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Stompbox preamps ~ a heretic's view

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs [BG]' started by Munjibunga, Sep 14, 2008.

  1. Munjibunga

    Munjibunga Retired Member

    May 6, 2000
    San Diego (when not at Groom Lake)
    Independent Contractor to Bass San Diego
    So I finally had time to sit down today and ring out my new Aguilar Tone Hammer. A wonderful piece it is. I plugged in the Pink Cadillac and ran the Tone Hammer into my WT-800B with D-210XLT and D-210XST. The WT-800 was set dead flat with no enhance. I put the bass's East J-Retro electronics in passive mode.

    The Tone Hammer is extremely versatile, yielding nice aggressive J growl to mellow, thick bottomy tones. I messed a little with the AGS, and got everything from thin, scratchy distortion to full, rich tubey warmth, much like Channel 2 on my AG500. It's not something I'll use often because I don't play much music that requires that vintage kind of tone.

    So anyway, I got to wondering how it compares to some of my other preamps, so I broke out my ToneBone, SansAmp Para Driver DI, EBS ValveDrive, MXR M-80 and Aguilar DB 924. You know what? They all do pretty much the same thing and do it equally well. Of course, some have mid controls where others don't, and there are subtle differences in the tones with the preamps set flat but, for the most part, you can draw the same thing out of each and every one of them. So my opinion is that it doesn't really matter which brand you buy with a given feature set, they'll all do what you want them to do. Keep in mind that the units I tried are all high-quality product, and I don't know or care how the low-didge stuff compares.

    Now, if that hasn't bothered you, I'll go one further. If your bass has a high quality active preamp in it, you don't need any of these preamps. One thing I like about the J-Retro is the same versatility that most of these outboard units provide. There are Aguilar and Glockenklang preamps in some of my other basses, and they perform equally well.

    So anyway, I've missed the last two Sadowsky preamps that have gone through the ads here, but I'll end up with one of those and probably a Fodera Model 2006 just to compare, but at this point I doubt there's a Holy Grail out there in preamp world. And no, none of my others are for sale.

    I didn't compare the SABDDI or Acoustic DI or the Yamaha NE-1 today, but I don't think my conclusions would be any different if I did.
  2. Wilbyman


    Sep 10, 2003
    Parkersburg, WV
    Agree to an extent on this....not sure why you would use an onboard pre AND one of these since they are pretty much the same thing.

    I also agree that most of them do the same thing and it comes down to what your favorite flavor is. For instance, can get a nice girthy bass boost out of the DB924 and the Fodera Model 200_, but IME the Fodera will stay a little tighter. So where the rubber meets the road they are almost similar BUT like anything else which impacts your tone, there may be some subtle differences which make a big deal to the finicky ear.

    I have always kind of thought that these were for people who had passive basses or just hated the EQ section on their amp. I used to be a big proponent of them when I was mostly using the Focus on electric gigs. I may be back there soon, who knows...

  3. Munjibunga

    Munjibunga Retired Member

    May 6, 2000
    San Diego (when not at Groom Lake)
    Independent Contractor to Bass San Diego
    I agree there are subtle differences in the inherent tones of these units, but none that would be discernable at a gig. In the studio, maybe.
  4. Rickett Customs

    Rickett Customs

    Jul 30, 2007
    Southern Maryland
    Luthier: Rickett Customs...........www.rickettcustomguitars.com
    One thing comes to mind, drive and overly drive ;)
    That's my primary use for the Sans amp I have (I do not boost highs or low much at all,maybe a smidgen) fortunately I rather like the sound coloration
    of my Sansamp and I use nothing but active 2 band and 3 band electronics
  5. Umm... most of them pretty much are the same thing. As Wilby said, most of these were designed for people who don't want to put an active model in a passive bass.

    The more recent models have additional capabilities of distortion and DI's, so there are some uses for the sansamp and Tone Hammer when you want to send an 'emulated tube distorted' signal to the front of house without mic'ing a big tube rig. Not my thing, but I can see how it would be useful. Also, according to the spec's, the Tone Hammer has enough output to be used as a true preamp (i.e., to drive a power amp). That's pretty cool, especially if you are using a self-powered speaker, since you could fit it in your gig bag.

    +1 to Wilby. You would not need to bother with any of these if you had an active preamp on-board, unless you had very specific tone needs (e.g., distortion, etc.)
  6. Wilbyman


    Sep 10, 2003
    Parkersburg, WV
    Yes and +1 to this, I've not used either of these but I appreciate the additional functionality.
  7. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 20, 2004
    Madison WI
    HPF Technology LLC
    Say it ain't so! :eek:


    Now I will go even further. If your bass has an output jack, and your amp has an input jack, you mainly need a cable. :eek:
  8. Munjibunga

    Munjibunga Retired Member

    May 6, 2000
    San Diego (when not at Groom Lake)
    Independent Contractor to Bass San Diego
  9. Munjibunga

    Munjibunga Retired Member

    May 6, 2000
    San Diego (when not at Groom Lake)
    Independent Contractor to Bass San Diego
    All that is true, but then you're using it as an effect rather than a preamp. A SansAmp VT will give you some of that, and most of the ones I played today can deliver a fairly broad range of tube distortion effects. I'm talking mainly about a preamp for clean sound. I like the stompboxes with 3-band EQ and semi-parametric mid for maximum tone control. I haven't tried on of my Sadowskys through the Tone Hammer yet, but I'll bet it'll give me the mid control I crave with the Sadowsky's 2-band EQ.
  10. Top_Ten

    Top_Ten Supporting Member

    Jun 14, 2008
    San Francisco Bay Area
    Somewhat related to the above, I did some experimenting today with various preamps. Tried recording my Dark Star equipped p-bass direct through a UA610, a Hamptone, an Alembic FX-1 and a Tone Hammer.

