Multi-effects pedals are fantastic pieces of gear. They offer all-in-one solutions to guitarists looking to expand their pedalboard without spending a fortune. Larger multi-effects pedals can even act as a full pedalboard replacement.
However, digital effects can be a problem if you’re using a tube amp. Finding a multi-effects pedal that plays nicely with a tube amp can be a headache.
That is why today I want to introduce you to three multi-effects pedals that work great with tube amps. For the purpose of this article, I used a Marshall DSL40CR as my test amp.
3 Best Multi-Effects Pedals for Tube Amps
1. Boss ME-80
At first glance, the Boss ME-80 looks rather intimidating. All the knobs and switches resemble the cockpit of an airplane and make the ME-80 seem about as complex.
Fortunately, everything is very nicely grouped and labeled. This makes the learning curve of the ME-80 fairly manageable, even if you aren’t too familiar with multi-effects pedals.
The labeling also helps with the readability of the pedal. I find it quite easy to quickly switch between patches and effects. The LED indicators also let me know what is active and what isn’t.
Speaking of patches and effects, there are a lot. From simple distortion to phasers and pitch shifters, you’re pretty spoiled for choice when it comes to effects. They can all be used individually or combined into custom patches and mapped to one of the footswitches.
I like having the analog interface with the knobs to select effects. Layering effects on multi-effects pedals can become complex pretty quickly. Being able to see all the effects you are using at the same time takes away a lot of that unnecessary complexity.
The pedal on the right side is also something I really like. Instead of just being a simple volume or wah pedal, it can also be used to shape effects while playing to add an extra layer of dynamics.
The ME-80 can also be used as an audio interface to record with a DAW like Pro Tools or Reason. It isn’t the best interface I have ever used, but is a great addition if you just want to do some simple recording in your bedroom.
With everything the ME-80 can do, I see it more as a complete pedalboard replacement than a pedalboard addition. There are certainly better multi-effects pedals out there, but those are also more expensive.
As a simple and affordable fully equipped pedalboard, I can’t recommend the ME-80 enough.
The Line 6 Helix is one of the best multi-effects pedals out there and a personal favorite of mine, which made me pretty excited to test out the HX.
The HX is a sort of stripped-down version of the Helix. The obvious difference between the two is that the HX doesn’t have the big LCD screen or an expression pedal.
On the inside, the HX also doesn’t have any amp, cabinet, or mic models like the Helix. This might seem like you’re losing out, but I think this makes the HX a bit more focused.
Having a pedal that only focuses on effects makes setting the pedal up much quicker and easier. I was able to get my custom banks set up much better as well since I didn’t have to worry about the amps and cabs in my signal chain.
Speaking of setting up patches, I found it to be very easy and intuitive on the HX. Tapping the footswitches opens up the edit menu for that patch and then the rotary knobs are used to scroll through all the effects.
Even though the large LCD screen is gone, I am glad that Line 6 has kept the smaller LCDs on top of the footswitches. Being able to clearly label each footswitch is one of the things that I like the most about the Helix. I think getting rid of that on the HX would have been a mistake.
The exclusion of an expression pedal isn’t a big deal either since the HX has enough inputs for two pedals at once.
The Eventide H9 is one of the most modern multi-effects pedals I have ever used. Unlike other multi-effects that are controlled through onboard knobs and switches, the H9 is controlled almost entirely through software.
It's operated either through a Mac or Windows program with iOS and Android apps also available. I also appreciate that the H9 has both wired and wireless connection capabilities.
I was a bit concerned when I first booted up the H9 software. Often, the software for gear can be a bit complicated and confusing to use. The H9’s software is luckily very well laid out and simple to use.
Even the Android app is super easy. I don’t have an iPhone, but I suspect the iOS app is similar to the Android app.
Being software-controlled does make the H9 more of a studio pedal than a gig pedal. I had a bit of trouble just jamming with the pedal since I couldn’t quickly access any presets through the pedal itself.
As for the actual sound of the effects, the H9 uses nine algorithms to simulate all of the different effects. The engineers over at Eventide certainly know what they’re doing. These are perhaps the highest-quality effects simulations I have ever heard on a multi-effects pedal.
This high quality of sound is of course reflected in the price tag. The H9 is quite a bit more expensive than most comparable pedals. There is a cheaper base version, but that only comes with two of the nine algorithms.
The other algorithms can then be bought separately. I would probably just go for the H9 Max to avoid any headaches down the line.
I am always a bit wary of gear that relies on software to work. There is no real guarantee that you will still be able to use it in 10 or 20 years.
Using A Multi-Effects Pedal with A Tube Amp
There is some debate around whether you should use digital effects with a tube amp. Tube amps are just naturally better than most solid-state ones and many people think digital effects detract from tube amps rather than add to their sound.
In my experience, it all depends on the pedal you’re using and how you’re using it. Pedal makers like Boss and Line 6 really know what they’re doing when it comes to digital effects. If one of their pedals isn’t working with a tube amp then no one else’s will.
Applying your pedal correctly is the most important part, though. I usually avoid distortion on a digital effects pedal when using a tube amp. A tube amps gain channel will almost always be better, but you can use the pedal's overdrive to boost the amp’s.
I would stick with using the other effects like delays, phasers, EQ, etc. These effects don’t interfere with the amp’s sound and won’t result in a bad experience.
Most modern tube amps also have an FX Loop, usually at the back of the amp. Even though effects pedals can go through the front input of the amp, the FX Loop is really the intended way.
I think the most important thing to remember is that tube amps react differently on low settings compared to high settings. Before adding any digital effects, set your amp the way you intend to play so that you can easily adjust your pedal later.
There are many different multi-effects pedals out there. They come in all types of different shapes, sizes, and configurations. The multi-effects pedals in this article are just a handful of the pedals out there, but I believe they are some of the best multi-effects pedals available today.