Best Guitar Preamp Pedals – 2020 Ultimate Buyer’s Guide

In this article, we will be detailing essential information on the topic of preamp effects pedals. In addition to general information on this type of effects pedal, several specific models will be addressed in detail to help you decide which would most suit your needs. 

Comparison Chart of the Best Guitar Preamp Pedals

PRODUCTDETAILS
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Donner Black Devil Mini Preamp Pedal

  • Best guitar preamp pedal overall
  • Offers 2-channel amp simulation
  • On-board reverb
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JHS Clover Preamp/Boost Guitar Effects Pedal

  • Runner-up
  • Based on Boss FA-1
  • Includes XLR output
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Voodoo Lab Giggity Analog Mastering Preamp Pedal

  • Best guitar preamp pedal for the money
  • Includes input gain control
  • EQ geared towards low-mid and upper-high frequencies
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Jim Dunlop MXR M81 Bass Preamp

  • Best Bass Preamp Pedal
  • Customizable midrange frequency band
  • Aimed for bass players and bass frequencies
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Fishman Aura Spectrum DI Preamp Acoustic Pedal

  • Best Acoustic Preamp Pedal
  • Loaded with extra features
  • Emulates the sound of a mic’d guitar in a recording studio
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What is a Preamp Pedal?

Preamp pedals combine a clean (ie, un-distorted) volume boost with EQ. They are placed in a signal chain after a guitar and before the amplifier.

By using a preamp pedal to make simple volume and EQ changes to your original sound, you will achieve a different resulting tone from your amplifier. 

Preamp pedals include a volume boost section, an EQ section, and in certain cases, additional features unique to each pedal.

The volume boost section is often a single knob that controls how much the instrument’s signal is boosted, and the EQ section is often made up of three knobs that can cut or boost low, middle, and high frequencies, respectively.

Donner Black Devil Mini Preamp Pedal

Why Did These Pedals Make Our List?

The pedals in this roundup have been selected as the best because they come from longstanding, reliable companies, have straightforward user interfaces, and bring a specialized take to the preamp pedal concept by including unique extra features. They represent the diversity of possibilities and applications offered by this under-appreciated pedal type.

Reliable Manufacturer

Effects pedal production can be a relatively easy market to get into. There are small boutique brands with only a few people on staff, all the way up to large corporations. Both are capable of making great pedals, but there are pros and cons of each model. While the companies that made the pedals in this article operate on different levels, all of them have been around for years and have good reputations for making quality products.

Intuitive User Interface

One nice thing about effects pedals in general is that most of the controls are assigned to simple knobs that are straightforward to use. If you do know and understand what each one does, it should be very easy to get the result you want. If you are new to the effect type and are not sure how a pedal works, it is easy and fun to turn the knobs freely and hear how they change your sound. Ultimately, however you achieve a sound that you like is great!

Bonus Features

Each pedal here offers a unique set of bonus features, from additional effects such as reverb, to accessories such as an electronic tuner, to additional outputs for XLR cables. These bonus features give each pedal the potential to fulfill at least one additional role other than preamp pedal.

Review of the Best Guitar Preamp Pedals

In this section, we will do a deep dive into five specific preamp pedals. You will get a sense of the pros and cons of each, and gain an understanding of the differences between preamp pedals designed for electric guitar, electric bass, and acoustic guitar.

Donner Black Devil Mini Preamp Metal Distortion Modern High Gain Guitar Effect Pedal with Reverb and Cab Simulator Functions and Automatically Save

PROS

  • Very small size
  • Includes reverb
  • Includes gain control
  • Standard Volume and EQ controls
  • Includes option Cabinet Simulation with two settings

CONS

  • More of an amp simulator than a preamp pedal
  • While the onboard reverb is a nice feature, it is limited by only having one algorithm with one control knob

What Recent Buyers Report

Recent buyers rave about this pedal in its primary application as part of a setup that does not include an amplifier. They are very satisfied with Donner’s ability to make small pedals that feel sturdy and are made to last, and love the flexibility of being able to switch between two different tones by holding down the footswitch. 

Why it Stands Out to Us

This pedal is designed to emulate a two-channel guitar amplifier for situations where you have to plug your guitar directly into a venue’s PA system. It can achieve clean or distorted guitar sounds depending on how the user sets the Gain control and which channel of the simulated amplifier is engaged. 

Who Will Use This Most

Electric guitarists who do not have the flexibility or means to bring a guitar amplifier to a performance will get the most use out of this. The particular sounds this pedal has been designed to emulate are of clean and overdriven tube amplifiers, so guitarists looking for those specific sounds in an amp-less context will want to consider this one.

Bottom Line

While its focus on two-channel amp simulation makes this pedal a slightly different beast than a standard preamp pedal, the Donner Black Devil does what it sets out to do in a small package and at a reasonable price. As is the case with many pedals, there can be some confusion with the nomenclature, but certainly in this case there is crossover between a preamp pedal and what the Black Devil can do.

