Top 10 Bass Preamp Pedals (For Gritty, Gnarly Tones)

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  • Looking for a bass preamp pedal that adds warmth, punch and tone?
  • We narrow down 10 that will help you shape your bass sound and tighten up your low end.

A preamp pedal converts your bass signal to line level, shaping your tone along the way. Adding a bass preamp pedal is a quick way to add color to an otherwise lifeless “DI signal” bass. As it passes through the various stages of the electronic circuitry, you can add levels of grit, color, and warmth to your signal.

In this article, I’ll go over 10 of the best bass preamp pedals available on the market today.

What Are The Best Bass Preamp Pedals?

You can’t go wrong with the Tech21 Sansamp. It truly is a workhorse and for good reason. It’s versatile and works wonders across almost all genres. For those on a budget, we recommend the MXR M81. If cost isn’t an issue, you’ll be creaming yourself over the tone-shaping capabilities and raw, yet defined edge of the Darkglass Alpha Omega.[/su_note]

That being said, there are a ton of great options besides those 3. Below, I’ll go into the details of 10 of the best bass preamp pedals that made our list:

  1. Tech21 Sansamp (Best All-Round)
  2. MXR M81 Bass Preamp (Best Value)
  3. Darkglass Alpha Omega (Best Premium)
  4. TC Spectradrive
  5. Darkglass Microtubes B7K v2
  6. Xotic Effects Bass BB
  7. Aguilar Tone Hammer
  8. Darkglass Harmonic Booster
  9. Hartke Bass Attack 2
  10. GK Plex

I have chosen these 10 pedals based on a few factors; popularity, build quality, functionality and of course, tone.

I personally value how a pedal sounds over things like durability. Headroom/low noise floor is important in a studio environment. But equally important is how it suits the genre and sits in the mix.

Functionality and features are also important. It needs to do what you want but sometimes you don’t know what that is until you have it, so there are a couple of pedals in this list that offer a wide range of decent sounding presets.

These pedals all shine in their own right and most work well in many different genres.

Even though the factors that influence greatness are sometimes cost or usability, quality is the main focus here. All the pedals in this list have a mixture of the three and it really comes down to what you prefer.

Let’s dive in…

1. Tech21 Sansamp Bass Driver DI (Our Pick!)

Tech21 SansAmp Bass Driver
$209.00

This multi-function, multi-application pedal dials up big vintage tube tones, bright modern slap sounds, gnarly distortions, and all in between.

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The SamsAmp Bass Driver DI has been considered the industry standard for years. It has a nice warm tone that lends itself well to both studio and stage use.

Although this is a simple pedal, it is tried and tested and built to last. With low gain settings, it gives a very nice breakup to help balance the bass in your mix. With built-in amp emulation, this pedal is a must-have!

  • 1/4″ jack input
  • 2x 1/4″ jack output (Main out + Parallel out)
  • XLR out
  • 9v DC adapter (sold separately)
  • Weight: 0.88 lbs
  • Dimensions : 3.75” x 4.75” x 2.0” inches

2. MXR M81 Bass Preamp (Best Budget Option)

BEST BUDGET OPTION
MXR M81 Bass Preamp
$169.99

Combines a pristine bass preamp with a studio-quality Direct Out in a Phase 90-sized box, providing a clear tone without hogging precious pedalboard space.

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The MXR M81 Bass Preamp is perfect for the studio. This pedal has MXR‘s constant headroom technology allowing for mountains of gain with tonnes of headroom.

The tone-shaping control gives you studio-quality bass tones to sit in any mix. The MXR M81 is a very clean and versatile pedal that has stood the test of time.

  • 1/4″ jack input
  • 1/4″ jack and XLR DI output
  • 9v battery (included): 9v AC adapter (sold separately)
  • Weight : 0.87 lbs
  • Dimensions : 5.5″ x 2.5″ x 4.5″ inches

3. Darkglass Alpha Omega (Best Premium Option)

This pedal was co-designed with Karnivool bassist, Jon Stockman. It features not one, but two distortion circuits and the ability to blend them.

If you want a nice low gain breakup or aggressive distortion, this pedal has you covered. With a 4-band EQ and multiple attack points, this pedal is a mean machine with excellent tones.

