Effects pedals are some of the best ways to optimize and customize your instrument’s tone, allowing you to push the boundaries of what your instrument is supposed to sound like.
Instrumentalists who use pedals often continue to collect and build their pedal arsenals for years.
If we were to split the school of effects pedals into two, we’d find that there are individual pedals and multi-effects pedals. Each of these has its pros and cons.
We’re going to be looking a little closer at both varieties to try and figure which might work best for you.
Advantages of Individual Effects Pedals
One of the best things about individual effects pedals is the ability to swap them out with one another depending on the sound you want.
Think how many delay pedals exist on the market. Let’s say you have some funky delay pedal, such as the Catalinbread Echorec, and you want to swap it out for a more standard delay, such as the MXR Carbon Copy, but you love your overdrive and chorus, and you want to keep those in place.
Since the Echorec is an individual delay pedal, you can swap it with the Carbon Copy without disrupting the rest of your board. This idea of swapping out pedals to change single variables is what makes individual pedals so exciting.
👍 One-Of-A-Kind Tones
When it comes to single-use guitar pedals, the options for sound are endless. You can set up a standard board with all of your pedals “properly chained”, or you can get crazy and set up an outside-the-norm pedalboard.
Even two overdrives side-by-side will sound different if the order of them is switched.
Who says that a reverb pedal can’t go in front of your overdrive pedal?
👍 Manufacturer Specialties
Some pedal manufacturers are simply better at making certain pedals than others. When you buy an individual pedal, you don’t have to worry about it being bad at one thing and great at another, as it is only meant to do one thing the best it can.
Having individual pedals gives you the freedom to get the best of each type of effect.
👍 Resale Value
There is something special about individual pedals compared to multi-effects units. Their unique sounds cannot be replicated, meaning once these pedals age and fall out of production, they become rare and desired.
Just take a look at some of these rare, vintage pedals that are now worth more than your entire pedalboard put together. Obviously, not every pedal will find its way into the legendary realm, but your chances are far better when you get them individually.
Disadvantages of Individual Effects Pedals
👎 Unreliability In the Live Realm
Guitar pedals on a board are kind of like Christmas lights. If one of them stops working or shuts down during your live performance, you’ll have to dissect your entire board to figure out what the problem is.
Unfortunately, I’ve had this happen to me before.
My overdrive cable stopped working, and I had to hold up a show for about 10 minutes to figure out what was going wrong. Luckily, it wasn’t the end of the world, though I sometimes worry about that unreliability when I play now.
👎 Limited Real Estate
Unless you are a pro guitarist, you likely don’t have a 6-foot pedal board or rack station that houses your myriad of individual pedals.
Most of us use portable pedalboards that have a limited amount of real estate onboard.
This means that even if you have 20 different pedals that you love and cherish, you may only be able to use 10 of them. You’ll have to decide as to which ones you need and which ones are one-trick-ponies that you can leave at home.
To link up your pedalboard, you’ll need patch cables, power supplies (possibly different power supplies depending on the individual pedal’s power needs), a pedalboard, a case to keep them all safe on the road, etc.
All of this can cost you a fortune. A lot of the time, guys end up spending more on all of their pedal gear than they do on their amps or guitars, which seems a bit absurd.
A standard Boss Pedal will hover around $100-$120, though boutique pedals can put you out hundreds of dollars. We’ve all purchased pedals that hurt our bank account.
Advantages of Multi-Effects Pedals
👍 TONS of Effects
This might be the most apparent advantage of multi-effects pedals. You get access to tons of different effects to switch back and forth from and experiment with.
Depending on the pedal you have, you may get to mess with effects that you’ve never used with before, such as autoswells, bit-crushers, or tap-delays.
With multi-effects pedals, you don’t have to settle on one type of delay or modulation effect. You can try a multitude of effects to see what fits best with your sound. Just check out the patch list from the Boss GT-100 below:
One of my absolute favorite things about multi-effects pedals is the ability to use presets.
Of course, not all of them come with adjustable user presets, but most modern, high-quality multi-effects pedals do, such as the Boss ME-80.
You can either use presets that are on the device to find cool sounds or create your own. When it comes time for your show, all you need is the simple tap of a button to switch from one preset to another.
If you’re sick of trying to tap dance on your pedalboard to make changes during your set, you’ll love this.
👍 Easy To Set Up
Multi-effects pedals don’t require you to have a ton of patch cables, power supplies, and a pedalboard. At the least, you’ll need two cables for your amp and your instrument, as well as a single power supply for the device itself.
An easy set up means less stress for you!
Simply plug in and start jamming — no more half-hour long setups before your gigs.
Disadvantages of Multi-Effects Pedals
👎 Pedal Death
Single pedals might die on you, meaning you’ll have to go through your chain to figure out what’s wrong and remove that pedal.
Multi-effects pedals might die on you, meaning you’ll pretty much be out of luck with all of your effects. This can completely ruin a gig or studio session. Plus, it’s far easier to get an individual pedal repaired than a multi-effects pedal.
👎 Tone Editing Difficulty
If you use a standard reverb pedal, for example, changing the reverb’s tone should be pretty easy on the fly. Usually, it’ll only take the turn of a knob.
When it comes to multi-effects pedals, you might have to make more complex adjustments to get the tone that you are looking for.
Many multi-effects pedals come with single knobs that control a wide variety of parameters depending on the effect you are using. Making quick adjustments while playing live can be kind of a hassle.
👎 Lower Quality Tones
Multi-effects pedals may do a lot of things, though they usually don’t do those things best. Instrumentalists in search of the perfect tone may be bothered by this.
An overdrive from a multi-effect pedal might not be that creamy, bluesy overdrive that you imagined it would be. We hope that one-day multi-effects pedals can replicate individual pedals in terms of tone, though we have not quite reached that point yet.
👎 Too Many Options
It can be difficult to hone in on the perfect tone when you have too many options at your disposal. In my experience, multi-effects pedals can be a bit overwhelming. It becomes far harder to choose between different sounds. It’s also easy to fall into a hole and go way overboard with the number of effects in your unit.
So, Individual Pedals or Multi-Effects? What Would We Recommend?
If you are in the market for a pedal that can be the solution to all of your effects needs, we would recommend a multi-effects pedal.
They’re great for beginners who are just stepping into the realm of pedals, and they get rid of the need for adding gear or setting up signal chains.
They are great for instrumentalists who want one, portable unit to play live with that has all of their effects and presets stored away. Plus, they are far cheaper than purchasing an extensive line of individual effects pedals.
On the other hand, if you are looking to find the best tone and quality, multi-effects are no competition for individual effects pedals.
There is something very special about dialing in the perfect tone on a pedal that is meant for that specific effect.
While you may not get the versatility from an individual pedal that you’d get with a multi-effects pedal, you will get superior, unique sounds and ultimate customization.
We hope that our guide helped to narrow down your choice. It’s up to you in the end!