Alrighty, multi-effects units vs individual pedals. Let’s take off the gloves and get down to the nitty-gritty and weigh out the pro’s and con’s. There are a ton of pedal manufacturers building some really great pedals these days and there are many multi-effects units to choose from. Which road do you go down if you are a working musician that wants great tone and reliability but does not want to haul around a billiards table size pedalboard? Go to your neutral corners and wait for the bell…..!

Round One: Individual effects pedals- We’ve all been down this road. I remember as a kid waking up one Christmas morning and getting an Ampeg G-18 amplifier and a script logo MXR Distortion pedal. I was in heaven and thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever heard. From there I got a few more pedals including an Electro Harmonix Small Stone and a DOD Compressor. I was hooked like all the other kids but after a while you had to carry more and more pedals, patch cables and batteries.

Enter the pedal board. With a pedalboard (aka piece of plywood) you could lay out your pedals and attach them so all you had to do was grab the entire set-up and dump it into your mom’s car. The task at hand got easier with the board and things got out of hand rapidly from there.

So let’s start with the pros and cons of the individual pedals:

Pros-

1-You can choose the exact pedal you want. There are often many similar type pedals available from manufacturers. Take an overdrive pedal for example. You can choose the right one that suits your type of playing that sounds and feels best to you. You can even build your own pedals these days relatively easily with companies like BYOC which takes customization to a hole other level right in your home!

2- You can choose the exact power supply to power the pedals. The other option is batteries (Eric Johnson anyone…).

3- After choosing the size and type of pedalboard you can lay out each pedal where you want them. This is great because all the footswitches will be where you like them, unless you get a switcher that switches pedals in and out of the signal chain.

4- All the effects can be wired in the order you like them. Make no mistake, when multiple pedals are used the order in which they are wired in the chain will have an effect on how they sound and interact with each other. For example some players like an overdrive pedal before a wah pedal. I happen to prefer the wah before the overdrive myself.

5- If you happen to have a pedal decide to take a nap and not wake up you can just take it out of the chain and continue on with the gig.

6- Individual pedals are easy to adjust on the fly. You can even use your foot to vary some of the parameters during a performance. I often do that with my chorus rate, delay time and compressor.

So you can see there are a lot of pro’s namely flexibility with individual pedals.

Now let’s check out the cons of individual pedals:

Con’s-

1-Individual pedals can get to be expensive when putting together your rig. Some boutique or vintage pedals can be about $300 per pedal! Do the math… I have on my board a wah, compressor, overdrive1, overdrive 2, tremolo, chorus, delay and a tuner. Say each pedal is $150 each average that ends up to be $1050.00 not including the tuner! I know my pedals were more expensive than that so it can get costly but you are paying for the customization aspect.

2- You have the cost of the pedalboard itself. Although to keep costs down you could make one but then you need a cover or case so it is easy to transport and keeps your pedals safe. A good one with a cover is going to set you back some more big faces.

3- Another cost will be the power supply to supply DC voltage to all your gizmos. There’s no way a working player is going to feed half a dozen or more pedals 9 volt batteries every week…..c’mon….!

4- One more cost……cables. You need a bunch of high quality cables to get your guitars signal into, through and out to the amp. Having a lot of cable could degrade your signal so don’t skimp on the quality of the cable.

5- Ok you’ve got all the pedals you think you need but now the darn pedalboard is a little too big in some situations. A large board can have all your favorite and needed sounds but be a real-estate hog at times.

6-If you have a patch cable go bad then it may take a bit of time to find out which one especially if it’s an intermittent problem.

Round Two: Multi-effects units- I wonder who it was that thought of putting a bunch of effects into one box and to me more importantly, why? Was it to have something different to market and make more money? Or was it for practical reasons? Seems like a great idea on paper.

Let’s take a look at the pro’s and con’s of multi-effect units:

Pro’s-

1-Right off the bat they are a space saver. A multi-effect unit could house more effects and take up way less space making it easy to carry and fit onto small stages.

2- Most multi-effect units cost less than buying individual pedals. I say most because if you have a board loaded with Danelectro FAB pedals it will probably cost less than a TC Electronics G-System.

3- Some units like the Boss ME-50 have many built in features like a tuner and expression pedal for wah and volume pedal effects.

4- No extra cost for a pedalboard or power supply.

5- Some units allow you to program a few patches in a bank so during a performance you will have less pedals to turn on or off. Let’s say you’re playing totally clean and then you need to turn on a distortion, chorus and delay all at once. That’s three moves you have to make with individual pedals whereas you could just hit one button for a patch with all those effects.

6- One cable in and one cable out. No patch cables between pedals to go bad.

Con’s comin’ at ya:

Con’s-

1-You cannot choose each individual effect. You are limited to the sound of the effects that are built in. Take the overdrive effect for example. You have to be able to live with the sound and response of this effect (or the few that may be in the particular unit). No way around that one except incorporate an individual pedal but that is starting to defeat the purpose, right?

2- All the effects are set in a certain order within the unit itself. I do believe that there are a couple units that allow you to program the order of the effects but most are set with no control over the order of the effects.

3- You cannot choose where the footswitch buttons on the unit will be. The buttons are manufactured into the case and if you like your chorus pedal on the end and it is somewhere in the middle you’re stuck. You have to learn a new “hat dance” to operate the effects.

4- If the unit decides to take a nap and not wake up then you have no effects at all for your performance. In this case I guess it would be a good idea to have at least a few pedals in case of emergencies.

5- Some units are not easy to adjust on the fly during a performance. Like I mentioned earlier I adjust on the fly with my foot all the time. If you are like me you need to find a unit with real knobs.

Well, I guess in the end there are a lot of things to consider. It seems to me if you only need a few effects or if you are a complete tone junkie and are very particular about your effects and their placement then individual pedals are the way to go. Players that need lots of different sounds and want to take advantage of the compact aspect then a multi-effects unit is for you.

I happen to have both a pedalboard with individual pedals and a multi-effects unit. I almost always use my pedalboard with my favorite individual pedals. They sound great, work well with my amp and they are laid out exactly how I want them. I use my Boss ME-50 multi-effects unit for when I travel into Manhattan, rehearsal and the occasional showcase. I originally bought it because we had a fly gig in Bermuda and there was no way I was going to fly my pedalboard. The ME-50 fit in my suitcase and worked out nicely.

So there you have it…..individual pedals and multi-effects. Think about both sides of the coin and decide which one is best for you. You may want to spend some time playing through a multi-effects unit before you purchase to see how it will sound and respond as well as how easy it is to work with. In my opinion multi-effects units should make life easier in certain ways, not make them more difficult. Weigh the pro’s and con’s and decide for yourself.

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