More than Meets the Eye: 6 Overlooked Multi-Effects

More often than not, pedal aficionados want to invest in the newest, most advanced technology that companies have to offer: high-end reverbs with dozens of knobs or dynamic drives that claim to uncover your true, organic tone. With all the hype about the latest and greatest, older effects are often overlooked, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the often dismissed class of multi-effect units.

While multi-effects are often seen as the gear of beginners, there are actually plenty of inspiring tones to be discovered in the all-in-ones of the past. Let’s take a look at six multi-effects that are worth considering next to the ever-widening world of boutique pedals.

Lexicon Vortex

When the word morph comes to mind, not everyone immediately thinks of the Lexicon Vortex effects unit, but play one and that might change. The rack unit combined various delay, phase, flange, ring modulation and tremolo effects with the capability to morph between presets. This made for some strange possibilities, which ultimately confused players and led to the units demise. However, since its discontinuation in 1994, the Vortex has built up a cult fan base as both a looping pedal and highly dynamic multi-effects unit.

It should be noted that in order to fully explore the most outrageous sounds these units have to offer an expression pedal should be used, especially to morph between banks. This style of morphing between presets can later be seen on the Line 6's popular M series and countless other effects units. One of the best examples of the Vortex shows up on the opening loop of Autolux’s “23 Watt Apple Juice.”, when the Vortex's "Bleen" patch looped on the Line 6 DL4 at half speed creates a decaying rhythmic pattern that would not be possible without the Vortex.

Yamaha Magicstomp

Shoegaze fans may be familiar with the Yamaha SPX series rack units made popular by Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine, but while these were truly great-sounding units, musicians didn’t always have the equipment to incorporate a rack unit into their setup. Yamaha realized this dilemma and crammed the power of their rack multi-effects into the Magicstomp.

Filled with a plethora of effects, including the famous reverse, gated and early reflection reverbs used by Mr. Shields, at the time of its release the Magicstomp gave players a glimpse of the future. The Magicstomp could easily be connected to a computer via USB, allowing for deep editing and customization of user presets. Whether you're looking to replicate the SPX unit or explore new combinations of digital effects, the Magicstomp series is an inexpensive option worth your consideration.

Zoom MS-70 CDR

Unlike some sophisticated digital effects units, the Zoom MS-70 CDR allows players to combine multiple effects (even of the same effect) into a custom chain, making for some truly unique tones. With high quality algorithms and serious processing power, this pedalboard Swiss Army Knife is one of the best sounding and most affordable units on the market today. For players unable to afford a Strymon Timeline or an Eventide H9, but still longing for those popular layered effect sounds, the MS-70 is an excellent option.

Electro-Harmonix Epitome

Electro-Harmonix has been a leading innovator of effect pedals for over 40 years, with a a catalog of effects including everything from the the hyper-tweakable POG to the one knob Small Stone. After years of releasing single effect stomp boxes, EHX has recently been making forays into multi-effects. While these are analog beasts, not the digital modelers one typically associates with multi-effects, the variety of sounds you can coax out of them and the quality of their tone makes them worth a mention here.

Stuffing a Micro POG, Stereo Electric Mistress and a Holy Grail Plus into an all-in-one box, the EHX Epitome allows players to access the effects singly, in pairs or to combine them all for some truly unique sound sculptures. The designers over at EHX also provided the option to route the Micro POG into an effects loop of the Holy Grail via the Shimmer button, yielding some pleasantly strange sounds with a simple twist of the knobs. There are even a handful of reported “secret sounds", like the ability to turn the reverb section into a digital delay with octave pitch changes. The Epitome combines a simple control layout with highly interactive sound capabilities that you can't get from the individual pedals.

Line 6 M5

After the hugely successful release of the M13 and its little brother the M9, Line 6 trimmed even more fat around the edges to create the M5, their smallest stomp box modeler yet. Offering over one hundred effects including delay, reverb, modulation, filters and EQ, the M5 is an all-purpose weapon for your pedalboard.

Hooking up an expression pedal to the M5 is a must as each parameter of every effect can be controlled simultaneously whether you're pulling off a warping delay drone or a 12-string octave pitch bend. For the sheer variety of effects on board, the Line 6 M5 is worth a look for any level of musician wanting to keep things simple and add some spice to their sound.

Digitech XP100 (Whammy/Wah)

What’s the first pedal you think of when the name Digitech is mentioned? The Whammy, of course. Of all the Whammys in Digitech's line the short-lived XP-100 Whammy-Wah was considered the ugly duckling of the bunch, straying from the traditional control layout by adding presets and multi-effects to its arsenal. In addition to pitch shifting effects, the XP-100 boasts filter, auto wah, harmony and volume functions, giving users 29 options to be controlled via the onboard expression pedal. And with its user preset mode, players can scroll through six of their favorite patches for instant recall.

A fun trick with the XP-100 is saving presets in a sequential order that alters the pitch to create a repeating musical pattern. Jumping from an octave up, down a 4th, then down an octave with a classic wah can be a great way to unlock new musical ideas. By combining an array of off-the-wall digital effects with a built-in expression pedal, the XP-100 is an instant way to add some multi-effects fun to your pedalboard.

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