Most players who like pedals opt for single-function stompboxes, whether made one at a time by hand by a boutique company or in a wonderfully standardized way by Boss or DigiTech. The truth is, though, even if you bought an entire board of cheap effects pedals, it’ll still cost you a fair amount to outfit. They certainly sound good, but a pedalboard can be expensive in a hurry.
For example, I discussed my own pedalboard in our pedalboard setup post here. There are about 14 pedals on it right now, including things like an EarthQuaker Devices Arrows, Malekko Sloika MkII and EarthQuaker Devices Grand Orbiter, among others. Approximate total cost? $1,700, give or take. Toss in the board, cables, and power, and we’re pretty close to $2,000.
Admittedly, five of my pedals are Earthquaker Devices units, so it’s not as though I set out to save money in building my board. If I bought the equivalent Mooer or Joyo versions of the same effects at an average of about $40 each, that would still be roughly $500 — and that’s before power supplies, cables, and the board itself.
If you’re not excited by the world of oddly-specific single-effect pedals, but you still want access to a wide range of textures, you might consider multi-effects pedals. Unlike the days of yore when these units were maligned for their noisy operation and sub-par modeling, even the cheapest of these machines has come a very long way. I should know — I once owned a DigiTech RP200A. The models were fine and all, but it was probably the noisiest pedal I have ever used, and that includes a few circuit bent ones over the years.
Today, you have your pick from among a wide range of quality competitors in many configurations. All are built around digital signal processing (DSP), relying on A/D/A converters to achieve their extreme flexibility. For this list, we’re focusing on mid-range units that allow you to string together more than one effect at a time, with preference given to those with expression pedals and amp modeling for direct-in applications — all for under $250. These are the only criteria, which help to focus the search a little and provide both beginners and pros alike an inroads to multi-effects without the enormous price tag that tends to hang on the higher-end processors.
While you consider the options, remember that the inclusion of the integrated expression pedal gives any player a feel for the full range of possibilities when it comes to using effects. Even very expensive boutique pedals often offer an EXP input, but require the purchase of a separate expression unit. In a traditional pedalboard scenario, if you’re not using something like a GigRig switching system, it also means you’ll need an expression pedal for each effect you want to control, which really jacks up the cost. Even with multi-effect units, a compatible expression pedal starts around $40, give or take a few bucks. That said, we’ve included a couple of options without them for the sake of completeness.
These parameters mean that some very good options won’t appear on this list. The Hotone XTOMP is meant more as a single-effect replacement, while the Eventide H9, Line 6 POD D500X or Helix, Roland GR-55, and Boss ME-80 all exceed the price cap. I’m also going to assume you know about the Fractal AxeFX, Positive Grid, and Kemper options and are just buying something cheaper in the meantime until your career takes off. The money you save buying one of these units instead of building a pedalboard like mine will go a long way toward the purchase of one of those absurdly flexible units.
In the meantime, if you want access to a huge number of tones with the most flexibility, here’s our list of the top ten best cheap multi-effects pedals.
1. Boss GT-1 Guitar Effects Processor
If you spend as much time looking at other players’ pedalboards as much as I do, you know that virtually everyone has at least one Boss pedal. I have one. They’re indispensable, and their price and ubiquity means they’ll probably be on boards forever. Since that’s the case, it makes sense to start off with a multi-effects unit that contains all of those workhorses in one convenient place.
The GT-1 is the baby brother to the GT-100 and the flagship step up from the ME-25, which is a few years old now. It not only includes an expression pedal, but also an assignable control pedal and three parameter knobs to allow you to change the settings of each effect in the chain while you’re playing.
You can use up to six effects simultaneously, which are represented by buttons for FX1/Compression, Overdrive/Distortion, Preamp, FX2/Modulation, Delay, and Reverb. The buttons for each of these allow you to easily turn them off or on for each preset, of which there are 99 for you to save into. Additionally, you can change the order of the effects however you like. Effects available for assignment to either FX1 or FX2 include: EQ, Guitar Simulator, Octave, Pitch Shifter, Harmonist, Phaser, Flanger, Vibrato, Chorus, and more.
There are 22 different overdrive and distortion pedal options, including the OD-1, Metal Zone, a Big Muff Pi, and a Rat. One possible downside is that only one of these is selectable at a time. You can get around this by using an overdriven amp model among the 25 different preamp types available to you. Speaker simulation is optional and contains eight options.
