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The Tube Screamer TS808 is the original overdrive that made a massive impact when it was released in the late 70s. Although it was called the Overdrive Pro. It just feels so right when paired with a tube amp, and, although it sounds great with lots of guitars, the Tube Screamer just loves single coils.
If you’re reading this, then there’s a very good chance you already know of the huge list of famous players that use of have used the TS 808. So let’s just say: Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Edge, John Mayer, Kirk Hammet, George Lynch, and lots more. Many of these also used other varieties such as the TS9 and TS10.
The iconic sound of the Tube Screamer is due to the mid hump, at around 750 Hz. As mentioned on the shoot-out review between the Tube Screamer, the Klon KTR and the Nobels ODR-1 this is actually achieved more by rolling off the lows and highs rather than boosting mid frequencies.
This mid hump is what really makes the pedal special, providing an almost perfect tone to cut through the mix, and fatten up those single coils. The fact it rolls off lows and highs also makes the Tube Screamer a favourite on many pedal boards aimed at producing high gain tones.
This is because it really tightens up the sound, removes unwanted boominess, and shrill highs.
Another aspect of the pedal’s iconic sound is due to the JRC4558D op-amp chip which has been used in many of the clones and ‘improved’ versions of the Tube Screamer released by just about every major pedal manufacturer.
If you want a more technical explanation for the tone of the Tube Screamer and how it was pretty unique at the time of release, Susumu Tamura, the brains behind the pedal, says that before it was released pedals placed the clipping stage after the amplifier stage of the circuit, whereas the TS808 had it in the negative feedback loop of the op-amp, giving a smoother overdrive and maintaining the guitar tone.
This accounts for the other typical tonal aspect of a Tube Screamer, especially the 808s, ie how creamy and smooth they sound.
There is no doubt that every guitarist should have a Tube Screamer ( they really are that good ), the questions is: which one?
There are so many different versions now by so many companies, and just about all of them claim to be the best.
So with this in mind, I took the liberty of getting my hands on 5 different TS808s all using the JRC4558D chip, and all pertaining to being the best.
The Ibanez Reissue TS808
The Maxon OD808
The Ryra 808
The Jam Pedals TubeDreamer
Boo Instruments TS808 - lesser known, but very, very good
So, with all of them having the same 3 controls – Volume, Gain, and Tone – even though the names of which may vary slightly; all having the same legendary chip, and all claiming to be pretty much the best out there, how do you choose which one’s for you?
The Ibanez Tube Screamer TS808
Okay, this had to be in the shoot-out. It’s the original re-issue (is that an oxymoron?) and surely the standard to which all of the others should be compared.
The Maxon OD808
This was also a no -brainer. Maxon originally produced the Tube Screamer TS808 circuit and sold it domestically while using Ibanez to export it abroad as Maxon had no way of doing this. So, the Maxon is actually, arguably, the original.
The Ryra 808
Rock Your Repaired Amp (Ryra) are a company that produce awesome pedals. Maybe better known for their Klon style pedal (the Klone), the 808 is hand-built, is true bypass, has top mounted jacks, and they claim it’s ‘the best’ version of an 808.
As such, it also has to be in this shoot-out.
The Jam Pedals TubeDreamer
This one is interesting as it uses 3 diodes for asymmetrical clipping instead of symmetrical, which Jam Pedals claim makes it more responsive. It also has more gain through the toggle switch. However, in this shoot-out that is not used as we’re thinking about raw tone and feel here rather than pedals which have more options. Oh, and of course they claim this is also ‘the best 808 style overdrive.’
Boo Instruments TS808
Certainly less well-known than the other companies, Boo Instruments are UK based and I had to include this pedal as it’s one that I’ve personally used for about 8 or 9 years. This one is also true bypass. It’s also by far the cheapest at around £70 new. It’s got a very smooth sound which I know well, and also is fantastic as a boost.
All of these were also chosen as they are basic in design. Apart from the TubeDreamer, they don’t have different toggle switches or other controls to mess around with, making them truer to the original concept.
The Shoot Out
For this, I used my Music Man Cutlass Strat style guitar and a Two Rock Studio Pro 35. Any reverb is from the DAW and there is no added compression or EQ at all.
Check Out the Video here. It covers a lot of ground so take your time and grab a cup of tea or a beer. Please use good speaker or headphones if you want to hear the nuances in tone.
The TS808 is just an amazing pedal. You can use it all the way along its gain stage, from pushing an amp or another drive pedal as a clean boost; to tightening up a rhythm part, no matter how heavy; to providing the perfect tone for a creamy, smooth solo.
Also, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that these are really compressed pedals that rob your playing of dynamics. It’s just not really true. Sure, if using them totally cranked they might, but this is true of any drive pedal due to the nature of signal clipping as compression is all a part of this. However, roll back that gain or even just the guitar volume and you might be surprised at how the Tube Screamer circuit responds.
Out of these pedals, you just can’t go wrong. Unsurprisingly, they all sound similar being based off the same circuit and using the same type of chip.
The standouts for me were probably the Ryra, as it just had a little more volume on tap, and something about the tone just resonates with me. I also really liked the TubeDreamer for its optional extra gain, although I didn’t use this in the comparison.
The truth is though, that any of these pedals will do the job of a Tube Screamer perfectly well. So you may well decide which to go with based not on tone, but on whether it has top mounted jacks, or if it’s true bypass, or if it has more possible sonic options through added features.
If unsure which to get, just go with the Ibanez. It’s a classic and will serve you well for decades!
Other's you may wish to look at are:
Information gained from the following links and my own experiences:)