August 21, 2017
If you have a guitar amp with a flexible equalization section and sufficient tone shaping capability, the idea of adding a preamp pedal to your setup may seem unnecessary. After all, your amplifier’s controls along with your guitar's onboard tone controls are useful tone shaping tools in and of themselves, so why add another one?
To many musicians, stacking different preamps can seem redundant, especially for those who are trying to keep their setup simple or are happy with their overall tone. However, if you generally like the sound of your guitar and amp but are looking to get a little more from your rig, adding a preamp pedal may be the right way to go.
A typical modern preamp pedal will come equipped with your typical amp-like gain, volume and equalization controls. Some units built for bass guitar offer a built-in overdrive or direct out so you can go straight to the board. Even if you’re happy with your amp’s EQ section, a preamp pedal can add some extra flexibility dialing in and covering the bases that your amplifier cannot. Here are some great uses for preamp pedals:
1. Offering different EQ points. Every amp has its own set EQ points. A pedal with varying EQ options can help you fine tune the overall sound, for instance, providing you with an additional boost in the low end that is not at the same EQ frequency as your amp’s bass control. Having an additional preamp pedal is useful in troublesome venues where you need extra help adapting your sound to the stage. A good unit can fill in the gaps and work with your amp to get you the best possible sound.
Some preamps even offer parametric equalization, allowing you to tweak your sound a little further if your amp doesn’t have parametric EQ.
2. Providing additional gain structuring. Let’s say you like how your amp sounds when you dime the gain control, but want to run it clean at times for extra headroom or so it plays nicer with your other pedals. Or maybe you want a different flavor of overdrive than what your amp’s dirty channel can offer. A unit with a gain control or overdrive will provide you with an additional tonal palette and let you switch between your amp tone and pedal tone at the click of a switch. You can use it to change up your tone at any time, even mid-song!
Bass players may find that a preamp pedal can really warm up their sound, as it allows them to add some grit without requiring that they run their amp gain up. In addition, a preamp pedal can help to provide some dirt to an otherwise squeaky-clean sounding amp.
3. Pre-gain tone adjustment. As the name says it is a “preamp” pedal, so it provides the additional advantage of giving you tone controls “pre” or in front of the gain section of your amp. Most gain controls on guitar and bass amps are right up near the front just after the input jack. There are usually some fixed tone circuits and finally the tone and EQ controls you can adjust on the front of your amp. A big portion of an amplifier’s signature tone is in this front end circuitry. With a preamp pedal you have the advantage to further fine tune your tone before the gain and fixed tone stages. You may not want to add much boost for more distortion, but adding just a little EQ adjustment up front can be a whole different amp sound.
3. Compensating for different instruments’ sounds. If you switch guitars often during a set, and if those guitars have different tonal characteristics, you will have to re-adjust your amp each time you switch. A preamp pedal can provide a simple way of switching up your tone without having to walk over to your amp and stop the show, as you can dial in the right settings for each instrument before the gig even starts.
4. Making your sound more consistent venue to venue. Using your preamp pedal to dial in your sound can help make your tone more consistent at each show, especially if you tend to play in a lot of situations where you are using backline or rented gear you may not necessarily be familiar with. By relying on a pedal preamp instead of an amp for your tonal base, you can depend less on the amp and cabinet to provide your signature sound.
The Carvin Audio VLD1 Legacy Drive Preamp Pedal is an ideal way to take your tone anywhere. It also comes with a cabinet voicing circuit, so you can even send it straight to the PA.
Of course, you ideally want your preamp to work with your amp as an additional tool, not a complete replacement (though there are some cases where a preamp fed directly to the PA can get you the desired sound). When comparing preamp pedals, be sure to try them out on your current setup and make sure they work well together.
Do you use a preamp pedal? How does it work with your rig? Let us know in the comments below.
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