There are few items in the world of guitar as classic as an Ibanez Tube Screamer. This neon green pedal has come in various forms since its introduction in the late 1970s, but has always captured the hearts of countless players thanks to its midrangey, creamy saturation and distinctive tonal character.
While original TS-808s and TS9s are out of the reach of most players thanks to their rarity and cost, the modern TS9 reissue is Ibanez’s attempt to bottle that vintage screamer tone for a mass-market stompbox. Let’s break it down and determine whether or not it is still one of the best distortion pedals available.
With so many guitarists using Tube Screamers in their rigs, the features of this retro pedal speak for themselves. The TS9 retains the signature sonic characteristics of the original TS-808s and later TS9 models, especially the heavy, growling midrange boost.
Like all Tube Screamers, this is a ‘colored’ distortion – it will add its unique sonic signature to your rig no matter which amp you play through, unlike other ‘transparent’ models, which attempt to emulate your amp’s natural overdrive sound.
This unique signature has proved great for players in genres from blues, rock and prog to hard rock, metal and experimental. If you’re looking for the classic neon-green sound, the TS9 reissue is your way to get it.
One of the great things about the Tube Screamer is its simplicity. With just three knobs, controlling drive, level, and tone, any player can quickly get the hang of adjusting this thing. The drive dial adjusts your gain level – use it to find crunchy, bouncy rhythm textures or crank it for a bit of extra gain to get you through that big solo.
Many players also park the drive down low, but leave the pedal on for some extra ‘always-on’ texture and bite. The level control functions like an overall volume for your sound. Finally, the tone control shapes the style of your sound. This effectively functions like a highlighter for the Tube Screamer’s distinctive tone – leaving it below noon gives a more even, balanced EQ palette, while diming the knob emphasizes the TS9’s midrange attack and snarl.
Tube Screamers, and the myriad of pedals they have inspired, are known for their gritty, expressive gain and strong mid boost. Players looking to pick one up should be aware that it will add a great deal of color to your sound – this is about as far as you can get from some trendier transparent distortion and drive pedals!
The TS9 Reissue offers a throaty, solid roar that solidifies into a hard-edged distortion with the tone and drive knobs cranked. Both crunchy, snappy rhythm textures and bright, prominent solo sounds are here in spades.
At lower gain levels, this unit also boasts great edge-of-breakup tones, perfect for blues and softer rock. Many players may also use this as a sort of clean boost with the gain lowered to the bottom. It offers an extra touch of grit that spices up any basic clean signal. Boosting the level dial adds a fuzzy, feedback-like saturation to the mix (something hard rock and metal players will appreciate).
The sound is a bit rough around the edges – the prominent mid boost and bass cut can turn your signal harsh or piercing if you’re not careful – but this does a good job capturing the throaty, midrange-thick tone beloved by generations of guitarists in all genres.
It’s not a carbon copy, but the TS9 Reissue Tube Screamer offers a strong new reproduction of quintessential TS-808 and TS9 tone at a reasonable price. With the Tube Screamer’s incredible history and distinctive sound, guitarists in almost any style can benefit by adding this new model to their setup.