It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the plethora of pedal options available out there today. When looking for your next guitar preamp, consider getting one for the long run, having a good quality build, and with features that you deem necessary.
Overview (Best Guitar Preamp Pedals)
Playing the guitar has always been fun for a lot of aficionados. There’s just something about it that when you pluck or strike the strings, you are taken to a new dimension.
Now, you may have already been wielding the electric or acoustic guitar for quite some time now. You may have already grown accustomed to plugging your guitar straight into your trusty amplifier. Since it may be your first time, you may not notice it at first, but your tone when you’re first starting out is never the best sound you get.
Thanks to your continuous practice and dedication, you now discover several different ways of improving your sound. You now have an idea of how to chase some of the best guitar riffs and hooks you’ve ever heard.
As the guitar tone has evolved over the years, it’s also apparent that gear and technology introduced new means for us to enjoy the instrument. Certain guitars offer features that claim to make the instrument more playable, sound better, and even feel more comfortable. There are also guitars that offer a wide variety of shapes and aesthetics. Additionally, there have also been several different combinations of pickup configurations, all for the purpose of offering new tonal options to the player.
But to some members of the guitar community, a lot of the factors that affect the tone of the player lie in the fingers. However, no one can disregard the effect of pedals on the overall sound of your guitar playing.
A lot of different effects pedals have been a staple on your favorite artist’s pedalboard. John Mayer always has an Ibanez Tubescreamer. Jimi Hendrix always incorporated a wah to his rig. The Edge always adds a dab of delay to shape his hooks and riffs.
But one of the often-overlooked effects units is the preamp pedal. This could be caused by the preamp not being able to bring an instantly identifiable tone, compared to some famous effects pedals types, like the chorus, the reverb, the distortion, and the delay.
Some would even say that overdrives, preamps, and distortions are just the same.
But are they really?
You’re probably just as confused as anyone! But we’re here to let you know that help is on the way.
In this feature, we are going to be discussing what exactly is a preamp pedal, why you need it, where it goes on a signal chain, and what are some of the best guitar preamp pedals available out there today.
Let’s get right into it!
What Is A Guitar Preamp Pedal?
So you’re probably thinking to yourself, “My amp already has a preamp section. Do I still need a preamp?”
The basic answer will always be it depends. But to start everything off, let’s be clear first; what exactly is a preamp pedal?
Simply put, a preamp (or a preamplifier) is a piece of equipment that takes your existing guitar signal and increases the volume. This allows it to be workable and compatible with your effects rig, such as distortions, delays, choruses, etc.
Personally, I like preamps that don’t color your tone that much that it affects your overall sound. One perfect for sounds that balance low end and treble frequencies.
What a preamp also does is it makes your line-level signal (or the overall output signal all audio equipment operates with) play well with others.
Lastly, it can also be used as a transparent overdrive, being the overall basis for your dry signal during a live performance. If you’re connecting directly to the public address system (or the PA), then a preamp could help you maintain a pretty consistent tone.
This consistent tone makes it possible for you to enjoy a fun gig without all the efforts of bringing almost half the studio equipment with you.
With all of that out of the way, let’s get right into our list of some of the best preamp pedals you can get your hands on today.
The genius of Josh Scott from JHS was channeled into this stompbox that helped “color” (geddit?) the sound of hundreds of musicians globally.
The Colour Box was made popular by JHS due to its ability to faithfully reproduce the NEVE 1073 preamp tone – a popular medium for recording and boosting signals.
The idea of connecting directly into a vintage recording console was made famous by some of our classic rock icons, such as Neil Young and Led Zeppelin. But then again, as gigging musicians, it can be fairly hard to bring all of that paraphernalia with you, am I right?
That is why JHS offers this unique stompbox to the masses. It allows the player to toggle his tone, all while having the ability to shape his tone as he desires. What makes it even more special is that it can also be used on bass, keyboards, and even on vocals!
It even incorporates Lundahl transformers – a specific Rupert Neve preference. It also boasts a Hi/Lo Headroom Switch, XLR, and 1/4″ I/O, making it a versatile tool for both live and studio setups. It worked for Mac DeMarco, Matthew Bellamy, and The Edge, too! If you’re looking for a Swiss army tool on your board, this preamp can make its way to your consideration.
If you’re in the market in search of a preamp that is capable of producing creamy overdriven tones, then this offering from Xotic Effects can be just the thing to put on your board or your studio.
Known for its touch-responsive characteristic, the BB Preamp offers an active 2-band EQ, and offers up to 30+dB of clean boost, helping you reach those scorching lead tones! It can also double up as a bluesy type overdrive, working wonders on both single coils and humbuckers. It also houses a separate volume and gain control, enabling you to dial in the perfect amount of overdrive or boost for your parts during a live set or a studio session.
