To all my acoustic fellas out there, let me ask you a question: what is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of an acoustic guitar? The sweet, beautiful sound of the instrument, ethereal vibrations of the tone or the difficulty of making it sound natural? If the latter has ever interfered with your performance, this article will be your lifesaver. Those, who have played an acoustic electric guitar, know perfectly well that those under saddle pickups can make your sound artificial and deprive it of definition. That is where a good ol’ preamp comes into play. This device will guarantee that your sound is just as natural as you intended it to be. And one more thing, you can use audio effects with your acoustics as well. Sounds interesting, am I right? If so, keep on reading, as I will list down the best acoustic guitar pedals and preamps on the market and provide all the information you will need for getting the most out of them.
Top 10 Best Acoustic Preamp Pedals
When you take Fishman Aura Spectrum out of the box, you get a bit confused. It has overwhelming amount of knobs that might be hard to grasp at first glance. However, it gets easier as you get to exploring what each of them does. The best feature that makes this pedal shine is its Acoustic Imaging function. This means that when plugged in, the sound produced by the unit will be the mixture of studio mic’d and original signals. This makes your under saddle pickup sound like a studio mic, which is a handy feature when you are performing in a poorly equipped venue. Aura Spectrum comes with preloaded 128 “images” that are accessible with a twist of a central knob or a slide. You can also connect the pedal to the computer and choose from 500 more images available, and store 16 custom-made ones as presets. Additionally, this unit has a Volume, Blend, Low, Mid, High, Compressor knobs that allow you to shape different parameters of your sound, as well as a Chromatic Tuner and Anti-feedback controls. Could you ask for more? I do not think so.
- Wide range of tone shaping options
- Great alternative to carrying around your mic
- An array of sounds to choose from
- Takes time to fully understand all the features and find the perfect image
- Image, does not come with power adapter
What we have here is a badass preamp by L.R. Baggs. Venue DI is a revamped version of previous models and offers even more tone shaping options than its predecessors. It comes in a sturdy, rugged design which promises to be durable. This bad boy is huge in size, but it packs so many features, I guess it is worth it. Venue DI has a lot to offer: it has a Chromatic Tuner for having the perfect sound all the time, Volume knob for controlling the level of the output, 5-band EQ with Bass, Low Mid, High Mid, Presence and Treble knobs, Notch filter which gets rid of the feedback, Phase inversion for even more control over the feedback and a Gain knob. This pedal comes with two footswitches: the first one (Boost) offers up to +9dB of boost (can be controlled with a trim switch on the back of the pedal), which is relatively enough in most cases, the second one (Mute-Tune) silences the output of the pedal and engages the tuner. Venue DI has a 4-meter battery check, which indicates if your battery is drained or not. All in all, L.R. Baggs has once again delivered a pedal that gets the job done perfectly.
- Extremely versatile
- Great sound
- Works with various acoustic instruments
- Big size
- The tuner is not 100% reliable
Wampler Thirty Something is not your typical preamp unit. It is more of an overdrive pedal, which can also drive a power amp. This is a cool twist for those who do not want to splurge on a separate preamp pedal. The features this device offers are quite versatile and give you an array of sonic possibilities. Thirty Something comes with 5 knobs, 2 footswitches and a toggle switch. The Bass, Treble and Top Cut controls allow you to tame your sound and balance out any undesirable frequencies, while Volume modifies the level of the output and Boost adds some “oomph” to your signal. Gain is where things get a bit more interesting: it interacts with the toggle switch. When set it to the “15” position, the pedal produces the overdrive right away, while “30” position gives you some time before your sound gets fully saturated with the effect. Thirty Something has Bypass and Boost switches that allow you to activate different functions of the unit. This device can create the warmest tube overdrive, as well as act as a preamp. Nice, ha?
