Combo Pedals: More Bang for Your Board

Multi-effect pedals sometimes get a bad rap. Often seen as mere entry points into the world of tone-chasing, countless players have cast their DigiTech RPs and Line 6 PODs to the practice space floor as they begin to hoard more individualized pedals. The "digital modeling is bad and analog purity is good" mindset has pigeonholed the whole concept of the multi-effect as inferior to the approach of building a mosaic of individual pedals.

While the digital vs. analog, multi-effect vs. pedalboard debate has filled guitar forums for years, there are obvious advantages to combining multiple circuits within one enclosure. On a sheerly practical level, two- and three-in-one stomps save space on your board and prongs on your power supply. There's an undeniable convenience factor that comes with having just one box to carry around. Additionally, the circuits in question are often designed to interplay with each in particular ways that optimize the sounds of each.

Here's a look at just a handful of analog multi-effect units which, in many ways, offer the best of both worlds. You get the versatility of a multi-effect unit with the purity and sound quality of a boutique pedal.

Greenchild Tribus

Greenchild is a relatively new company out of Lexington, Kentucky. I recently had a chance to try out their Tribus Drive, a three-in-one overdrive pedal. This pedal is a swiss army knife of rock and blues tone with a decisively military look to it. Greenchild founder and designer Mason Green is a US Navy Veteran who first thought of starting his own effects company after many hours of playing guitar at sea while on deployment to Iraq.

The Tribus packs three distinct drive circuits into its tank-like enclosure, each getting dirtier and more aggressive as you go from left to right. The boost channel packs 27dB of clean boost which provides some jet fuel for your tone and, like other clean boosts, can really enhance other elements in your rig. This channel can easily be an always-on tone builder or just a provide a practical surge for that next lead.

In the middle slot, the Tribus' overdrive channel is a MOSFET-based circuit with a distinct treble bite to it. This is a searing, blues-worthy drive with a useful tone control to roll back the treble content when needed. On the left side lies the Tribus' distortion channel, which is vintage Marshall through-and-through. It hits every bullet point on your high-gain classic rock checklist and can even verge into pure metal territory when dimed.

As an entry into the boutique pedal game, the Greenchild Tribus is a impressive unit. We'll be paying close attention to see what comes out next from their shop.

JHS Sweet Tea and Double Barrel

At this point, JHS has tried its hand at just about every flavor of overdrive there is, from the transparent Morning Glory to vintage amp-in-a-box circuits like the Supro-style Superbolt and Silvertone-voiced Twin Twelve. For players unable to choose when facing this extensive boost buffet, the guys in Kansas City offer two combo pedals which combine the circuits of two different drives.

The JHS Sweet Tea packs an 808-style circuit on one side with the JHS Angry Charlie Marshall-style circuit on the other. Shared by both effects is a three-position gain switch, as well as an order toggle that lets you choose which circuit comes first when stacking. You end up with an extremely versatile set of sounds that can be used individually or in conjunction all while occupying just one slot on your board.

The Double Barrel similarly contains the JHS-808 but combines it with the more transparent Morning Glory pedal. Transparent drives like the Morning Glory are known to play nice with other effects, so directly pairing the Morning Glory with the 808 in one box is a total no-brainer.

In addition to these standard entries, JHS has been known to release custom shop and limited edition multi-effect units that pop up in the used pages of Reverb periodically. Try adding JHS to your Reverb feed to keep tabs on those.

Analog Man Bi-Comp

Similar to the JHS approach of packing two classic drive channels into one pedal, Analogman captures the essence of two of the all-time great compressor pedals with the Bi-Comp: a Ross Compressor and a Dan Armstrong Orange Squeezer. The result is a single pedal which can cover all your vintage compression needs, whether you seek the more overall squish of the Squeezer circuit or the peak-reducing power of the Ross.

As far as tonal possibilities, the Bi-Comp actually lets you stack both circuits together to really explore the realm of compression. Stacking overdrive pedals is a longstanding technique when it comes to signal chain, but far fewer players utilize multiple compressors. The Bi-Comp has been through a variations in its run, but the most recent version - the Mini Bi-Comp - retains the original design while putting the attack pot inside of the enclosure.

For more from our pal Analog Mike from Analogman, check out this recent Q&A we did on the Reverb Tank.

Electro-Harmonix Tone Tattoo

It seems like Electro-Harmonix releases dozens of new pedals at every NAMM show, so trying to keep pace with each is just not going to happen. If you're interested in tapping into the ever expanding universe of EHX sound, the NYC firm has started producing its own crop of combo pedals which serve as essential pedalboards in a box.

First among these was the Tone Tattoo, which is an outstanding option in particular for guitarists infatuated with the sounds of '80s and '90s rock. The three sections break down as a Metal Muff fuzz, a Nano Clone chorus and a Memory Toy delay. The range of sounds these three pedals can create is unlimited. The bit of fuzz from the Muff combined with a dash of chorus is an instant grunge solution. Add in the delay section, and you're in gothtastic-alone-with-my-feelings-Disintegration land.

EHX also offers the similar Epitome which houses a Micro POG, Stereo Electric Mistress and a Holy Grail Plus. This is a bit spacier of an option than the Tone Tattoo and invites all manner of modulation experimentation right out of the box.

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