Choosing the right bass preamp pedal is a minefield. Does it have DI? How much tone adjustment will I get? They all set out to do roughly the same thing, but unfortunately to varying degrees of success.
We’ve cherry-picked some of the best on the market and had a look at some of their strengths and weaknesses to help you on your way to buying the best bass preamp pedal.
All in all, my personal winner of the roundup is the Tech 21 VT Bass. The price is a little steep, sure, but every cent is put to use. Varied tone control, a nice overdrive sound, an overall tube sound that might just convert the purists and enough variation to cater for a more modern sound, the VT Bass does exactly what a good preamp should do and has DI too.
Bass Preamp Pedals We Recommend
|Image||Bass Preamp Pedals||Specs|
$209.00 at Amazon
|3 Outputs: Amp / Recording output with Speaker Simulation / DI output, 3-Band EQ, Dimensions: 12 x 14.5 x 6 cm, Weight: 0.45 kg|
|$399.99 at Amazon||SBP-1Frequency Response: 5Hz-50 kHz |
Power Source: 9V Battery or AC adapter
Battery draw: Around 9mA
Battery Life: 50 Hours
Bass Control: + 18dB Boost @ 40Hz
Treble Control: + 18dB Boost @ 4kHz
Total Harmonic Distortion: 0.18% @ Nominal Input Level - 8 dBv
Frequency Response +0 / -3 dB 20 - 20k Hz
Bass +/- 15 dB @ 100 Hz
Treble +/- 15 dB @ 10 kHz shelving
Bright + 12 dB @ 10 kHz,15dB gain
Midrange +/- 12 dB, 50 –2.000 Hz ,Q=0.80
Edge +/- 12 dB @ 7 kHz
Weight: 1.5 lbs
|$139.99 at Amazon||2 Metal footswitch |
Controller for clean volume, distorted volume, blend, trigger, gain, bass, mid and highs
Switch for colour, phantom power and gate
Tech 21 SansAmp Character Series VT Bass DI
What’s good: Good tube amp simulation, tone control.
Not so good: Confusing layout, pricey.
If the SansAmp is and was the bread and butter of preamps, and for good reason, the VT Bass is like a close relative to the black and yellow SansAmp but it has its own personality or character – as explained in TECH 21 Character Series VT Bass review.
The VT Bass aims to emulate that classic tube amp sound. Drawing inspiration from the Ampeg SVT, the VT is about as close as you’re going to get to a tube amp, but there’s still a lot of variation to suit anyone’s sound.
As you’d expect, there are MID, LOW and HIGH knobs that offer a great deal of tone shaping, but the interesting part of the VT is how the BLEND knob operates with the CHARACTER and DRIVE. The CHARACTER knob effectively controls the style of sound from vintage to more of a modern flavor.
The DRIVE has a nice warm tone; personally, I think it’s every bit as good as buying a dedicated overdrive pedal, but when used with the CHARACTER knob you’re allowing for an array of tones. BLEND then controls the amount of CHARACTER and DRIVE that’s mixed in with the rest of the pedal.
Usually, a blend function controls the amount of effect against your dry signal — not so here. It creates some interesting sounds that can be widely shaped.
The downside to the VT Bass is that it can be a little confusing with its layout. There’s a lot going on so the numerous switches for a bite and phantom power etc alongside the extensive knobs might be a little daunting at first.
With a bit of time with it though it’s worth the small learning curve. The VT will set you back some at around $200, but with that, you’re getting a well-rounded and professional bass effect pedal.
Tech 21 SansAmp DI V2 Bass Preamp Pedal
What’s good: Tone control, versatile.
Not so good: Pricey, slightly confusing layout.
Extending on the much-loved original, the SansAmp V2 is much of the same but with a few added features. The most notable of which is a much-needed dedicated MID knob that the last installment lacked.
The lack of a MID knob was definitely a minus to its predecessor; fortunately, they’ve rectified that and even added a push button to target different mid-ranges.
Having that extra control over the mid-range alongside the BASS and TREBLE knobs goes a long way for tonal versatility and the V2 is a catchall for different tonal requirements.
For me, the DRIVE function is a little weak it’s by no means a fully-fledged overdrive and the layout can be a little confusing. If you set the BLEND knob, which controls how much of your original tone you have against the preamp, to zero then the PRESENCE and DRIVE aren’t activated.
It’s a bit finicky and a bit of a minus, but asides from that, the pedal is a great all-rounder. Then again, it would have to be for its hefty price tag of around $200.
After these two reviews, you are probably wondering which Tech 21 bass to pick? Check out this video for further clarification.
Behringer V-Tone Bass Driver DI BDI21
What’s good: Ridiculously cheap, simple to use.
Not so good: Looks ugly, suited more to the beginner.
