Acoustic Guitar Guides
Preamps for acoustic guitars and other acoustic instruments are great for bringing out a more natural and clear sound. Every kind of acoustic pickup has it's trade-offs and good preamps help emphasize the acoustic tone, add warmth and make the sound more realistic as well as reducing any unwanted frequencies. In most of them you can significantly tweak the tonal setting to make your instrument shine, although a few with less options are just so great we couldn't leave them out.
If you want to bring your sound directly to the mixing desk then you'll absolutely need the preamp to act as a Direct Input (DI) which all of these do. Note that we are talking about preamp pedals, not onboard preamps that are mounted inside guitars and other instruments. If you have an onboard preamp in your guitar you can plug it straight into an instrument amplifier but many find the improvements of these dedicated preamp units are just too good to do without.
It started with us looking at the ratings and reviews for all readily available acoustic preamps in the market, and carefully considering the recommendations of professionals and experts. We also looked at active DI boxes with built-in preamps to see if there are some that are known to work well with acoustic instruments. We then fed the information of those with high ratings to Gearank, and ended up with the list below, sorted based on their Gearank score. Note that while they are great for acoustic instruments, they are not limited to them. For more information see How Gearank Works.
Things to Consider When Buying an Acoustic Preamp
Active Piezo/Transducer Pickups
Acoustic Electric guitars that have inbuilt battery powered preamps are mostly of this type. You can get by without a preamp (unless you want to plug straight into the mixer) but many players use them to shape the tone and get rid of the dreaded 'Quack' sound the piezo's tend to produce.
Passive Piezo Pickups
These are the kind that attach to an acoustic instrument to pick up the vibrations without built-in electronics. Examples are acoustic guitars, banjo, cello, violin/fiddle, mandolin, contrabass, bouzouki, lute and many more. They need higher impedance inputs to produce a decent sound. At least 1M Ohm is required and 10M Ohms is recommended which is more than most amps or standard guitar pedals provide.
behave much like the pickups found on electric guitars and you can plug them straight into ordinary pedals or an amp. As a result they can sound a bit more like an electric guitar and many players choose to use a preamp to emphasise the acoustic sound of their guitar.
What are you looking to play through?
Mixing Desk / XLR Connection
This is where acoustic preamps are essential and their tone shaping shines. Firstly you'll need a preamp to at least act as a DI to connect to the XLR mic inputs of typical desks. Acoustic Preamps are much better suited to shaping the tone of acoustic instruments than the options on a mixing desk. They also allow you to bring out the sound of your instrument best rather than relying on last minute tweaking on the mixing desk.
Acoustic Instrument Amp
You don't strictly need a preamp if you already have an onboard preamp or a magnetic pickup, but you can still use it to shape and improve tone - as many professionals do. It is a must if you have a passive Piezo pickup.
There's nothing more annoying than having to deal with unwanted feedback in the middle of performance. If this is a concern you'll want an acoustic preamp that can help you deal with feedback, look for those that can automatically/manually block feedback. These use notch filters to suppress the specific frequencies that the feedback is occurring on.
Active Di Box vs Preamps
Strictly speaking Active (not passive) DI's are preamps and they fulfill the same basic function. In this article we've focused more on the tone shaping pedal based preamps but there are some very well regarded DI boxes for acoustic guitars that are just too good to leave out.
The Best Acoustic Preamps
March 2017: We have changed our availability criteria since this guide was originally published so we can now include a very popular preamp that wasn't one of our original recommendations.
Fire-Eye Red-Eye Acoustic Instrument Preamp DI
Fire-Eye is a boutique brand that may not be all that well known to a lot of people, however it was clear when reading customer reviews and forum posts that many gigging musicians swear by their Red-Eye.
This preamp and it's bigger sibling, the Fire-Eye Red-Eye Twin, have received exceptionally high ratings, in fact it is difficult to find any expert or customer review rating it at the equivalent of less than 4 out of 5 stars.
Although less feature packed than many other options, where it shines is in its simplicity of use and its clarity of tone.
- Input: high-impedance, 1 million ohms, maximum 1 volt peak-to-peak level.
