by Max Voorhees | 1:05 pm

Photo Courtesy of Shane Gavin [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

Ah! The world of the electric guitar can be so invigorating and exciting. This can be especially true when diving into the world of guitar effects and pedals.

Whether you are an experienced player or a beginner, it can be daunting trying to figure out what kinds of effects and pedals you want to add to your arsenal.

There are so many options out there, but when it comes to electric guitar, we generally hear about two types: multi effects pedals, and stomp box (analog) pedals. What are the pros and cons of each, and which one will work best for you? We’re gonna dive into that right now.

What the hell is a multi effects pedal?

A multi effects pedal is, well you guessed it, a single unit that provides a wide variety of effects to your guitar. These are larger than single analog pedals and use digitally processed sounds. Multi effects pedals come with many preset sounds that you can tweak and alter to your hearts content.

With multi effects pedals, the sounds are sent to a computer inside the unit which are then taken up by an algorithm and processed into ones and zeros. This in turn allows the pedal to “emulate” the sound of an analog pedal.

Most come with a wah pedal attached so you can make your guitar cry like a baby who just had its candy stolen. Also, with so many effects under one roof, you can generally get any type of tone you want from a single unit.

Whether it be that Angus Young sound, all the way to your Joe Pass clean tone, you’ll be able to find something that fits your needs.

Why should you get one of these bad boys? Well, let’s discuss…

Pros and Cons of Multi effects pedals – Wait, these things can be bad?

Photo Courtesy of Nedko at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)]

I know what you’re thinking… “Max, take my money and give me a multi effects pedal right now! I’ve always wanted to sound like Angus Van Hendrix”. I love your enthusiasm!

Multi effects pedals can be a cheaper alternative to stomp box pedals. All of those varied sounds in one unit allows for your wallet to carry more bills at the end of the month. Since you won’t need to carry a pedal board, it can be much easier to transport from gig to gig.

Multi effects pedals are also great for beginners who are starting to get their feet wet with their guitar playing. These units easily allow you to choose from a diverse range of effects, which in turn will help you find out what tone works for you, and what kind of guitarist you want to sound like.

But, these things aren’t perfect.

There can be many cons to multi effects pedals. For starters, there are so many effects that any type of player can be easily overwhelmed with choices. For example, some pedals can come with over 12 different delay presets. It can be difficult to choose between any of them.

In addition, since the sounds in these units are processed digitally, most of the time you’re not going to get quite the exact tone you want like you would with stomp box pedals. You might find a tone that matches Hendrix’s, but it will probably feel like its lacking that special something.

Finally, because of all the choices and knobs and bells and whistles that multi effects pedals come with, most of the time they aren’t very intuitive. What this means is that most players, including myself, might opt out of experimenting with every tone and just sticking to the preset ones.

So what is the other option you ask? Well, you can go old school with stomp box pedals.

Stomp Box Pedals – So many wires, but damn they sound good

Photo Courtesy of Peter Hall [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]

Welcome to the world of Analog stomp box pedals! Filled with big pedal boards, tons of wires, and a whole lot of voltage that packs a wallop. Stomp Box pedals are my personal favorite compared to multi effects just because they sound so good and natural.

To save you from all the technical jargon, an analog pedal doesn’t digitally process the effects of the pedal. It is all hardware and no software. Just like your granddaddy used to make.

Because of the lack of digital processing, you get (what is generally considered in the guitar community) a more full and natural sound from your pedal. I may be biased, but they just sound better.

You would also operate them differently than digital pedals. Each pedal will only give you one tone. Which means the more pedals you have, the more space you will need for all of them. You connect them all together with cables on a pedal board, and then you can stack the effects on top of each other.

Let’s look at why you should use stomp box pedals.

The holy grail of tone – Stomp box pros and cons

Like I have already stated you will get great tone with analog pedals. Because the sound is moving through physical parts such as capacitors and resistors, and not passing through digital processing, you get a smooth, continuous, and natural sounding effect.

With Stomp box pedals you also get a dedicated pedal which was made to produce that specific tone and sound. If you buy a distortion pedal, that is what you get.

You won’t get 20 different kinds of distortions in one analog pedal, which can make it easier for you to alter the tone of the pedal and find the sound that is just right for the situation.

If you’re feeling frisky, you can even go in and modify the hardware of the pedal directly if you have the tools. Another benefit of analog pedals over digital ones, is that digital pedals generally only allow you to stack 2-3 effects at a time.

