Great Acoustic Guitar Tone – The Preamp (Part 6 of 7)

Everybody asks about what microphones and mic placements they should use on acoustic guitar, but rarely do they ask about the preamp. It’s a shame, because the preamp plays a huge roll in the sound of ANY recording.

As I told you in the Intro to Preamps video, there are lots of different types of preamps. If you’re starting out, you’ll just use the built-in preamps on your audio interface. That’s fine, but just know that a really nice microphone into a cheap preamp may not sound as amazing as you expected.

The Problem with Cheap Preamps

If you’re using cheap preamps, I’m not saying you can’t get a great-sounding recording, but there are things to keep in mind. You may think you don’t have the budget for nice external preamps. If that’s the case, then you REALLY need to pay attention to the preamp quality in the audio interface you decide to buy. If you’re spending $99 on an audio interface, I’m betting those preamps just aren’t going to be that great.

Really cheap preamps have to cut corners, naturally, to hit that low price point. One of the ways they cut corners is by reducing the amount of voltage the preamp has. They use cheaper power supplies, and the preamps usually don’t have a lot of gain. That’s not a problem if you’re recording a loud vocal or loud guitar amps. It DOES become an issue when you’re recording quieter sources…like and acoustic guitar.

To get the signal loud enough, you end up cranking the gain on the preamp. Since cheaper pre’s don’t have a lot of gain to begin with, you sometimes have to crank the preamp almost all the way. At that point, the signal gets very noisy. Yep, when you run cheap preamps really hot, they introduce a lot of noise.

Don’t get me wrong, you can still get a good recording, but at some point you may want to consider either better external preamps or an audio interface with better preamps. I’ll be using the preamps in my Presonus Firestudio Project (affiliate link) for the acoustic guitar class coming up. Nice, clean preamps with a lot of gain. Perfect for acoustic guitar.

How Should the Preamp Sound?

If you go for an external preamp, you’ve got a lot of choices. Typically on acoustic guitar (and most acoustic instruments) I reach for a nice, clean-sounding preamp. I don’t normally use tube preamps on acoustic guitar. I want a clean, accurate, non-colored signal, so I go with a clean solid-state preamp usually. I’ve used the True Systems P-Solo and Presonus Eureka (affiliate links), both great for acoustic.

What preamp do you use? Do you like it?

  • Craig Allen

    I’ve never recorded with an external preamp – going to try to get one off eBay and see what I’m missing!

  • Raul Silva

    Hi Graham,
    If I record my acoustic with a mic connected through an M-Audio Fast Track Ultra, I wouldn’t need another preamp, would I?
    Thanks,
    Raul

  • http://www.homestudiocorner.com Joe Gilder

    Classical guitar is the same as a steel-string acoustic guitar as a far as recording goes. All the concepts are the same.

    I’m not sure I understand your other questions.

    • Guitarist

      Thanks for ur respond
      I was asking about the sound quality of my classical guitar. When I figure out a solo from a song and play it . The solo sounds exactly the same without plugins or EQ
      Does that mean I’ve a good guitar and I can use it for recording ? although it’s kinda cheap

      • http://www.homestudiocorner.com Joe Gilder

        I think you answered your own question. If it sounds good, then there’s your answer. It doesn’t matter if it’s cheap. If it really sounds good, great! No need to worry about anything else.

  • http://www.homestudiocorner.com Joe Gilder

    Same as BlueTube? Nope. BlueTube is tube. FSP has XMax class a preamps.

    Better than the 003? I think so. I’ve used both. FSP has more gain/headroom.

    • CamBam

      Actually Joe, the newer bluetubes have a feature where you can turn off the tube, and use one of Presonus’s XMAX preamps! The newer Bluetube probably wasn’t released when you said this though.

      Also, I love the XMAX preamps. They are very clear, and I haven’t had any noise problems, even when they were up almost three quarters of the way.

      • http://www.homestudiocorner.com Joe Gilder

        NICE…I didn’t know that. Thanks for the heads up!

  • Sambatesmusic

    Currently using a Bock 195 into a Focusrite ISA One for my main recording chain. Wow! Before now I always stereo mic’ed acoustic as it never sounded full enough. But through this chain it sounds massive, really shows a good pre and mic are a sound investment.

  • http://twitter.com/gatzkART Kirk Gatzka

    I use Line 6′s Toneport UX1 for my recording to the computer. It works great on my Win XP PC. Their newer line works with Windows 7.