JHS Clover Preamp/Boost Guitar Effects Pedal

PROS

  • Ground lift switch eliminates potential unwanted hum
  • Additional XLR output to use as a DI for acoustic guitar or bass
  • Low cut switch allows for additional reduction of low frequencies
  • Based on the difficult-to-get Boss FA-1 used by The Edge of U2
  • Three modes of operation allow you to disengage the EQ section, engage only the Bass and Treble parts of the EQ section, or engage the entire EQ section

CONS

  • No battery option, power supply only
  • Could be expensive depending on your budget

What Recent Buyers Report

This pedal has received rave reviews from recent buyers. They appreciate that it comes with a useful set of extra features, and many never turn it off because it becomes a part of their basic sound. Others use it as a simple boost with EQ shaping capabilities.

Why it Stands Out to Us

The JHS Clover stands out for two reasons. Its basic concept is that it is an improved clone of an older, rare pedal, the Boss FA-1. The improvements come in the form of a series of additional features that greatly multiply the potential uses for this pedal. From the EQ sections three possible configurations, to the XLR output with ground lift, to an additional low cut switch for extra tone-shaping, this is a swiss-army knife of preamp pedals.

Who Will Use This Most

Players who want to experience the vintage Boss pedal in a contemporary format with extra features will be very interested in this pedal. Acoustic guitarists and bassists on the hunt for a preamp pedal with an XLR output for DI use will find what they’re looking for here, as well.

Bottom Line

The JHS Clover is clear and easy to use, while being loaded with extra features that make it a particularly practical and versatile preamp pedal. If it lands within your budget, it is worth a good hard look.

Voodoo Lab Giggity Analog Mastering Preamp Guitar Effect Pedal

PROS

  • Input gain control
  • Unique design and concept
  • 4 preset voicings, selectable by Sun-Moon switch
  • Air control boosts or cuts high treble frequencies
  • Body control boosts or cuts lower mid/upper bass frequencies

CONS

  • Two-band EQ plus Voicing knob instead of more traditional 3-band EQ
  • List EleLearning curve due to unusual control names and unique overall conceptment

What Recent Buyers Report

The Giggity also receives rave reviews, from users who find it useful for a variety of applications ranging from boost, overdrive, and EQ, as well as combinations of these effects. While its effect can be subtle, it’s a workhorse that some feel makes it the most important pedal in their rig.

Why it Stands Out to Us

The Giggity stands out for its unique design and features. These features begin with Loudness, which allows you to set the input gain going into the pedal. From there the signal passes through the Body and Air knobs, that cut or boost low and high frequencies. Finally, there is a unique Sun-Moon 4-way switch that selects between 4 preset voicings for the pedal.

Who Will Use This Most

Guitarists who need extra control over low-midrange and high treble/presence frequencies, in combination with a clean or overdriven (thanks to the Loudness knob) boost will favor this preamp pedal over the others in this round-up. The 4 selectable voicings offer more control of the precise frequency bands the pedal can shape, which makes up for the seemingly limited two-band EQ design.

Bottom Line

Depending on your previous experience, any pedal has a potential learning curve. This is certainly true in the case of the Voodoo Labs Giggity, which exacerbates that possibility by using somewhat vague or unconventional names for some of the knobs. However, if you understand how this pedal works and is different from other preamps, you very well may find that the features it offers meet your needs the best.

Best Bass Preamp Pedal:
Jim Dunlop MXR M81 Bass Preamp

MXR M81 Bass Preamp

PROS

  • Input gain control
  • XLR output for going direct
  • Ground lift to eliminate unwanted hum
  • User can set the center frequency of the midrange band
  • Pre/Post control allows user to select whether the signal coming from direct out passes through the pedal’s settings

CONS

  • No apparent cons, unless these features are not of use to you

What Recent Buyers Report

Recent buyers are largely happy with this pedal. As with most other preamp pedals, the effect itself is subtle, and is intended to be used as a tool to help solve specific tonal problems. Like all MXR pedals, this one receives great marks for build quality and reliability, as well.

Why it Stands Out to Us

This pedal is unique in the round-up because it is geared towards bass frequencies. It can be used on guitars or other instruments, but be aware that the low frequencies this pedal can cut or boost may not come into play much if you’re playing a higher-pitched instrument. Unique to this pedal is the ability to dial in the frequency range of the mid control more specifically.

Who Will Use This Most

Bassists with either passive or active pickups will be the primary users of this pedal. They will be able to use this going into their amp, direct into a mixing board, or both in combination. By raising the Input gain they may be able to get some overdrive or distortion out of the pedal or their amplifier, as well.

Bottom Line

This is a flexible and feature-laden preamp pedal geared especially towards bassists who need additional tone-shaping and/or a DI preamp with flexible gain options. It could also be used effectively on baritone guitars and bass synthesizers.

Fishman Aura Spectrum DI Preamp Acoustic Pedal

PROS

  • Effects loop
  • On-board tuner
  • On-board compressor
  • Foot-activated Anti-Feedback circuit
  • Blend control balances your dry sound with one of 100s Images for a result that sounds like you’re being mic’d in a studio

CONS

  • More expensive than many effects pedals
  • Enormous feature set could be intimidating

What Recent Buyers Report

Customers are satisfied with this pedal but warn that it can take some time working through the many available Images to find the one(s) that work the best with your instrument to achieve the sound that you want. Despite the plethora of bonus features here, the suggestion of adding on-board reverb is very well-taken.