- Low-impedance, balanced, XLR output, 600 ohms, will drive long cables to a mix-board.
- Boost button with volume control for amplifying solos.
- Treble control to boost or reduce treble.
- Long 9-volt battery life (~200 hours).
- Automatically uses XLR Phantom Power, when available, instead of the battery.
- Plugging an instrument in or connecting XLR phantom power turns the Red-Eye on.
- Automatic power check: Pwr Chk Light flashes for 1 second if power is good when preamp is powered up. When powered up on the battery (without XLR Phantom Power) the battery gets tested and the flash indicates the battery is in the first ¾ of its life.
- ¼ inch output and input for accessory loop, suitable for stomp-tuners or effects boxes or for output to on-stage guitar amps or PAs.
- Internal filtering to reject radio-frequency interference from neon lights and cell phones.
- Small Size: 1.25 x 2.25 x 4.25 inches. Weight: 10 ounces.
Its transparency was cited many times in customer reviews. Many people commented on how easy it is to use - the phrase 'plug and play' also came up frequently. 'Professional' or words to that effect were in many user reports. The boost button came in for a lot of praise by finger pickers and those who like to switch between playing rhythm and solos on their acoustic guitar. Usually with a product that's becoming as popular as this is, there will be at least a small minority who express some degree of buyer's remorse, however no sentiment like that was evident when I was researching the Red-Eye.
There were few, if any, consistently reported negatives. One user lamented the fact that you have to unscrew 4 screws on the back to change the battery, however they quickly added that this wasn't a deal breaker. A couple of others suggested that it would have been nice to have included gain control to make it easier to use with hot active acoustic pickup systems, but even these people didn't rate it less than 4.5 our of 5 stars.
If you're looking for a no-nonsense preamp and DI with very good clarity and transparency, then put the Red-Eye at the top of your shopping list.
BBE Sound Inc. is known for their popular "Sonic Maximizer", which improved the clarity and volume of many recordings. They have since branched into live sound reinforcement and have made their technology suited for acoustic instruments, resulting in the BBE Acoustimax. While it may not have as many extra features, it works great where it matters, having extensive tone shaping controls and providing great sound courtesy of the built-in Sonic Maximizer.
- 3-Band EQ with sweepable mid-range band
- Low-frequency notch filter
- Phase reversal
- Ground lift
- Line level out (Direct Input)
- Dedicated tuner out
- TRS effects loop
- Pre/post switchable-balanced DI output with pad
- Input Impedance 2.2 M Ohm
- True bypass switching
- Non-slip rubber bottom
- 12v power supply included
- Weight: 3 lbs.
The majority of users and experts are simply blown away by the dramatic improvement that this pedal brings to their sound, improving clarity and detail that exceeded their expectations. Reviews are replete with positive stories and recommendations of musicians who use various acoustic instruments that include acoustic guitar, classical guitar, violin, mandolin, banjo and many more. The tone shaping element is also well appreciated in the reviews, especially for musicians who have to adjust their sound to the different venues that they play on.
There are some users who expressed concern on the unit's AC adaptor, which come with tiny wires that feel flimsy. Some also commented that the pedal is too big for its basic functionality, while others hoped for extras like built-in tuner (instead of a dedicated tuner out) and essential effects. Still, these reviewers are happy with their minor gripes and still recommend the unit to others.
This may not be a do-it-all type of acoustic pedal, but it definitely fits the preamp bill perfectly. If you're looking to enhance your amplified acoustic sound and want nothing less than the best, then get this one.
LR Baggs Venue DI
Known for their pro quality acoustic instrument guitar pickups, it is only natural that they know how to get your acoustic guitar signal sound great when going straight to PA. And so they showed their skill with this feature packed unit, combining preamp, tone shaping and DI box functionality all in one unit. Even virtuosos like Leo Kottke have been spotted putting this unit to good use. Reviews are consistent in saying that the LR Baggs Venue DI Pedal makes their instrument sound better.
