The idea of the preamp pedal seems to be gaining some serious popularity lately in a way that is reminiscent of the trend of late 80’s/early 90’s rackmount preamps. In the same way that they wanted to separate the power amp from the preamp for a modular kind of freedom, preamp pedals represent a way to add variety to your sound without having to haul a multitude of full amplifiers around. You can carry several different preamp sounds on your pedalboard now, and have them each going into the same power amp and cabinet (or sim). You can have a plethora of analog tones without resorting to digital modelers, but still having some of the same flexibility.
Of course, for most typical preamp pedals, wiring them up so there’s only one running at a time can be tricky – avoiding the pedal tap-dance is key. Enter the Le Preamp pedals from Two Notes. They come in 4 flavors – Le Clean, Le Crunch, Le Lead and Le Bass, each with a tube-powered preamp. I’m sure you can figure out from the names what kind of sounds you’ll get from each – but it’s not just the sounds that are important. The design of these pedals is the real star. With I/O rivaling some digital interfaces on the market, and no-sweat MIDI integration, the Le Preamps (I know it’s redundant to say the Le, but that’s their name!) work together so gracefully that it’s a wonder no one did something like this before. With the way the MIDI is pre-set in the pedals, you can have a bunch of them chained together in series, and as long as they’re connected via MIDI, they know when you’ve turned one channel on, and all the others will automatically bypass seamlessly.
I reviewed the Le Lead pedal, which is the red, high gain one. It’s a Mesa-of-some-kind type of sound, with a smooth, saturated distortion, and a powerful sweepable mid control that will take you to tonal territory beyond the typical controls found on many preamp sections of amplifiers. There are 2 channels, a clean and a lead, and the Fusion feature which allows you to run the channels in either parallel (Cold Fusion) or series (Hot Fusion), which gives you a clean/distorted combination or a boosted lead sound, respectively. The built-in loop allows you to add pedals that will come after the preamp, but will be muted if the pedal is bypassed, meaning you can have a separate loop for each Le Preamp on your board. I think the loop could be improved by the inclusion of two switches: one that makes the loop pre or post, and one that allows you to have it on or off per channel (or assign it to another button altogether). But that’s me being picky – this pedal is already packed with functionality.
The I/O alone makes this pedal light years ahead of many of its peers. Between the typical 1/4″ out to an amp, 1/4″ thru jack, a headphone jack, MIDI in and out jacks, and a DI out with optional cab sim (turned on and off with a button next to the XLR out), you have every realistic possible base covered for basically any scenario. The cab sim DI out isn’t really an ideal sound, but in a pinch, it’s considerably better than nothing. I demonstrated it pretty thoroughly in the video, it works pretty dang well for clean guitars, but it’s a little lackluster for heavy sounds.
In combination with a Two Notes Torpedo IR loader/power amp sim, this thing kills. It makes you realize how important a power amp sound is to the overall sound of the guitar, and how crucial getting the right cab IR is as well. In the video I used the Atlantic Custom cab from Rosen Digital loaded into the Torpedo, although it comes with a host of cool cabs as well. Really, the two of those (or the Torpedo C.A.B., which is a pedalboard-sized Torpedo) could be basically your whole rig, going DI into the house PA.
I think the main thing left to be desired with the Le Preamps is just more flavors. I want a Le Mark for some Mesa Mark II lead sounds with a little 5-band EQ, a Le Engl, and a Le Revv, please. I know – I’m being a picky asshole. The Le Preamps are great just the way they are, and the flexibility and tones you can get are well worth the very low price of admission ($299).
On a related note, our friends at Unstoppable Recording Machine are giving one away here. You can enter for the next 10 days (until Oct 31st). Good luck!