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?