For most guitarists, multi-effect units are a mixed bag. While the benefits are obvious and the idea sound, a lot of affordable multi-effectors end up jack of all trades and master of none. More than a few readers have probably gone the affordable multi-effector unit thrilled that it could move from Dimebag Darrell tones to some crazy ring modulator with the flick of a switch—only to grow tired of the shrieking, icepick tones, cold tonality and inability to cut in a band setting.
But floorboard multi-effects units have come a long way since you found that cheap, $100 plastic box of bees beneath your Christmas tree. More processing power, ever-shrinking digital circuitry, and economical production make today’s floor board multi effects units more compact, capable and affordable than ever. And the new generation of multi-effectors overflow with accurate vintage amps and effects models, simple and streamlined recording options and musical possibility.
We wanted to take a good look at just how far these devices have come in recent years, so we decided to have a go with three brand new floorboard multi-effectors—the Fender Mustang Floor, Boss GT-100 and ZOOM G5. We heard drastic improvements in modeling technology and encountered some digital limitations. But while there’s room for evolution, each of these floorboard multi-effectors is a capable tool for guitarists that need a little bit of everything, whether on stage or in a recording situation.
Fender Mustang Floor Effects Processor
The Mustang amp series has been a huge success for Fender—combining amp and effects modeling into affordable do-it-all amplifiers. On top of that, they're pretty simple to operate, featuring an operating system that has a shallow learning curve that appeals to novice bedroom guitarists and studio players that like to call up sounds fast. With the Mustang Floor, they've condensed the entire package into a rugged metal floorboard with a simple, clean layout.
The Mustang Floor's firmware stores a total of 13 amp models, more than half of which are based on Fender amps including the '57 Deluxe, '65 Twin Reverb, Super-Sonic, '65 Deluxe Reverb, and others. The other models are emulations tending towards Marshall classics as well as the Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier and Peavey 6505. Amp modeling can also be bypassed, just in case you want to use the floorboard as an effects unit with your amp, without the amp modeling coloring the tone. Effects-wise, the selection is much broader—packing in 37 fully-customizable effects that cover overdrive, wah, compression, delay, chorus, flange, pitch shifting, ring modulation, reverb, and several other effect types. The floorboard's expression pedal can be assigned to control pretty much any amp or effect parameter on the fly, making it possible to do things like gradually increase an amp's preamp gain or midrange, deepen reverb depth, or push a delay's repeat count into self-oscillating craziness.
Like the other two floor processors in this roundup, the Mustang Floor is designed to be connected, routed and controlled in a variety of ways. Two XLR outs and two unbalanced 1/4" outs are available to hook up the unit to a mixing board or amp input, and a dedicated USB port for direct recording and patch updating is an option for players who want to record direct without crisscrossing cables. A MIDI control, a built-in effects loop, an auxiliary in, and 1/8" headphone out are also part of the package.
The unit’s strength is the effects. The overdrives are smooth and highly tweakable, almost to the point where it’s easy to apply too much of one control if you’re not careful.
The first thing about the Mustang Floor that stands out is how well-built it feels. The weighty floorboard's metal enclosure feels sturdy in hand, and solid under foot moving through its switches. The expression pedal felt a little tight, but is adjustable via a screw on the side. After turning on the device, running a USB cable to my iMac, and connecting an Ibanez JS-1000 guitar, I fired up FUSE—Fender’s software for creating and altering patches for the Mustang series—plugged in my headphones, and ran through the initial patches. Right off the bat, it’s apparent that Mustang Floor has the same tone and nuances that typify the Mustang amps—full-bodied cleans, and overdrive tones that often need a lot of tweaking.
First off, the Mustang Floor’s emulation of Fender’s classics like the Twin Reverb are pretty nice, despite missing some of their signature sparkle on the highs. Still, they are very responsive and balanced on the whole. The Deluxe Reverb model in particular had a very striking midrange punch, through it could occasionally sound just a touch cold and processed in midrange-heavy applications—almost like hearing a great recorded tone played back from a mastered recording, which is actually a really nice thing if you’re using the unit to record direct. Though if you’re looking for the feel and skin-tingling snap of a great mid ’60s Twin blaring behind you, the Mustang Floor routed through the house system isn’t going to deliver all of the subtle nuances that an authentic rig would.
The unit’s strength is the effects. And the Individual Stompbox mode that overrides the amp models so you can use the unit as a standalone effects unit is a really appealing function of the Mustang Floor for how good they are. The overdrives are smooth and highly tweakable, almost to the point where it’s easy to apply too much of one control if you’re not careful. Modulation effects are outstanding too—especially the excellent-sounding chorus and delay models, which add dimension when the tone is a bit flat.
The Mustang Floor is capable of crafting some seriously brutal distortion tones, in addition to sitting pretty well in early ’70s classic rock scenarios. Getting the low end to behave itself can be the biggest hurdle. When I stuck with the Marshall-influenced models it’s relatively easy to keep clarity intact. In fact, cranking the preamp gain and dropping the Ibanez’s volume control yielded some of the best blues-rock overdrive tones in the unit, most of which that also had a really responsive midrange snarl. Heavier tones were harder to reign in though, mostly because the low end that the Mustang’s software generates for models with copious overdrive borders on the colossal—especially with the American ’90s and Metal 2000 models. And even though the patches containing these models were great starting points, a lot have sub tones that can overpower the signal. In thrashier applications I had to keep the Bass down to around 10 o’clock or lower, just to keep it tight underneath the mids and treble frequencies.
The Mustang Floor can make you look and sound like a pretty resourceful guitarist. And it’s a great deal too. The tones often reveal a digital edge, but the convenience, superb effects, and rugged build merit high marks. If you’re a fan of the Mustang modelers—or just need a solid, portable modeler for quick direct recording or stage use—it’s more than worth a look.