Behringer has a knack for producing inexpensive products that are of decent quality and the V-Tone is no different. Although it doesn’t really stack up against most of the pedals on this list that well, what else can you expect for its extremely low price?
First of all, the V-Tone only has a two-band EQ TREBLE and BASS, so although you have some tone control, it’s not nearly as much as say the SansAmp.
The bass preamp works as an amp modeler too and attempts to replicate a vintage tube amp sound, but for me, it lacks that essential warmth of a tube amp. The BLEND knob is a notable addition that helps mix in your original tone.
For all its flaws though, the V-Tone is so ridiculously cheap, around $30, that all of my concerns are somewhat alleviated. Sure, you’re not going to get a state-of-the-art sound, but this pedal is perfect for anyone who’s new to preamps or simply doesn’t want to shell out a huge amount of money.
Gallien-Krueger PLEX Preamp – 4 Band Active Bass Preamp Pedal
What’s good: Lots of features, huge EQ variation.
Not so good: Pricey, overdrive leaves much to be desired.
This one is not for the faint-hearted. The PLEX is an attempt to do away with amps with its all in one in-depth controls like overdrive, compression and its huge amounts of tonal variation. Although the PLEX has some serious positives, it’s by no means going to replace an amp.
The PLEX is expensive. At around $350, the PLEX is not aimed at the average buyer, but is it really worth it? There’s no denying that with a four-band EQ and contour options there’s a lot of tonal malleabilities, and I mean a lot, on offer and with the pedal having built-in compression, a tuner, DI and an effects loop send/return there’s no shortage of features.
The PLEX has a USB in/out for digital recordings and a headphone jack if you want to play quietly to yourself too, as I said, there’s no shortage of features.
Don’t get me wrong, the PLEX is a great pedal and it does a lot, but an “amp replacement” is pushing it. You could buy a cheaper preamp pedal, a compression, and a better sounding overdrive and still come to around the same price as the PLEX…roughly.
Maybe that’s exaggerating a little but you get the idea — it’s built-in functions aren’t as good as buying independent pedals. It’s a great pedal, but for me personally, they’ve tried to oversell it.
Aguilar Tone Hammer Bass Preamp
What’s good: Simple to use, natural sound.
Not so good: No separate volume for gain, bulky.
I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Aguilar gear, everything they put out offers a smooth and natural sound, but objectively the Tone Hammer is a good simple to use option.
Alongside the standard BASS and TREBLE knobs are the MID FREQ and MID LEVEL knobs, which provide fully sweepable midrange frequencies furthering the already high amount of tone shaping you can get out of it.
For me, the best and possibly worst feature of the Tone Hammer is the AGS function or additional gain structure switch — a separate switch next to the ENGAGE switch.
With the AGS engaged, the signal gets an overdriven boost and whatever EQ settings you have dialed in are also boosted. At low gain settings, the tone gets a nice growl to it. All the way up though, and you get some serious dirt.
The AGS feature can be a pain though because the volume is boosted tenfold, which might be a positive to some, but it means that you might have to cater for the boost with the master volume — there’s no separate volume knob for the overdrive.
This is particularly annoying if you are mid-song and want a subtler boost — the boost is too significant for a gentle lift. It’s not, by any means, a deal-breaker though; it’s just a minor pitfall in an otherwise amazing pedal.
The price is pretty hefty too. At around $250 the Tone Hammer will definitely burn a hole in your pocket, but for me, I’d say it’s worth it.
EBS MicroBass Two Channel Pro Bass Pre Amp
What’s good: Two channels, lots of features.
Not so good: Pricey, controls could be confusing.
Again, this one is not for the faint-hearted or anyone who is new to bass preamp pedals. Like the PLEX, the MicroBass Two is an all singing all dancing all in one preamp.
With tube simulation, overdrive, effects send/return, DI, and headphones out, it’s a preamp that’s kind of doing everything you need, which it should when they’re asking for roughly $300 for it.
If you use two basses in live or recording settings, but obviously, you need two different preamp settings, then the MicroBass’s two separate inputs are looking at you.
While the MicroBass Two can be used with two basses, it works best as a two-channel preamp for one bass. Switching from two different tones is boon for any bass player. One channel controls the DRIVE function, so with both channels activated you can get a nice boost or a full-on overdrive.
There’s a lot of room for tonal versatility here too, alongside the standard BASS and TREBLE knobs are the option of sweepable mids, brightness, and edge control.
The overdrive sound might not be exactly to your tastes if you’re looking for more of a vintage sound, but this is down to a personal preference of course, for me, preamp overdrives are never as good as buying a dedicated overdrive pedal they’re just a helpful addition if you want an all in one solution.
