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Preamps: Choosing a Preamp for Your Upright Bass

Choosing a Preamp -- Making Some Sense of All the Options
A Special "Buyer's Guide"

Okay, so you've read our FAQ on "Do I Need a Preamp" and you've decided that you do. (If you haven't read that little treatise, now might be a good time -- it should help clear up what I'm about to discuss and why it's important to you.)

Here's the straight dope: All of the preamps we sell at Gollihur Music do the main two things you need to make a piezo pickup sound "better": impedance buffering and improved gain structure. Those two features are the most important, as you read in the FAQ (you did read it, didn't you?) and they all provide those crucial features. Though you should note -- as if you needed more complication -- the input impedance on the different preamps can vary between around 1 megohm to 10 megohms, depending on the model - and some players find that the higher impedance models offer even better sound. But 1 megohm, which they all have at minimum, will offer a significant advantage over no preamp at all.

So, if they all do the buffering, which is what I really need them to do, then why are there so many to choose from?

Because, for one, different models are made by different companies; and many of them also add a bunch of other handy features, as well. Things that help shape your sound, things that help reduce feedback problems, things that allow you to blend other pickups or mics, things that add effects, useful things like electronic tuners and boost buttons and turbochargers... okay, maybe not turbochargers. But lots of bells and whistles, as they say, which may or may not be useful (or worth the cost) depending on what you want and need.

So I thought it might be handy to briefly mention what some of those features are, and hopefully help you figure out which ones you might like to have, and which ones don't matter so much to you. If you want to read even deeper on some of these features, we have a three-part FAQ on "Learning How to Play Your Amp" which goes into a lot more detail.

Optional Features in (Some) Preamps:

  • Equalizer (EQ) - This is a fairly common one, and you probably already know what this is. Almost all of the preamps (except the most bare-bones, like the Schatten Mini Pre and Ehrlund Preamp) have at least some form of EQ built in. These are simply controls that allow you to boost or cut 2 or more frequency ranges to "shape" the tone; make it a little bassier, or brighter, and so on.
    [models include: pretty much all of them except the Schatten Mini Pre and the Ehrlund Preamp]

  • Parametric or Semi-Parametric EQ - Like the EQ (above), this will let you boost or cut - but has the added flexibility of choosing (within a range) WHAT frequency you can boost or cut. You -- not the amp designers -- decide which notes are boosted or cut, as to better sculpt your tone to your liking.
    [models include: Fishman Platinum Pro and Platinum Stage • Radial BassBone OD • Radial PZ-Pro, PZ Deluxe and PZ Pre • Grace Designs FELiX and ALiX]

  • Notch Filter - This can be a big help in the fight against feedback. Similar to a Semi-Parametric Equalizer, but it's usually a tool that is mostly used to "cut" the response of a very narrow band that's giving you problems, like a single note. A notch filter allows you to excise that note with surgical accuracy (that might be resonating TOO much on your bass), WITHOUT making a dramatic -- or even noticeable -- change in your tone.
    [models include: Acoustic Image FLEX • Fishman Platinum Pro • Radial PZ PreGrace Designs FELiX and ALiX]

  • Direct Out, or DI - It's usually a XLR jack that is designed for sending your bass signal to a PA system or recording board. There can be various controls and switches associated with this, such as the ability to send the raw, unprocessed signal (often labeled Pre-EQ) or sending it after it is filtered by your tone settings (Post-EQ).
    [models include: Acoustic Image FLEX Fishman Platinum Pro and Platinum Stage • Radial BassBone OD • Radial PZ-Pro, PZ Deluxe and PZ Pre Grace Designs Bix, FELiX and ALiX]

  • High Pass Filter (aka Low Cut Filter) - May also be called a Subsonic Filter or Depth Control. It lets high frequencies pass and stops undesirables (in this case, boomy and muddy low frequencies) from passing, starting at the frequency where you adjust the knob or slider (if equipped). This feature is a popular and very useful one, particularly for upright bass players, as it can get rid of low frequency rumble -- using this control properly can reduce "mud" and power-robbing, bass vibrating lows that make your sound flabby... and encourage feedback. Want to know more? Check out our FAQ about High-Pass Filters.
    [models include: Acoustic Image FLEX Fishman Platinum Pro and Platinum Stage • Radial BassBone OD • Radial PZ-Pro, PZ Deluxe and PZ Pre Grace Designs, FELiX and ALiX]

  • Phase Switch/Inversion - "Phase" refers to how the sound waves being created by your instrument interact with the sound waves being created by the speakers in your amp. How they overlap, cancel each other out, and otherwise "mess with each other" can have an effect on your tone and a propensity to feed back. Having a switch or variable knob gives you an opportunity to "flip" or change the phase of the amplified sound, so it reacts differently (maybe better, maybe worse) with the instrument -- it can often help with feedback resistance.
    [models include: Acoustic Image FLEX Fishman Platinum Pro and Platinum Stage • Radial BassBone OD • Radial PZ-Pro, PZ Deluxe and PZ Pre • LR Baggs GigPro, Grace Designs FELiX]

  • Effects Loops - a feature for inserting various devices, typically pedals, into your bass signal.
    [models include: Acoustic Image FLEX Fishman Platinum Pro • Radial BassBone OD • Radial PZ-Pro and PZ Pre  Grace Designs Bix, FELiX and ALiX]

  • Built-In Tuner - It's handy to have an electronic tuner built into the preamp; usually features a "mute" switch which allows you to tune silently.
    [models include: Fishman Platinum Pro-EQ -- the following do not have a built-in tuner, but do include a dedicated tuner output: Radial BassBone OD • Radial PZ-Pro, PZ Deluxe and PZ Pre ]

Still Confused? We Are Here to HELP.

So, even though there's a lot of information above, you may not be any more sure now than you were before you started. That's okay, it's complicated. And since it's expensive and impractical (at best) for you to try every preamp, your best bet is to talk to someone who has tried them all, and who can narrow down the field to 1 or 2 good options for you.

Again, we're quite well acquainted with the preamps we sell. We're not a guitar store, we're not a brass store. What we know, play, and sell is upright bass. We're not going to just steer you to the most expensive model and tell you it's "the best." We will help you decide which one is best. For you.

So give us a call, email us, send up a smoke signal, whatever. We DO reply, and we're happy to answer your questions.

(Though we're not sure we actually can interpret smoke signals, so you might want to stick to the phone or email.)