What’s The Difference Between Single Effect Pedals & Multi-Effect Pedals?

To enhance your guitar tone and uncover that perfect sound you will need the help of effects pedals.

However, by having a pedal that contains a single effect or a pedal that has a multitude of effects has both its pros and cons (depending on what you are trying to achieve). Choosing correctly can really enhance your playing or destroy your playing all together if you are not careful. This means that you need to be aware of the differences between single effect pedals and multi effect pedals and the role they play.

What is the difference between single effect pedals and multi-effect pedals? The difference between a single effect pedal and a multi effect pedal is a combination of both quality of tone, flexibility of tone, price and convenience. For example, single effect pedals are analogue whilst multi-effects are digital. With single pedals you can also choose the ordering of the effects more freely. However, the multi-effects are much cheaper and very closely replicate the original analogue tone with hundreds of effects contained into one single small box.

In this post, I will discuss the differences between single effect pedals and multi-effect pedals and why and when you want to use them.

1. Single Effect Pedals

Single effect pedals (also known as stomp boxes) is a method to produce a certain effect. These effect pedals take a raw audio sound from the guitar output and transform the sound naturally by running the audio output through a circuit board.

Single effect pedals are mostly analogue which means these pedals are designed to produce a single sound in a natural way. This is done by running the guitar tone into the pedal which transfers the audio into a circuit board.

More so, it is the circuit board within the pedal that is responsible for manipulating the sound of the guitar to the desired effect.

This is then outputted through an amplifier.

If you’re a guitarist trying to get a better tone then it is always advised to use single effect pedals because of them being analogue.

…and the sound it more pleasing to our ears because it is naturally produced.

It is very strange to learn that analogue sound waves also add more depth to a sound simply because the sound waves are inconsistent.

For example, when you strum a chord it produces a frequency that is linear from high to low.

Even though this inconsistency is very small, it adds depth to the output because the sound it produces has a wider variation of frequencies, which make the sound output fuller.

I also think that analogue sound compliments the way you play more, just because there is a more naturally array of frequencies that really spill out when applying dynamics to your playing. This includes the harshness and softness of your playing in conjunction to the style you play.

Overall it produces a more volatile and variable sound which changes more freely, according to what style you are playing.

Also, by layering different analogue effects, you will have greater influence on the sound that is being outputted. The more analogue affects you layer will produce a ripple of tones and true colours making your output sound bigger and brighter, by offering more authenticity in the sound and the playing dynamics than the multi-ones.

However, because the sound is produced naturally through a circuit each effects pedal can only hold one effect, which results in them costing more money and space.

Pros of Single Effects Pedals

  • Natural tone and full depth of tone
  • Analogue output
  • Map out the position of each effect with ease and precision
  • All the effects’ wiring positions are interchangeable
  • Easier adjustments

Cons of Dedicated Effects Pedals

  • Cost of single pedals is high
  • The expense of a pedal board should be covered as well
  • The cost of a DC power supply cannot be exempted
  • Mess of cables will be encountered
  • A large board may take a lot on space.
  • Maintenance and troubleshooting may take time.
  • Noise Interference from an analogue output can be experienced when playing live

2. Multi-Effect Pedals

Multi effect pedals is a small box that contains many effects all in one place. 

You are maybe thinking how this is possible, as realistically you would need a separate circuit board for each effect. 

However, this is possible because unlike the single analogue effect pedals, the multi effect pedals are digital. 

This basically means the effect is sampled and stored on memory which then becomes a digital format. 

There has been many advancements in digital audio but it still doesn’t replicate the original analogue sound as well. This is because when the analogue sound is converted to digital it doesn’t capture all the frequency. 

Some digital capture more frequencies depending on their bit processing but overall will not capture all the frequencies, and acts like a compression. 

The visuals representation would look smoother and digital does naturally square the sound wave shaving off higher and lower frequencies within the sound wave.

Audio producers would try to get around this problem by layering tracks and instruments. Working with digital will naturally sound cleaner and more controlled as it is compressed but gives you less to work with in the studio recording setting and any manipulating can result in a stretched sound if not careful. 

Because digital storage takes up very little space in comparison to analogue means a bundle of effects can be stored and carried to gigs taking up very little space. Digital storage is cheaper than having a series of circuits producing the real sounds. Whereby, a lot of presets and patches are downloadable and importable from the web.

Pros of Multi-Effects Pedals

  • Much space is saved
  • Cost of multi effect boxes is more affordable than that of single effect pedals
  • Many presents and patches, very convenient
  • Power supply or pedal board are free of charge
  • Some units have many built in features
  • One single cable is needed for in and one for out

Cons of Multi-Effect Pedals

  • No options for effects are allowed to choose
  • Fixed order are attributed
  • Footswitch button is fixed
  • Difficulties in adjusting several units on the go during performance


There are three considerations when finding your signature tone.

The first is the type of guitar you use, the second is the type of amp your use, and the third is the type of effect you use.

In this article, we looked at the basics before purchasing your first pedal. The first decision you must make is choosing between single effects pedals or multi effects, as this means you are choosing between analogue sound and a digital sound.

When using digital you have the power to twist, tweak and transform your sound in many ways, as there are hundreds of options available to you. Which means if you are looking for an all-inclusive solution then the multi-effects is probably the best choice. Moreover, they are much better for experimenting because of its affordability.

However, some musicians want the real tones produced first-hand by the pedal because it just sounds better than the digital simulation. If you prefer the real deal in terms of tone then you must have a pedal board.

But in the end, it’s all about your choice! I personally use digital effects live as sound quality is lost in the mist of all other instruments anyway, and it’s good to experiment with.  However, going into the studio it is probably better to capture the true analogue sound.

Rich Wilde Music

My name is Richard Wilde and go by @richwildemusic on all major social channels. I am an artist, guitar player, and producer. I have been playing guitar for over 15 years and have come to learn the "tips" and "tricks" to enhance guitar playing, recording guitar, setting up guitar, and overall get that professional sound.

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