Updated by Bobby
Updated on February 1st, 2022
Updated product table and checked each product link for current listings in Sweetwater.
Best Acoustic Guitar Preamp (our Top Pick)
LR Baggs Para DI
Set up like a traditional DI box (no footswitch or bypass) the Para Acoustic DI has a built-in effects loop and a litany of tone control options. For the price, it's a high-value pick that will make any acoustic instrument sound better.
Parent article: Best Guitar Pedals
An acoustic guitar rig doesn't always have to be played clean.
And believe it or not, your acoustic guitar isn't entirely functional without at least a handful of pedals.
Basic compression, volume control, and a three-band EQ are all really important for acoustic players. I'll show you what pedals are most ideal for acoustic guitars, as well as some other pieces of gear that can boost your rig, like acoustic preamps, DI boxes, and combinations of the two.
It's all acoustic guitar friendly.
Backed by my own experience and extensive research, these DI boxes and guitar pedals are some of the best that money can buy and will certainly be the most optimal and functional for your acoustic guitar setup. My reviews will cover the following five boxes:
Best Acoustic Guitar Preamps (top 5 picks)
LR Baggs Para DI
Fishman ToneDEQ Acoustic Preamp
Fishman Aura Spectrum DI
LR Baggs Session
1. LR Baggs Para DI
While not technically a pedal, the LR Baggs Acoustic D.I. box adds a tremendous amount of flexibility and customization to your acoustic rig.
It's a combination DI box, preamp with a five-band EQ, and feedback controller all in one unit. You'll also have adjustable gain for either passive or active electronics, making it a helpful companion to all types of acoustic pickups.
There are a few situations where this box is particularly useful.
For any kind of live acoustic gigging, the Para Acoustic is a fantastic companion.
It's almost like having your own tiny little mixer, allowing you to control the tone, volume and feedback of your signal right from your pedalboard.
If you play live and go straight into a mixer, this box will make your life a lot easier.
In the recording studio, whether you're just fooling around with your own music or working with clients in a session environment, the additional control given by the Para acoustic is extremely helpful.
It's the difference between having a one-dimensional signal that you hope comes out right or being able to dial in and shape a variety of different acoustic tones and levels that you know will sound exactly the way you want them to.
3. Acoustics without an onboard Preamp
If your guitar doesn't have a preamp (like we mentioned in relation to the volume pedal) the Para Acoustic can become that preamp and function as your primary EQ.
Those who need to use a soundhole pickup stand to benefit the most from the Para Acoustic, simply because without it, they have little or no control over their volume level.
Being able to control volume, gain, and basic EQ is going to make a massive difference in your playing (whether live or recording) if you're used to going without those things.
In addition to the five-band EQ, the NOTCH and MID controls can be fine-tuned by two additional bands.
There's also an overall level knob, allowing you to control the volume of the signal going out from the box. Both XLR and quarter inch outputs are included, along with an effects loop and gain button for easy boosts.
Having used this box quite a bit, I would consider it one of the single most prudent purchases an acoustic guitar player can make.
IDEAL FOR: Rhythm and lead acoustic, live gigging, fine-tuning for recording and acoustic pickups without a preamp
2. Fishman ToneDEQ Preamp
One of the most appealing aspects of the ToneDEQ's stat line is that it runs an analog signal path (with digital effects) which is a little harder to come by when you're dealing with acoustic guitar effects and signal processing.
The effects are digital, because it's just easier and often cheaper to produce.
But Fishman is an authority figure when it comes to acoustic guitar preamps and effects, so it shouldn't surprise that they're giving us an analog acoustic pedal with all the extras.
The ToneDEQ does a lot and can handle most (if not all) of your acoustic guitar signal processing needs, by itself.
Let's cover the effects first.
Fishman ToneDEQ effects
The following acoustic guitar effects are included in the ToneDEQ:
- Reverb (two types)
- Delay (two types)
- Chorus (two types)
The effects are broken up into two different buttons on the pedal, one labeled for ambient effects (delay and reverb) and the other for modulation (chorus, flanger, and tremolo).
This allows you to cycle through the effects fairly easily.
Time, rate and level controls are also provided giving you plenty of tweaking options for each effect.
Additional Features of the ToneDEQ Acoustic Pedal
The rest of the ToneDEQ's functionality is helpful, if not predictable.
A boost control (has its own button), balanced XLR output, onboard compression, and feedback control (via a selectable phase switch) are all included.
This feature set is similar to what we see in the Spectrum Aura.
At $320 retail, it's a big purchase, so you'll want to make sure that you're in a position to take full advantage of the ToneDEQ's features and capabilities.
One thing to take note of is the analog circuit path.