Each effect offers the same controls as you would find on the comparable single-effect Boss pedal. In addition to all of this, there is an optional noise suppressor, a tuner, and a 32-second looper. The heart of the modeled tones is the Boss COSM architecture, which has been continuously improved over the course of many years.
Why you would choose this one: It’s probably the best all-around unit on the list, provided you like the sound of Boss pedals.
- 108 effects types
- 25 COSM amp models to choose from
- Intuitive editing with deep control
- Expression pedal, looper, and tuner
- Overdrive and distortion is limited to one pedal at a time
- One signal path only
- All 99 of the factory presets include amp simulation out of the box, so you’ll have to save your own patch to hear the effects straight into your amp
- Firmware updates necessary for performance improvements
2. DigiTech Element XP Guitar Multi Effects Pedal
Here it is, the successor to the RP200A I used to own. This update improves upon the editing control more than anything else. The Tone and FX banks are clearly laid out with their controls so you can cycle through them, turn them off and on, and then save them to your preset. In the old version, the editing and signal path wasn’t intuitively laid out, which made changes fussy at best.
In this inexpensive pedal, you can use up to six pedals simultaneously, plus the expression pedal function and an amp simulator. The pedal chain is displayed with icons and status LEDs depending on the selected preset, so you can always see what’s being used. Editing is as simple as scrolling through with the left and right buttons and using the scroll knob to change the parameter.
Unlike on the Boss, you really don’t have super-deep control over each pedal setting, so things like delay repeats and length are contained within their own presets under each category, as in Analog Delay 1-9, for example. In a sense this makes this more of a quick-start pedal, and that, combined with the price, aims it more at the absolute beginner crowd. To that end, this would be better for home use, anyway, because the plastic casing will be easily scratched.
All that said, the price makes it worth considering. You’ll get a wide sampling of different sounds to help introduce the types of things effects can do for your playing. In the factory presets, cabinet simulation is off, so you’re really getting the sound of the effects directly into your amp right out of the box. You can mess with simulation later.
Why you would choose this one: Easy editing and a full range of sounds make it good for the beginner.
- 58 effects including 12 amps, 9 cabinets, and 37 pedals
- 200 presets with 100 user-programmable
- Expression pedal and tuner
- 45 drum patterns for practice and writing
- No looper
- Noise still seems to be a factor
- Output jack is stereo, but no dedicated left and right outputs
- Plastic build lacking
3. Vox Stomplab 2G Modeling Guitar Multi-Effects Pedal
Somehow, Vox has created a competitor to the Element above that’s even cheaper. While the display isn’t quite as intuitive — there’s no clear indication of what effects are engaged — the available options are very similar. The build quality is just a touch better, too.
With the Stomplab, you can use up to eight effects simultaneously, which includes the noise reduction, if active. While you do have to dig to figure out exactly what’s engaged, you’ll find that among the 44 amp types, 35 combined drives and modulations and 11 delays and reverbs, the amount of parameter control is better than on the DigiTech. That’s because the Gain and Level knobs double as Value 1 and Value 2 knobs, which allow you to dial in the effects on any one of the 20 user slots. That’s a downside to consider: Vox has modeled 100 presets for you, across the knob-selectable categories of Ballad, Jazz/Fusion, Pop, Blues, Rock & Roll, Rock, Hard Rock, Metal, Hardcore, and Other. However, if only a few of them appeal to you, you really have to make those 20 other slots cover all the possible sounds you’d want.
That said, all the models are rich and have surprising dynamics for a pedal of this sort. We’re not talking about Boss COSM territory here, but the price reflects that. Nevertheless, we’re well beyond the middling, uninspiring multi-effects tones of yesteryear, and all in a package that will fit in the pocket of your guitar’s gig bag.
Of course, you get a tuner and an expression pedal (again, the version without is cheaper), and the stereo output doubles as a headphone jack for bedroom practice. Again, an excellent contender for the novice, with enough to keep experienced players interested.
Why you would choose this one: The dynamics of the models and build quality belie the low price.
