive, distortion, and amp simulation tones are all analog, while the reverb and delay are excellent digital emulations of classic spring and tape delay tones, run parallel to the original signal, which remains in the analog realm throughout the signal path. Setup is even easier than individual pedals, as there's no need for patch cables or master power supplies, and operating it is as simple as turning a knob and stomping a switch. For traveling guitarists that only need a handful of essential effects, and don't want to deal with the pitfalls of a pedalboard, the Fly Rig 5 is perfect. Throw it in your guitar case and get on the plane!

T-Rex SoulMate

Denmark's T-Rex Engineering has cultivated a reputation for its high-end, handmade stompboxes, including the Room Mate reverb, Mudhoney distortion, Moller overdrive, and Replica and Reptile delays. With the SoulMate, T-Rex has applied this expertise in premium guitar effectors to a versatile and remarkable sounding multi-effect unit that combines all of these beloved pedals into one, while maintaining a distinctly analog look, feel, and tone. The dry signal stays analog throughout the circuit, and with the simple, stompbox-like layout, the SoulMate can be used in exactly the same way as one might use individual pedals, only with less expense, less complicated power requirements, and zero patch cables. It can also be operated in a more standard multi-effect kind of way, using its 10 presets. The SoulMate has a few other handy features as well, including an integrated tuner, stereo output, and an FX loop insert for sticking your favorite volume or modulation pedal in between the distortion and delay sections. The SoulMate is not inexpensive, at 599 American dollars street, but compared to buying a bunch of individual pedals, a power supply, cabling, and a pedalboard, it's quite a steal.

Carl Martin Quattro

For devout analog purists, the Carl Martin Quattro may be the ultimate multi-effect. It's 100 percent analog, with no screens, menus, or presets—just four superb Carl Martin effects in one super-wide enclosure. If you're the kind that likes to save complex presets for instant recall, then look elsewhere, but if you value stompbox simplicity, functionality, and tone over programmability then the Quattro may be for you. It features Carl Martin's highly rated compressor/limiter circuitry, followed by a dual-channel overdrive, vintage chorus, and vintage echo with tap-tempo. Players that want to incorporate a favorite dirt pedal into the mix can easily do so with the effect loop that comes between the OD and chorus section. The Quattro isn't much different than using a handful of stompboxes (and that's kind of the point), but it improves upon a standard pedalboard setup by eliminating power issues, patch cables, and the extraneous noise and signal degradation these things can potentially incur. The Quattro is bombproof, dead quiet, and will never leave you wanting for warm, luscious tones.

Zoom MS-70CDR MultiStomp

Zoom's MS-70CDR is exceedingly popular with pedal jockeys because of its excellent sound quality, diverse range of stereo modulation, delay, pitch-shifting, and reverb effects, and also because of how handily it can be integrated into a pre-existing pedalboard. It's ideal for guitar players who periodically want to use, for instance, a flanger, spring reverb, or rotary speaker simulator, but don't necessarily want to dedicate the money or valuable pedalboard real estate necessary to obtain individual pedals for these sounds. For around 120 dollars, the MS-70CDR has 86 lush, three-dimensional modulation and time-based effects, which can be used in any order, with up to six going at once. It also features 25 different reverbs, and models famed tones from Boss, MXR, T.C. Electronic, Strymon, Eventide, and other titans of the effects world. The Zoom MS-70CDR is about the size of a standard stompbox, and can be powered by AA batteries, external 9V power, or even USB, further lending to its extreme versatility.

Line 6 Firehawk FX

For guitarists who are somewhat less frightened by cutting edge technology, Line 6's new Firehawk FX exhibits a more classic multi-effects-style layout than some of the previously mentioned units, while still being simple to use, very organic in tonal quality, and offering a plethora of options for integration with stompboxes and other external sound modifiers. It is outfitted with over 200 modeled amps and effects, as well as 128 presets for saving whatever rich sonic tapestries you may weave. It can be used as a live effects unit or a recording interface, and preset editing can be done wirelessly via a Bluetooth Remote app. These concepts may sound intriguing, or perhaps frightening, depending on your temperament and comfort level with digital technology. On the other hand, the Firehawk FX is very easy to use right out of the gate, and its FX loop, diverse connectivity, and warm tones should please stompbox devotees interesting in expanding their palette of tonal colors.

A flexible modern multi-effects unit can be an excellent solution for a guitar player that doesn't necessarily want to abandon his or her favorite stompboxes, but does want the versatility and huge selection of tones that these units can offer. Besides the access to so many different tones, multi-effects can also be money and space-savers, with many of them being both highly compact and very affordable, all without sacrificing roadworthiness or sonic purity.

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