It can cover clean boost grounds, all the way to chunky gritty overdrives.
The BB Preamp is also in true bypass, allowing you to preserve your precious tone. Some famous users are Andy Timmons and Keith Urban.
Making it to number three in our roundup is from a company that had no trouble making its way to being staples on a lot of professional players’ boards. Think MXR and Way Huge Electronics.
The Echoplex Preamp from Dunlop pays heed to the classic Echoplex EP-3 preamp unit dating all the way back to the 60s.
This offering from Dunlop offers a simple control – one gain knob that provides +11dB of signal-boost or cut. It produces a sound that made players like Jimmy Page and Eddie Van Halen fall in love with it!
It can also be used as a boost pedal as it balances your bass, middle, and treble frequencies when engaged. You also wouldn’t have to worry about durability, as it is housed to take a fair amount of beating thanks to its durable metal chassis.
Players like Joe Satriani and Billie Joe Armstrong have used the Echoplex Preamp during their careers.
Not moving far from the Echoplex Preamp, we have a similar offering from Catalinbread.
The EP-3 combines both a preamp and a buffer pedal in one enclosure, enabling you to produce sweet tones that blend well with your amp or your pedalboard. Although it does not offer many tone-shaping options compared to other units in our roundup, it’s still enough to cover your overdrive tone needs. Make your amp stand out with the EP-3.
Who said that a preamp needed to be expensive and took a lot of space on your board?
The Incredible V from Donner offers a Fender 65 Twin Reverb Amp and Marshall Super Lead 1959 emulation feature that takes very little space on your rig!
This makes it perfect for players looking for either a clean boost or a crunchy characteristic to their chords or single note hooks.
If you’re the type of player who incorporates a perfect blend of rock and blues, then you can definitely make the most of the amp combinations that this unit has!
The Incredible V also offers a three-band EQ, volume and gain knobs, and even a built-in Reverb knob! All of that, packed in a tiny but durable enclosure.
Completing our roundup is another offering from the JHS realm!
Thanks to their nature of updating and improving products and adding more to the existing units, JHS made a few modifications to the famous Boss FA-1 – a unit made popular by U2’s The Edge. The Clover offers a mode selector switch, allowing you to choose between different tone selections. This means you have the option of either having control over the built-in equalizer or simply using the pedal as a boost as is.
The unit also houses an XLR output, allowing you to send your signal directly to a mixer or a recorder.
Paul Gilbert is one of the users of the JHS Clover.
Where does it go on a signal chain?
While there are generally no rules on pedalboard placement, a preamp pedal usually works best when placed at the front of your rig chain. This can be before your overdrives, or after your tuners. This allows the preamp to do its tonal manipulation during the early stage of the signal input.
Most of the time, modulation and time-based pedals can affect or color your tone, so you won’t get the most out of your preamp when you place it after these pedals.
But then again, nothing is written in stone! Once you get familiar with the preamp, you can have all the right to explore what works for you.
Why You Need It/Buying Guide
A preamp can appeal to players looking for a staple tone that isn’t necessarily overdriven or distorted. It can be a sort of gain stage without causing any sort of coloration to your amp’s tone.
It can also function as a clean boost, allowing you to be heard across venues when you start to solo! It can also be a useful tool when connecting directly to a mixer or PA.
Lastly, you can also rely on preamp pedals that offer some sort of amplifier modeling feature. This can work wonders for you, especially if you’re only starting out with pedals and amps.
When choosing a preamp, as always, consider your budget. It can be a bummer to know that you spend hundreds of dollars on a preamp that produces the same tone and function as a $60 dollar one.
Another one you can consider is the allowed volume boost. Identify what you need first – will it be for tone shaping or just a decibel booster?
Also, always look into the connections available on the pedal. Are you connecting directly to a PA? Look for XLR I/Os. Pedalboard space is also crucial, and this shouldn’t be too much of an issue anymore, since there are micro pedals available in the market today.
Lastly, always look into the controls and knobs built into the preamp pedal. If you’re aiming for a tone-shaping tool, then opt for the unit that offers equalizers.
Conclusion (Best Guitar Preamp Pedal)
As your playing progresses, you become surrounded by people and experiences that help shape you as a player. Part of your development as a musician is being exposed to several different tools and techniques that help you know more about your music. Guitar preamp pedals help you with exactly just that! And if used correctly, this stompbox can help you develop a new appreciation for your craft. Just remember to always have fun and never stop learning!