Why it Stands Out to Us

In addition to being the only preamp pedal here geared towards acoustic guitarists, this pedal also has easily the most features. Like the Donner, the preamp aspect of this pedal is really just one aspect of it. The goal of this pedal is to make an acoustic guitar sound like it is being mic’d in a studio.

Who Will Use This Most

Acoustic guitarists performing live, who desire a consistent, studio-quality sound from venue to venue, will get a lot of mileage out of this pedal. In addition to its primary functions, the included tuner, effects loop, compressor, and ability to communicate with software on your computer make this a true workhorse pedal.

Bottom Line

Even if you don’t understand exactly how this pedal is working, the user interface remains straightforward and it should be relatively easy to dial in a sound that you love. If, however, you do understand it, then you may be able to get more out of its extensive feature set. 

What Does a Preamp Pedal Do?

Preamp pedals all alter the sound of an instrument in two ways. One way is that they raise the volume an amount determined by the user. The other way is that they apply some EQ, or equalization to the initial sound.

Volume

Depending on the rest of your set-up, increasing your instruments’ volume can accomplish a few different things. You may simply need to make your sound louder for a particular passage in a piece of music like a solo. However, you can also use a preamp pedal’s volume boost function to change how your amplifier responds to your guitar. Some guitar amplifiers can be overdriven or distorted when the signal they are receiving reaches a certain volume. If you want your amplifier to do this but your instrument does not get loud enough, a preamp pedal can boost your volume going into the amplifier to achieve this desired result.

EQ

The EQ section of a preamp pedal allows the user to gain some additional control over the timbre of their instrument. This is achieved by using the knobs to boost or cut frequencies in three predetermined bands called low/bass, middle, and high/treble.

Changing the balance of these frequency ranges will alter the basic sound of your instrument going into the amplifier, which will in turn achieve a different tonal result.

These controls can also be used to solve a problem. For example, if your sound has more treble frequencies than you would like, using a preamp pedal’s treble/high knob to lower the volume of frequencies in that range should help you get a sound you’re happier with.


MXR M81 Bass Preamp

Pros and Cons of Preamp Pedals

In this section, we will outline some of the general pros and cons of preamp pedals.

Pros

The following are some pros of this kind of preamp pedal:

Precise Control of Your Sound

If you want more control over the basic amplified sound of your instrument, a preamp pedal will provide you with at least two simple and effective methods to manipulate that sound.

Portable Size

Effects pedals are typically small as far as musical equipment goes, but can drastically alter the sound of whatever is plugged into them.

Ease of Use

They are typically controlled by a set of knobs, possibly with some buttons or switches as well. This makes them intuitive to use and easy to experiment with.

Cons

The cons of preamp pedals are really entirely subjective. While there are no universal downsides to using a preamp pedal, some will find they prefer their sound without a particular pedal. In this case, simply don’t use that pedal.

Conclusion

If you are in the market for a preamp pedal, consider your specific needs as you look over the reviews above. Do you play electric guitar, acoustic guitar, or bass? Do you need amp simulation? Do you need an XLR output? Knowing the problem you are looking to solve will make it that much easier to select the tool that is best equipped to help you solve it.

People Also Ask

Finally, there are a few frequently asked questions regarding preamp pedals, which will be specifically addressed in this section.

Where to Put Preamp in Pedal Chain

This will come down largely to individual taste and preference. A starting point would be to have the preamp first in the chain, immediately after the instrument. However, it is easy and informative to experiment putting pedals in every possible order. You may find that you prefer the standard order, but you also may discover a unique sound this way that you can take advantage of.

Does a Preamp Improve Sound Quality?

A preamp pedal may make changes to a sound that improves it to your ears, but it would not be accurate to say that the sound quality itself improves.

Do I Need a Preamp For Guitar?

A preamp pedal is not required for any instrument, but it performs a set of tasks that may be helpful to you.

Fishman Aura Spectrum DI Preamp Acoustic Pedal

What is the Difference Between a Preamp and an Amplifier?

An amplifier sends your sound to a speaker. Preamps and preamp pedals send your sound to the amplifier, often modifying it along the way.

Can You Use a Preamp Without an Amp?

In a sense, yes. There are situations where you may not personally be responsible for amplifying your instrument, but you could bring your preamp pedal with you and use it in your chain that an audio engineer will be responsible for amplifying either through a speaker system and/or headphones.

What Does a Preamp Do For a Microphone?

A preamp pedal will perform the same functions no matter what audio signal is being sent to it. Namely, it will boost the volume and change the relative volumes of certain bands of frequencies.

Do You Need an Amp if You Have a Preamp?

Yes, a preamp alone will not send your sound to a speaker, allowing it to be heard at a louder-than-acoustic volume. This does not need to literally be an instrument amplifier, but it could be.