- 103 effects — 44 amps, 18 drives, 12 cabs, 17 modulations, 8 delays, noise reduction, and 3 reverbs
- Expression pedal and tuner
- Simple editing
- 100 wide-ranging factory presets
- Only 20 user preset save slots available
- No looper
- Output jack is stereo, but no dedicated left and right outputs
- No included power supply and no easy access to the batteries
4. Zoom G3X Guitar Effects and Amplifier Simulator
We included the Zoom G1on in our cheap effects pedals post because it’s just that — insanely cheap. Even the G1Xon, which adds an expression pedal, handily beats any of the other prices on this list. Still, these are made of soft plastic and despite their incredible flexibility, they have their limitations and will probably fare better at home.
Fortunately, Zoom has a solid competitor in the mid-range price bracket in the G3X. This unit has all the bells and whistles you need to perform just about any function of guitar playing. There’s the expression pedal, clearly, as well as a tap tempo, 40-second looper, tuner, drum machine, stereo 1/4 inch outputs, balanced XLR output, and an input for an additional control or expression pedal.
You can use up to six effects at a time, and like the Boss above, you can alter the signal path however you like. There’s also an option to simply reverse the signal chain with the touch of a button. Of the six, three can be assigned to each of the large LCD screens, which are mapped to three parameter control knobs and a footswitch each, allowing you to kick them in and out on the fly. Little logos in the LCD screens let you know what effect is showing, making for a really intuitive interface that most closely mimics using actual single-effect stomps.
Pedal models include the MXR Dyna Comp, Big Muff, Tube Screamer, ADA Flanger, OD-1, DS-1 and 88 others. The 22 amp and cab models include Matchless, Hiwatt, Marshall, Two Rock, ENGL, and more. The adjustable parameters of each pretty closely mimic the function of the real thing, so you can dial in some incredibly accurate tones. If you’re using something intensive, however, you’ll notice the DSP struggle to keep up and you’ll have to swap something out.
This is quite the machine, and clearly builds on the value of the G1. If it weren’t for the limited DSP power, which you can surely find a way around with careful programming, this unit starts to approach professional level considering all the options.
Why you would choose this one: Full complement of features and models for the price makes the power trade-off livable for many scenarios.
- Expression pedal, tap tempo, tuner, drum machine, and 40-second looper
- Metal chassis
- 94 effects and 13 amp simulations
- Three parameter knobs per each visible effect
- Though six simultaneous effects can be used, only three can be switched on the fly
- DSP power is limited and can’t run some pedal combinations
- Firmware updates are required and occasionally cause issues
- Switching between patches in a live setting requires careful planning ahead of time
5. Hotone Ravo MP10 Multi-Effects Guitar Processor
While the Hotone XTOMP really doesn’t meet our needs for multi-effects in this sense, the company does make a competitor to the DigiTech and Vox options. The Ravo is an ultra-small, modern-looking multi-effects processor with a relatively intuitive layout.
Across eight different effect modules — PreFx, Gate, Drive, EQ, Cab, Mod, and Reverb — there are 130 different effects, each with a few controllable parameters. There are 100 factory presets, 30 of which are meant for bass, but on the 100 user-programmable slots, you can edit each of the modules by selecting it with the left knob and making changes with the right. It’s pretty simple, though unlike some of the other options, there’s not much in the way of visual representation. It’s just numbers on an LCD screen.
However, it does come with free software to allow you to make your edits on the computer, which helps. You can program everything on your computer, save them to their slots, and simply use the unit to switch through them when live. Cab simulation can be turned off if you’re using an amp, but this will also excel in direct-in situations when it’s on.
On the whole, this definitely comes across as the hyper-efficient, modern Chinese machine that it is, but there are lot of options in here and the price isn’t half bad.
Why you would choose this one: Relatively finite control and a wide variety of options make the price look appealing.
- 130 effects
- Expression pedal, 30 second looper, 100 drum patterns, and tuner
- RAVO Tonebank software for editing tones on the computer
- 70 factory guitar presets, 30 factory bass presets, and 100 user-programmable presets
- No tap tempo
- Output jack is stereo, but no dedicated left and right outputs
- Amp simulations aren’t among the better versions on this list
- Signal chain can’t be rearranged
6. Line 6 AMPLIFi FX100 Multi Effects Pedal with Automatic Tone Matching
This pedal relies on cloud storage and mobile devices to modernize the on-board tweaking experience found on traditional models. Assuming you already have an amp that you love, or you’re looking for a DI solution, this might be one to consider.
