Perhaps no other effects pedal is as widespread, reissued, cloned, and copied as the Ibanez TS-series Tube Screamer. If you’ve owned more than a handful of pedals in your life, it’s a fair bet that one of them was a Tube Screamer, and if you’re wondering which pedal to get to start filling up your board, it’s this lean, mean, green machine.
The earliest TS808 and TS-9 pedals were game-changers that arrived at just the right time in guitar history. 1970s guitarists who were turning to newer, smaller, and cheaper solid-state amps now had the sound of tube-driven stacks in a tiny pedal. Although Ibanez continues to release new versions and reissues of the TS series, we also have access to dozens of clones and offshoots that retain the mid-boosts, op-amp circuitry, and symmetrical clipping of the originals.
Whether you want more drive for a small, clean amp, a tiny bit of bite to your jazz or country leads, or additional searing mayhem stacked onto your distortion/fuzz pedal, some kind of TS descendent will fit the bill. Check out all of these screamers below!
Earthquaker Dunes ($189)
It’s not billed as a direct tribute or clone to TS units, but Earthquaker Devices’ Dunes is a great mid-boosting overdrive, just like the best of all TS descendents. It is more transparent and capable of being more of a clean boost than the TS808 or TS-9. But where the Dunes really stands out is with its potential for different toggled combinations, which draw from Earthquaker’s earlier Palisades unit (which is actually a TS808 tribute). It has a Normal/Bright toggle and a “bandwidth” toggle that you can use for more low end—both add more tonal variety than TS pedals.
There’s also the three-way switch at the top that selects different diodes for radically altered gain modes. Want a crunchy MOSFET sound? A more asymmetrically clipped silicon sound? A more attack-sensitive op-amp sound? You’ve got all of that on-demand with the Dunes. This pedal is a great example of taking TS characteristics and then really kicking them up a notch.
Electro-Harmonix East River Drive ($90)
Although the name of Electro-Harmonix (EHX) will be forever associated with the Big Muff fuzzboxes more than anything else, the NYC-based company makes a great TS-9-style unit. With the same basic three knobs as the original and op-amp symmetrical clipping, the East River Drive will comfortably occupy the Tube Screamer slot in your pedalboard. Plus, you’ll never have to break the $100 mark to get your hands on one.
JHS Bonsai ($229)
The JHS Bonsai does for the Tube Screamer what the company’s earlier Muffuletta did with the Big Muff by creating an all-analog pedal capable of switching between a multitude of different pedal sounds of the genre. In the case of the Bonsai, you can switch from a TS808 to a TS9, and then further into less well-known versions like the TS10, MSL Metal Screamer, or higher gain TS7.
If you want your overdrive to transcend the Maxon/Ibanez sound, you can even switch the JHS’s dial to the BOSS OD1 mode for a less symmetrically clipped drive, or even into much-loved mods by Keeley or JHS itself. This is a truly multi-function overdrive-boost pedal and if you don’t mind spending a bit extra for it, you’ll be rewarded with an incredibly broad palette of sound.
JHS Moonshine v2 ($200)
Similar to the Bonsai, but without attempts at multi-functionality, JHS’s Moonshine has taken the familiar features of TS pedals and tweaked them into a not-at-all green chassis. Yes, it starts with the same Vol/Drive/Tone trifecta that we all know and love, but then it takes a few significant steps into new frontiers.
There’s a fourth “Clean” knob that, contrary to assumptions, is not a clean boost similar to what many other drive pedals have; TS units were never known for their clean transparency. Rather, this knob adjusts the mix of clean to drive, much like how modulation pedals have a wet/dry mix. There’s also a toggle switch between low and high gain modes, a feature perhaps borrowed from the TS-7’s “hot” mode switch. And finally, JHS has loaded the pedal with a Klon-style “charge pump,” which doubles the voltage. This thing is a hot rod of a drive pedal that stays true to the TS pedigree.
Keeley Red Dirt Overdrive ($200)
Although no longer produced by Keeley, there are still plenty of Red Dirt pedals floating around new and used, and you may want to grab one. No stranger to TS-style pedals and all their mods and clones, Robert Keeley intended this unit to be the end-all of asymmetrically clipped overdrive pedals, with all the best components packed into a bombproof, American-made chassis.
The Red Dirt features the same three knobs as the TS808 and TS-9, while adding the low and high gain mode of the TS-7. The result is an extremely picking-sensitive drive/boost unit that will give even the cheapest guitar-amp combinations a sound of organic authenticity.
Maxon OD808 and OD-9 ($150-$160)
Maxon engineer Susumu Tamura actually designed the first TS units and the company continued to produce them for Ibanez until the early 2000s, so it’s not surprising that they still turn out some great TS clones that many players consider superior to current Ibanez models. The OD808 and OD9 are shout-outs to the originals, featuring the same mid-focused single tone knob, gritty symmetrically clipped drive, and in the case of the OD-9, a nearly identical chassis.
The significant differences are that both pedals use true bypass nowadays rather than the original buffered bypasses, but they still retain original buffers when the pedals are switched on. The OD808 does not have the same body style as the original TS808, although many players nonetheless feel it to be the most faithful pedal to the original in sound. And if you’ve already got a good tube amp, these Maxon pedals excel as clean boosts to your amp’s existing overdrive.
If you want a quality, organic TS-style drive pedal without the need for JHS-style additions, MXR/Dunlop’s GT Overdrive may fit the bill. It’s very much in the more traditional “old school” of drive pedals that add a bit of grit that is linked to your personal style of picking attack without muddying up your sound with too much distortion or tonal changes. If you’ve got a smaller tube combo or any type of solid state amp that lacks on-board drive, this is the pedal for you.
Seymour Duncan 805 Overdrive ($179)
If you wish your Ibanez TS unit had the potential for more tonal control beyond a single mid-focused knob, check out Seymour Duncan’s 805. This pedal features a comprehensive 3-band EQ that transcends the mid-range bias of TS units. It also has significantly more drive range than the TS series. This makes the 805 a great stand-alone unit for both lightly-driven rhythm parts and more screaming leads, but it also serves as a great “crank it to 11” style boost when stacked against an overdriven tube head or additional distortion unit.
We could all use a little bit of Tube Screamer in our lives, but which one? The list above is by no means a comprehensive catalog of all Tube Screamer tributes, clones, and relations, but it does show the huge variety of options that the original Tube Screamers set the stage for.
- If you want something as close to classic ‘70s and ‘80s TS808 and TS-9 units as possible, you won’t go wrong with the Maxons, MXR, or EHX.
- For TS grit and boost with more tonal versatility, check out the Seymour Duncan 805.
- If you wished the TS units had a bit of a broader approach to gain, the Keeley and JHS Moonshine will satisfy. If you want way broader types of gain, go big with the Earthquaker or JHS Bonsai.