With analog pedals, you can stack as many effects as you have pedals. Stack your delay on top of your chorus on top of your flange on top of your wah on top of your overdrive on top of your brake pedal… wait… we aren’t driving a car, are we?

Now for the downsides. Analog pedals can get expensive. Since each pedal only provides one tone, you will need to buy many to experiment with different sounds and combinations.

You will also need to buy a pedal board to attach them to, a power source to power them with, and patch cables to connect them all.

There can also be problems with your patch cables (which connect your pedals to one another) that can be a nuisance during live shows. With digital effects, you can usually turn a few knobs, or reset the whole thing to fix the problem.

But with analog pedals, it can take a while before you can pinpoint the issue, which is not what you want during a live setting.

Which should I use?

Let’s recap the pros and cons of both digital and analog pedals.

Digital first:

Pros

  1. Cheaper than standard stomp box pedals
  2. Easy to transport
  3. Extremely diverse range of effects
  4. Good for beginners
  5. “Multi effects” is a fun word to say

Cons

  1. So many effects can be overwhelming
  2. Emulated tone
  3. Not very intuitive at times
  4. Not like granddaddy used to make

Now lets move onto analog pedals:

Pros

  1. More natural and organic sound
  2. Can be layered as much as you desire
  3. Can be tweaked and modified easily
  4. Tones are very specific
  5. Stomping is fun

Cons

  1. Buying all the hardware can be expensive
  2. Can be difficult to transport
  3. Patch cables can be troublesome
  4. No brake pedal available ;(

When it comes to deciding which types of effects pedals are right for you, you need to ask yourself a few questions.

Are you a beginner? If so, it might be beneficial to you if you start with a digital effects pedal since they are cheaper. Also, because of the amount of tones available, they can help you pin point exactly which tones you want to buy later if you choose to go analog.

Another factor is how much money are you willing to invest? While there are very expensive multi effects pedals, you’ll definitely invest more money going the analog route.

If you really want that authentic sound, then you’ll want to buy some stomp box pedals. If you can’t decide, watch some review videos, find a friend that has one or the other, or go to your local guitar shop and ask if you can try some of their pedals out.

Find which ones you are comfortable with and which ones work for your specific playing style.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to personal preference. Happy playing!

Comments

phil

Hi Max – this did make me laugh.
I can see what camp you are in and it is not the newer digital one.
Is this the old war of cd versus lp – for me it’s got to be cd.
the lp has too much muffling, which the purist apparently prefer!
all analog electronics adds noise to your signal, so you will end up with a noisier signal at the end.
the digital method can easily remove any noise, but adds its own version of noise.
It can sound a bit harsh, but can you not ‘add noise’ digitally to make it sound organic?
I agree that a digital method is probably the better method for the beginner to go and say to them – master one effect at a time. You will be tempted to try them all but go through them one by one and explore them to see how they sound individually with your playing.
then start adding them together.
A bit like only affording one of those analogue pedal effects at a time, until you can afford another one.
Good article Max on how to get started altering your sound.
Do you konw the difference in reliability between the analogus pedals and the digital effects box?
I know which i would prefer as an electronics engineer, given the unreliability of connectors…

Apr 29.2019 | 10:36 am

    Max

    Hey Phil!

    Thanks for your reply. I’m glad you got a chuckle out of this, and I can see which camp you are in too. One thing that I forgot to mention is that the technology in digital pedals is only getting better and better. A lot of the higher tier multi effects pedals can give you more bang for your buck and actually have a better sound than a digital one.

    But the problem is that if you go on the cheap side with a digital effects pedal, although a great place to start, can come with a slew of other problems due to corners being cut. But it really comes down to what you are wanting to do with your pedals. Will you only be playing in your room with an amp, then a cheap digital effects might be your choice. I learned for the first 4 years on my electric strictly through a cheap digitech effects pedal. But hey, it got the job done.

    Now if you’re gonna be playing gigs, a more expensive digital pedal will be easier to carry, easier to set up, and I believe will give you less problems due to the unreliability of connectors with analog pedals.

    I personally prefer analog pedals simply because of the process of getting everything up and running. You need to understand effects chains and why which effects work better with each other. You also have to set up all the wires and connectors, which for me as a hands on guy, is just more fun. But the pedal game is changing.

    it is getting easier and easier to capture that perfect “digital sound” to where its difficult to tell the difference between an analog and a digital unless you actually see what the guitarist is using. Even though I’m in the analog camp, I wouldn’t mind switching over to digital if the right digital effects box came along.

    Thanks for your comment and keep on pickin,

    Max

    May 08.2019 | 01:09 pm

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