A few years ago I finally broke down and decided to pickup a Tube Screamer. I picked up the roughest looking 808 I could find off of ebay at the time and patiently waited. When it arrived, I immediately plugged it in and was fairly impressed. Like some musicians
I had been avoiding giving into buying into whatever hype was around Tube Screamers. Even though I think at the time I still had my JHS Morning Glory that, of course, I bought be cause of hype…. I cant answer for what 21 year old me did… I still question the gear buying habits of 18 year old me… but I do miss some of those first pedals.. Anyway, this is about that ugly green pedal that sounds so so good.
Since then I’ve had in my possession a 90’s TS9, more recent reissue TS9, a 1984 TS9, 1987 TS10, TS Mini, and most recently picked up a 90’s TS5. Im not sure exactly how well I’m going to be able to describe the differences between all of these with out a video but I’ll do my best without too much technical lingo. Hopefully a video will come soon though!
My first impressions of the 808 were probably like everyone elses. It was smooth, kind crunchy. Kind of the natural “creamy” peanut butter of the world that still has some chunks in it. I liked it for what it was but it always seemed to leave me wanting more. I think even after I got it I still used my other overdrives more thank the 808. I will say it’s good for if you are wanting that bluesy, creamy overdrive that call back to the styles of SRV and other blues artists.
Im going to lump the TS9s I’ve owned into one group because to be honest, despite the different chips, they all basically sounded the same. Just some more than others. When I got a TS9 and ran it side by side with the 808, I knew I had found what I was looking for. The TS9 is the crunchy peanut butter. Offering more texture and gain on tap. The 1984 TS9 I have one of the more sought after JRC4558D chips in it. So you get the original sound of the TS808 with the extra crunch that the TS9 offers. The 90’s reissue had this same chip or at least one that was VERY close. I can’t quite remember. I just know I regret letting it go… The more recent reissue I have has one of the “randomly selected” chips that Ibanez started using in recent years. Im assuming to cut costs. Im not sure if mine has the JRC 2043DD which is know to sound bad or not but I will tell you there was a night and day difference to me when I had the ’84 and 2000’s next to each other. It was subtle but the ’84 sounded more open. So needless to say the ’84 has been on my board since I got it and hasn’t come off. If you ever have a doubt of what the TS9 is capible of, the Edge of U2 uses the TS9 a lot.
The TS5 from the Soundtank Series of the 90’s was a pleasant find for me for a few reasons. I walked into GC one day to pickup some cables and such and almost missed it sitting in their used cabinet. So it was cool finding one out in the wild instead of the internet. I’ve never played one. Never listened to one. But since I’m slowly collecting Tube Screamers, I had to have it. When I plugged it in at the house, I honestly expected it to sound just horrid even though I heard rumors that it was basically a TS9 on the inside. It actually sounded good. Not okay good but a very decent good that it now has a place on my board next to the ’84 TS9. I will say the one negative was the foot switch. Which is a known issue with the 5 series at this point in their lives. I’ll stand there tapping the foot switch 4 to 6 times justvto get the pedal to turn on or off. So if you pick one up and plan to use it live, be prepared to get a bypass looper unless you have time to stand there tapping it multiple times to turn it on and off. You can find TS5s cheap so I’d say it’d be a good introduction into Tube Screamers. Plus it’s quirky and screams 90’s.. Pun slightly intended….
The TS10, which is the same one John Mayer is known to use. This would be the Jif of the Tube Screamer family. It sounds nice but is super smooth. Too smooth for my style of playing sadly. Despite what others may say about the 10 series, it’s pretty well built. When it was on my board for a couple of weeks, it was mainly used as a boost. So right now it’s one of my collectors pieces sitting on my pedal shelf.
Lastly, the TS Mini needs a mention. It’s been described as a mix of an 808 and TS9 and I can agree with that. Maybe just not in the good way… More closer to the more recent TS9s so I’m sure it can be hit and miss on how good they sound. Mine just doesn’t sound that good to me. I mainly picked mine up to try out and fill a spot on my board when I had to sell one of my other overdrives. Unless you’re just really looking for or into mini pedals, I’d honestly skip over this one. It feel like the obnoxous little brother that does what it can to be heard. So like the PB&J thats already mixed…. Just no…
So in conclusion, if you’ve never tried out a Tube Screamer, do so. I’d bet I’m not the only one that went 7 years of playing gutar and never tried one. If you play blues, I’d say go for the 808 or TS10. But if you play that style you’ve probably already got one. For any other style, pick up a TS9 or TS5. And if you just really dont want to get an Ibanez, I can point you in the direction of some good clones.