Best Guitar Preamp
When you’re first starting out in the world of electric guitars, you may be satisfied with simply plugging your axe directly into an amp (or when recording, directly into a recording interface), but time and experience typically will lead you to a better path. Guitar preamps are ideal for players who want to improve their tone from the jump; they can be used to simply boost volume, or to bring out frequencies and EQ in a way that is unparalleled once you’ve dipped your toe into that particular pool. Simply put, once you’ve experienced how great your guitar sounds with a good preamp, it’s difficult to go back to any other way. Here are the best guitar preamps we chosen, with each one manufactured in a pedal format so it can be easily integrated into your effects rig, they feature EQ settings that allow you to intricately sculpt the tone that the preamp provides, and they also offer different levels of gain boosting to crank up your signal as needed.
A/DA APP Guitar Preamp
Electro-Harmonix Classics LPB 2ube Stereo Tube Preamp
Dunlop EP101 Echoplex Preamp
NEW JHS Pedals Colour Box Preamp DI Guitar Effects Pedal
Xotic Effects BB Preamp Distortion Sustain Pedal
The A/DA APP1 channels the classic ‘80s rock sounds that the company was responsible for in the past and presents them in an easy to access preamp pedal. This pedal is designed to be the first stop before the signal hits your amp, so players can route their other effects and tuner directly into it. The APP1 offers a clean to high-gain 2-channel preamp, which includes tone-shaping controls to boot. Both channels offer a dynamics knob that allows you to gain an even tighter control over how your sound is processed. The learning curve on this pedal is a little steep, due to its various parameter controls and subtlety in how it can improve your sound, but give it some time and attention, and you’ll be wowed by what it can do for your tone.
The Electro-Harmonix Classic LPB-2ube guitar preamp pedal offers a tonal boost that is driven by a pair of 12AX7 tubes. The two drive channels offer a great deal of range; they can be just slightly nudged into a subtle overdrive, or pumped further to really make things grittier. The channels are able to function independently from one another, but can also be linked together to really drive things even further. Despite the ability of this pedal to really make some noise, it’s also remarkably good at remaining quiet when it needs to be. Its true bypass status also ensures that there’s never any tone-changing interference coming from this pedal when it’s not in use within your rig.
Dunlop’s Echoplex guitar preamp is based around the legendary EP-3 preamp, which played a crucial part in the rigs of iconic axemen such as Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen, and Eric Johnson. Like its predecessor, this preamp doesn’t just boost your signal, but also adds the bonus of an echo tape effect as well as a warm-sounding overdrive to your tone. The gain control on the Echoplex allows you to boost signal by up to 11+dB. Small enough to not take up a prohibitive amount of space in your rig, the pedal is also very easy to use, as it only features a single knob. The Echoplex is also true-bypass, meaning it won’t color your tone when it’s in your rig but not in use.
The Neve console has been an absolutely instrumental tool in crafting the sound of some of the greatest rock bands since the 1960s, including the Beatles, Lep Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd as well as some more relatively recent acts like Spoon, Nirvana, and U2. JHS Pedals created their Colour Box guitar preamp pedal with the same circuitry used in the legendary Neve machinations. The end result is a pedal that has all the feel and characteristics of a vintage board. The pedal offers three parts with a gain structure that allows players to adjust their pre volume, master gain, and step gain. There's also equalizer/tone control that allows players to tweak the treble, middle, and bass frequencies with +/- 17dB of control as well as a highpass filter that only allows high frequencies to pass. The Colour Box also features an additional XLR input and output, which allows the pedal to be used as a preamp for vocals, bass, acoustic guitar, and keyboard as well.
Xotic’s BB guitar preamp pedal can really do it all. The pedal offers 30dB+ of a clean boost, along with +/- 15dB EQ which can give players many options to play around with how their tone sounds. The pre-gain stage covers a wide territory range; this pedal provides the type of clean boost that just maximizes the volume without doing much to drastically change your tone, but it can also get super compressed and bring on a level of overdrive that really makes one have to consider this piece of gear to also be a distortion pedal. Regardless of what direction you want to take with the Xotic BB, when the pedal isn’t being used it won’t color your tone at all, thanks to it’s true bypass footswitch. Its small size also makes it ideal for players who don’t have much real estate on their pedalboard to dedicate to yet another pedal.