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Bartolini Bass Preamps, The Past and Present

Bartolini is an established name in the Bass pickup world. But for whatever reason, their preamps don’t seem to get as much love as they deserve, even though legendary bass players have used them for decades.

Bartolini preamps came about from the same engineering perspective that Bill Bartolini infused all of his creations with: It must be dependable and it must sound good. 

So as you would expect, every Bartolini preamp is dead quiet and sounds amazing. 

In this article, we’ll go over what makes Bartolini preamps amazing and help you find the one that’s right for you. 

A bit of Bartolini's history

Bill Bartolini, the mastermind behind Bartolini Pickups, didn't just make pickups, he solved problems. In 1973, he tackled the issues that plagued professional musicians: uneven tones, pesky hums, and the dreaded risk of shorts due to humidity. Over the years, his innovative designs caught the attention of big-name builders like Tobias, Roscoe, Warrior, Ibanez, and many more.

Throughout the '70s and '80s, Bartolini pushed the envelope with cutting-edge designs like mulitcoil pickups, a variety of bass preamp designs, and even a brief foray into distortion pedals with the "Tube-It." By the '90s, Bartolini was a staple in the bass world, providing top-notch pickups for everyone from small custom shops to major manufacturers.

Even after Bill and Pat Bartolini retired in 2012, passing the torch to long-time collaborator Clyde Clark, the company's commitment to quality hasn't wavered. Today, Bartolini still crafts all their pickups in their San Luis Obispo HQ, upholding the legacy of innovation and excellence that Bill Bartolini started nearly 50 years ago.


Photo of Brian Ristola, Pat and Bill Bartolini at the NAMM show in 2009

Co-owner of Fat Bass Tone, Brian, with Pat and Bill Bartolini at the NAMM show in 2009

Mr Miller’s Secret Sauce

It was the early 80s when a young Marcus Millerasked Roger Sadowsky to make his 70’s jazz bass sound the best it could possibly sound. Sadowsky’s solution was to upgrade the bridge to a Badass and to add a Bartolini Bass Preamp. The rest, as they say, is history. 

Marcus Miller later went on to record dozens of records with his modified J Bass and become the legend he is today. And a big part of his tone recipe was the Bartolini preamp. 

The preamp used was the TCT onboard bass preamp. This original design is not like your traditional bass preamps where they have a normal EQ. Instead, the Bartolini TCT is designed to respond more like the tone stack in an amp. 

This means that all three frequencies interact profoundly with each other. So if you were to increase the treble, you’re not only boosting the highs, but you’re also affecting the character of the mids.  

It’s a truly musical design that offers a huge range of possible tones, but it’s best to be approached as a tone-shaping preamp, rather than as a simple EQ.

There were several revisions of the TCT preamps over the years. The earliest ones, like the one on Mr Miller’s J Bass, was a boost-only 2-band version. Later revisions of the design were boost/cut and offered an additional mid-control

And just like Sadowksy, many boutique builders kept on using the TCT preamp due to its high headroom, low noise, consistent reliability, and amazing tone.

The Bartolini Preamp Lineup Today

As you might imagine, Bartolini kept on improving their designs and coming up with new ones that would help bass players with varying tonal goals get the right tools for the job. 

A constant remark from everyone who upgrades their bass with Bartolini preamps is that they always mention how natural and how quiet it sounds. This is due to all Bartolini preamps being built with discreet components and being internally shielded as well as the fact they are high headroom designs that allow your bass to react to your playing dynamics similarly as a passive instrument would. 

Now that we know what to expect from Bartolini in terms of build quality and reliability, we’ll go over their current lineup. 

2 Band Bartolini Preamps

  • TCT 2 Band Preamp: This is the closest you can get to the original Bartolini preamp design that was installed into Marcus Miller’s 70s bass. These are officially out of regular production, but we stock them in a variety of pre-wired configurations. Even though it's famous for what it can do for your slap tone, it can do a whole lot more. However, you do need to learn what settings work best on your bass, but once you do that, this preamp can take your tone in any direction you need it to go. 
  • NTBT 2 Band Preamp: The NTBT preamp line is an entirely different design from the TCT line. This preamp is designed to behave how most of us think a normal preamp would behave, while still giving you silent operation and reliability that Bartolini is known for. This will be a great preamp if you want your bass to keep its natural sound but add a bit more oomph to your low end or some extra sizzle to your high end. Another aspect of the NTBT line is its high headroom and how neutral it sounds when not boosting or cutting. 

3 Band Bartolini Preamps

  • TCT 3 Band Preamp: To make the TCT preamp a 3-band preamp, an additional module is added to provide the boost functionality. Like the 2 band version of the TCT, this preamp is full of character, and when you learn how it works in your bass, it can give you a myriad of tones. Looking for a big and thumpy tone? You got it. Classic scooped slap tone? Check. Want to boost the mids to cut through without getting a nasal honk? Done. This is not a regular production preamp, and due to how it’s set up, we only offer it pre-wired to make sure that it’s easy to install and that everything works from the get-go. 
  • NTMB 3 Band Preamp: The same design as the 2 band NTBT but with the additional ability to boost or cut the mids at 250Hz, 500Hz, or 800Hz if using a switch. Or, 250Hz and 800Hz if using a pushpull mid control. This preamp also has the ability to adjust the overall gain of the circuit for up to 12db of boost. That way even if you have some lower output pickups, you can boost them to match the output of your other instruments or to react with the front end of your preamp however you prefer. This is the perfect preamp for the bass player who wants to have absolute tonal flexibility and ease of use. We'd consider the NTMB to be the flagship Bartolini preamp for its ease of use, quiet operation and excellent tonal control.


Bartolini 5.2AP Pre-Wired harness


The Bartolini NTMB 5.2AP  Prewired Harness

In Conclusion

Bartolini bass preamps, often overshadowed by their equally amazing pickups, are a hidden gem for bassists seeking tonal nirvana. Rooted in Bill Bartolini's legacy of innovation and problem-solving, these preamps offer exceptional sound quality, versatility, and reliability.

Whether you're drawn to the unique character of the TCT series or the transparent boost of the NTBT/NTMB lines, Bartolini has a preamp to match your sonic vision.

These preamps have been trusted by legendary bassists for decades, quietly shaping the sound of countless iconic recordings. By choosing a Bartolini preamp, you're not just upgrading your bass; you're tapping into a legacy of sonic excellence that continues to empower musicians worldwide.

Give us a call or shoot us an email so that we can help you configure a Bartolini bass preamp that fits your bass.