Tube Screamers produce a warm overdrive sound with sustain that has become ubiquitous, especially in the blues and rock genres. The pedals are best used with a valve amp, where they overdrive the signal but keep the tonal quality characteristic of the amp and guitar. Specifically, this tonal integrity rather than simply adding high gain, coupled with the small footprint of the pedal for portability, contributed to the rapid rise in popularity of these pedals. Tube Screamers have come in a variety of models over the years and gained iconic status by pushing the limits of the tube amp to produce a one of a kind sound.
Check out a demo of different variations of the Tube Screamer below.
Tube Screamer History
The Tube Screamer was designed by S. Tamura in the late 1970s. Nisshin Onpa, the company which produces Maxon tube screamer pedals, manufactured the pedals for Ibanez until 2002. In Tamura's words the goal was to "preserve the original dynamics of the input signal which otherwise would get lost at the threshold of clipping."
The first tube screamer was released in 1979. The original Ibanez TS808 and Mxon OD808 Overdrive was produced in Japan until 1981.the Ibanez TS-808 made its presence known in the guitar world during the late 1970s. The TS808 has three controls; Overdrive, Tone, and Level. Its iconic green shell as well as its overall portability made it a very popular pedal for musicians who frequently traveled. Ibanez reissued the TS808 in 2002, opting to make the pedal in-house.
The TS9 came on the scene as the second generation of Tube Screamer in 1982. It has the same controls as the TS808, but introduced a larger and more solid footswitch in the 9 series body. The TS9's sound has been described as a little brighter and sharper than the original 808, and it is the most popular of all the tube screamer pedals. In fact, Guitar World rated the TS9 version to be the top stomp box of all time. Between the early and mid 1980s, TS9 tube screamers made their way to the forefront of the rock scene. Equipped with new packaging, yet only slightly different circuitry, the TS-9 produced what some describe as a "sharper" sound with a hint of roughness to it.
The TS9DX is designed for folks who wanted more distortion around the mid to low end. This crunchier pedal is great for metal, harder rock, and anyone looking for a TS9 sound with extra punch. The pedal has the typical Tube Screamer controls plus additional knobs with four settings; TS9, +, Hot, and Turbo. Check out what these settings sound like in the video below.
In 1986, Ibanez released the TS10, which got lackluster reviews from critics who claimed it lacked the same tone that made the 808 and TS9 so popular. Cheaper parts in an effort to cut cost also made the pedals vary greatly in quality and difficult to fix if a part required a replacement. Compared to its predecessor, the TS10 contained about three times the circuitry changes of the TS9.
Notable Tube Screamer Modifications
Tube Screamers modifications are also widely available due to the popularity of the pedals. The most common mods are from Analog Man and Robert Keely, who both offer aftermarket kits. Check out a demo and review of the modded Screamers.
Other Notable Tube Screamers
Approximate price: $49.95 on Reverb
Tube Screamers are now one of the most popular effect pedals in the world and are included on the pedalboards of the biggest names in music. Tube Screamers truly have set the standard for overdrives, and continue to evolve.