Here’s a question for all you bass players out there – do you own a preamp/DI pedal? If not, you really should. Not only do they let you have more control over your sound on the stage or in the studio but they can really come in handy during several situations. This is stuff that every bass player should understand if they plan on playing beyond the bedroom or garage.
As you might have already experienced yourself, it's a common practice among sound guys to run the bass signal straight to the mixing board rather than miking the speaker cabinet like you would with guitar. This is done through a DI box, a device that allows the bass signal to go straight into a mixing board via their XLR input. Most venues should have one of these on hand. The problem with this setup is the only thing going from a DI box to the mixing board will be a pure signal from your bass. This means that all external tone shaping from your amp and pedals are lost. This is where pedals that combine high quality DI functionality with a preamp come in, allowing you to control your sound before it ever hits the mixingboard.
You might be thinking to yourself that your amp already has a DI output, so why can’t you just use that and take advantage of the amp’s EQ? While it’s true that many amps have outstanding DI capabilities, some sound guys don’t trust them because they can run too hot for a mixer, possibly causing damage. If you ever run into one of those situations, you’ll be happy you had an external preamp on you as they will pretty much mitigate the problem.
Being able to play directly into a mixer without losing EQ isn’t the only situation where preamps come in handy. You can use them to EQ your way around low quality backline gear or poor room acoustics. And if you happen to use two basses with different tonal profiles during your set, a preamp pedal can be used as a second channel so you don’t have to go back and forth tweaking the settings on your amp.
Aside from its many uses during live situations, preamp pedals are also useful in the studio as well. Passive pickups tend to put out high impedance signals while mixing boards are generally built for low impedance signals. This means that when you run a 1/4“ cable straight into a mixing board, there’s a good chance that your signal will sound thin and weak. Using a preamp pedal’s Direct Out, you can convert your signal into a low impedance one which will better suit the mixer and keep your bass sound intact. And better yet, you can still use the preamp to shape the sound as you please.
So now the question is, which DI/preamp do you get? Here are a few of our favorites but you can browse our BASS PREAMPS section for a deeper look.
EBS MicroBass II Bass The MicroBass II is a powerful, versatile tool for bassists, with functions that include an active direct box, a one- or two-channel preamp, and an A/B switcher/blender. The two channels provide sound shaping from high-end, solid-state types to distorted timbres using the tube-emulation circuitry found in the EBS range of bass amp heads. An incorporated effects loop offers even more flexibility for connecting other effects or for mixing in an external audio source. The balanced output with speaker simulator option provides unmatched flexibility in live and studio situations. Footswitches control mute and channel operation/switching.
Radial BassBone The Radial Bassbone is a power-packed bass preamp that combines real-world functionality with amazing tonal control, making it the ideal front end for live performance and studio recording. Designed as a bass command center, the Bassbone features two separate channels with independent level controls and powerful EQ to let you perform with two basses on stage and instantly select between them with a footswitch. With the Bassbone in your rig, each bass is treated separately - no more compromising! On-demand access to the combination effects loop and power booster lets you introduce effects and gives you that extra kick when needed. The Bassbone is also equipped with a built-in Radial direct box that sends 'your sound' to the mixer the way you want it. There's even a separately buffered tuner out that lets you monitor and tune on the fly.
MXR M80 Bass Direct Box All the essentials in one tough little box. You need a serious D.I. for playing live and laying down killer tracks. You've got to have a preamp and finely tuned EQ to add punch to your tones. And you definitely can't do without some rich, custom distortion. This one-of-a-kind pedal gives you the whole deal in a bomb-proof enclosure that will survive even the most out of control gigs-and players. Built with the highest quality components, the M-80 can give you eve everything from warmth and transparency to a volcanic roar, without making you scroll through menu screens or an indecipherable manual. Engage the color switch for some sweet preset EQ, then tweak your tone with three band control. Dial in your ideal distortion with the gain knob and blend just the right amount into your clean signal, then kick it on and off at will. The adjustable noise gate pours on the sustain and cuts out hum and hiss. With XLR and parallel 1/4" outputs and a phantom power switch, you'll never have a problem delivering your choice new tones.