If you’ve been listening to a lot of music your whole life, then chances are you’ve already noticed and heard the distinct sound and tone of the acoustic guitar. It’s just pleasing to the ears! You can already be an acoustic guitar lover and you’re just looking for ways on how to improve your current setup and sound!
One of the best means to elevate your current output is through an acoustic preamp.
If you’re new to the world of preamps and effects, don’t fret! In this feature, we’re going to talk about acoustic guitar preamps, how you could make it work for you, and what are some of the best available on the market today.
Let’s dive right into it!
What Is An Acoustic Guitar Preamp?
Essentially, acoustic guitar preamps are like tools or devices that help you shape your raw acoustic tone according to your preference. They help improve the already amplified sound of your acoustic guitar pickups, sort of similar to the normal tonal characteristics of a microphoned acoustic output. Preamps also enable a player to add more volume to his or her current output.
You might have already seen a preamp already. Maybe you just haven’t realized it yet! The black control knobs commonly found on acoustic guitars with the three-band equalizers are considered preamps as well!
But aftermarket preamps mostly provide more features that appeal to most of the tone purists, particularly to those who have already been playing the acoustic guitar for quite some time now!
When looking for a new preamp, the options can be quite daunting. This is why we’ve rounded up some of the best acoustic guitar preamps for you, so you can have a decent headstart on your quest for the best acoustic tone available.
Starting off our list is an offering from L.R. Baggs.
The Para Acoustic D.I. is built for the gigging musician. It works for both passive and active pickups with adjustable gain. The unit offers both 1/4 inch and XLR outputs, and works for either a standard 9V battery or 48V phantom power. Its tonal characteristics are often described as full and realistic, making it the perfect tool for any acoustic guitar lover.
In addition to everything it already has, the Para Acoustic D.I. also sports a 5-band equalizer, making it the ideal tone-shaping device for artists chasing a specific sound. Overall, this fine piece of gear from LR Baggs is a great choice.
Coming in at number two is a company already known for making some of the most sought-after pickups for both electric and acoustic guitars.
The Aura Spectrum from Fishman is widely considered an acoustic dynamic and tone enhancer, giving it more character compared to other options in this roundup. It’s also fairly easy to use, and it has overall great build quality.
Another interesting feature of the Aura Spectrum is that it has a built-in one-knob compressor, feedback suppressor, and even a chromatic tuner! This works perfectly for when you are aiming to save up on your pedalboard real estate.
Who said that the best needs to be expensive?
Behringer offers this affordable alternative that doesn’t sacrifice tone quality.
The V-Tone Acoustic ADI21 boasts a three-band equalizer that covers enough ground. While not having as many enough features as other units and models in our roundup, the V-Tone stands on its own as it offers simplicity and functionality at a price that is attainable even for musicians who are just starting out!
What makes the ADI21 stand out is its ability to emulate the distinct warmth of analog instruments, sort of like hearing a raw mic record an acoustic set. To top it all off, Behringer incorporated a dedicated boost so you can increase your guitar’s headroom.
If you’re a musician on a fairly tight budget, you should definitely consider this one.
Making its way to number three in our lineup is the Tonebone PZ-Pre Acoustic Preamp from Radial Engineering.
This specific unit probably has the most options in terms of tweakability and tone sculpting. It boasts independent piezo boosters for each channel, a 3-band equalizer with a semi-parametric mid, and a notch and high pass filter. Another considerable function is that the PZ-Pre has a fully featured feedback reducer unit to help you preserve your precious tone.
One of the things you should note though is that it has no dedicated equalizer for each output. If you’re the type of gigging musician who switches between instruments, you may want to compensate by dialing in a specific sound via an external graphic equalizer.
Other than that, this is one of the more advanced types of preamps, and it shows in the price tag. However, it does come packed with features though. Just take the time to dial and tweak some of the knobs until you find the right settings that will work for your playing style!
Since we already mentioned musicians and artists who prefer to switch instruments during their set, then we might as well include a unit that allows the player to do just that!
The Red-Eye Twin from Fire-Eye is the perfect tool for musicians aiming to seamlessly change their instruments while at a live performance. The two inputs for two instruments are comprised of their own dedicated gain and treble knobs, making it the perfect choice for those chasing a specific tonal characteristic. It can run on a standard 9V battery which gives almost 200 hours of playing time.
To top it all off, it has a dedicated boost function allowing you to cut through a mix when needed.
Wrapping up our list is the SansAmp Para Driver V2 from the fine folks over at Tech21.
We know. Aren’t they the ones also responsible for producing some of the most iconic electric guitar and bass pedals, such as the GT2?
Yes! But that doesn’t limit them to creating units for acoustic guitars!
The Para Driver V2 is a tone tweaker’s delight! If you are sensitive to specific acoustic frequencies, then take a load off this unit’s 3-band equalizer, blend knob, and mid-shift function!
And if you’re down to get your tone a little gnarlier, then take advantage of the Para Driver’s dedicated drive knob!
If tube-like warmth is your thing, then definitely check this out!
Now before you head to your local guitar shop and start browsing for their best acoustic preamp offering, you need to consider some things. First off is the type of pickup your guitar has.
The difference between magnetic, active, and passive pickups can be quite confusing. Active pickups are usually acoustic-electric guitars that have battery-powered preamps, allowing you to hear your signal in a much louder manner. Passive pickups are ones you attach to an acoustic guitar that has no electronics to provide some sort of louder output. Magnetic pickups on the other hand are much similar to electric guitars, relying on pedals for a stronger signal and a louder volume.
Another thing to consider is knowing what you are playing through. If you’re plugging directly into a mixer or an XLR connection, then it’s highly advisable that you use a preamp to allow you to further tweak your desired sound. If you’re playing directly through a guitar amp (which mostly has dedicated equalizers), then you may look for preamps that have dedicated boosters instead of a billion equalizer bands.
Other Effects Pedals
In the electric guitar community, gear acquisition syndrome (or GAS) exists.
Naturally, guitar players often feel the need to invest in their next effect pedal.
These pedals simply add an effect to their current dry signal or the sound that comes from the amplifier when you play the guitar. A preamp can be considered an effect pedal, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the only pedal you need for an acoustic!
Tuner pedals, chorus pedals, and sometimes, even delay pedals and reverbs are used for acoustic guitars, depending on your playing style, and where you play.
Tips on Usage
Whenever trying out your acoustic guitar preamp, explore the bands on the dedicated equalizers on your preamp. It can offer you tonal options that might work for you or not, so never be afraid to explore and experiment.
However, if you’re already satisfied with your existing tone and just want to make the volume louder, place all equalizer bands at noon (or at the center) and just crank up the level or volume knob until you reach your desired signal output boost.
The Wrap Up
The acoustic guitar is such a pleasant-sounding instrument. No wonder music geniuses worked on ways to enhance its tone!
We hope we were able to help you narrow down your preamp choices. Just always remember to spend a good amount of playing your guitar into the guitar effect before purchasing! Until then, happy playing!