What Is a Preamp Pedal?
A guitar preamp pedal allows you to achieve the tone of playing through an amplifier without needing a head or a cabinet. These pedals can provide added tone and signal boost or be complete “amp-in-a-box” preamps.
The best preamp pedals offer amplifier and cabinet simulators. These units allow you to recreate classic sounds or develop unique tones.
A preamp is the first stage of an amplifier, and it comes before the power amp and effects loop. The preamp boosts a signal to line level to make it louder and consistent. The preamp stage is what gives an amp its unique sound.
You can also go straight from the pedal to a guitar amplifier’s power amp section, giving you more control over your tone. You can achieve this cycle by connecting the preamp pedal to the return of your amp’s effects loop.
How Do Preamp Pedals Work?
A preamp pedal emulates the preamp section of a guitar amplifier, and many contain gain circuits for distortion and EQ to alter tones. Most preamp pedals are solid state, meaning they include transistors instead of vacuum tubes.
Some preamp pedals have multiple channels that you can select with a footswitch. These are useful for players who want to switch between clean and distorted tones without adjusting their amplifier.
Preamp pedals are especially useful for players who use digital modeling amplifiers. These amplifiers often have weak preamps that produce thin tones. Using a preamp pedal, you can get the best of both worlds: the flexibility of a digital amplifier with the boost from an external preamp.
Types of Preamp Pedals
The first decision to make when purchasing a preamp pedal is if you need it to alter your tone or if you mainly need it to boost your signal. Pedals that primarily provide a signal boost will retain the instrument’s sound as much as possible.
There are a few preamp pedals that contain tubes. These pedals are more expensive but can offer a more robust tone. It may seem strange to have tubes inside a pedal that you will step on repeatedly, but tube preamp pedals feature extra sturdy construction.
Tube preamp pedals use vacuum tubes to create gain, and these units will impact your tone with boosted bass, warm mids, and smooth highs. A “warm” sound is created by the natural distortion tubes make.
Solid state preamp pedals are lighter than tube preamps and generate less heat. These pedals can also take more gain before distorting.
Another decision to make is if you want a pedal with multiple channels. These channels can be helpful if you want to switch between clean and distorted tones without having to adjust your amplifier. Multiple channels also allow you to record various instruments concurrently.
The level or volume control is the most critical control on a preamp pedal because it allows you to boost your signal without distorting it.
Preamp pedals can also add extra features to your tone, such as overdrive, distortion, EQ, etc. Many of these pedals are true bypass, meaning your signal will not change when the pedal is off.
You can place preamp pedals anywhere in your signal chain. Many guitarists like to put them before any time-based effects such as delay or reverb.
The best guitar preamp pedal is the one that gives you the sound you want. There are many great-sounding preamp pedals on the market. Finding the right one for you is a matter of trial and error. Experiment with different pedals to find the one that gives you the sound you need.
There are a few things to factor in when choosing the best preamp pedal for your needs. The first is what type of sound you are trying to achieve. If you are searching for a clean boost, you will want a different pedal than if you are looking for a distortion pedal.
You must choose how much you will spend on a preamp pedal. While there are some very affordable options out there, the real heavy hitters can cost several hundred dollars. If you only plug it in occasionally, you may not need to spend as much as someone who uses it all the time.
The Best Preamp Pedals
These pedals are the best of the best when it comes to preamp pedals. If you are looking for a high-quality pedal that will give you the sound you want, one of these is sure to be a perfect choice.
Dunlop EP101 Echoplex
This unit is a preamp and gain boost pedal that can add 11dB of gain to your sound. Warm distortion is the trademark of this unit, and True Bypass switching lets you easily switch back to your original tone settings.
This pedal’s design comes from the famous Echoplex EP-3 preamp section. This simple, practical pedal is helpful for any style of music.
Fishman Platinum Pro
The Platinum Pro is a more advanced preamp pedal designed for acoustic guitars. It features a five-band EQ, compressor, tuner, boost, and effects loop. An XLR output is an excellent option, and phase control with a precision notch filter prevents feedback.
Precise sonic detail provides crystal clear audio reproduction. Two EQ settings are onboard for acoustic guitar and bass. Durable construction means this pedal is ready to be stomped on.
The Strymon Iridium delivers the tone, response, and tube staging of three famous amplifiers in a line-level output that you can send straight to a mixing board — no amp required. Iridium’s Class A JFET preamp with your guitar and pedals gives you the power to create rich, textured soundscapes.
The analog front end of this unit leads into a two-stage DSP processor, which reproduces the tube harmonics, breakup, compression, and EQ levels you hear in some of your favorite amplifiers.
JHS Pedals Colour Box V2
The JHS Colour Box V2 is a pedal that gives you the same sound quality as if you were plugging it straight into a recording console. The Colour Box V2 is an analog, transformer-based unit with nuanced EQ controls that can create classic sounds or your signature tones.
The Color Box V2 isn’t only useful for guitarists and produces gorgeous soundscapes for keyboards, bass, and vocals. It’s a versatile recording pedal that adds color and life to any performance.
The Diezel Herbert Pedal is not only a high-gain pedal, but it can also act as a standalone preamp. Plug your guitar into this Pedal, and then plug it into either an amp’s effects loop input or a power amplifier. Finally, connect the power amplifier to a speaker cabinet.
You’ll get the authentic Diezel sound as the manufacturer intended. However, if you want to use your amp’s clean channel through a conventional pedal configuration, the Diezel Herbert will work equally well for generating impressive tones.
Two channels sit on each preamp of the FS06. When an amplifier isn’t accessible, the onboard cabinet simulator is useful, as well as built-in EQ knobs for simple channel level adjustment. The footswitch has two stages, allowing it to function as an on/off switch or a channel selector.
Onboard preamp models include:
Blue Eye 100
MB 5th Gen
Xotic BB Preamp V 1.5
The Xotic BB Preamp overdrive pedal is a versatile tool from which any guitarist can benefit. The pedal’s functionality is unparalleled, performing equally well for generating smooth overdrive sounds with significant sustain as it powers the clean side of an already cranked amplifier to 30+dB of boost.
You’ll find Xotic pedals in use by many guitarists who love how touch-responsive they are.
Donner Green Land Mini
The sound of this preamp pedal features two channels with organic tube amp tones, so you can control volume, gain, reverb, EQ, and cab sim. Channel A (clean) models the Fender Bassman, and Channel B (distortion) models the Marshall JTM45. This affordable pedal is not the most powerful, so you may want a volume pedal in the mix.
Voodoo Lab Giggity
You can get the perfect tone for your music with the Voodoo Lab Giggity. This analog mastering preamp allows you to fine-tune your sound. Adding Giggity in front of your pedals will give your tone more articulation and shine. Giggity can be placed at the end of the signal chain to boost low-end frequencies, filling out your sound.
The Sun/Moon knob modifies your EQ profile and gain level. With the Loudness and Master controls, you can find the perfect tone for your needs through distortion and compression.