Multi Effect pedals offer a great way to build many different tones and effects that are available at the tap of a foot switch, but they can be infuriating if you are not used to the way they operate. However, with a few tips and a little bit of practice, it will be easier than ever to harvest some great tones out of your Multi-Effects unit, so let’s get started!

Most Multi-Effects processors will be arranged in the same fashion – the better the processor, the more adjustments will be available.

  •  Pedal – this section will offer an array of single ‘virtual’ stomp boxes or effect pedals, such as distortion, fuzz, Wah, etc.
  • Pre-Amp – this section will mirror classic amps (usually tube amps) and is the main tone generator of your multi-effects processor.
  • Modulation – these effects include chorus, flanger and rotary and pitch alterations (as well as some others)
  • Delay – it is what it says. This section will offer various ping pong, straight and stereo delays.
  • Reverb – like delay, this one is simple. From the sound of a small closet to a huge cathedral, you can mimic classic reverbs from past amps or explore totally new territory with most Multi-Effect reverbs.

Multi-Effects Architecture – A Broad Overview

The details of programming every multi effects pedal is different, yet most of them have a very similar set-up when it comes to turning effect groups on and off and editing effects. Each of the above groupings will usually be controlled by a single button – this button will turn the effect group on or off, and allow you to enter edit mode for that group.

Some effects machines will do edits almost completely through buttons – the best ones will usually have a combination of buttons and actual knobs. Read your owner’s manual for the specifics on your unit. The better an effects unit is, the more parameters (or ways to change the effect) there will be. Taking the pre-amp section as an example, first you will have a list of choices for the section you are in. In the preamp section, it will have a variety of amps to choose from.

This will usually include various types of Fender, Marshall and other heads and combos, such as a Blackface, a Tweed 4×10, or an AC30.

After you choose the type, the parameters are usually arranged in order of importance (to someone). So, for the pre-amp you might have the Gain, Pre-Gain, EQ (Hi, Mid and Low) and the channel volume. Less expensive units may offer only Gain and Volume, but all units will be arranged in this fashion.

This holds true across all effects groups, whether it is modulation, the stomp boxes section, delay or reverb. First you will choose the type, then adjust the parameters for that type

Save Your Work!

Almost all Multi-Effect units save patches in the same fashion as well – there will be a write or save button. Pushing this button once allows you to select the bank and the patch that you want to save the edited sound to, and pressing the write – save button a second time usually commits the save.

On more advanced pedals, you can also assign settings to different effects within the patch to the expression pedal (or a Control or CTR button) – these are very useful items. Think beyond the standard use of Volume or Wah, which is what the expression pedal usually is. You can program the pedal to alter the gain of the pre-amp, or the level or delay time of your stereo delay.

Controlling the speed of certain effects can also create some fantastic washing tones, especially effects such as rotary speaker simulation or tremolo and vibrato sounds. Experiment with the ways your unit offers to alter the effects within a patch, such as the ability to turn reverb on or off, or a nice tight compression for a volume boost during clean leads. All these things are possible on good multi-effects pedals, and this adaptability to your needs is one of the things that makes this type of pedal a favorite of mine.

Arranging Your Banks and Patches

Effects units organize your sounds in banks and patches. Banks are accessed through an up and down button, and each bank will contain 3 – 4 patches, on average.

Most units will have more user slots than you will need – realistically, most guitarists won’t need over 3 – 4 Banks (12 Patches). I have found it easy to arrange all banks in the same way – a clean rhythm tone, a distorted rhythm sound, a clean lead sound and a distorted lead sound. When you arrange your banks in similar methods, no matter what bank you find yourself in you will know that going to a particular patch number within that bank will give you a certain type of sound, no matter what bank you are in.

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Hooking It Up – Tube Amps vs Solid State Amps

There are several different ways to connect a multi-effects pedal to your amp (or in some cases to your PA system). This will depend in large part upon the amp you are using, but for the most part you will get a better sound from your effects pedal when you play through a good quality guitar amp, whether it is a tube or solid state amp.

