Onboard preamps are one of those highly subjective areas of personal preference, and tastes among bassists are all over the map.
Some look for onboard circuits with pleasing color, character, and potent EQ, whereas others want an onboard preamp to be essentially an invisible component in the chain, a “passive plus” sound, with transparent EQ that allows for tone shaping while ultimately retaining the character of your instrument. Indeed, these days, there is an onboard circuit with the features, layout, and tone to make just about anyone happy.
The IPA (Internal Pre Amp) is the newest onboard pre from the Trickfish family, who, in the last few years, took over ownership and manufacturing of the famous FlexCore© onboard preamp brand from Mike Pope, who many know and love from his years designing the proprietary preamps found in Fodera Bass Guitars (not to mention for his incredible electric and upright playing). The IPA shares many features and sonic attributes with the FlexCore and is designed to offer musical and transparent preamplification and EQ, with easy-to-install solderless connection and modular components. It can be configured in various ways, as a 2-band or 3-band preamp, at 9v or 18v, and with two different options for EQ points at each frequency band.
Installation was a snap, as the active section of the preamp was pre-wired with solderless plug connections.
A little soldering was involved for the passive portion of the scheme (volume, blend, and tone pots). Still, the high-quality modular components came together quickly for the active section. I opted for a 3-band, 4-knob layout with stacked volume/tone, blend, midrange, and stacked bass/treble. I added an optional 2-way mini switch for active/passive and another to select the midrange frequency, toggling between 333hz and 633hz for +/-12 dB of midrange gain. The IPA has mini “jumpers” on the circuit board that let you choose between 46Hz and 90Hz for the shelving low-frequency EQ and 6kHz and 10kHz for the shelving high-frequency EQ. A small blue trim pot controls the input gain into the preamp to help low-output pickups hit the preamp a little harder.
I was super impressed with the IPA’s tone and EQ.
Even with lots of EQ added, the sound stayed musical and balanced and dished up incredibly punchy and clean tones in various settings. The 2 mid frequencies are voiced exceptionally well as a “low mid” and “high mid” setting, and I found boosting the 330hz setting really gave the bass power to cut through the mix at just the right spot. The bass I used for testing has Zen Blades from Nordstrand, which are slightly lower output and really seem to love more aggressive EQ settings, and the IPA truly gave these pickups the juice they needed to open up and sound full and authoritative. From fat, meaty, old-school neck pickup sounds, to burpy, punchy bridge pickup tones and straight-up outrageously good slap tones, the IPA helped dial in everything I could have wanted.
It should be noted that I’ve heard the IPA in two different basses, both 5-string ash/maple bolt-on instruments, but with different pickup configurations. The other one was the NYBW Reference Series JayRay that I reviewed here recently. What struck me about the IPA was how differently these basses sounded and how differently the preamp behaved in each, a testament to the unit’s transparency. Some preamps (in my opinion) put their sonic footprint on any bass they go into and always sound like a variation on a theme, where they color the sound too much and wind up sounding more like the preamp than the bass. Conversely, some preamps touted as “transparent” can sound a bit lackluster for my tastes, leaving a little to be desired by not delivering a musical, dynamic, or exciting sound. The IPA, while having remarkably powerful EQ sections, allowed each instrument to sound very much like itself and didn’t get in the way of each bass’s essential voicing. Clearly, the IPA shares some DNA with the ever-popular Pope/Flexcore preamp, which I have remarked almost identically about in the past. That pre also has a knack for offering lots of control and powerful EQ, sounding musical and transparent. In my opinion, the IPA threads the “natural vs. powerful” needle beautifully. The IPA really manages to sound natural while adding great definition and power to your sound.
Admittedly, I’m a little too picky for my own good at times, and I find many popular offerings in the electronics realm to leave me wanting either more or less from onboard pre’s. Trickfish seems to have really hit the nail on the head by creating a preamp that is flexible to configure, easy to install, and sounds just plain fantastic. Add to that Trickfish’s well-known exemplary customer support and service, and you’ve got a real winner.
To learn more or configure your own IPA, visit Trickfish online at trickfishamps.com/shop/internal-pre-amp-ipa/