That’s exactly what the MicroBass is: a highly adaptable and high quality all in one solution minus a compression and a tuner though, but that’s nitpicking really.
Hartke Bass Attack 2 Bass Preamp/Direct Box with Overdrive
What’s good: Price, nice drive.
Not so good: No additional features, bulky.
Simple and affordable, Hartke’s Bass Attack 2 holds up surprisingly well to its more expensive counterparts.
Having three footswitches for ON/OFF (obviously), OVERDRIVE and SHAPE, the Bass Attack 2 wants you dancing around a bit, but not without good reason. On the right, the ON/OFF triggers the BASS and TREBLE knobs offering a good amount of tone control; though not as hugely extensive as some of the pedals on this list, it’s enough especially considering the price. There’s also a contour switch for extra thickness.
In the middle, the SHAPE switch controls a preset EQ curve, which essentially allows for a mid-range boost or cut with the FREQ and AMOUNT knobs.
On the left, is the OVERDRIVE switch. Having a dedicated overdrive is nothing but helpful and if you’re looking for a preamp with an overdrive that isn’t just tacked on, the Bass Attack 2 is a good solution.
With DRIVE, TONE, and MIX knobs, the overdrive is quite extensive. It’s incredibly warm and tube-like and all the way up isn’t going pierce your eardrums but will provide a nice overdriven boost. As always, the overdrive sound won’t be to everyone’s tastes so give it a listen first.
You’re not getting too many in-depth controls because the Bass Attack 2 is light on extra features. For around $150 though, it’s most certainly worth the price.
Ampeg Classic Analog Bass Preamp Pedal – No DI
What’s good: Compact, easy to use.
Not so good: No DI, no additional features.
Perhaps the most compact and easy to use the pedal on this list, Ampeg’s analog bass preamp is a good option if you don’t want to spend much money and would prefer something simple to use.
Attempting to recreate the classic, Ampeg sound but in a compact pedal, the Classic Analog Preamp does a relatively good job at it, but strangely not as good as the VT Bass. You’re never going to truly replicate the classic Ampeg sound anyway, but it’s a valiant effort — what did you expect for around $130?
Getting a decent tone out of the little thing is easy; there’s certainly no bells and whistles to be had, but this pedal is for straight-up EQ control minus everything else and that minus includes a lack of DI.
To be quite frank, that’s a huge minus for me; it really limits the potential this pedal could’ve had because the EQ is quite something. If the lack of DI doesn’t bother you then bully for you, but for me without it, it’s a deal-breaker.
Ampeg SCRDI Bass DI Preamp
What’s good: Top-notch construction and a no-compromise approach to tonal quality. Handles vintage and old school sounds very well. A comprehensive all in one tool kit for a bass player.
Not so good: The scrambler circuitry runs parallel with the EQ. This means that if you are a bass player who likes to put the overdrive/scrambler effects in front of your preamp then this is an absolute disaster for you. When the scrambler kicks in, it destroys the EQ settings you have dialed in because the signals run parallel and you hear them both coming from the speaker!
The Ampeg is a working-class hero. It has most of, if not all the features of an absolute high-end preamp pedal and it comes at an extremely lucrative price.
Ampeg SCR-DI is a high-quality bass pedal, evident from the generous use of metal, in its construction, both body, and switches. This baby delivers the vintage SVT tone day in a day out.
Designed to give you tonal excellence, this pedal is almost like a Christmas gift for your bass guitar!
Hartke VXL Bass Attack
What’s good: Control the brightness of your tone. Brilliant value for money given the price.
Not so good: It won’t be long before you start to wish there was a toggle switch to help you jump between two tones that you took so long to dial in.
The Hartke VXL is a wonderful bass preamp pedal that is somewhat of a middle ground between a Direct Box, a preamp and a stompbox.
It has the features of all these three devices and some more. Another great pedal designed to provide more tonal control than your amp and the tone knob on your bass guitar allows you.
The ability to dial in a mind-blowing number of tones, thanks to the Harmonics Knob. Tonal control is an absolute bliss on the Hartke pedal. Designed to suit multiple styles of bass players be it finger/slap or picked.
The pedal has a knob called the harmonic’ and this is for introducing gain and thickness to your tone which works very well. This control is the absolute highlight of this pedal and we love it. We are certain you are going to as well!
MXR M81 Bass Preamp
What’s good: Very simple to use and extremely effective. Signature metal body construction, MXR style.
Not so good: If only there was built-in distortion circuitry, this one would have been our best bass preamp pedal!
Another great offering from the stable of MXR, the M81 (full review) is basically a lot of power, stuffed into a small package giving you massive tonal flexibility.
The bass, mid, and treble are the standard knobs on this one and the M81 also has separate knobs for the input and output signals along with the ability to control the mids.
