For most bass players, the term ‘bass effects pedal’ usually brings to mind some pretty cool stuff that can really enhance your overall tone, inspire creativity, and just plain out sound awesome. Effects such as distortion, modulations (i.e., phasers and flangers), delays, and even octave pedals add a mojo that you certainly can’t get from your rig all by itself.
While it isn’t necessarily an ‘effect’, so to speak, a preamp pedal can have a huge impact on your sound.
A bass preamp pedal may not be as sexy as, for example, a multi-track splange triple phase filter (not that there is such a thing…but you get the point), but I’d advise against underestimating all that a good preamp can do for you.
I don’t want to sound like I’m contradicting myself here – individual bass effects are great, but they typically tend to do one thing. A phaser is…well, a phaser. The same can be said for any dirt pedal, or delay, or so on.
Where a bass preamp pedal differs from most is the potential to completely modify your overall bass-ic (couldn’t help myself, sorry!) signature sound. They really pack a lot of punch into a small pedal-size package, and for some bassists they can be the best thing since sliced bread.
Soooooo…with all of that being said, I’ve taken a look at what I think are the 9 best bass preamp pedals that you’ll come across today.
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Let’s get crackin’!
The 9 Best Bass Preamp Pedals Reviewed
Tech 21 SansAmp 3-Channel Bass Driver DI
For most players, you can’t say the name ‘Tech 21’ without a good preamp pedal coming to mind – that’s because various preamps are what their entire product line is based upon.
The SansAmp Bass Driver DI was particularly designed and voiced for the bass guitar, and while it has ‘DI’ in the name, it’s pretty much a fully functional preamp pedal.
Featuring individual Bass, Treble, and Presence controls, you can tone shape to your heart’s desire. Toss in a Gain control, a Blend control that lets you adjust the wet signal level, and an overall level control adds to the overall flexibility.
Topping it off, once you land a set of parameters you like you can save it with a simple double tap of a footswitch, with the ability to save up to three different settings at one time.
Darkglass Microtubes B7K Ultra V2 Bass Preamp
If bass preamp pedals on steroids are your thing, then you need look no farther than the Darkglass Microtubes B7K Ultra.
This bad boy so many knobs, switches, and other gizmos on it that it may seem a bit intimidating at first…but not so much once you really understand it all.
The B7K has most of the typical bass preamp pedal functions that you’ll find on other models, but it has an expanded set of EQ controls (4-band) which, when used in conjunction with the Attack and Grunt mini-toggles, provide a wide range of possibilities.
Other handy features include XLR output, the ability to load impulse responses (IR’s) to help simulate specific speaker cabinets, USB ports to connect to the Darkglass Suite software, a ground loop switch, and a headphone jack as icing on the cake.
EBS MicroBass Two Channel Pro Bass Pre Amp
Featuring a unique two-channel configuration, the EBS MicroBass gives new definition to the term ‘flexibility’.
It combines many of the best functions of a preamp, an A/B switcher (so you can use more than one bass), and a DI box into one compact unit. It’s a great choice for live players who demand a wide range of possibilities from a single rig.
The amount of bells and whistles can seem to be endless, with a tube simulator, an onboard envelope filter, an effects loop, XLR output, ground loop, and so on…and so on.
There’s so much to the EBS MicroBass that it truly could be considered your entire rig without needing anything else.
MXR M81 Bass Preamp Pedal
The M81 Bass Preamp from MXR just gets right down to the nitty gritty of things. It’s a very simple preamp pedal that also integrates the most important features of a good DI box.
The EQ section on the M81 gets kudos for the wide range of frequencies that it allows you to adjust.
It features a 3-band EQ (Bass, Mid, and Treble), but the cool thing here is that the Mid control has an additional knob where you can dial in specific frequencies to control.
Simple input and output knobs cap off the preamp portion, and there is also a Pre/Post toggle that will let you select whether the XLR Direct Out is affected by the entire EQ section. A ground lift helps to make the M81 yet another impressive pedal solution from MXR.
Aguilar Tone Hammer Bass Preamp
The Aguilar Tone Hammer is yet another good combination of bass pedal preamp and DI box features to create an ‘all-in-one’ solution.
The Tone Hammer features a 3-band EQ section with a sweepable midrange, and it also has individual Gain and Master Volume controls as well.
A unique feature is the proprietary Adaptive Gain Shaping (AGS) system, which allows you to add on an increased gain and EQ profile by tapping a dedicated foot switch.
