The first knob on most preamp pedals is the gain or level knob, which can be adjusted to either increase just the volume, keeping the signal clean, or to add distortion. Every preamp pedal also has an EQ adjustment, which could be parametric (with knobs for treble, mid, and bass) or graphic, which uses sliders and are more visual in the adjustment. Effects loops, limiters, and other sound colorations are optional features on select preamps.
For a bassist, finding a preamp pedal that’s also a DI (direct injection) box is a plus. DI sends a signal directly to a mixing board or recorder, an especially useful thing to have in the recording studio.
Here are reviews of the 4 best bass preamp pedals on the market:
Tech 21 SansAmp Para Driver Pedal
The SansAmp Para Driver brings great presence to your bass sound, a close emulation to a tube amp’s tonal warmth. It has a sweepable semi-parametric EQ to give you full control over the shape of your tone. The DI has a rumble filter to remove noise in the lower frequencies, taking the boominess out of your sound, while the air function brightens up the treble and gives your attacks more punch. Tech 21 (see full specs) is known for its overdrive and the SansAmp is no exception. This pre-amp is especially great for those playing in harder rock and metal bands, giving your sound the edge you need without sacrificing clarity.
Aguilar Tone Hammer Bass Preamp Pedal
Eden World Tour Pedal
If you play in rock and metal styles, the Eden World Tour delivers the sound you’re looking for. The distortion possibilities with this preamp are fewer than with the two preamps above, but it still offers a wealth of tonal options. The bypass switch gives you the choice of playing with a straight tone for your standard basslines then switching to a more cutting tone when it’s time to take a solo. The World Tour is also extremely well-made and will stand up well to the abuse of gigs and travel, while it’s small enough to be truly portable. If you’re on the move, this just might be the best bass preamp pedals period.
Behringer V-Tone BDI21 Pedal
You might assume that any preamp under fifty dollars isn’t a quality piece of equipment, but with the Behringer V-Tone that couldn’t be further from the truth. The most impressive thing about this affordable little box is the tube emulation, which can make you sound like you’re playing on a vintage tube amp when fully utilized, or can be used with the Blend control to mix just a sparkle of tube-amp sound into your standard tone. This preamp is also fabulous for funk players and has a fantastic, very modern-sounding overdrive. With great power and minimum distortion, the V-Tone outplays preamps that sell for twice the price. This is likely the best bass preamp pedal for the money.
When You Need a Bass Preamp Pedal
It’s a good idea for any bassist to have a preamp with a DI in their gigging equipment, just in case something goes awry with the club’s PA or sound system—but even if everything goes smoothly, most players find their sound benefits from the inclusion of a preamp pedal in their arsenal. Aside from boosting your signal so it’s louder when it reaches your amp, preamps clean up the sound, removing distortion you don’t want (and adding the good kind that you’re looking for). Adding effects and EQ before the sound reaches the amp allows the tone to sound natural, balanced, and complete. Preamps can beef up a thin sound, remove the extraneous noise from a scratchy tone, or reduce feedback. If you’re a gigging musician, a preamp can also help you to blend multiple signals before they reach the speakers, especially useful if you’re using a microphone as well as an amp.
Preamp vs. DI Box Pedals
There’s some confusion of these terms in the bass community among both musicians and manufacturers. DI stands for Direct Injection, and is a device that, in short, balances an unbalanced signal, making the impedance and output ideal to send to a mixer. While many preamps have a DI output, the main functions of a preamp are to change the tone or alter the gain, lowering the output impedance to balance the signal—not necessarily for a direct feed to a mixer. This subtle difference becomes very important if you’re using your preamp in the recording studio. Again, most bass preamps will also be DI boxes, but if that feature is important to you, double check and make sure before purchasing your equipment.
The level of control the player has over the gain and tone also vary from model to model when it comes to bass preamps. External preamps give you at least some kind of gain adjustment (unlike onboard preamps, which frequently have a fixed gain). The tone variations and effects available to you are the most variable feature across models of preamp. The best bass preamp pedals can offer distortion or warmth along with EQ, potentially eliminating your need for other specialized pedals and lessening your load when you’re heading to a gig. If you prefer a clean tone—or are happy with the effects your other pedals give you—a streamlined preamp to boost your signal strength will enhance your tone without altering it, keeping it pure and authentic and giving you maximum sound quality in every situation.