Nothing beats the incredible sound and feel of a giant tube amplifier cranked up through a 4×12 cab, but when it comes to portability a preamp pedal can be a saving grace!

They’re great for downsizing your rig when traveling, saving you both money and inconvenience, and can even be a great option when you simply need a flavor of sound your current amp can’t quite offer.

Whatever your reason, here are 5 great-sounding pedal preamps you need to know about.

AMT Electronics M2-LA2

We can’t touch the topic of pedal preamps without mentioning one of the more “OG” companies: AMT Electronics. AMT has a surprising amount of modeled preamps, covering everything from a clean Fender Twin to a screaming ENGL head.

One of their best-sounding models is the M2-LA2, a Marshall JCM800 in a box. The JCM800 is legendary for being an incredibly versatile amp that can be heard on hit records from rock, funk, jazz, metal, country, and countless other genres.

It’s as close as you can get to the real thing in this size, no contest.

Each of their Legend Amps series is modeled off of a real amplifier and offers the same layout and control scheme from pedal to pedal.

Mooer Audio Micro Preamp 001 Gas Station

Don’t let their price fool you, Mooer has been releasing increasingly better pedals with every new product launch and the Micro Preamps are among some of their best work.

The Gas Station is something you don’t see very often: a Diezel Hagen emulation.

For such a giant sounding amplifier it’s impressive just how much of that sound they have managed to fit inside the smallest pedal enclosure we’ve ever seen.

While it’s not a perfect recreation, it captures everything that’s sonically unique to that specific amplifier, and in the context of a live band mix it is fantastically convincing.

The small footprint is really a treat for those needing to save space, and while it can be a bit annoying for those with bigger hands to try and adjust the settings, the use of smaller dials makes it very hard to accidentally hit one and change your settings, which is a big plus in our book.

Horizon Devices Apex Preamp

Horizon Devices is the brainchild of Misha Mansoor, whose first product – the Precision Drive – found great success with its ability to let users tailor the tightness and color of their overdrive sound to provide a ton of tonal options.

The follow up to this pedal is the Apex Preamp, which brings that same level of versatility (and more) to a high-gain preamp format.

Not only does it offer your standard treble/mid/bass EQ setup, but it offers extra versatility in the form of an adjustable cab simulator, preventing you from being stuck with just a single cab sound.

To round out the features you’ll also have access to a built-in noise gate and a footswitchable “tight” switch to clean up the low end and add extra cut to your tone.

The Apex is a great fit for anything ranging from medium to high gain guitar sounds and pairs well with other pedals, whether it’s in front of an amp, modeler, or direct to a PA system.

Two Notes Le Lead

You may know Two Notes as the company behind the Torpedo line of products, the highly successful hardware units specifically used for cabinet simulation and impulse responses.

But recently they delved into the preamp market, and they aren’t just dipping their toes in…

While this is by far the most expensive preamp on the list, it’s also the most fully-featured and professional.

While the standard features are present, it goes the extra mile by being a two-channel, tube-driven, MIDI-controlled monstrous piece of metal.

The two channels feature a “Fusion” mode – in short this means you can use them independently, blended together, or cascaded as if one was a boost into the other. It utilizes its own effects loop as well, giving the true amplifier experience when used with other pedals.

But of course, it doesn’t stop there, a single impulse response would simply be irresponsible. Le Lead comes with a 16 cab license for their IR software Wall of Sound.

While this is most certainly classified as overkill for 99% of players, if you need all the options possible and don’t want to lose even a hint of the tube amp experience, this is likely as close as you’re going to get.

Closing Thoughts

No preamp pedal can fully replace a true, handwired, finely crafted, iconic tube amplifier cranked up to 11, but not every situation calls for that. Your practice room doesn’t need it, your wedding band doesn’t need all 9 high-end amps from the records you’re covering, and frankly, your back doesn’t either!

A preamp pedal is a must-have for any guitarist, whether that be to save money, space, or to give you access to an incredible sound on-the-go. It may not be your first pick, but the technology has come so far that it is undoubtedly worth being mentioned in the same sentence as “great guitar tone.”