Also, It’s designed to run at 18VDC, which will afford plenty of clean headroom.
From the DI box side of things, you’ll find an XLR output, a ground lift, and a Pre/Post switch so you can totally bypass the EQ portion if you like.
MXR M-80 Bass Preamp Direct Box
The M-80 from MXR takes a preamp design with an entire section dedicated to distortion and combines it with all of the things that you tend to look for in a DI box.
It may be just the perfect solution for those bass players that like to get a little dirty without having to haul around a big bass amp.
The distortion section of the preamp affords a large amount of control, with Volume, Blend, Trigger, and Gain knobs letting you tweak in as much growl as you like. That wet signal can also be blended with the dry via a Clean Volume control as well.
An additional Color push button adds extra girth to the overall sound, and larger EQ adjustments can be made with a 3-band set of knobs.
The M-80 can double as a DI box thanks to the XLR output, and the addition of an onboard noise gate helps to keep your sound clean no matter what other kind of chaos you have dialed in from the distortion section.
TC Electronic SpectraDrive Bass Preamp Pedal
The TC Electronic SpectraDrive Bass Preamp distinguishes itself from the competition mainly off several features that are unique to the TC Electronic brand.
Starting off, the SpectraDrive has TonePrint capability, which – when coupled with the SpectraComp control, allows for a wide variety of compression profiles and EQ stacks. This will help to elevate your tone and make sure you are clearly heard within and above the mix in either a live or recording setting.
It also features a TubeDrive control which emulates the characteristics of a good tube amp. A 4-band EQ section allows further tone shaping as well.
The SpectraDrive isn’t just made for the stage, however. An aux input and a headphone jack also helps it to be a good choice for a practicing tool – perfect for those situations where you want great simulated cranked up tone but you’d like to stay on good relations with your neighbors.
Darkglass Vintage Deluxe V3 Bass Preamp
If you’re a bass player that really grooves on those smooth, tube-centric vintage sounds, then the Darkglass Vintage Deluxe V3 Bass Preamp may be right up your alley.
As with the Darkglass B7K, there is a 4-band EQ section along with the Attack and Grunt controls – but with the Vintage Deluxe this is geared towards allowing you a ton of different vintage-based sounds as compared to the more modern ones the B7K was intended for.
The Vintage Deluxe also has selectable midpoints for the low and high mid controls, further adding to the range of adjustments.
An XLR output along with a ground lift adds true DI box functionality, just to top things off.
Behringer BDI21 V-Tone Bass Driver
The BDI21 V-Tone from Behringer is one of the lower cost models on the list, but that certainly doesn’t mean that it lacks in features and functionality.
The BDI21 is marketed as a bass amp modeler which also has active DI box capability. While you can’t dial in models of specific amp brands, you most certainly can tweak in a large selection of tube-like tones, ranging from smooth and silky to heavily overdriven.
EQ duties are handled via a 2-band section with an additional Presence control, and with the Blend knob you can dial in the exact amount of tube emulation you want to go along with your unaltered direct signal.
All of the modeling and preamp functions can be completely bypassed simply by stepping on the foot switch. At that point the BDI21 acts purely as a DI box, with the standard XLR output and ground lift switch being the only features active.
What does a bass preamp pedal do?
The best way to describe what a bass preamp pedal is (and how it works) is to think about how a typical amplifier is constructed. It has two separate and distinct sections – a preamp stage and a power amp stage.
The preamp section is pretty much exactly as the name implies. That means a good portion of the signal processing that gives a particular amp its own sound is done in this stage, before the signal is amplified to where it can be heard (hence the term ‘pre-amp’ – it’s ‘before the amp’).
From there the signal goes to the power amp section, where the signal is boosted (amplified) and sent out to the amp’s output method (typically a speaker).
In the simplest sense, all that a preamp pedal does is take that first stage and put it into its own foot-pedal sized enclosure.
Why is this a big deal?
Because the preamp stage is where the majority of the magic takes place. EQ and tone shaping, overall level control, and gain are settings that are found in most bass preamp pedals, and having that additional level of control in your signal chain can pay big dividends.
Sure, the power amp stage has some influence on the tone, but the preamp section is where most of the hard labor is done.
What’s the difference between a preamp and a direct inject (DI) box?
The end result (that is, the output) of most preamps and DI boxes is essentially the same – they take the basic, unbalanced high-impedance signal that comes from your bass pickups and convert it to a balanced, low-impedance one. That means that the signal level coming out of a preamp or DI box is set at the right level for input into a PA mixer or recording interface.