  • 1/4″ jack input
  • 2x 1/4″ jack output (Main out + Parallel out)
  • XLR out
  • 9v DC adapter (sold separately)
  • Dimensions : 4.7” x 4.2” x 1.77” inches

4. TC Spectradrive

TC Electronic Spectradrive
$251.54

Tube Drive with Tone Print technology emulates preamplifier and power amplifier tube stages, offering you everything from subtle drive to full-on distortion.

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This is a great all-in-one preamp pedal and it won’t take you long to find a killer tone.

TC Electronics have created a pedal that you can take anywhere. It features a 4-band EQ, “TubeDrive” and “Spectracomp”. It also has aux in and headphone out jacks so you can plug in your phone and jam along to your favourite songs.

“Tubedrive” and “Spectarcomp” are signature circuits from TC Electronics and appear in many of their amps. “Tubedrive” being an overdrive/distortion circuit and “Spectracomp” being their compressor circuit.

One great thing about them is that you can load presets called “Tone Prints” from many famous artists into each one and you can have a different preset for each circuit at the same time.

TC Electronics have a mobile app with all of their “Tone Prints” in there, all you do is hold your phone over the pickups of your guitar and the pedal will understand the noise and load up your preset. This can also be achieved with a USB cable to your computer.

Overall, this is a very nice sounding pedal and these extra features make it very versatile and easy to use.

  • 1/4″ jack input
  • 1/8″ Aux in
  • 2x 1/4″ jack output (Main out + Thru)
  • XLR out
  • 1/8″ Phones out
  • 1x USB Micro-B
  • 9v DC adapter
  • Weight: 1.28 lbs
  • Dimensions : 5.3” x 4.4” x 2.1” inches

5. Darkglass Microtubes B7K v2

This is a distortion/saturation pedal. It has the powerful saturation circuit of the “B3K” but with the help of a balanced line driver and a 4-band EQ. With its “blend” knob and “growl” switch, you can really shape your distorted sound to whatever you want.

This pedal can go hard and aggressive or you can ease back on the gain for a nice breakup. You can get tones that resemble vintage valve amps to modern, aggressive distorted bass tones.

This really is a great pedal with plenty of tone-shaping options.

  • 1/4″ jack input
  • 2x 1/4″ jack output (Main out + Parallel out)
  • XLR out
  • 9v DC adapter (sold separately)
  • Weight: 0.78 lbs
  • Dimensions : 4.72” x 4.21” x 1.77” inches

6. Xotic Effects Bass BB

Xotic Effects Bass BB Preamp

A versatile boost/overdrive designed to retain the original attack sound and tonal spectrums, while producing a variety of gain structures for all bass players.

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This pedal is small but mighty. It was designed to retain the original attack and harmonics of your bass guitar and provide a variety of gain structures for all bass players.

It features pristine clarity but can also have a smooth, compressed overdrive tone that packs a punch.  It’s small, so transportation is simple and the no-frills approach makes it super easy to use

  • 1/4″ jack input
  • 1/4″ jack output
  • 9v battery (not included): 9v DC adapter (sold separately)
  • Weight: 0.7 lbs
  • Dimensions : 4.4” x 2.4” x 1.96” inches

7. Aguilar Tone Hammer

The Tone Hammer is a fine example of “does what it should” (with a bit extra). This pedal is primarily a preamp/DI pedal and has that recognizable Aguilar sound.

It’s clean and warm and sounds great. The “bit extra” is the AGS circuit which packs a beautiful vintage tone that really helps your bass cut through the mix.

  • 1/4″ jack input
  • 1/4″ jack and XLR DI output
  • 2 x 9v battery (included): Aguilar power supply (sold separately)
  • Dimensions : 35” x 4.49” x 2.63” inches

8. Darkglass Harmonic Booster

The Darkglass Harmonic Booster features a beautiful low gain and clean preamp. The balance of harmonics and filter control create a stunning tone with perfect harmonic content.

This pedal helps your bass fit into any mix and will add emphasis to attack and presence while maintaining a lovely punch to your bass tone.

  • 1/4″ jack input
  • 1/4″ jack and XLR DI output
  • 9-18v battery (sold separately)
  • Weight: 0.55 lbs
  • Dimensions : 37”x 2.95” x 1.77” inches

9. Hartke Bass Attack 2

Hartke HPBA2 Bass Attack 2

Its ultra-clean, flexible output stage and vast array of tone shaping controls include 1/4" and balanced XLR direct outputs and Hartke's legendary Shape EQ, Contour and Overdrive effect.