    Doing the old A-B-C-D, they all sounded really good. I ended up going with the Alembic (plus a little compression from the UA1176), but I would have been happy with any of them. The Tone Hammer was probably fourth out of four, but the fact that a sub-$200 stompbox can even hang in the company of the other three is pretty impressive.
  11. WoodyG3


    May 6, 2003
    Colorado, USA
    I haven't tried that many different onboard preamps. What onboard pre would give the tube emulation qualities of a Sansamp?
  12. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    None that I know of. They're not built for that.
  13. bongomania

    bongomania Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Oct 17, 2005
    PDX, OR
    owner, OVNIFX and OVNILabs
    I suspect WoodyG3 was wryly poking a small hole in Munji's premise. ;)
  14. Munjibunga

    Munjibunga Retired Member

    May 6, 2000
    San Diego (when not at Groom Lake)
    Independent Contractor to Bass San Diego
    We've already covered that ground. Read the thread. (Post #9, for example.)
  15. SpankyPants

    SpankyPants That's Mr. SpankyPants to you.

    Aug 24, 2006
    Brooklyn, NY
    Come on, bongo! You've gotta learn how to use the search function!! :smug: ;)

    And Munji, when I was A/Bing the AGRO and Tone Hammer, I found that they were totally different beasts. There was enough overlap to dial in the same sound on both units, but outside of that, either unit was very different from the other. The AGRO is the 2nd channel from the AG500's, but the Tone Hammer is a different system altogether.

    I'm not surprised that you can achieve the some of the same sounds across all of these popular preamps, but I think it's safe to say that each preamp is capable of creating different tones than any of the others. No?

    I haven't had the chance of comparing the TH to a Sansamp, but I'm interested in how it'd sound. I've been struggling with this AGRO that I got from Aguilar, so hopefully the Tone Hammer will be a bit more... cooperative.
  16. Andy Will

    Andy Will

    Apr 11, 2003
    London, England
    Hi Munji,

    +1 on your thoughts. Got my Tonehammer on Saturday and found I don't really need the E.Q. section with an 18v OBP-3 in my Bass, really only need the D.I and Drive sections. That being said, it looks like I'll still be able to get a DB900, so for most gigs will be using that and the Tone Hammer will stay on my pedal board for 'Effected' gigs.

    Will be curious to hear more comparisons between the Agro and the Tonehammer for overdrive, as though I would love to have bought the AG500 twin channel (instead of the AG500SC), know that a lot of gigs I have to use the 'provided' rig which would leave me missing overdrive and needing a pedal anyway.

    Still the Tonehammer is a fantastic and well priced bit of kit! So, top marks again Aguilar!
  17. SteveC

    SteveC Moderator Staff Member

    Nov 12, 2004
    North Dakota
    I agree. The differences are usually pretty subtle. Maybe an issue in the studio, but for those of us playing your typical live gig in small town USA, it doesn't really matter.

    I used to be really obsessed, trying all the latest and greatest. Now, I play a Bartolini equipped Yamah through a GB Shuttle combo. Sounds great, works for all my gigs.

    Nothing against those who are still searching, I'm just glad (as is my accountant) that I have found gear I am happy with and don't feel the need to keep searching. Maybe a couple effects, but nothing major.
  18. 4Mal

    4Mal Supporting Member

    Jun 2, 2002
    Columbia River Gorge
    I have a BDDI, a BassBone and a Trace Sm-7 stomp EQ that has a boat load of clean gain. lately I've been carrying a couple of cables a box and a bass to sit in with an acoustic guitarist/sing buddy. Give him somehting to lean on for a while and suck down a free glass of good wine on the house... low key stuff in other words...

    The Bassbone and the BDDI are quite different to my ear. The audio quality of the Radial shines. The EQ is well voiced for 'clear support'. The BDDI on the other hand is working overtime to cop a tone. It's a thick 'n rich tool - not just a pass through ... and there is gain to be had that is not present in the Radial - the Radial was designed to be unity gain IIRC.

    The Trace is another thing altogether. I can only describe it as agressive - clarity. It's highly effective. It has a ton of gain. It sounds nothing like other Trace Bass Gear I've messed with - which to my ear is a good thing ... The audio quality is very good but somehow everything that goes through is comes out with a little edge...

    All three are useful tools. If I had to pick one as the brains of my front end - it would be the Radial. If I had to pick two to keep in my arsenal - It would be the Trace and the Radial - The Trace would be as part of an effects chain - it works wonders in restoring body lost by cool but tone sucking effects in a chain and for that it has a permanent home.

    I have to live with the DBBI a little longer. Maybe more hours of run time will change my opinion there...
  19. lposavad

    lposavad Supporting Member

    I wouldn't call the Yamaha NE-1 a preamp per se, more of a nifty tone control...
  20. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    I've never felt a need for an outboard pre for bass guitar. I use both passive and active basses and all I care about is the final sound. For EQ sculpting, well that's why bass amps have knobs ;)

    I use pres for my string basses because I have yet to find a pickup that is really usable without one (the String Charger comes close, but it's a magnetic). I really hate hooking up lots of boxes on the gig...more stuff to pack up and hookup, more batteries (or wall warts :help: ) to worry about, more cabling to lose, etc. Yeah, I focus a lot on simplicity and outboard gear really has to prove it's value to me before I'll add it on.

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