If you're going to spend that much, this feature should matter to you.
Because part of the cost is going towards the analog circuit which does give you a more rich and organic-sounding tone. Analog circuits can be thought of as the amp tubes of the guitar pedal world. They often sound better, produce a richer tone, and are generally preferable to their digital counterparts.
Case in point, you're paying for the analog circuitry.
Another big part of the cost is the effects that are included.
If you don't plan to use these, and you're only buying the ToneDEQ as a preamp or DI box, I'd recommend going with a unit that puts less emphasis on effects (see the Fishman Platinum Stage below). Having said this, if you dig the analog interior and you plan to take full advantage of the effects that are included, you should pull the trigger with confidence.
IDEAL FOR: Studio acoustic guitarists, performers, analog guitar pedal fans, those who want a few high-quality acoustic effects, all styles and most skill levels
3. Fishman Aura Spectrum DI
The Aura Spectrum DI box from Fishman does several things, but its primary functionality might be easy to miss.
Imaging technology in the Aura Spectrum DI box allows you to attain the sound quality of a studio mic, meaning it mimics a tone that sounds like your acoustic guitar is mic'd in a professional recording studio.
This tone is then blended with the natural resonance of your acoustic guitar's pickup. The algorithms used to create these tone models provide 128 pre-loaded images that ship programmed into the Aura Spectrum DI box which you can use right away. They draw on a number of different acoustic guitar brands, models, and even microphone types.
If you want to dig deeper, you can download more images via the Aura Gallery software, either for Windows or Mac.
Other Features of the Fishman Aura Spectrum DI Box
Aside from the imaging technology, the Aura Spectrum DI box is stacked with acoustic-friendly features, namely the following:
- Balanced XLR output
- Effects Loop
- Feedback Suppression
- Three-Band EQ
- Chromatic Tuner
Together, all this functionality makes your acoustic guitar sound crisp and clear (as you would expect from a studio mic) when plugged in, giving this DI box a lot of practical application for both the studio acoustic player and the live performer.
Cost and Context
The Fishman Aura Spectrum DI box is expensive, retailing around $380 in most markets. Used options can dip into the $300 area, or lower if you get lucky.
However, the value is seen in the fact that you only have to buy one box to obtain such a high degree of functionality.
EQ, compression, tuning, the XLR output, and a number of other acoustic guitar tasks are handled in one purchase.
While it might seem like a high dollar amount, the Fishman Aura Spectrum DI is a tremendous value given someone who needs a catch-all solution for their acoustic rig. If you prefer to go that route, and avoid making several separate purchases, it's an ideal fit for you.
IDEAL FOR: Acoustic guitar modeling, studio recording, live performances, all styles, and most skill levels
4. L.R. Baggs Session DI
The L.R. Baggs Session DI acoustic preamp has two primary functions in the form of an analog saturation control and multi-band compression. In short, these features give your acoustic guitar a post-production, recording-studio tone quality that I'd describe as follows:
- Tighter and more focused signal
- Enhanced warmth and attack
Multi-band compression and saturation knobs are what control these two tone-shaping components, where they can both be used independently of one another or at the same time.
Using the multi-band compression
The multi-band compression is responsible for creating the tighter, smoother, and more focused EQ. As mentioned, this results in your acoustic guitar having a "post-production" tone quality, like you would expect from an acoustic guitar on a professionally-mixed album.
The Comp EQ knob is what controls this feature.
Depending on your acoustic guitar rig setup, you'll want to start by experimenting with the Comp EQ control by itself (turn the saturate knob all the way down for now).
Use the following steps to find your acoustic guitar's ideal compression spot:
- Play the acoustic guitar clean
- Engage the Session DI preamp with the Comp EQ knob at 50 percent.
- Move the Comp EQ to 100 percent.
- Move the Comp EQ back to 25 percent.
At this point you should be able to tell which compression level is most ideally suited for your acoustic guitar.
I'd recommend going through this process every time you setup your acoustic rig in a new environment. Your preferred compression level is a matter of taste, but the multi-band aspect does mean that different levels of compression are good for different situations.
Simply put: Experiment and see what sounds the best.
Using the saturation control
Next to the Comp EQ knob you'll see a control labeled Saturation.
This knob should also be dialed in using the same tactic, first independent of the Comp EQ control.
Turning the saturation knob up will give your acoustic guitar a warmer and more analog tone that will also sound a bit gritty if turned high enough. It's almost like a slightly distorted or modulated sound depending on how hard you attack the strings.
Once you find a setting you like, add the compression for a harmonizing of both tone-shaping features.
The results are astoundingly good as the combination of both controls truly give your acoustic guitar a studio-level sound quality, regardless of where you're playing.