- ‘60s overdrive
- Class A in-built pre-gain boost
- Can lose some definition at higher gain settings
Just like many other times in the past, Boss has brought out a quality product that makes the statement among acoustic guitar preamps. At first, VE-8 Acoustic Singer might be too hard to grasp, but after some time, you will get the hang of it. We have three footswitches with different functions, four main sections and a bunch of knobs. Let’s start with the guitar dedicated part of the pedal. It comes with Acoustic Resonance (transforms the piezo pickup sound into a mic’d one), Reverb, Chorus and Notch (filters out any unwanted feedback) knobs. Then comes the vocal section, which is equipped with Enhance (a sort of combination of compression and EQ), Level, Type (allows you to choose between various vocal effects) and Reverb knobs. The output part has separate knobs for controlling the volume of Guitar and Vocal signals. And finally, this pedal has a Looper with 80 seconds of recording time and the ability to loop vocals and guitar separately. Each of the footswitches does its own job, the first one activates the chorus effect for guitar and can also mute the signal for engaging the tuner, the second one turns on vocal harmonies and can also bypass vocal signal, while the third one is in charge of looper functions. There is probably nothing you cannot do with this pedal.
- Extremely versatile
- Offers a lot of control over your tone
- Wide range of functions
- You cannot undo the last loop
- Understanding the pedal is a bit time consuming
Grace Design has come out with yet another powerful preamp. AliX is a robust pedal, which offers an array of tone shaping options. Plus, it is super easy to understand and can be tweaked in little to no time. It has a Gain knob, which modifies the amount of gain added to your signal, a badass EQ, with bass, treble (labeled as High and Low) and full midrange controls. The frequencies of each parameter are manually adjustable. The high pass filter can cut 12dB per octave from 20Hz to 1kHz. It can also act as a notch filter in order to get rid of the feedback. The parametric midrange operates between 70Hz and 8kHz frequencies. AliX has a DI that has amazing bass response, an amp output with modifiable volume (drives the power amp) and a tuner output that is always active. This pedal has a 3 position impedance switch for the instrument input to make sure that your pickups sound as good as possible. It has two footswitches mounted on the surface: the first one offers up to +10dB of boost, while the second one mutes all the outputs except for the tuner-dedicated one. AliX will not disappoint you if you are looking for something simple and powerful.
- Great quality
- Offers studio quality tone shaping
- Quiet operation
- Clear sound
What we have here is yet another powerful product from Fishman. Aura 16 features the innovative Aura Acoustic Imaging, which allows you to turn your acoustic sound into a mic’d one, add depth and realistic touch to your under-saddle piezo pickups. The pedal has 16 pre-loaded images to choose from, which can be scrolled through using a knob. These images feature the sounds of different acoustic guitars and allow you to enhance the quality of your sound substantially. If that is not enough for you, you can connect the pedal to your computer and find some presets in Aura Acoustic Image Gallery. Apart from this system, we have Volume and Blend knobs, which enable you to shape different parameters of your sound. On the right side of the pedal you will find a trim pot, which alters your pick-ups’ input level. Aura 16 also has a Phase switch which eliminates the unwanted feedback. This is a small little device that will make your acoustic guitar sound more natural and will be your lifesaver in a number of settings.
- Easy to use
- Great build-quality
- A lot of versatility thanks to Aura Image Gallery
And we are back to L.R. Baggs. Their Session DI looks quite similar to Venue DI, but differs from it in features. The interface we have here seems to be quite simple to grasp. It has 5 knobs, a single footswitch and a couple of buttons and slides. The Volume knob modifies the level of the overall output; the Notch is a filter which balances out the feedback; Gain manages how much gain will be added to the sound and is indicated with a VU meter. Now, the Saturate and Comp EQ knobs are the key components of this pedal. The former thickens up your acoustic sound, makes it warmer and sweeter, while the latter offers a three band compression which equalizes the low, mid and high frequencies. Additionally, Session DI has a phase switch that modifies the low-end characteristic of the sound and contributes to feedback control. The left side of the pedal features a Ground Lift switch, while the right side has a High Pass Filter slide that allows you to choose between different frequencies (40, 80, 120 and 200Hz). This unit is definitely one of the best acoustic guitar preamps, so go for it!
