The world’s most famous overdrive pedal!
Named after the amp screaming with feedback the first time it was presented to Sammy Ash, the grandson of Sam Ash (Sam Ash Music Store) by Susumu Tamura of Maxon, the Tube Screamer is the world’s most famous and copied pedal.
Following the initial demonstration, Sammy asked Tamura: “Do you know how the Cry Baby wah-wah got its name?” For sounding like a crying baby. “We shall call this the Tube Screamer!”
In the late ‘70s, there was a rise in solid-state amps, and the Tube Screamer was supposed to emulate the sound of a valve amp cranked but at a lower volume than the real thing.
Of course, its real use has been to push Fender amps‘ midrange up, driving them into musical distortion. Best demonstrated by Stevie Ray Vaughan, who famously put everything on 10, then hit the Tube Screamer to go even louder, completely the opposite of its original intention.
Tamura worked for Maxon, and they released the OD-808 Overdrive, also as an identical design but different branding for Ibanez as the Tube Screamer TS-808, whom Maxon had a deal with, as their distribution didn’t have the same reach.
The idea behind the pedal was to compete with Boss OD-1 and MXR Distortion +. As Boss had patented asymmetrical clipping, the Tube Screamer used symmetrical clipping and an extra tone knob; other than that, it’s the same circuit as the OD-1.
Much has been said about the difference between the subsequent models of Tube Screamers, many claiming it’s the original 808 that’s the most musical, compared to TS-9, TS-10, and all the endless copies available. I’ve put together a playlist above with this demonstrated, blind-tested, and discussed for you to check for yourself. Use high-quality headphones, or they will all sound the same.
In my opinion, the original does sound a little bit more transparent and smoother, especially in extreme settings. But extreme settings are not what this pedal does best, so you’ll probably be great with the Mini 808; that’s the cheapest and most pedalboard-friendly option, and it does sound very good.
I own the Analog Man modded TS-9 with a built-in treble booster. This is a popular way to gain stage the Tube Screamer and save some space on my board. Another popular combination is to use a Klon with a Blues Breaker; Ceriatone builds the Horsebreaker which does just this. The plan was always to have both of these to cover all low to mid-breakup needs.
Speaking of other companies, let’s stay on topic here with the Tube Screamer, as you can see in the videos above, many have tried to copy and improve on the original circuit. Perhaps the most interesting one is JHS who builds the Bonsai, claiming to have all variations on the concept nailed in one pedal.
If you spend a couple of hours watching these videos and then chasing down which one you want using Reverb, eBay, and your local music shop, you can pretend that this was a good alternative to practicing today.
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