- Adjustable gain for both passive and active pickups
- 5 band EQ with tunable low-mid and high-mid bands
- Garret Null notch filter for effective feedback control
- Phase inversion for best sound and feedback control
- Full chromatic tuner with footswitch mute/tune function
- Adjustable volume boost footswitch
- Full isolation audio transformer couple DI
- 4 segment clip meter to visually optimize gain setting
- 4 segment battery )status gauge
- XLR and 1/4" outputs
- Input Impedance 10 M Ohm
- Series FX loop (separate jacks for send and return)
- Works with 9V battery or DC adapter (not provided)
- Weight: 2.2 lbs.
Users and expert reviewers agree that this is a true all-in-one solution for musicians who play acoustic instruments. More than just a "stuffed up" unit, the preamp, EQ and DI Box functionalities work really well. It's also surprisingly versatile, with acoustic guitarists, violinists and more expressing their thanks and recommendations. Another very nifty addition to this pedal is the volume boost switch that gives you instant added volume when doing solo parts, or when you want to emphasize certain musical lines.
There are some reviewers that complained about the tuner feature, but it maybe more of a manufacturing issue than an actual design fault. It would also be nicer if the price was lower, but that's asking too much since the Venue DI actually gives you the functionality of three different devices. Because of its wealth of controls, this unit may not be ideal if you are looking for a more plug and play type of DI box.
The LR Baggs Venue DI is highly recommended, especially if you have yet to get an EQ and Preamp pedal. It is a worthwhile investment if you are regularly having to plug your acoustic instrument straight to PA.
Fishman Aura Spectrum DI
Fishman continues to be the most popular supplier of built-in electronics for acoustic guitar manufacturers, and as such, they have the know how and experience to build good acoustic preamps like the Aura Spectrum DI. Instead of going for basic pre-amplification and tone shaping, Fishman decided to take it further by injecting this unit with their Aura Acoustic Imaging technolgy, which applies amp modeling technology to recreate the sound of popular acoustic guitars and other acoustic instruments. It also comes with extras like compression effect and a built-in tuner.
Lisa Loeb is one of the notable artists who uses the Aura Spectrum.
- Fishman Aura Acoustic Imaging technology
- 128 pre-loaded acoustic instrument images
- Instrument preamp with balanced XLR D.I. output
- Volume, Blend, and Image Select controls
- 3-band EQ
- One-knob compressor
- Phase switch and automatic anti-feedback
- Built-in chromatic tuner with bypass/mute
- 16 user-configurable Image locations
- Input Impedance 10 M Ohm
- USB interface for downloading Aura images.
- Weight: 1.7 lbs.
Reviews are generally positive and welcoming, with many reporting that the preamp actually improved their sound. Many also loved the Aura imaging feature, which breath new life into their old acoustics, some even thanking Fishman because the unit scratched their itch to buy another acoustic instrument. The anti-feedback feature got a lot of mention among reviewers, saying that it works really well even in loud band settings. Another positive trait is the pedal's reliability and longevity, as attested to by users who gave the pedal five star ratings, after having used the pedal for years.
As expected, there are some who are not too happy with the Aura imaging feature, saying that many of the images did not meet their expectations. But like amp modeling, this could very well be due to lack of patience in tweaking the parameters - some users recommend that lowering the blend knob worked for them. Other minor gripes include the slide selector being fragile, and the lack of images for nylon string guitars and other acoustic instruments. It's noticeable how majority of the reviews come from steel-string guitarists, even though it is supposed to also work for other instruments.
If you're looking to improve your acoustic instrument sound and expand your sonic palette, and if you have the patience to deal with digital modeling, then this may very well be your acoustic preamp of choice.
Tech 21 SansAmp Para Driver V2
This multi-purpose preamp/DI Box from Tech 21's popular SansAmp line is dedicated to acoustic instruments. Like the their popular bass preamp box, the SansAmp Para Driver comes with a preamp complete with tone shaping elements, the main difference being this one is voiced to complement the sound of acoustics. This preamp pedal is known for adding analog tube like warmth that fattens up the usual thin and quacky sound of piezo-pickup equipped acoustic instruments.