- Amazing EQ functions
- Can thicken up your sound
- Does not have a bypass
- A bit too expensive for what it offers
There is so much to say about Valeton Dapper Acoustic Mini. It is one of the representatives of the Dapper series and features all the essentials you would look for in an acoustic preamp. Let’s start with the Tuner. In order to activate this feature, you should press and hold the Reverb footswitch. This will mute the pedal and enable the tuner to operate. Now, the Comp module can also be activated with the footswitch and further controlled using Comp and ATK knobs. They allow you to go from bouncy to tight compression. Next we have the Preamp, which has 3-band EQ (Bass, Mid, Treb), a Notch filter for eliminating the feedback and the Volume knob for modifying the level of the output. And finally, Dapper Acoustic Mini offers Reverb module, which can be managed with only one knob and delivers hall reverb tones. This pedal can also be plugged with headphones, so that you can practice without making your neighbors’ ears bleed. All in all, this pedal will balance out your tone beautifully and be at your service anytime.
- Powerful EQ
- Accurate tuner
- Nice reverb
- Built like a tank
- Knobs are a bit too small
When you see the name Donner, you immediately know that the device will be affordable. Alchemy is no exception to that rule. It offers A LOT of features at a relatively small price. This pedal is very easy to use and offers a great deal of flexibility. The best thing about Alchemy is that it offers 8 different effects: Chorus, Flanger, Phaser, Tremolo, Pan, Rotary, U-vibe, Vibrato, which can be easily selected with a knob. Rate, Depth and Tweak are quite self-explanatory and contribute to shaping different parameters of these effects. Alchemy also has a three-way toggle switch, which shifts between three modes: Normal provides you with subtler versions of the effects, Deluxe, on the contrary, makes them heavier and deeper, while T. Lock (which stands for Tone Lock) activates the preset (only 1 available) and saves your sound even after switching off the pedal. Surprisingly, Alchemy is a true bypass and operates without making any noise. In short, this pedal is the great bang for the buck!
- Offers 8 different effects
- True bypass
- You might get better effects with dedicated pedals
- Build quality is not that great
TC Electronic has never let us down in creating small and powerful pedals. BodyRez is by far the simplest pedal of all. Apart from being easy to use, this unit is quite compact and can fit even on the most overcrowded pedalboard. In terms of control, everything is pretty clear-cut here: we have a single knob mounted on the surface. It is a bit difficult to say exactly what this knob does, however, one thing is clear: it does alter your sound. It is basically a combination of compression and EQ, which balances out your midrange and attenuates the bottom-end. BodyRez attempts to be multifunctional by assigning different features to its footswitch: one press is enough to activate the pedal, if you press it again, you will trigger true bypass mode, press and hold motion will mute the sound. If you press the footswitch while plugging the power, you will have the chance to change the alternate mode which is in charge of phase. All in all, BodyRez offers simplicity in a compact, durable chassis and promises to let your acoustic guitar shine.
- Easy to use
- Accentuates the magical sound of your acoustic guitar
- Cannot be powered with batteries
What is the big deal about preamps anyway?
As I have mentioned many times in this article, preamp is a secret ingredient to the perfect acoustic sound. This is a device that alters your sound just a bit before it hits the amp itself or the rest of your signal chain. To put it simply, this unit makes the tones you play on your instrument strong enough to drive your amplifier. This is particularly important for those who play acoustic electric guitars. The pickups designed for them generally make your sound a bit artificial, which sometimes even resembles the electric guitar. I am pretty sure you do not want that. A preamp will bring back all the acoustic qualities of your tone, enhance the strength of the signal and feed it to the amplifier. This way the masterpieces you play will come out just the way you wanted them to. Plus, if you choose the right preamp, you might even be able to avoid spending the coin on a high quality mic. Certain models offer the option of creating mic’d sound, which makes everything so much easier and cheaper.
