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The green Ibanez Tube Screamer™ distortion pedal has been around for quite a while and there are many variations of it which have varying sonic footprints depending on which opamp is used inside and how the circuit is wired.
Maxon produced the original TS808 pedal for Ibanez from around 1974 until 2002 and it quickly became known for its reliability and tonal precision. When used on the input of a basic tube guitar amplifier the Tube Screamer is capable of producing warm, fluid-sounding overdrive sounds that have ignited the lead guitar solos of many iconic artists. Stevie Ray Vaughn was one of the most noteable artists to rely on the Tube Screamer for lead tones. A big-name user list of everyone who has relied on this iconic pedal would include Joe Bonamassa, Kirk Hammett, John Mayer, Buddy Guy, Gary Moore, George Lynch, Eric Johnson, Brad Paisley, the Edge and too many more to list here.
During the 45+ years in which the Tube Screamer™ has been circulating there have been many versions and modifications of the basic distortion producing circuitry contained in the pedal. There are many stories about who made the pedals and what components were used inside to create the distortion tone.
TUBE SCREAMER TODAY
What do you get if you order a basic $99, production model, Tube Screamer™? To answer this question I went to Amazon and ordered the lowest priced, full size pedal from the iconic brand. The pedal I received came from Alto Music, an Amazon seller based in New York City. The modern Ibanez Tube Screamer is marketed as the TS9.
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The Tube Screamer™ has three knobs, one footswitch and a single LED to indicate when the pedal is active. One knob is labeled “DRIVE”, one knob is labeled “TONE” and the third knob is labeled “LEVEL”. On the right side of the pedal is the input jack and the output jack is on the left side. The pedal is painted the same iconic green color as the pedals that have come before. A standard 9-volt DC power inlet jack is provided for powering from an external supply.
Around on the back side of the pedal is the battery compartment door which provides access to a single 9-volt battery. It should also be noted that the pedal is marked “MADE IN JAPAN”. While many Asian manufacturers have fled to Taiwan and China for lower cost manufacturing Ibanez still produces this classic guitar stompbox pedal in Japan.
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The paint finish on the Tube Screamer™ is a flawless matte green color. The knobs in the control area are easy to turn but not so easy that they will change position on their own. Overall this pedal has a nice solid and weighty feel to it. The enclosure is cast metal while the back is formed from steel. Instead of the typical pushbutton switch the TS9 utilizes a flat chrome treadle to engage the effect, this pedal feels good when used with bare feet.
HOW DOES IT SOUND?
The 20-watt Marshall Origin combo amp is one of my favorites for testing distortion pedals. This is not a particularly high gain amp and it requires some kind of distortion pedal to really sing with its rocking voice. The open-back enclosure is loaded with a 10” Celestion V-Type speaker which has a warm and full sound with classic Celestion overtones. The Tube Screamer™ is a natural for use with this smooth sounding compact combo amp. In use the modern Tube Screamer does not disappoint, it is capable of changing this compact Marshall combo into a raging tube screaming delight.
The Drive knob is where you decide how much crunch you want the pedal to produce. The Tone knob makes the sound brighter as you rotate the knob clockwise and darker when turned the other way. The Level knob adjusts the output volume of the TS9 to be what you need, it can go from unity (same as when pedal is off) to slightly boosted (so your leads step out a bit) to a full-on push capable of overdriving the tube preamp stage of the amp you’re using.
The TS9 is responsive to the volume control on your guitar, within limits if you back down the volume on your guitar the quantity of distortion is reduced in a progressive manner. This makes the pedal more versatile and useable in a variety of music. The crunch produced by the Tube Screamer™ sounds very similar to natural tube amp distortion when the pedal is combined with a tube amplifier.
Some players use two Tube Screamer™ pedals in series to provide access to even more distortion when needed. When I saw Ana Popovic live at the King Center her pedal board had a pair of TS9 pedals driving her beat up old Fender Super Reverb amplifier. The tone from her old Stratocaster was pure blues magic thanks to these little green distortion pedals.
I have several “Tube Screamer-like” pedals in my stash of distortion devices. These come in a variety of prices from under $30 (Amazon TS clone) to over $150 (Maxon version).
A great feature of the real Ibanez TS9 is the resale value, if you ever want to sell it you’re assured of getting the highest resale value from the real article. I’ve compared this “Classic” Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer to boutique clones and YES there are subtle differences in the sound qualities. With that said I could easily get by with only this standard classic Tube Screamer™ to provide my “Drive” sound. I have compared it to premium hand-wired versions with exotic components inside and found the basic model to be completely capable of providing excellent distortion effects.
I’ve used this pedal with a variety of amplifiers by Marshall, EVH, Fender and Boogie, it has never disappointed or left me feeling like I needed something more expensive. While I certainly realize the place and even the need for different flavors of distortion the output from the classic Ibanez TS9 never fails to put a smile on my face.
Good music to you!
©2022 by Mark King, it’s not ok to copy or quote without written permission. Thanks for reading High on Technology.
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