- Active tone controls with 12dB of cut or boost
- Sweepable semi-parametric EQ
- 1/4-inch 4.7 megOhm instrument level input
- 1/4-inch and XLR outputs with selectable levels
- Input Impedance 4.7 M Ohm
- Parallel, uneffected output to run a dry signal to a separate channel
- Weight: 0.875 lbs
As expected of a SansAmp pedal, the preamp in this DI Box modifies the resulting sound considerably, but in a good way. Commonly mentioned in reviews is its great sound, which adds tube amp like character to the sound, without overly coloring your tone. In addition to working great with acoustic instruments, the SansAmp Para Driver has enough tone sculpting options for non-acoustic instruments like electric and bass guitars - and it is sometimes used as an effect pedal in front of an amp. Other postive traits that users have reported include its useful Drive function, low-noise operation and easy access battery compartment.
Since it warms up the sound considerably, the SansAmp Para Driver may not be your choice if your tone is already good enough to your ears, and you are simply looking for a transparent preamp/DI Box solution. I'd complain about the price but it is still accessible to most musicians.
If you are looking for a compact all-around preamp with excellent DI Box functionality, then the Tech 21 SansAmp Para Driver DI is highly recommended.
Radial Tonebone PZ-Pre
Radial joins the preamp market with multi-function unit, specifically built for acoustic instruments, the Tonebone PZ-Pre. With its long list of well known artist endorsers that include James Taylor, Jerry Douglas, Keb' Mo' and more - there's just no way to miss out on this in a best preamp for acoustic instruments list. It combines tone shaping for acoustic with Radial's acclaimed preamp quality, resulting in a versatile and clean sounding preamp that is loved by many.
- Two Channel Preamp and Active DI Box
- Independent piezo boosters for each channel
- With Notch and High Pass Filter
- Pre and Post EQ balanced DI out for FOH and in-ear monitoring
- Tuner out and Guitar amp out
- Input Impedance (Piezo) 10 M Ohm | Normal 6.8 M Ohm
- 3-Band EQ with semi-parametric mid
- Weight: 2.7 lbs
Majority of reviewers have praised the Tonebone PZ-Pre's versatile input/output features and its great sound. It is perfect for singer-songwriters or musicians who switch between two or more instruments in live performance. Many also commended the tone shaping ability of the pedal, with some noting that by following suggestions from the manual, they were able to get great sounds. Since this pedal is from Radial, don't expect much coloration, so it won't necessarily make you sound "better", but will simply make more details clearer.
Since it focuses more on transparency instead of modifying your sound, it can't really save an instrument or rig that doesn't already sound good in the first place. And this is most probably the reason for some of the negative ratings that the unit received, which is unfair considering that this pedal works wonders for majority of its users. Another issue that came up is the unit's price and bulk, but since it gives you 2 channels, tone shaping and complex DI Box features, it should be easily forgivable.
If you're looking for a powerful transparent DI Box solution for your acoustic guitar or other acoustic instruments, then the Radial Tonebone PZ-Pre Preamp D is definitely worth checking out.
Boss has a tendency of going for the extreme when it comes to adding features into their guitar processors, and this rings true with the AD-8. This preamp packs quite a lot of sounds, equipped with COSM acoustic guitar modeling technology which morphs your guitar sound to be similar to the miked sound of an expensive and sought after acoustic guitar specimen. In addition, it has built-in reverb and a 4-band EQ which gives you even more room to tweak your amplified acoustic sound.
- Boss COSM Acoustic Guitar Modeling technology
- Six acoustic models
- Simulates warm, miked acoustic sounds
- Built-in reverb tailored for acoustic guitar
- 4-band EQ
- Onboard chromatic tuner with Mute function
- Input Impedance 4.7 M Ohm
- 4 Preset memory locations for switching acoustic sounds instantly
- Balanced XLR outputs allow direct connection to PA systems
- Weight: 4.25 lbs.
