Guitar FX – Part 3 Multi-effects

A bit of history

In the previous article in this series we covered the ever familiar stomp box and how to go about setting them up, adjusting etc.

In this article we go to the opposite corner and will talk about multi-effect units and how these work.

Text Box:  As the word indicates these units contain a collection of effects in one box. Since stomp boxes got popular guitar players started having to use numerous combinations of effects to find the right sound. This normally ended up in a huge collection of pedals of types, sizes and power needs. Also setting up was time consuming. Many musicians’ improvised pedal boards to contain all their effects together and found it was a useful way of combining may effects in one “unit”.

Owing a lot to electronic miniaturisation the multi-effects unit came to life in the early 90’s. Early units like the Zoom 9002 were aimed at the entry-level market and were thought to be crude and “thin” sounding, but eventually and mostly due to sound modelling technology multi-effects units became a credible and effective tool for the modern guitarist.

What is sound modelling I hear you ask? Well most manufacturers have different names for this but essentially it is technology that models an input sound and provides and effect that changes it to make it “sound like” something else.

I for example can plug in my Fender Telecaster in my Korg unit set a patch called LP and my Tele suddenly sounds like a Les Paul!

In fact this technology is so widespread now that companies are producing modelling amps and guitars, Line6 being a prime example.

Now that you know what multi effect units are lets go a bit deeper into them.

Selecting Sounds

Smaller units such as the Zoom 505 only feature up and down switching for their sounds. So if you are using Patch 1 and want to use Patch 10 you will have to depress the selector pedal 10 times. Larger units have their sounds arranged into banks and patches such as you will find on a synthesizer. For example a certain sound will be held in Bank A Patch 1 or another might be in Bank B Patch 3. So selecting sounds can be easier.

I usually store the sounds I will use for a certain song in the same bank. This helps to select sounds quickly, as when you are about to play that all important solo the last thing you want is to look like a flamenco dancer stomping around trying to select your sound! What I find useful is to have a clean sound, a rhythm distortion, and a solo sound in each bank.








Tweaking Sounds

Well sometimes the patches that your unit are just not what you require and you might want to make changes. This is where the fun starts!

Although these units have many settings that can be changed sometimes the best approach is to be simple and methodically.

Here are some tips.

1.      Does the unit already have the sound you want? I know this might be obvious but sometimes it is just a case of looking for it.

2.      Is there a similar sound? If so use this as a starting point.

3.      If the options above do not yield results maybe another option would be to search the Internet. There are many websites, which have patch databases; you never know your sound might be out there.

If the answer to the 3 options is “None of the above” then you need to do some tweaking on your unit.

Find a similar sound on the unit to start of with, lets say you want a screaming solo sound with a bit of delay this is one of the first sounds I created on my own unit.

What I did was first of all

  • Select a normal solo sound
  • Change the Drive / Amp settings for more power.
  • Then add a bit of digital delay from the Ambience section.
  • The most importantly store the setting!

Noise Reduction.

Found on most units this can be very important in neutralising hum and interference especially if you have a guitar single coil pickups. On my particular unit it is on a patch-by-patch basis.


Hopefully this article although unable to delve into specific multi effects units has giving you an idea of what to expect and what can be done. Remember experiment don’t be scared! At worst the master reset can return the unit to its original state.