Naturally, Line 6 has long been known for modeling, so all of their 200 effect, amps, and cabinets are available to you. What sets this apart from the others on this list is that by controlling the parameters with a mobile device, Line 6 is able to give you both more options and more finite control over those options. For virtually every model you select, you’ll be able to fine tune the controls and the EQ, subtly shaping your resulting tone.
Signal path changes are as easy as dragging and dropping. If you want three delay pedal models in a row, you can do that. Reverbs at the beginning, if you want. The added processing power of the computer you carry around in your pocket all day makes the tweaking process easier and more familiar than scrolling through a tiny screen for names you don’t necessarily recognize at first. When you’re done, you can save an infinite number of slots to the cloud, share them with friends, and so on.
To be fair, this kind of high-tech approach isn’t for everyone. We’re a very long way from analogue, hand-wired pedals here. Still, if you’re generally a fan of the job Line 6 does with their modeling, you’ll be in heaven with the utter lack of limitations — as long as the Bluetooth works reliably.
Why you would choose this one: You want something ultra-modern and ultra-flexible.
Price: $199.99 (25 percent off MSRP)
- 200 amps and effets
- Bluetooth connectivity for editing and play along via iOS or Android
- Six knobs along the top control parameters within the patch while playing
- Automatic tone matching for playing along with recorded music
- No looper
- Requires a computer or mobile device to edit patches
- Lacks an on-unit display of selected effects
- On-the-fly additions (think boost for leads) require careful programming ahead of time
Find more Line 6 AMPLIFi FX100 Multi Effects Pedal with Automatic Tone Matching information and reviews here.
7. NUX MG-20 Electric Guitar Multi-effects Processor
Occupying similar territory to the Boss for a few dollars less, this NUX device was designed to to have an awfully closely matched control layout. That layout includes not three but four parameter knobs, an LED indicator for each effect type in use for that preset, and an assignable control switch to handle things like boost.
For the trade off of fewer save slots (36 factory and 36 user), you get a longer looper time of 60 seconds, a built-in MP3 player with SD card slot, and a graphics-based LCD screen that displays the lists of effects. To my eye, it looks a bit like the hard drive based portastudios we all used to have. The 60 effects include a noise gate, compressor, eight EFX (distortion/overdrive/fuzz), 16 preamps, 13 cabinets, four microphones, EQ, 10 modulation effects, six delays, three reverbs, wah, and whammy. All the usual suspects are here, including MXR, Boss, Electro-Haromix, Fender, Marshall, and so on.
Because of the relatively rigid signal path choices, this is probably a unit more aimed at traditional players looking to dial in a few tried-and-true sounds. You won’t be able to combine things in a ton of experimental ways, but it’s definitely sufficient as a tool box and includes a few nice bells and whistles. It’s not the most modern thing in the world, but if you’re looking to get into multi-effects, you could do worse.
NUX has two other models with integrated expression pedals, both of which have a few trade-offs for the savings between them and the MG-20. The MFX-10 has a few fewer models and only a 20-second looper and lacks the MP3/SD card capability. The MG-100 has a 40-second looper, but is made of plastic, which could save you over $90 if you can live with that.
Why you would choose this one: You need some classic tones in a straight-forward, no-frills package.
Price: $199.99 (13 percent off MSRP)
- Expression pedal, tuner, 60-second looper, and drum machine
- 60 effect models
- Built-in MP3 player with SD card slot
- 1/4 inch stereo outputs and additional extension pedal input
- Cannot be used as a direct-in recording interface via USB
- Signal path can’t be rearranged (except for moving modulation ahead of the EFX slots)
- Only one slot for modulation effects
- Some noise complaints
8. Tech 21 Fly Rig
Departing the world of multi-effects with integrated expression pedals, I thought I’d include this option as something slightly different than the rest of this list. The Fly Rig was designed as an essential tool kit of sounds in an ultra-small package. Toss one of these in your gig bag and you’re ready for a show just about anywhere in the world using any backline or PA. Sure, it’s not a super tweakable computer in a box, but it gives you everything you need to play.
The original configuration is the Fly Rig 5, which comes with a ’68 Plexi-style distortion section with a 21 dB booster, the legendary SansAmp tube amp emulator with vintage spring reverb, and the company’s Boost DLA pedal, which is essentially a vintage tape echo. The delay section even has a tap tempo, which a few of the multi-effects above seem to be missing. When you kick on a section, the control knobs light up for visual confirmation.