Majority of users are happy with how the Boss AD-8 made their guitar sing, adding upper harmonic sparkle and dynamics that would normally only be available when an acoustic guitar is miked. There was even one who reported using the AD-8 for years, with various guitars and pickups, to his satisfaction, made possible by the wealth of tone shaping features that the unit has. There were some guitarists who play nylon strings who also provided their 5-star approval, saying that with some tweaking, they got their instrument to sound organic. Another commonly mentioned positive feature of the AD-8 is its reverb, which works well regardless of the instrument you're using.
Of the few low ratings, their main point of contention is the addition of COSM guitar modeling feature. But other users have pointed out that with some patience, it can give desirable results. Another complaint that was raised is its lack of chorus, which the older and cheaper versions had. Some experienced users also mentioned the lack of attenuation setting, which can help better balance out the sound when connecting direct to PA.
Having weighed all the pros and cons, this is still a great acoustic guitar preamp that many recommend, so if you have the patience to tweak and you're looking for a reliable preamp then this is definitely worth checking out.
Lehle RMI Acouswitch IQ
The Lehle RMI Acouswitch IQ is a preamp pedal that's meant for professionals who gig with multiple acoustics - so it is understandable for it go under the radar for many. This three-in-one unit houses an acoustic guitar preamp, 3-band EQ with extra tone shaping controls, guitar switching feature and DI box functionality. It can serve as your main pedal where your instruments, tuner and effect pedals can connect to for easy access every time you perform, able to handle complex rigs and simplify connectivity and operation.
- Pedal with acoustic guitar preamp, EQ, switcher, and direct box functionality
- Input A/B switching for managing two instruments
- Lehle input transformer
- Switchable ground lift and Switchable pad for accommodating active electronics
- 3-band equalizer with low shelving plus a sweepable midrange for channel A only
- Body contour filter feature
- Clean boost
- Passive serial and active parallel effects loop
- Input Impedance 5 M Ohm (per input)
- Balanced XLR output
- Dedicated tuner output
Many experts and users regard this preamp highly, praising its clean "Hi-Fi" and transparent sound that works with virtually any type of instrument. The smart implementation of its features and controls are also lauded for by majority of reviewers. Professionals love the effects loop implementation, and many are happy with the unit's elegant thin and flat profile, which makes it easy to step on, and use on stage.
There's not much complain about the unit, aside from it requiring quite an investment. I'd also point out that this unit takes up quite a lot of space, so space availability should be considered when getting this one.
If you are a professional that can justify the cost, and want to simplify your acoustic rig then this should be worth the price.
LR Baggs Para DI Acoustic Preamp
LR Baggs second entry into this list is a non-pedal alternative to the Venue DI, a compact versatile DI Box for acoustic instruments. This unit's 5 band EQ with tunable notch and midrange bands provide extensive tone shaping, which can be used for subtle adjustments to fix venue related sound issues, or to change the sound altogether. Other practical features include feedback control via phase inversion and the option to power the unit via a 9V battery or via phantom power.
- Works for both passive and active pickups (adjustable gain)
- 5 band EQ with tunable notch and midrange bands
- Phase inversion for feedback control
- XLR and 1/4" outputs
- Works with 9V battery or 48V phantom power
The general consensus is that this preamp made a significant positive impact to their sound. While the bulk of recommendations come from satisfied guitarists, violins and other pickup-equipped acoustic instruments were also mentioned to have worked really well with this unit. Many are impressed with how the preamp brings out details that otherwise would be lost, to the point that some even think that it makes them sound and play better.
Of the few concerns raised by users, the premium price tag gets the most mention, especially when considering that it doesn't do much else other than tone shaping and getting your sound straight to the board. Some users mentioned that feedback they encountered feedback issues during the first few uses, until they learned to better utilize the notch filters.
If you're a multi-instrumentalist that play various acoustic instruments, then this portable and versatile DI box is worth the investment.
Rupert Neve RNDI
Neve is well known for their preamps and studio consoles, but they've since expanded into the preamp/DI market with the highly rated RNDI. There's not much going on in terms of features and connectivity, but what makes this unit special is its great combination of simplicity and audio quality. Thanks to its Class A discrete FET amplifier, this compact unit made the sound quality of Neve studio consoles more accessible and portable.