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The Hartke Bass Attack 2 is a fantastic pedal. It features Hartke’s iconic “Shape” circuitry for an amazing sounding frequency and gain adjustment, plus a lovely overdrive with an on/off stomp switch.

It has the option for pre or post-processing for your DI out and it can be powered by either 2x AA batteries, a 9v PSU, or 48+v phantom from a mixing desk. Its contour switch adds a beautiful thickness to the sound and it’s all very simple to use.

With its clean sound and fuzzy overdrive, this is a great preamp pedal with plenty of options.

  • 1/4″ jack input
  • 1/4″ jack and XLR DI output
  • 9v battery (included): 9v DC adapter (sold separately)
  • Weight: 1.13 lbs
  • Dimensions : 5.7″ x 4.9″ x 2.9″ inches

10. Gallien-Krueger Plex

Gallien-Krueger Plex Preamp
$359.00

Foot switchable Compressor, Chromatic Tuner and Boost, Aux input, Phones Output, XLR output with pre/post and ground lift, FX loop and USB output make the PLEX the solution for any playing situation. 

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GK Plex is another great all-in-one pedal. It combines rich tones with all the tools you need, including precision fine-tuning and amazing presets to get you started.

It features “voicings” to emulate amps such as the GK800B, Fusion 550, MB800 and the MB150, so you are covered from slap/funk to classic rock. With all of these tones built-in and a 4-band EQ to customize them, you can really get any tone you need.

You also get a tuner, aux in and phones out. Not many pedals manage to incorporate so much functionality without compromising quality but this one does!

  • 1/4″ jack input
  • 1/8″ Aux in
  • 2x 1/4″ jack output (Main out + Return)
  • XLR out
  • 1/8″ Phones out
  • 1x USB Micro-B (Recording and MIDI In/Out
  • 9v DC adapter
  • Weight: 1.5 lbs
  • Dimensions : 5.6” x 5.3” x 1.4” inches

Bass Preamp Pedal Buyer’s Guide

How Do Preamp Pedals Work?

There are generally two stages in an amp head, the “preamp” section and the “power amp” section.

  • The power amp section is the section that will literally make your sound loud enough to drive your cabinet and give you volume.
  • The preamp section is where you shape and color your sound before you send it to be amplified.

Amplifiers as we know them are composed of these two sections. But as people begin to lean towards convenience, we are seeing a lot more manufacturers offering the preamp section as a pedal.

Now, this isn’t a new idea. Since the 80s there have been many companies offering preamp pedals, but there would always be a trade-off between size and quality.

However, in recent times we’ve seen this gap shrink, making way for preamp pedals to be the favored method; giving you the sound you want without lugging your bass rig into the studio or venue.

Why Do You Need A Bass Preamp Pedal?

Why bother with a preamp pedal or bass rig at all? Why would you need it if you have a really good bass guitar anyway?

Bass guitars are designed to be run through an amp. Signals from the pickups are very soft and require multiple stages of amplification to be usable. Using a preamp pedal could also help you achieve that ideal tone and give your bass track the warmth, grit and tone it needs.

Being able to tweak contours or even use a preamp that is commonly used for your genre can set you on the right track for the sound you need.

These days you tend to get more in your preamp pedal than in your amplifier preamp. Some have headphone and aux jacks so you can jam along to your favorite songs, some have distortion or overdrive and some have compressors. It really does depend on the results you want to achieve and what sounds you like.

Final Thoughts

Making the decision to buy a bass preamp pedal is tough if you haven’t purchased one before. Then when you’re ready to buy, you have to choose one.

These pedals all shine in their own way and most of them work well in a number of genres.

Even though the factors that influence greatness are sometimes cost or usability, quality is really the key. All the pedals in this list have a mixture of the three and it really comes down to what you prefer.

The MXR MX81 and Xotic Bass BB are great pedals for a budget and portability. GK Plex and TC Spectradrive have functions and presets to suit anyone’s taste, while the Darkglass Alpha Omega is great for heavy, distorted bass tones.

Choosing any one of these pedals to add to your collection would be a great purchase. They are all fantastic, and between them, cover almost every need from a preamp pedal.