What is a Bass Preamp Pedal?

Bass preamp pedals are very popular among contemporary bassists, as their both versatile and compact. However, with a lot of options available and some confusing crossover — it can be difficult to know where to start if you're keen to acquire one.

In this article, we explain exactly what a bass preamp pedal is, what its advantages are, and why you should integrate one into your bass rig!

Elliot Stent

Elliot Stent

There are multiple ways to amplify and capture the sounds of bass guitars. Using a bass preamp pedal is considered one of the most practical, modern and affordable solutions available. It’s therefore no surprise why they’re becoming favoured by the latest generation of bass players who prioritise portability and ease-of-use over sheer power.

But what does a preamp do for bass? In this extensive blog, we go into great detail about how bass preamp pedals work and also reveal just how adaptable they can be — particularly for performing bassists and even home hobbyists. By the end of this piece, you just might consider one for yourself!

What’s the Purpose of a Bass Preamp Pedal?

What is the Purpose of a Bass Preamp

A bass preamp pedal is essentially a flexible DI box that features the tone-shaping EQ controls you’d typically find on bass amps. Its purpose is to ultimately replicate the sound of a bass amplifier’s preamp section, and to therefore be used as a more compact and pedalboard-friendly alternative to a full-fledged bass amp.

Bass preamp pedals are employed for both live and studio situations. Acting as a go-between for your bass guitar and a mixing desk/audio interface, a bass preamp pedal allows you to plug directly into a PA system or computer with convincing bass amp tone. However, bass preamp pedals can be used in conjunction with dedicated bass amps too. They can serve as another tone-sculpting stage, or even as an overdrive of sorts. They’re also great silent practice tools, as many bass preamps come equipped with handy headphone outputs!

Popular Bass Overdrive & Preamp Pedals

Do I Need a Bass Preamp Pedal?

You may wonder why you’d need a bass preamp pedal if you already own a bass amplifier. However, in the next section we reveal several of the additional benefits that a bass preamp pedal can offer — even if you’re already happy with your rig. But to remain somewhat impartial, we’ve also detailed a few of their drawbacks.

Advantages of Bass Preamp Pedals

Advantages of Bass Preamp Pedals

Many sound engineers prefer to take a direct signal from a bass guitar instead of mic’ing a bass amp. It’s simply easier to manage, and allows for greater separation in a mix. This can be achieved with a standard DI (direct injection) box, which lets you plug your bass into a mixing desk via an XLR connector. However, a dry bass signal can sound anaemic and sterile — lacking any of the tone-shaping wizardry that comes with bass amps or pedals.

This is where a bass preamp pedal can come into play. As most examples of these boast DI output capabilities, they let you control your bass sound before it reaches a mixing board. So essentially, the main advantage of a bass preamp pedal is that it allows you to precisely sculpt and refine your bass guitar’s tone before it is recorded or amplified through a PA system.

However, most modern bass amplifiers will feature DI outputs too. This means that you can use one onstage for monitoring and simultaneously send a DI signal to a mixing desk. While this can be effective, some bass amp DI outputs produce a signal that is simply too hot for a mixer — causing a brash, distorted sound that can potentially damage a sensitive input. A preamp pedal’s output can be adjusted more easily, meaning that you can run one straight into a mixing console and find a good balance. Even if you can’t part way with your bass amp rig, you can always just own a preamp pedal as a backup!

Disadvantages of Bass Preamp Pedals

Disadvantages of Bass Preamp Pedals

While it’s clear that bass preamp pedals have many plus-points, there are some snags that put traditionalists off buying them. The most debated issue is their supposed lack of realism. Some bassists simply believe that preamp pedals do not deliver a convincing “amp-like” sound or feel, which ultimately leaves them feeling uninspired. This is something that older units are guilty of, but modern bass preamps are far more advanced and can offer tones considered more authentic — especially those that feature cabinet emulation.

Another downside is obviously their lack of physical speakers. This means that they can’t emit a room-filling sound unless connected to a PA system or bass amp/cab. So if you’re a gigging musician, you’ll always need to make sure that a venue has a speaker setup that you can plug your preamp pedal into. It would be unusual for a venue to not accommodate for that, but it’s certainly something that you’d have to keep in mind.

What is the Best Bass Preamp Pedal?

What is the Best Best Bass Preamp Pedal

There is no definitive “best bass preamp pedal”, especially as tone is completely subjective! But there are a few brands that are particularly favoured by bassists — namely Darkglass, DSM & Humboldt, Tech 21EBS and Gallien-Krueger. With plenty of products between them that span a variety of different price-points, you’re practically spoilt for choice when it comes to bass preamps.

Darkglass Bass Preamp Pedals

Darkglass pedals are extremely popular with modern rock and metal bass players. That’s because they specialise in preamps that can deliver potent overdrive and distortion sounds. Their designs are unique as they allow you to blend your clean bass sound with their dirty signal, so that you can produce filthy distorted sounds that remain clear, tight and focused.

Jon Stockman (Karnivool) and Adam “Nolly” Getgood (Periphery) are a couple of high-profile Darkglass proponents. They’ve been heavily involved in the development of the company’s ‘Microtubes’ technology, which accurately reproduces the harmonic content, break-up and compression you typically get from high-end valve-powered bass amps.

DSM & Humboldt Preamp Pedals

DSM & Humboldt are a relatively new brand, but they’ve already made serious waves with their ingenious ‘Simplifier’ amp-in-a-box pedals. Boasting a dedicated ‘Bass Station’ version that comes filled to the brim with features, this ultra-tweakable analogue pedal is equipped with a host of tone-changing dials and switches that make it easy to shape the perfect bass sound.

It sports a bunch of connections too! This includes two effects loops for seamless operation with your external effects, making the Simplifier brilliant as both a live and studio tool for the working musician — especially with its incredible cab simulation technology.

Tech 21 Sansamp Preamp Pedals

Tech 21 were among the earliest pioneers of the bass preamp pedal, introducing their iconic ‘SansAmp’ in 1989. Growing into a full-fledged range that includes not only their most venerable models but even signature ‘Fly Rig’ pedals for the likes of Steve Harris (Iron Maiden), Dug Pinnick (King’s X) and Geddy Lee (Rush) — it’s hard to go wrong with the SansAmp series!

EBS Bass Preamp Pedals

Swedish brand EBS produce a number of ‘Micro Bass’ preamp workstations that are apt for seasoned players. These pedals feature comprehensive control-sets and even have dual channels so that you can switch between clean and driven tones on-the-fly. The top-of-the-range Micro Bass 3 even has a built-in tuner with an onboard compressor. This makes it a very flexible and all-encompassing design!

Want To Learn More?

Interested in finding out more about music gear and expanding your knowledge? Click here to view all of our Learn articles! For further information on the other topics mentioned in this guide and more, check out our related articles:

Elliot Stent
Elliot Stent
Elliot is a Senior Digital Product Marketer at Andertons, and at least the 7th best guitarist in the company's Web Team. He's exactly one day younger than Harry Styles, and believes that this "head start" is the only reason why Harry's more successful than him.

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