- 48V phantom powered active circuitry
- Ground Lift switches for both speaker and instruments
- 1/4" Input and Thru-put jacks, gold-plated XLR output
- Input Impedance 2.2 M Ohm
- Steel chassis
- Weight: 1.5lbs
The general consensus is that the Neve RNDI goes beyond just working - rather it improves the sound dramatically, as attested to by many reviewers. So instead of being just a mere DI box that bridges your instrument to the PA System, the RNDI has become a tone improvement tool for many. Reviewers report of how this unit works well with acoustic guitars and other acoustic instruments, and it is also popularly used on bass guitars, keyboards, and even amplifiers.
The unit's straightforward controls can be lacking for those who are looking for more control. Ironically, there are a few that complained about it not being transparent, so it's more of a preference rather than actually being a negative trait. Finally, some are looking for more features considering the price, but majority agree that this highly ranked preamp/DI Box is well worth the investment.
The Rupert Neve RNDI is highly recommended for multi-instrumentalists who are looking for a versatile preamp. If you're looking to "improve" your acoustic sound and are looking then this is a great pick, well even those who wanted transparency at first ended up loving the fuller sound that they get off the RNDi.
Countryman Type 85 DI Box
Countryman continues the be the preamp of choice for many musicians and professionals, thanks to its impeccable reliability and its transparent sound. There are no fancy bells and whistles to speak of, but the Countryman Type 85 simply has the sound that many prefer, as evidenced by the many high ratings and professional recommendations that it has received. While it may not be a popular brand, studio cats and experienced players usually drop this name when talking about preamps and DI boxes.
- Active DI Box Design
- Phantom Powered
- Class A circuit
- Input 1/4", Outputs 1 XLR and 1 TRS amp output
- Input Impedance 10 M Ohm
- Weight: 1.2 lbs
The general opinion is that the Type 85 works efficiently and produces great results. In addition to making acoustic guitars sound good, musicians have been using it on electric guitars, bass guitars, synthesizers and even old electric pianos. A common theme among the positive comments is how the unit gives their instrument a more detailed sound, which in turn inspires them to play better. Another important positive trait of this unit is its virtually indestructible housing, the company literally tried running it over with a truck, and it still worked!
Since there aren't really any particular complain about the unit, I can imagine that many would've wanted the benefits of this unit but could not afford it. Still, with its great and sound and longevity, it is well worth the investment.
If you're looking for a preamp and DI box unit that's straightforward, reliable and great sounding, then save up for the Countryman Type 85.
Here's where we sometimes present an additional option - this time it's a preamp for those on a tight budget..
Behringer V-Tone Acoustic Driver DI
Wrapping up this roundup of Acoustic Preamps is the Behringer V-Tone Acoustic Driver DI, an affordable alternative that provides good preamp functionality and tone shaping, at merely a fraction of the price of the other items in this list. Behringer entry into this list shows how you can get things done properly without having to shell out big bucks, having a 3-band EQ with sweepable mids and a nifty tube emulation circuit that adds analog warmth to any pickup equipped acoustic instrument.
- Switchable Tube emulation modeling circuitry
- 3-band EQ with sweepable mids
- Standard active DI mode when Tube emulation is bypassed
- Ground Lift
- Input Impedance 4.7 M Ohm
- Blend Control
- Weight: 1.01 lbs.
The V-Tone Acoustic Driver's most obvious advantage is its price, at just under $30, there's just no reason not to get one, even for use as a back up unit. While it obviously will not sound as Hi-Fi as the others on this list, it does get the job done well enough for majority to complement its sound quality. Many even find themselves surprised by how this seemingly cheap preamp exceeds their expectations, finding it very useful for most musical applications.
Experts and users who have tried more expensive preamps notice the difference in sound quality, but majority of them still find the V-Tone good sounding and practical for most applications, considering the price. There were some who complained about the flimsy power adapter that it comes with, while others are concerned about the seemingly frail knobs.
Even with its short comings, the Behringer V-Tone Acoustic Driver DI is a viable and practical acoustic preamp if you're budget is limited.