The great thing about the preamps is that their functions are not limited to driving the amplifier. In most cases, they come with some sort of equalization, add boost or gain to your sound and may even offer additional effects. All of these are quite important, since nobody wants a separate device for every single thing. An EQ on preamps is typically quite sensitive and powerful. It can be three-band (with bass, treble and midrange), parametric or five-band. This gives you the ability to shape your sound perfectly before it hits the amplifier. When it comes to boost and gain, these are also quite handy during live performances. They will help you attenuate your sound and give more dimension and definition to it. The additional effects, however, are completely the matter of taste and the vision of brand. Some models do have reverb, chorus or other effects built in, which adds up to the versatility of the device. This probably will not be a selling point for most of the preamps, but it is still great to have additional features on hand.
Preamp pedals do not stop there. They have a hidden gem in the form of filters. The most ubiquitous of them is a notch filter. This bad boy eliminates any unwanted feedback and makes sure that your sound is as clear as possible. Though it might not seem like it, this feature makes a lot of difference during performances and delivers studio quality tone shaping with just a twist of a knob.
Now you can see for yourself how essential it is to own an acoustic guitar preamp. Yes, you will have to splurge a bit, but trust me, it will be money well spent. This magical device truly works wonders and gives you a lot of control over your tone. The ability to be the boss of your sound will define the quality of your performance and eventually even shape you as a guitarist. Do not waste any more time and go rule the roost, while I discuss other effects that you could use with your acoustic guitar.
Acoustic guitar soulmates: audio effects
Once upon a time, there was a musician with his acoustic guitar. The only thing he could do with it was to play it in different ways for the sake of versatility. That musician was doleful and desperate because the prevailing rules stated he could not use effects with his instrument… Eh, those were sad and dark times, but luckily, things have changed and a lot of misconceptions have proven to be nonsensical. The common belief that acoustic guitar is not compatible with audio effects is simply a piece of crap. This instrument can be easily transformed using sound effects, you just have to be open-minded about it and know which ones to utilize. It is as simple as that.
There are a lot of effects pedals that would not work with your acoustic electric guitar. For instance, if you go nuts and plug in fuzz box, nothing will be left of your original sound. I am pretty sure you do not want that. However, there are effects that compliment the clear tones of this god-sent instrument and take its sound to a whole new level. Let’s dig deep and figure out together, which is the best pedal for the acoustic guitar.
Now, I will start with the basics. No matter what stringed instrument you play, you have to own a tuner (particularly in the form of a pedal). The quest of finding the perfect sound requires you to be in tune all the time. Acoustic electric guitar is no exception to that rule. The market offers an abundance of them, so you do not have to worry about finding the best suitable one (you can check a dedicated article on tuners for more information). What is more, the majority of the magic preamps I talked about come with the built-in tuner, which means there is no pretext for being out of tune.
Let’s move on to the actual sound effects. The ones that get on with acoustic guitars like a house on fire are reverb, chorus, tremolo, vibrato, flanger, phaser and even overdrive (basically all the modulation, temporal effects and others of that ilk). It is a bit odd that an overdrive fell into this category, however, if you find the right settings, it is completely workable and will give you some amazing tones. Other effects that I mentioned can be found as a separate pedal, may be combined in a single unit or be an addition to your preamp. One way or another, all of them bring out the very character of the acoustic sound, thicken it up and make it more unique. Playing by the rules guarantees quality performance, but out-of-the-box thinking is what will make you shine. So do not be afraid to experiment and let the gods of acoustic guitars open up the doors of your creativity!
Congratulations, my friend, you have made it to the end. I hope this journey was not too boring and gave you exactly what you were looking for when you clicked on the article. I tried my best to give you all the information you will need on your way to finding the best acoustic guitar pedal and preamp. The list above contains some of the best deals that are available on the market and I am sure your chosen one is there too. Other than that, there is not much left for me to do. I truly believe that you have what it takes to be the shining star of acoustic guitar. Good luck!