Updated: Sep 13, 2022
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If you’re on the lookout for a new drive pedal, there’s a very good chance you’ve been looking at a #TubeScreamer or a #Klon or a #NobelsODR1 or one of the many copies that are out there. I'll list some of the best of these and some links to check out prices.
Just what makes these three circuits so popular and so widely copied? Let’s take a look in a bit more detail.
The Tube Screamer
The TS has been in production since the late 1970s and was first designed by S Tamura. It had a massive impact at the time and still continues to do so, being a staple on many players boards from blues players like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Johnson to players of heavier genres such as Kirk Hammett and George Lynch. It’s commonly used to fatten up single coils, especially with Stratocasters as it does this so beautifully. It’s also used to tighten up high gain sounds as it tends to roll off some low end as well as boost the mid frequencies.
It's the iconic mid-hump which really is the TS sound, affects the mid frequencies at around 720Hz. This is actually achieved more by rolling off bass and treble than actually boosting, which is why the pedal is also so useful for higher gain styles of music where too much bass can lead to unwanted boominess very easily.
The main criticism levelled at the TS by those who are not fans is that it can feel pretty compressed, so players who enjoy utilizing the dynamics of the instrument can find this pedal limiting (excuse the pun). Another thing to keep in mind is that those mids can just become too much quite quickly if your guitar is already mid heavy, as many humbucker loaded ones can be, which again, can put players off.
Here are some TS to check out:
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The Klon is similar in many ways to the Tube Screamer and is often used in a similar way to add beautiful mids to single coils, but without such a prominent mid hump, loss of dynamics or higher frequency sparkle.
This pedal was first produced in 1994 by Bill Finnegan after he was dissatisfied with the TS and wanted to produce a pedal that sounded and felt more ‘amp-like’, with a more open sound.
It’s iconic in a way that no other guitar pedal has ever really been, with original
Klons easily fetching over £4000. A strange mythical mojo built up around these pedals very quickly which boosted their desirability and, therefore, price through the roof. On the newer versions, the KTR Klon, Bill has even printed directly onto the enclosure: “Kindly remember: The ridiculous hype that offends so many is not of my making.”
The mid frequencies here are actually boosted more around 650Hz, so certainly not a world apart from the TS. Due to this obvious hump, some have an issue with the way the Klon is referred to as a ‘transparent’ overdrive. However, one of the distinctive differences between the Klon and the TS is that the Drive control actually blends in some of the clean signal in lower settings, which really does make a difference.
The Klon really excels when used in two main ways:
1 – as a ‘clean’ boost. Set the gain low, the volume higher, and use it to push the front end of your amp or another pedal.
2 – as a standard dirt pedal, providing most if not all of the drive sounds. Sounds best into a slightly pushed tube amp.
If you have a good tube amp, the Klon just sounds amazing used in the first way. Some people would argue though that the clipping diode isn’t even really in use like this, so you’re not even utilising the iconic sound that the Klon brings to the table. In which case, the pedal really should just be used as in scenario 2.
I’ve never been lucky enough to try an original Klon, but I do have the KTR Klon, and it sounds amazing either way.
The Nobels ODR-1
First thought of in 1992, the Nobels ODR-1 was also a design which kicked back against the the mid hump of the Tube Screamer, so it’s pretty ironic that the ODR-1 is often called ‘The Other Green Pedal’ or that it’s sometimes referred to as a copy of the Tube Screamer – It really isn’t.
Kai Tachibana developed the pedal under the company name Nordland Electronics, and he wanted a pedal that would compare to the way a Fender Bassman increased in gain when just using the guitar volume, but still maintained the character of the guitar. Obviously by kicking on a Tube Screamer or Klon, the added mid frequencies alter the tone and feel significantly.
Tachibana went about this in a similar way to a Tube Screamer in the input section of the pedal as it also rolls off lows and highs, which would also create a mid hump. However, these frequencies are then reconstructed in the output filter to maintain the original character or the guitar.
The other major difference worth mentioning is that the ‘Spectrum’ control, which appears on the ODR-1 as opposed to a standard ‘Tone’, does just a bit more than expected.
‘Spectrum’ utilises a double filter which affects the highs but also the lower mids simultaneously at around 300Hz.
This means that in the mid position, the pedal is pretty much flat in the mids, rolling off from around 100Hz and then 3KHz. At minimum and maximum position on the ‘Spectrum’ these stay more or less the same, however the mids are really interesting as in the former you end up with a dip at around the 300Hz, and at the latter, this is at around 750Hz.
This means that there’s a lot of sonic ground here that can be covered just by sweeping through that one control, which is pretty amazing really. And the addition of a bass-cut switch further solves the issue that some hum bucker players had with the pedal's lower frequencies sometimes seeming a bit overpowering.
Buy it here:
There also needs to be a mention of the Nordland ODR-C Custom, which is an update of the circuit. The main points here are the better components, true by-pass, a bit more volume, and being able to operate at 18v. Check out more info here: https://nordland-electronics.de/en/products/odr-c.html
Here are some of the variations available, based on the same circuits in different price ranges:
The JHS 3 Series Screamer, the EarthQuaker Devices Plumes, or the Joyo JF-01 for a cheaper option.
The J Rockett Archer, Wampler Tumnus, Electro Harmonix Soul Food, NUX Horseman
The Way Huge STO, the Wampler Belle, there’s also a Nobels Mini version as well as the ODR-C which could well be worth checking out.
Any of these iconic pedals will give you amazing tones, there simply isn’t a bad one among these three. So the question really isn’t which one’s the best, but which one will suit your needs.
If we put these pedals in order from most to least compressed, we’d get this:
Tube Screamer, Klon, Nobels ODR-1
If we put them in order from which coloured the tone most to least when not just used as a a ‘clean’ boost, the order would be the same:
Tube Screamer, Klon, Nobels ODR-1
Value for Money:
Nobels ODR, Tube Screamer, Klon
Coolest (just for fun):
Klon, Tube Screamer, Nobels ODR-1
Some people love the colour the Tube Screamer or Klon add though, so this is not a negative point. As mentioned earlier, it’s one of the reasons that these two pedals are so loved by so many Strat and Tele players – they add in those beautiful mids.
Which of these three circuits do you like the most and why? Please join in and add your thoughts in the comments.
Here's a video comparison of the sounds of all three of these pedals side by side.
Here are some more links you might like to check out: