Tube screamers are branded as one of the most successful and most popular overdrive pedals in history. But, when it comes to purchasing one you have many options available and they all have their place on your pedal board.
Tube screamer comparison? When it comes to tube screamers the main options you have available within the Ibanez brand (although there are other less successful versions). From the Ibanez brand these include TS808, TS9, ST9, STL, TS10, TS5, TS7, TS808HW and TS9DX.
The Tube Screamer by Ibanez has been adopted by many famous artists such as Steve Vai using a TS9 DX tube screamer. However, the advent and development of this invention is still in the dark to those newly introduced to the world of electric guitar.
This is why in this article we will discuss this in more detail.
1. What Is a Tube Screamer Pedal?
Before diving in to the history and differences across the long generations of Ibanez Tube Screamer, one needs to understand what a Tube screamer pedal is and what it does.
Tube Screamers are basically pedals that alter the overdrive that is being applied on your amplifier. They are used to alter the overdrive sound of a musical instrument, most commonly applied to electric guitars for the genre of Blues or Rock.
Even though there are myriads of models, types and designs, most overdrive pedals derive from a few original circuits and designs. Switching to overdrive from your usual clean channel allows you to amplify the signal but not at the expense of altering the clarity of the tone. In Layman’s term, the tube screamer overdrive makes the amp work harder to the point it breaks up, but without losing quality in the tone.
When the amp starts to break up it simulates the effect that distortion creates. This is not to mistake overdrive with distortion. Overdrive feeds more power to the tube amp, resulting in a boost in volume.
2. Tube Screamer History
The Tube Screamer was a series of pedals first developed by Ibanez in the late 70s, replacing the Ibanez Overdrive and Overdrive – II.
The initial Tube Screamer, the TS – 808, was designed by Susumu Tamura. The creation of the Tube Screamer was an attempt to outclass BOSS OD – 1 and MXR Distortion. The TS808 was made popular by Stevie Ray Vaughan and later employed by other famous guitarists, namely: George Lynch, John Mayer and Eric Johnson.
It has since appeared onstage in a huge number of hit singles and popular records. This is what made the Tube Screamer so sought after, and one the most copied and most modified overdrive pedals.
From the success of the TS808, Ibanez has pushed through multiple versions of the Tube Screamer, one of the more well received was the TS9, which Kirk Hammett had in his arsenal.
This tradition has been prolonged for more than 40 years and has spawned over 10 modifications and versions of the original TS – 808.
3. Tube Screamer Design
The Ibanez Tube Screamer series share a simple and similar design throughout its development. The Tube Screamers boast the signature black and green color scheme under three knobs.
The three knobs are respectively drive knob, tone knob and level knob. The drive knob adjusts the gain, which is the input volume and determines the level of distortion in the tone produced. In simple terms, the drive knob decides how clean or dirty the sound becomes. The tone knob is in charge of treble and pitch. Cranking this knob will result in the sound changing to high or low frequency. The level knob changes the volume, which is to say the master volume, meaning how loud your sound will be.
The three knobs are presented on the Tube Screamer lineup, with the exception of TS9DX and TS9B, which have a few more knobs added. Apart from the three usual knobs, the TS9DX has a mode knob, which allows four different types of sounds. The four modes are respectively the TS9, which will switch the TS9DX back to the usual, unmodified TS9; the + mode, creating a gritty sound, HOT mode gives a crunchy tone with boosted mids, and lastly the TURBO mode: the thickest, most powerful sound the pedal can make. TS9B is a version the TS9 dedicated to basses, and as a result, added a bass knob and a mix knob for further experiment.
4. TS808 Tube Screamer Pedal:
TS808 tube screamer pedal has been hailed as the holy grail of overdrive pedals and is still in use today after nearly half a century. The TS808 was the attempt to capture the signature sound of the vintage tube amplifier. The sounds from the first Tube Screamer show a hint of overdrive with mild distortion backed by a vibrant and ample tone. In the 80s, the TS808 was loved for its creamy, smooth tone. But what set the TS808 apart from the overdrive pedals of its time was how it interacted with a tube amplifier. Its ability to add sustain and harmonic liveliness but not sacrificing the natural tone of the instrument was outstanding. These characteristics gave the first generation Tube Screamer its versatility. Regardless of the genre, this pedal will always do the magic creating a tone complementing your performance.
5. TS9 Tube Screamer Pedal:
Released in 1982, the TS9 Tube Screamer was the second of its generation. The expectation for a Tube Screamer soared so high thanks to the success of the first generation that this has put a the TS9 at a disadvantage. Many people were not pleased with the new comer, and it was not until nearly 10 years later that the TS9 became popular. The TS9 was created with an internal design almost identical to that of its predecessor, thus the sounds it produces are very similar, and to the untrained ears, there is almost no difference other than the increased distortion. Its sound is also brighter and not so smooth as the TS808.
Thus, those who treasure subtlety favor the holy grail TS808 to the second generation. The TS9 was given its grittiness to create a more modernized feeling, hoping to appeal to artists who cherish a tighter, rougher and more aggressive play style.
The quality of the original TS9 was not stable as the components for its production were scavenged and scraped parts, resulting in the final product being of varying quality and tone.
6. ST9 Tube Screamer Pedal:
ST9 or the Super Tubescreamer was released within Europe and Australia exclusively in 1984, making it a very rare and valuable pedal today. Claimed by its zealots to be the peak of the Tube Screamer series, the ST9 remains one of the most sought – after overdrive pedals today. It boasts the signature tone of the Tube Screamer with added sustain and drive.
The ST9 was fashioned with an additional mid boost knob for better control of the tone. Further experiment with the ST9 allows a very high gain metal sound in conjunction with unmatched clarity and solid, tight distortion.
7. STL Tube Screamer Pedal:
The STL Super Tube was released one year later than the ST9. This issue marked the end of the 9 series and the beginning of the Master or the L series. Similar to its cousin ST9, the STL had four control knobs, with the tone and boost knob were replaced by bite and bright knobs. In terms of sound, the STL delivers very similar overdrive and natural sounding found in the ST9 with a strong biting sensation added. The distortion from the STL is rich and sustained. Guitarists often use the STL to achieve a hi – gain lead tone, bringing the background noise to front soundstage. And despite all the sustained distortion, the gain and bite it preserves, the STL is still very sensitive and smooth.
Experts have commented that these two are very similar in sound, although the STL can be found much cheaper than ST9, whose high price is justified by its rarity and is the homage to the classic TS9.
8. TS10 Tube Screamer Pedal:
The TS10 belongs to the Power Series released by Ibanez in 1986, one year after the birth of the STL. This new series was not well – received. Although it was fashioned of quieter circuitry to finally eliminate the noise its predecessors had, it also affected the signature sound devised by those who had endorsed the TS9 and TS808 since the beginning. The housing was not of high quality, and neither were the components. The stomp box overall was very rigid in design, and did not invite any chance for modification and replacements.
The deterioration in quality derived from the shift in economic status. The TS10 was put into production at the time Japanese currency devalued drastically compared to the US dollar. The sudden change in currency value forced Japanese producers, Ibanez was no exception, to be cost – effective. Thus, they sacrifice the quality of the housing and its components for cheaper manufacturing.
The popularity of this pedal was thanks to famous guitar players such as John Mayer, Gary Moore and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Those who have familiarized with and grown a liking to the TS10 often use it play Blues to Rock and even Metal. It delivers noticeable sustain but lower gain profile for solos, and a warmer distortion.
9. TS5 Tube Screamer Pedal:
TS5 was of the Soundtank series released in 1991. TS5 boasts a round and streamlined design as opposed to the usual sharp and bulky green boxes of the past. Within the first year of production, the TS5 sported a metal casing, but later changed to plastic ones for cost reduction purpose. Its production cost was driven down further by using Taiwanese – made components instead of the traditional components made in Japan.
The sound from this pedal is thought by many to be identical to the TS9, from the gain to the distortion and the tone. However, the feel from stomping the TS5 differs with that from the TS9. Due to its plastic housing, the TS5 feels much more fragile to the others in its family, and thus, using it is a little nerve – wracking.
10. TS7 Tube Screamer Pedal:
The Tube Screamer TS7 was introduced in 1999 of the Tone – Lok series. Similar to the TS5, it was made in Taiwan. But fortunately, Ibanez had heeded the critique from the TS5 era, and thus, for the TS7, they switched back to the sturdy aluminum casing, further fortifying the stomp box. However, users have also revealed that the lid was detached after a time of use, and the pedal did not age well, eventually giving in after intensive use.
Nowadays the TS7 is one of the well – received pedals, and has been marked a 9.1 on Ultimate Guitar. TS7 preserves the classic subtle and smooth overdrive signature of the Tube Screamer lineup flavoured with a gritty tone, giving it classic rock sounds
11. TS808HW Tube Screamer Pedal:
The TS808HW was released as a premium of the legendary TS808. It was limited in production as a testament to its quality and privilege. This Tube Screamer was completely hand-wired and cased in a new housing design that seemed to take inspiration from both the old and the new.
Fare against the holy grail – TS808, the young TS808HW was surprisingly competitive. Its smooth overdrive even when turned up retains no brittleness. Many users state amongst the Tube Screamer, the TS808HW is outstanding, and can even fight on equal term with the holy grail.
12. TS9DX Tube Screamer Pedal:
While the TS808HW was released as a premium product in an attempt to resurrect the legendary TS808, TS9DX was a homage to the old and much – loved TS9. The design of the TS9DX was very similar to its inspirer with an addition of a “Mode knob”. Ibanez used this chance to move the TS9 one step further. The “mode knob” allows players to experience the sound of the old days from the TS9. However, if experimenting off the beaten track, the TS9DX can switch to a grittier sound, a crunchy tone or just an overall powerful sound. Such was the reason the TS9DX guided its way on the board one of the guitar God – John Petrucci.
The Tube Screamer history is long and scattered with ups and downs. Despite all of that, they still remain the best stomp boxes the world has to offer. From its versatility, which can handle every genre, to its smooth and creamy tone, everything about this product line is tuned to perfection.