In a market full of great distortion, fuzz and overdrive pedals, the Ibanez Tube Screamer has managed to stand out from the rest for almost 40 years, now! What's so special about it, then? Let's have a look at its history, users and its latest incarnation - the new Tube Screamer Mini, which could become the most popular version yet!
Distortion, Fuzz, Overdrive... what's it's all about? Well, the purpose of this article is not to dwell on it. They all basically do the same thing - they can boost and distort the sound of your guitar. Out of these three types of effects, Overdrive is perhaps the most popular, because it's the most natural-sounding and versatile. A good overdrive pedal can go from subtle boost to generating heavily distorted tones when pushing an already overdriven amp. That's why an fx pedal such as the Tube Screamer can be seen on the pedalboards of Blues players or Heavy Metal guitarists alike!
DISTORTION IN MUSIC
Guitarists pretty much started to experiment with distorted sounds as soon as electric guitars started to be used. Many blues players (such as Elmore James and Howlin' Wolf) would push their cheap, lo-fi valve amps to the limit, producing overdriven sounds.
Eventually, guitarists found out that faulty amps or damaged speakers would produce grittier sounds, which we now call "fuzz", as heard on songs such as The Kink's "You Really Got Me".
By the mid-60s, manufacturers started to build FX pedals that simulated those sounds, such as the Fuzz Face, but it actually took quite a while until someone decided to create an "overdrive" pedal - and most people seem to agree the Ibanez TS-808 was the first of them all, in the late seventies!
THE TUBE SCREAMER SECRET
Overdrive pedals offer a sound that can be described as more "natural" and "warm" than the simpler fuzz pedals. Which means they are much more usable too, opening much more tonal possibilities for the guitarists. Hence the fact that the Tube Screamer got almost instantly popular.
Back in 1979 when the TS-808 first came out, Solid State guitar amps were the most popular, and they lacked the warmth of tube distortion - the Tube Screamer was able to address this issue. A few years later, Ibanez developed the TS9 Tubescreamer to make it sound even better with SS amps.
An article about the Tube Screamer tone secret reveals that one of the reasons it sounds so good and natural is because it mixes the clean input signal with the output signal of the overdrive sound, which preserves the original dynamics of the signal which otherwise would get lost. This avoids muddiness and vastly improves clarity and responsiveness. This subtle feature constitutes the heart of Tube Screamer legendary sound and feel.
A Tube Screamer sounds good in practically any situation: if you play a solid state amp, it'll provide a warm distortion that the amp probably can't by itself. Or, the Tube Screamer can push a great valve amp into overdrive heaven. The pedal can be used as a boost for solos, or to create a better sounding distortion when combined with a fuzz pedal or distortion pedal.
The list of Tube Screamer users since the seventies is a who's who of the guitar world: from Stevie Ray Vaughan to Noel Gallagher, from Eric Johnson to Alex Turner from Arctic Monkeys, from Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth) to Metallica's Kirk Hammet.
Noel Gallagher's most recent pedalboard still features a TS9 Tubescreamer. Noel's been using one since the early days of Oasis back in 1994!
THE TUBE SCREAMER FAMILY
There's been a few versions of the Tube Screamer over the years, with some models now discontinued such as the TS10, TS7 and TS8. However, there are more Tube Screamers available today than ever before, with the latest addition of the Tube Screamer Mini. It just looks like guitarists can't get enough of that legendary Tube Screamer sound!
So, the question is: what's the best Tube Screamer? How do they differ from each other? How do you choose one? As ever when it comes to guitar gear, it mostly comes down to your own tastes... but here's what you need to know:
This is the most faithful recreation of the original Tube Screamer, in terms of look and sound. It uses the same JRC4558 chip that gave the first Tube Screamers their distinctive sound. More Info
The TS9 has a bit more bite than the 808, which is warmer and smoother to most ears. But the TS9 remains the most popular Tube Screamer ever. More info
Made for guitarists who think a simple overdrive isn't enough! It has extra setting for more low end and crunch, but also has a "TS9" mode, to sound just like the original TS9. More info
This pedal aims to be the best Tube Screamer ever, sturdy, heavy duty, hand-wired and featuring the same JRC4558D IC chip as the 808 model, plus true bypass. It looks different, but is basically the same as a TS808, only better built. It also has another version, the Dual Tube Screamer, with added boost. More info
The new Tube Screamer Mini caused a sensation when first unveiled at NAMM earlier this year. The reason is simple: it sounds just like the original TS808, but is more compact & pedalboard-friendly - besides being much cheaper! So cheap, in fact, that the Tube Screamer Mini is probably the best value overdrive pedal available today. As for the tone - simply outstanding! More info
This demo put the humble Tube Screamer Mini next to the revered (and very expensive) Klon Centaur... and the Ibanez pedal sounds just as good, if not better!
The Tube Screamer Mini is simply the best in terms of quality and value for money!
TUBE SCREAMER AMPS!
Besides having lots of different Tube Screamer pedals, Ibanez has now also launched the Tube Screamer amps, which are all-valve amps with a built in genuine Tube Screamer circuit!
Come to one of our PMT Stores to have go at the Tube Screamer pedals and decide which one you prefer!
By Ivan Silva