Other versions are available, as well. The Richie Kotzen Signature RK5 features the OMG overdrive before a slightly meatier SansAmp section. The Fly Rig 5 Cali swaps the OMG overdrive for a US Metal SansAmp, which is probably most like a 70s Mesa Boogie. The Brit version contains 70s Marshall tones for heavy crunch. All in all, these are fairly brilliant offerings for those prioritizing convenience.
If you want to save a hefty chunk of change and are feeling adventurous, the Valeton VES-1 Dapper is a shameless ripoff that tosses in an effects loop, a switchable cab simulator, and a tuner for $100 less.
Why you would choose this one: Perfect as a backup or to dial into a relatively simple, high-quality tone.
Price: $249.00 and up
- Excels in grab-and-go situations, such as overseas gigs
- Extremely compact size
- Very good tones for the money
- Useful for DI/FRFR situations
- No expression pedal, looper, tuner, or drum machine
- Multi-effect only in the literal sense — not what we normally associate with the genre
- What you see is what you get, no swapping effects here
- Some find the Plexi model a bit fizzy
9. Line 6 M9 Stompbox Modeler Guitar Multi Effects Pedal
Sticking with the three-stage configuration, this Line 6 model focuses just on combinations of their many, many pedal models. If you squint, you can almost see how this is descended from their first truly great pedals like the DL4 Delay. It’s a rugged, road-worthy piece of equipment that could either satisfy all your needs or compliment a wider effects strategy.
With this, you choose up to three pedals to be chained together in any order you like. There are over 100 to choose from and include just about everything they’ve ever made, including the DL4 and Verbzilla, and so on. Once you’ve dialed in your selection of three pedals, you can save them to one of 24 scene slots to be recalled later. Even better, Line 6 puts no restrictions on pedal order.
A couple of nice touches on this model include 1/4 inch stereo inputs and outputs in case you decide to put an external stereo pedal in front of it. There’s also MIDI in and out, as well as jacks for two expression pedals (which are sold separately and will put you over budget).
You might decide to grab this for the bulk of your sounds and just keep one or two other pedals on your board besides. With that in mind, you could opt for the smaller M5, which gives you a single pedal slot that you could change as you needed it. The M13 model is well over budget, but is also an option.
Why you would choose this one: You like the idea of the Fly Rig, but want more control and a wider selection of pedals to choose from.
Price: $249.99 (38 percent off MSRP)
- 100+ stompbox effects
- 28 second looper with half speed and reverse
- Two expression pedal jacks
- Choice of true bypass or buffered bypass
- Expression pedal not included
- Screen is difficult to read in outdoor settings
- Only three pedals can be used at a time
- No amp or cabinet simulations
10. Zoom MS50G MultiStomp Guitar Pedal
If you want to boil down the concept of the multi-effect even further, we return to a Zoom product. Packed within a box the size of the average single-effect pedal is the ability to chain together six effects at once — in addition to a tuner. If you’ve tried a Zoom product before and like their modeling, this is probably the easiest way to get everything you want.
As I said, you can use up to six effects at once in any order. You can also rearrange the order of the patches so that they will cycle through in order each time you press the switch. The eight amp models and stereo 1/4 inch outs make it great for FRFR speakers, but you can also place this in context within a larger pedal board to expand your sonic options.
Although I didn’t find anything that said so explicitly, I imagine that if the bigger Zoom G3X has a big of difficulty with processing power, this one is likely to, as well. I’m sure you’ll find combinations of six models that just won’t play. Still, six pedals for the board real estate of one with finite control over each is a pretty good deal. It’s basically the Fly Rig that fits in the palm of your hand for much, much less. Of course, the sounds may not quite be to your liking, but at this price, it’s certainly worth a try.
Why you would choose this one: Run six pedals within one stompbox for under $100.
- Use up to six effects simultaneously within the space of one normal single-effect enclosure
- 30 factory presets and 50 user-programmable presets
- Tuner and tap tempo
- 47 effects and 8 amp models
- No expression pedal capability at all
- No headphone jack for practice
- Pitch effect tracking may be lacking
- Unlikely to put up with much abuse
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