The Session DI preamp's perks continue.
The Notch feedback control and other features
The Notch control is a unique feedback suppression tactic that is best employed via the following steps. First, you need to wait until your acoustic guitar starts feeding back. If it's not, don't turn the Notch knob up.
It's not meant to be simply preventative.
- Wait until your hear feedback
- Begin turning the Notch knob up slowly as your acoustic guitar is feedback back
- As you turn the knob up, feedback will fade out
- Once feedback is no longer audible, remember that spot where the Notch knob is and leave it there
Other features include a gain and volume knob, where you'll have a clipping indicator next to the gain control. Use this indicator to set your levels by turning the gain knob up until you're clipping in the red only at your most intense playing. In other words, you should see it clip red just sporadically. If your signal holds red for a few seconds or more, turn the gain back down.
Once you have a spot where you're only seeing spurts of red during your more intense strumming, leave the gain knob there and then set your desired volume.
Price and Context of the L.R. Baggs Session DI Preamp
While this acoustic guitar pedal is cheaper than the Fishman Aura Spectrum, it takes your tone in a different direction and is a far more specialized preamp.
You still get an XLR output and some new sounds, but the emphasis is put heavily on the tone-shaping capability of the multi-band EQ and saturation controls. Those are the primary attraction along with the unique approach to feedback elimination.
I love this preamp both for session acoustic players and live performers, since it'll allow you to bring the clean and defined tone of the studio to your live gigs.
IDEAL FOR: Session acoustic guitar players, live performers, those who won't miss the three-band EQ, and any acoustic player with feedback issues
5. BBE Acoustimax
The Acoustimax Sonic Maximizer preamp from BBE gives you a lot of the same controls as the LR Baggs boxes, though around half the price.
Like the LR Baggs Venue, the Acoustimax is designed for the both recording and live performance where players need to deal with different rooms and environments. BBE provides this control with a five-band EQ, along with feedback and frequency controls.
The unit has additional value for those who might lack a preamp from their acoustic guitar.
It doubles as a DI box, while also providing a quarter inch line out.
The rest of the pedal can be broken down into two parts. First, the preamp side, which is made up of the five-band EQ controls I've already mentioned. You can see those controls pictured here:
You have the standard gain, treble, mid, and bass, while the mid's frequency can be fine-tuned for a low or high EQ profile.
The right side of the pedal is designed to be a feedback controller with a series of knobs that adjust the Sonic Maximizer feature. This trademark of the Acoustimax streamlines your guitar's tone, matching the low and high frequencies of your acoustic's resonance and projecting them simultaneously.
Without this feature, your acoustic guitar's tone can often sound inconsistent, projecting higher frequencies before lower ones.
While it's hard to hear this phenomenon at first, the difference becomes really noticeable after you've heard the signal with the Sonic Maximizer engaged. Once you do, you won't want to play your acoustic guitar without it. In fact, you can get the Sonic Maximizer feature on its own, either in a pedal or rackmount form.
IDEAL FOR: Rhythm and lead acoustic work, studio recording, feedback control, a DI box replacement, and live gigging
How this post works
I’ve built this list of recommendations around two main things:
First, the practical usability of certain effects with acoustic guitars, basically answering the question: What makes a great acoustic guitar pedal or preamp?
It’s a difficult question because there are some effects that work well with an acoustic guitar and some that do not, or simply are not used by many acoustic players. Thus, as mentioned in our other acoustic guitar pedals post, there are general effects categories we should target for an acoustic pedal board.
They would include (and are mostly limited to) the following:
- Chorus, Flanger, Tremolo
- Volume/gain control
Second: The technical cohesiveness between the effects and the electrical components of acoustic guitars and amplifiers.
This topic is more of a gray area but still an important consideration, even though it’s at the mercy of our own technical knowledge about guitar gear.
If you put these two things together:
Usability and technical cohesiveness are two qualities we must consider to build a list of “safe” acoustic guitar pedal and preamp purchases.
And that’s what we want, isn’t it?
We want the nicest acoustic guitar pedals and preamps possible, for what we’re paying.
We want it all to work.
And ultimately we want to know that we’re not wasting our money on pedals or preamps that either won’t work with our acoustic guitar or will sound terrible when they do. So, I’m happy to bring this report with good news, that there are a lot of effects units, both stompboxes and preamps, that will work great with your acoustic rig.
FAQ About Acoustic Guitar Pedals and Effects
Now, to answer some of the questions from earlier:
There’s some mystery surrounding the use of effects and acoustic guitars.
Part of that is technical (electronics, sound engineering, etc.).
