Tube Screamer Clones & Alternatives: A Bluesman’s Buying Guide
There are very few – if any – guitar pedals that have been copied as much as the Ibanez Tube Screamer. There are hundreds of Tube Screamer clones and alternatives in the guitar pedal market. And this is perhaps little surprise. The original Tube Screamer remains one of the most iconic guitar pedals of all time. It has been used by countless guitarists and has remained a popular choice amongst bluesmen. Stevie Ray Vaughan, Gary Moore and John Mayer are just 3 of the notable blues guitarists to use the Tube Screamer as a staple part of their rig.
Given that you can still buy reissue versions of the original Ibanez Tube Screamer pedals, the idea of looking at Tube Screamer clones and alternatives might seem unnecessary. Why would you look at alternatives to the pedal, when you can buy the real deal for the comparatively reasonable price of around $180/£150?
In short, there are a whole variety of reasons.
Many of these are tone related. A lot of pedal manufacturers believe that the Tube Screamer can be improved; either by adding features, or by subtly altering the tonal characteristics of the pedal. Others have sought to improve the Tube Screamer by making it cheaper, altering its enclosure and design, or building it with different components.
As such, today there a huge number of different Tube Screamer clones. And navigating these alternatives can be a challenge. So today I wanted to put together a list of some of the best Tube Screamer style pedals out there. This is the bluesman’s buying guide for Tube Screamer clones and alternatives:
TUBE SCREAMERS FOR TONE TWEAKING
The original Ibanez Tube Screamer is so popular because of its distinctive ‘mid-hump’ sound. Like all overdrive pedals, the Tube Screamer boosts the signal of your guitar. But unlike a lot of overdrives, it disproportionately boosts the mid-range frequencies of your signal. So it doesn’t greatly alter the bottom or top end of your sound; it just makes the mid-range really punch through.
Tube Screamers perform this function very effectively, and it is part of what makes them so popular. It is also part of what makes them so effective in certain rigs, where the mid-range frequencies are lacking.
Yet there are undoubtedly going to be times when you want that mid-hump push, and also the ability to tweak your tone a bit further. And this is where these pedals come into their own. They give you the distinctive Tube Screamer sound, as well as many more tone and EQ shaping options. In the case of the JHS Bonsai, the pedal has these options, as well as a rotary knob that allows you to switch through 9 classic, vintage, rare, or hard to find variations of the original Tube Screamer.
So if you like the classic Tube Screamer sound, but are looking for a more versatile pedal that you can use to further shape your tone, one of these options would make a great addition to your rig.
TUBE SCREAMER TONES ON A BUDGET
Given the popularity of the original Ibanez Tube Screamer, I think the price of the reissue TS808 and TS9 pedals are fairly reasonable. At $180/£150 for the TS808 and $100/£80 for the TS9, they sit within the middle or lower range of iconic and boutique pedals. Yet if you aren’t looking to use a Tube Screamer as a key part of your sound, then those prices are still likely to be too much.
If that is the case for you, then one of these cheaper Tube Screamer clones would be a great choice. They are modelled closely on the original, and feature the exact same controls, but cost a fraction of the price. As such, you risk very little by adding one to your set up.
So if you are only looking to use your Tube Screamer occasionally, or if you are looking to keep the cost of your rig down, one of these cheaper Tube Screamer clones would be a brilliant choice.
MINI TUBE SCREAMER CLONES
In the quest for tone, a lot of guitarists are constructing larger and larger pedalboards. Whilst this is great, there are some practical downsides to having a large pedalboard. And this is true whether you are playing at home, or regularly hauling your board from gig to gig.
As such, mini guitar pedals are becoming increasingly popular. In 2015, Ibanez released the Mini Tube Screamer – their smaller version of the TS808. It is a great sounding pedal that offers a lot of value for money. But if you want to look for a clone or alternative, one of the above options would also work very well. These pedals aim to recreate the original Tube Screamer sound, but within a compact enclosure. And a number of them – like the Mooer Green Mile and the Valeton Tube Engine Vintage Overdrive actually offer further tone shaping options.
As an added bonus, these mini pedals are often very budget friendly too. So if you want to keep the cost and size of your rig under control, one of these mini Tube Screamer clones could work very well.
MAXON TUBE SCREAMERS
Strictly speaking, including Maxon in a list of Tube Screamer clones and alternatives is a bit of cheat. Although it is not widely known, Maxon actually built the initial overdrive pedal that gave life to the Ibanez TS808. Japanese engineer Susumu Tamura created the original Maxon OD808 in 1979. But at this stage the company Maxon did not have the ability to export products abroad. So they focused on domestic sales in Japan and sold the pedals abroad under the Ibanez brand.
So from that time up until early 2002, Maxon manufactured and designed many of the Ibanez products. This included the TS808 and TS9 Tube Screamers. Since 2002, Maxon have started releasing a variety of pedals under their own name. As you might expect, these pedals are almost identical to the Ibanez Tube Screamer. There are some differences though.
The most notable of these is that Maxon have slightly altered parts of the circuitry. They have made their OD-9 true bypass (which is a mod often made on original Tube Screamers) and they have changed the 2 output resistors in the OD808 to reduce noise levels.
Beyond that, the main difference between Maxon pedals and their Ibanez counterparts is the price. Because the Maxon pedals are not associated with Stevie Ray Vaughan and other players, they are often a lot cheaper. So if you want a classic Tube Screamer at a lower price, a Maxon pedal is the way to go!
TUBE SCREAMER DUAL OVERDRIVES
One of the most effective ways to use a Tube Screamer is to stack it alongside other overdrive pedals. It can be used as a boost pedal, to thicken up certain frequencies in your tone, or to add more gain and drive to your sound. As such, a lot of pedal manufacturers have created dual overdrive pedals based around the original Tube Screamer circuit. Ibanez themselves have done this. They offer the TS808DX, which combines a TS808 and a clean boost in 1 pedal.
Other companies have taken this idea and expanded on it. So there is a whole range of Tube Screamer dual overdrives, where a TS808 style circuit is combined with a totally different style of pedal.
As a result, with these pedals you get the classic Tube Screamer tone, as well as the option of a totally different sound. Not only this, but these dual overdrives typically come with a lot of different switching and tone tweaking options. So if you want a Tube Screamer, but are also looking for additional pedals for your rig, one of these dual overdrives could be an amazing option.
There are lots of these dual overdrive pedals out there, and they are all configured in very different ways. So just make sure you find the combination that works best for you, and then start crafting some killer tones!
BOUTIQUE TUBE SCREAMER CLONES
The boutique guitar pedal market has grown rapidly over the last few years. And as a result, there is now a whole range of different boutique Tube Screamer clones and alternatives.
Some of these pedals – like the Mad Professor Little Green Wonder, have a very similar design and controls to the original Tube Screamer pedals. Others – like the Hudson Side Car – offer totally different features.
Despite their differences, what all of these boutique pedals have in common is their build quality. They are hand-wired, using very high quality components. So if you are a looking for the Tube Screamer sound, but you want a more bespoke option, one of these pedals would be a great choice.
Well there we have it, some of the best Ibanez Tube Screamer clones and alternatives. Add one of these pedals to your pedalboard, and you will be well on your way to getting a range of beautiful blues tones. You will be able to recreate those classic Tube Screamer tones, whilst adding your own twist to that sound.
Good luck with your search! And if you think there’s any Tube Screamer clones I’ve missed off this list, or if you have any questions – pop them in the comments, or send me an email on [email protected]
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