Getting great guitar tones couldn’t be easier with the advent of dedicated guitar preamp pedals. I Recently purchased my first valve (or tube), guitar preamp, the Le Clean from Two Notes.
After some experimenting I found several cool ways to incorporate the pedal into my recording chain and found new approaches to creating fresh new guitar tones in the studio. Here’s a brief rundown of my findings with some tips for getting started on the subject of guitar preamp pedals.
Guitar pedal preamps – Why?
A regular valve, or tube amp consists of two main gain sections. The preamp section and the power amp section, both with their respective valve configuration.
The preamp section generally governs the tone controls and amplification of the signal before releasing it to the power amp which manages the output to the transformer and speaker cabinet. Many guitar amps offer an FX loop Return jack on the rear of the unit. This is where you can insert an alternative preamp such as the Two Notes Le Clean to replace the front end of the amp and create new tones and sounds. See my artical on connecting guitar preamps to an FX Return loop here. This opens up a myriad of tone-shaping options and hybrid amp sounds. Ever wondered what a Fender style preamp would sound like through a Marshall Plexi power amp section? This coupled with the ability to run speaker simulation ’Impulse Response’ software makes it easier than ever to dial in great guitar tones at bedroom levels if you have a load box or an attenuator patched in. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. Let’s break it down some and begin by looking at the ever-increasing range of great sounding guitar preamp pedals available today.
Which tube guitar preamp should I buy?
Had I had a bigger budget I would have looked at the range of preamps available at Kingsley Amplifiers in the US more closely. Unfortunately the customs duty for importing these products to Europe would not allow me this luxury this time round but the Kingsley Maiden below is still on my wish list.
But check them yourselves if you’re interested to learn more about their top-notch, hand-wired range of preamps. Simon Jarrett also made this Youtube clip where he talks in general about guitar pedal preamps. It’s a great introduction, I recommend starting here.
Above: Youtube clip “Valve preamp pedals for guitar – what are they all about?” by Simon Jarrett of Kingsley Amplifiers.
The Two Notes Le Preamp range
Luckily, here in Europe the French manufacturers ‘Two Notes’, offer several highly quality preamps at very reasonable prices that sound amazing. These 12ax7 tube loaded, fully featured, pedal style pre’s deliver stellar guitar tones especially in conjunction with a tube power amp.
Each preamp in the series features two separate channels, A and B. The cleaner A channel accepts overdrive/distortion pedals very well and the dirtier B channel provides extra features such as a Mid Sweep EQ and the possibility to combine both channels together in so-called ’Fusion Mode’. The inbuilt analogue ‘Speaker Sim’ was alas a little brittle. I prefer to use their ‘Torpedo Wall Of Sound III’ cab-sim software which is offered free of charge on the Two Notes site.
The cab-sim software includes a bunch of Impulse Responses to get you started. More speaker cabinet models are available for purchase and are very reasonably priced. I chose to buy the Fenderesque voiced ’Le Clean’ model.
The Le Clean Guitar Preamp
Lets have a closer look at this bad boy.
The Two Notes Le Clean offers an array of input and output options including a balanced DI, XLR output (cab sim option on/off), a thru jack for connecting a speaker cabinet, and a separate output that can be used to feed an attenuator or load box for example. There’s even an FX Send and Return.
Tone Shaping controls
The tone controls for adjusting Bass, Treble and Mid really shine on this unit and the Gain knob on the clean channel is especially useful for adjusting the harmonic content of the signal without introducing overdrive artifacts . There’s no shortage of bottom end in this preamp and I found myself dialling it back a tad when used in conjunction with an overdrive pedal in the front end. ‘Fusion mode’ offers the combination of both channel A and B together, either cascaded or individually volume controlled.
Power amp connection
I do feel this unit benefits from being connected to a power amp. This can be simulated in Wall of Sound software but if you have a regular tube based amplifier with an FX Loop Return, try it and compare results. Personally I’ve had great results with the Laney TT20 and even Solid State power amps like the Seymour Duncan Powerstage 170. For me though, the addition of tubes in the output section is a sound I’ve always favoured.
Signal Chain For Recording Guitar Preamps
Here’s a diagram of my preferred setup.
The ‘feel’ of the Le Clean is just outstanding, plenty of dynamic response under the pick and well worth the €295 price tag. It’s given me that typical Fender style amp option I was lacking in my studio, without the bulk.
I’d like to leave you with a video from ‘That Pedal Show’ entitled ” Using Drive & Preamp Pedals In Your Amp FX Loop”. This further clarifies the procedure and will give you sound examples to boot.
Preamp pedals obviously offer new sonic possibilities in much the same way a traditional amplifier would. Blending preamps with power amps gave me an extended palette of sounds to play with. The sounds were awesome, plenty of dynamic response and the setup was just very accessible. Guitar preamp pedals seem to benefit from a good power amp and the built in analog cab simulator was less convincing but has its uses for convenience if re-amping later. Software cab sim’s worked out much better for me. The Torpedo Captor load box did not affect the dynamic feel of the amp negatively at all, perhaps because its a reactive load device?
I hope this introduction to getting great guitar tones from preamp pedals has been useful and inspires you to dig deeper into this method of recording guitars. For me it’s definitely improved and simplified the process.
Check out the available Le Preamp models here https://www.two-notes.com.