But I think most of it is because an amplified and processed acoustic signal just isn’t conventional. That said, if you ignore the tradition of the instrument, there’s a lot that an acoustic guitar can do just as well as an electric guitar.
1. Do I have to buy only acoustic-specified guitar pedals and effects for an acoustic rig?
We need to realize there is no such thing as an “electric-specific guitar pedal.”
All guitar pedals are electric. And yes, the convention is that they ought to be used for electric guitars, but all they really do is serve as a type of signal processor. That means they take an audio signal, transform it and produce a different output.
Where it gets technical is when you try to use effects like distortion or overdrive with an acoustic guitar that adds too much feedback and noise. Acoustic guitars handle signal processing differently than electrics, so you have to be knowledgeable about those differences, knowing which boxes work and which ones don’t.
Thus, the short answer is a definite no.
You don’t have to limit yourself to pedals and effects with “acoustic” branded on them. However, you do have to be smart about which non-acoustic pedals you choose.
2. Is there a significant difference between acoustic and electric guitar pedals?
There are some differences between acoustic-specific pedals like the Zoom A3 Processor and other non-acoustic guitar pedals.
Typically the acoustic-branded effects are designed with modified electronics that do more to balance your signal and reduce noise.
Feedback reducers are also commonly used in acoustic guitar pedals.
However, I’ve found that with a good acoustic amp and careful volume control, you don’t always need pedals with an emphasis on this technology. Again, it’s a trial and error venture. While there are some differences it doesn't necessarily mean that you have to limit yourself to effects with “acoustic” in the title.
3. Can I use an electric guitar amp with an acoustic guitar?
While I don’t like to make broad generalizations about gear, since it all behaves so differently, I can tell you some electric amps and acoustic guitars can make a happy couple. However, there are some exceptions.
Typically, two issues arise:
The sound quality - even when it does come through without feedback - can be an issue if you don't take some time to fuss with the EQ on your amp. It’ll sound like a tin can or just really weak, without proper attention given to your dials.
The second exception is the feedback and noise you may deal with. This is often going to be a matter of trial and error with whatever feedback suppression measures you've taken.
Though even with acoustic amps this can be an issue.
If you're going to use an electric amp with an acoustic guitar, make sure you have a decent noise reduction system in place, like many of the ones we've seen on these pedals and preamps. Otherwise, don't do it.
4. How important is an effects loop?
I like an effects loop with an acoustic guitar rig for a few reasons:
- It’s often provided as part of an acoustic guitar preamp, which is a convenient combination.
- An effects loop can provide a more clear and defined signal, which can make a big difference when adding effects processors.
- An effects loop matches impedance levels between, say, a rackmount processor and your guitar, which prevents a muddying of your signal.
To answer your question:
There are plenty of good reasons to use an effects loop, and I might even say it's a preferable configuration.
However, if you don’t have one, it’s not the end of the world.
5. Are there better pickups I could buy for my acoustic guitar to handle effects more efficiently?
This is a resounding yes, with little hesitation.
Investing in a pickup and/or a soundhole cover can make a huge difference in the quality you get from acoustic guitar effects and processors.
Here are few I would recommend (if you don't already have a preamp and pickup system in your acoustic guitar):
- Seymour Duncan Woody Series Pickups
- Fishman Rare Earth Humbucking Soundhole Pickup
- LR Baggs M1 Soundhole Magnetic Pickup
- Planet Waves Screeching Halt Acoustic Soundhole Cover
Soundhole covers are extremely affordable, under $10 in most cases, while pickups range from $40 to $200.
If you’re serious about amplifying an acoustic guitar rig, I’d recommend investing in at least the soundhole cover.
6. What are the most useful/important acoustic guitar effects?
Start by prioritizing your compressor, volume, and EQ, if you need them.
These are often packaged in an acoustic guitar preamp.
From there you can get a little more stylistic. Layering effects like chorus, delay, and tremolo can work well. You can also do a lot with reverb, as it’s an acoustic-friendly sound.
The road is wide open after you get the preamp functionality taken care of.
7. What’s the most typical way to setup an acoustic guitar rig with pedals and effects?
Most of the pro acoustic players will go straight into a preamp and DI box, where the signal is then routed into the acoustic guitar’s channel on a mixing board.
If you use a preamp and it provides an effects loop, pedals can go there, or after the preamp. If you’re just using a DI box, pedals go between your guitar and the D.I. box, before the signal gets sent to your mixing board.
Concluding with a grain of salt
Keep in mind:
This is meant to get you started and give you some direction.
It’s not all-knowing, all-sensing, or all-feeling. But it is a good place to get your bearings. Best of luck on your quest for the perfect acoustic guitar rig.
If you have questions, feel free to drop them in the comments section below. I'll jump in and help out as best I can.