Preamp pedals add the ability to modify the signal in a number of ways, be it tone via a multi-band EQ, add or decrease gain…pretty much anything you can do with a real amplifier. You’re then using the PA or recording desk as the output device.
In the most basic of configurations, a DI box simply adjusts the signal level, and that’s it. Some higher end models start to introduce some of the features that you’ll find in a good preamp, so it’s completely understandable why there is a fair amount of confusion between the two devices and what they are intended to do.
Onboard bass preamp vs. bass preamp pedal?
It’s a good question – which rules and which drools?
Bass guitars with active onboard electronics (often powered by a battery) are extremely common. And, to be truthful, an onboard bass preamp performs the same basic functions as a bass preamp pedal.
The big difference boils down to taste, preference, and how you typically find yourself in certain situations. If you want direct access to particular EQ functions, regardless of the amplifier that you are using, then an onboard solution may be the best for your needs.
On the other hand, if you want a complete tonal shift available at the press of a footswitch, or if you want to have that same tonal setting available regardless of the bass (or amp) that you’re using, then a good bass preamp pedal would most likely be the best way for you to go.
In my humble opinion, finding a preamp pedal that meets your needs may give you more flexibility over an onboard setup.
What makes up a good bass preamp pedal?
Not to sound evasive, but the truthful answer to any question like this can be tough to nail down. That’s because the needs of a bass player will most certainly be different from person to person. A feature that one may really rely on may be one that another bassist may not have much – if any – use for.
Keeping that in mind, there are a few basic functions that I feel a good bass preamp pedal needs to have:
Equalization control (EQ)
The ability to drastically change your sound – for better or worse – is a must-have. That’s one of the major benefits of using a preamp pedal in the first place.
You typically won’t find a complete graphic EQ-level of frequency control on a foot pedal, but at a minimum a two-band setup may suffice.
Gain And Level
It’s really easy to confuse ‘gain’ with ‘level’, or with ‘volume’. In the context of a bass preamp pedal, gain is actually the level of the input signal before it gets affected by anything that will color the tone (such as any EQ).
Different levels of gain going into the various preamp functions can have a huge effect on the overall sound that comes from the output, where the amount is controlled by the ‘level’ control.
With a blend adjustment you can set how much of the processed signal is mixed in with the unaltered native one. It adds an amount of flexibility where you can have as much – or as little – of the preamp’s sound as you want.
There are many other features that are certainly helpful to make a good bass preamp pedal, but I’d like to consider these the ‘Big 3’.
Can I use a bass preamp pedal with my bass amp?
Many times the intent of a bass preamp pedal is to run directly into the PA or recording device input. These days having ultra-portable rigs are all the rage – and you can’t deny the convenience of getting a great tone out of a box that’ll fit in your gig bag or backpack.
It’s a heck of a lot easier than lugging around a big, beefy bass amp!
If I have one motto (actually I have many…it just depends on which is appropriate for the situation), it’s that ‘there are no rules when it comes to getting a sound that you like’. Many bass players (and guitar players, for that matter) tend to use preamp pedals as ways to goose up the front end of their favorite amp. Then they just mic up the amp itself for live or recording purposes.
From adding extra gain to help slam the power tubes and get them cooking, to simply liking the tone profile of a particular preamp pedal/amplifier combination, it’s true to say that anything goes. So yeah – give it a shot – you may find you really groove on what you come up with.
Bass preamp pedals may not have the same appeal or ‘cool’ factor that some of the more radical effects pedals have, but there’s no denying that they can ultimately have a much larger influence from a ‘bigger picture’ standpoint on how your tone comes across, either to a live audience or off a well-crafted recording.
The ability to change your overall tonal profile by hitting a switch is a benefit that has to be experienced to be appreciated, and that’s one big reason why I consider the Tech 21 3-Channel Bass Driver DI to be the top of the pack.
Having a completely different sound always ready and willing is one thing, but being able to have three available at one time really expands your reach.
Whether you use a bass preamp pedal as an amp-less solution, or as a way to add some color to your favorite amp, I think it’s a safe thing to say that one should be on in the signal chain of any bass player, regardless of the genre that you prefer to play.
So what do you think?
Let’s open up some discussion – leave your comments below and we’ll see what everyone’s ideas are to have their bass rigs sound as good as they possibly can.