This is because of the range of the guitar, and the way that amp simulators and speakers work. A PA system, or a PA speaker, uses a bass speaker and a horn. An electric guitar amp uses a single speaker which has a fairly narrow range when compared with a PA speaker. The tonal qualities of guitar amp speakers are an important role in the tone of any electric guitar sound.

It is possible to get a good guitar sound without using a guitar amplifier, but it is much more difficult (and expensive). This is because of the way the guitar speaker itself creates the sound. It is a single speaker, usually with a fairly limited range (an average guitar speaker will be around 50 -60 Hz on the low end, and about 5 kHz on the high end).

Most PA systems are around 30Hz to above 20kHz, with the sound transitioning to the horn as the register of the sound climbs. Since a guitar speaker does not split the sound, it has totally different characteristics in the creation of the tone. Anyone that has plugged a processor into a PA system (or a recorder) or used a microphone on a guitar amp will quickly testify to the difference.

That being said, there are two ways to use a multi effects unit (this also holds true for single effect pedals) – plugging your guitar directly into the effects unit and then plugging into your amp, or running the effects unit through your amp’s effect loop. To rig your effects pedal in this fashion, go out of your amp’s Effects Loop Out into your Multi-Effect Pedal’s input, then out of the Multi-Effect Pedal’s output and into the guitar amp’s Effects Loop input. Plug your guitar into the front of the amp.

Tube Amplifiers

Tube amps are getting most of the tone from the amp itself – if you are a tube amp enthusiast, you will already be deeply invested in the tone and more than likely will be using the multi-effects unit to make alterations to that tone, and to have a wide array of effects of use quickly. When using a tube amp, the best result can usually be had by hooking the effect unit up through the effects loop built into the amp. This places the effects from the multi-effects unit within the signal chain that is built into the tube amp.

To keep the truest tone of your favorite tube amp, it is usually best to wipe a patch completely clean by turning off all the parts of your effect processor. Then add the things that you want to make up that sound. This could be as simple as turning on only the delay portion of your processor, or turning on delay, flange, one of the effect pedal sounds (like an additional distortion pedal) and reverb. Since you are building off of the tube amps inherent tone, you are using the multi-effects pedal more like a series of single pedals to adjust that tone to your exact needs.

Solid State Amplifiers

With solid state amps, it is much more likely that you will be relying on the multi-effects pedal for the majority of your tone. A solid state amp with a great clean sound is the best. All of your major tones and distortions will come from the multi effects unit.

When using your unit with a solid state amp, it is usually best to plug directly into the solid state unit and then connect to your guitar amp (or if you want a true stereo sound, to 2 exact amps – I use two powered cabinets made specifically for guitar).

Since you are using the multi-effects unit for your basic tone generator, try out the factory patches. When you find a tone that you like, try changing the effects within it. In particular, go through the different pre-amp and amp models to see how they sound, and how they affect the tones of the amp.

Most patches will have to be adjusted to get the exact sound that you need, and some small adjustments will have to be made while you are practicing. This is because sounds will constantly affect one another. You may have a superb patch built that you spent hours on – the tone is perfect, the mix of delay and reverb is spot on. And then you click on that patch during practice, and you can barely hear anything.

So don’t be disappointed when you have to make small adjustments in EQ and volume settings when you try out a new patch with the rest of the band. This is simply part of building a great tone from a multi effects unit, and it is part of the process. Once it is set, and the more you use the unit, the quicker building tones will get.

The Final Word – Tone!

When building your guitar tone using effects there is really no right way or wrong way – listen to what people have to say, and try new things out. In the end, the only person you should really trust to how your guitar sounds is – yourself. But guidance can be a good thing – when you are looking for a Multi Effects pedal Sam Ash can offer the selection and expertise you need to pick the best pedal for you, so come on down to our house and try out the latest toys at your local Sam Ash Music Megastore or check them out online at www.samash.com.