This is a very simple set up that is a shrewd way of being able to control tone.
MXR M80 Bass D.I.+
What’s good: Loaded with awesome features. The distortion and effects add more color to your tone. Robust construction. Value for money at its best.
Not so good: Hardly any except for the fact that you may need to invest in the AC adapter for this pedal because it drains the battery very soon.
The MXR M80 (see in detail) is such a versatile bass pedal that you simply may end up finding your Dream’ bass guitar tone. That’s right, we are talking about the elusive ‘perfect tone’ that you have been looking for, all these years.
The pedal is loaded with features and has a pretty awesome built-in distortion. So besides the standard equalization knobs, the pedal also has knobs for you to be able to dial in the distortion with much more control.
Last but not least, the MXR comes with a built-in noise gate. This right here is a fully loaded blockbuster of an item.
Sadowsky SBP-1 Outboard Preamp/DI Pedal
What’s good: Phenomenal quality. Very sturdy and made of metal.
Not so good: The pedal is on the expensive side, there are cheaper options on the market. The Sadowsky’s sound is not for everyone.
This is a gig-ready pedal this is aimed at professionals. The chances of making a bad choice by selecting this are very low.
A very well made preamp pedal for bass players, the Sadowsky SBP-1 pedal has two footswitches, a mute switch to cut out any sound, especially when you are tuning up your bass guitar and the other is an on and off switch to Engage the “Sadowsky sound’, an interesting effect that is added to your overall tone.
Led lights are integrated onto the pedal, two green ones to warn when the battery is low and the other for when the custom Sadowsky is on. The red one is to confirm the mute status of your channel.
The right bass preamp for you is down to personal preference. The VT Bass errs on the side of a classic Ampeg sound so that might not be your bag. However, it does what it says on the tin and more; offering more than enough control to get an adjustable sound.
What is a bass preamp DI pedal?
A bass preamp pedal creates a canvas from which you sculpt your bass signal. Think of it like an extra palette for tone coloration, EQ, signal boost and often times more. Although your bass amp might have a preamp or you have a bass guitar with active pickups, a preamp pedal is an extension of your molding capabilities.
A bass preamp pedal with a DI (direct input) function does the same thing as a preamp but allows you to feed you signal directly into (get it) a mixing desk whilst retaining a vast amount of control over the sound.
Essentially, you can pay as much as you like for bass preamp DI pedals. They range from incredibly cheap to extremely expensive. The more you pay, generally, the more features you get like wider EQ settings, ability to add effects loops and tuners.
Why would I need a bass preamp with DI?
In a live situation, because sound guys can get a little, let’s say, antsy, they generally want your bass signal to run straight through their mixing desk via DI eliminating any notion of mic’ing up your speaker cabinet.
What you get is a straight signal devoid of your own character through your amp or pedals. So, because we all live in the palms of sound guys, a bass preamp DI pedal fulfills their lack of any desire to mic you up, but you are left with the ability to customize your sound.
The same logic applies to any recording situation too. You’re essentially retaining personal sonic flavor and boosting the signal in the process so your signal is never weak in whichever setting.
If your amp already has a DI output, for a live setting, you don’t necessarily need a DI preamp pedal, but because, as I said, sound guys can get antsy, they don’t always want to run them into their mixer putting you right back to square one.
The DI feature covers you for live and recording environments and you can buy DI boxes on their own, but they’re not necessarily going to give you a deeply moldable sound. This is where the preamp comes in handy. Beyond live and recording situations, a preamp pedal is that extra tool for perfecting your sound. Even alongside your amp, you get that extra control. The DI feature is an extension of an already useful tool.
Things to consider when buying a bass preamp pedal
If you use a passive bass preamp pedals are generally built with you in mind; however, for the active bass players, things are a little less straightforward.
Active bass pickups are louder than their passive counterparts, so when you plug into a preamp pedal the signal might be too loud and it will clip. The signal needs to be attenuated to suit the preamp; ideally, I’d look for a pedal that’s designed to function with active pickups.
Active basses already have a built-in preamp so it generally boils down to an either-or situation, but it’s still possible to have both. Before buying a preamp just make sure you know how it will react with active pickups, there’s always a ton of information online about respective preamps.
Another thing to consider is how much do you want from a preamp pedal. Some come with a huge amount of flexibility over your sound whereas some are pretty straightforward. Preamp pedals can often offer highly detailed and highly fine-tuned options, but they might seem complex to the average user. Don’t worry though because they come in all different varieties. If you don’t need an awful lot of in-depth control, there’s plenty of simpler options that still have the benefits of sonic malleability without being too complex.
Whether you want a preamp with DI is up to you. Most have DI, but without it, you can’t go directly into mixing desk you’ll just have extra control over your sound.