It’s time for an Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer Review!
If you’ve done any research on the best overdrive pedals, you’ve more than likely stumbled across this little green stomp box.
In this hands-on review, I’ll explain first-hand what makes the Tube Screamer a classic overdrive, how to dial it in to shape low end/midrange, and how it compares to other overdrive pedals in its price range.
If you’re looking to start your first pedalboard or add some color to your tone, the TS9 is worth your consideration.
At a Glance…
What we like: Low cost. Emphasizes natural guitar frequencies for loud playing.
What we don’t like: Power supply not included.
- Sounds like vintage TS9 pedals
- Buffered bypass
- Rugged, metal enclosure
- 9V supply or battery powered
- Easy to modify
Our Verdict: The Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer is cost effective, built like a tank, easy to modify, and sounds great when set up properly. Many would agree, myself included, that every guitarist should own a Tube Screamer at some point, no matter your experience level.
Who is the Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer Best Suited To?
The Ibanez Tube Screamer is a low to mid-gain overdrive pedal designed specifically to push tube amps, so I would recommend that you not use this if you have a solid state amp.
It is most associated with blues players for its colorful tone, but it is also great for use with high-gain amps to tighten up low end. If you’re looking to turn a clean amp into a heavily saturated metal monster, this isn’t the pedal for you.
The Tube Screamer drives and accentuates what you’re already working with.
Features & Benefits
Build of the Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer
The TS9 is not the first, or only, tube screamer pedal that you can buy. The first Tube Screamer pedals were branded as the “808”. They featured a different chip and smaller bypass button.
The TS9 was introduced in 1982 after sourcing parts for the original 808 became difficult. This new pedal had a bigger foot switch and had some minor changes in tone (more on that shortly).
These pedals were only produced until 1984 and then discontinued.
However, due to the increase in demand in the 1990s as a result of Stevie Ray Vaughn using Tube Screamers, the TS9 has been reissued and remains in production to date. It is a faithful recreation of the original, so don’t go wasting your money on vintage pedals if you think they’ll sound better.
The enclosure is made of metal, the knobs are high quality, and it comes standard with buffered bypass.
Controls of the Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer
The Tube Screamer is a simple pedal with three parameters: Drive, Tone, and Level.
Drive: You can think of this as Distortion. All the way to the left has minimal effect, while moving the right imitates a cranked tube amp.
Tone: Controls high-end frequencies.
Volume: Unity Gain at noon.
One of the most commonly used settings with this pedal is to set the Drive at 10:00 (or lower), Volume at 2:00, and Tone to taste.
Using this setting in front of a tube amp on the verge of breakup will push the amp into a wide open state of overdrive that reacts like a tube amp should.
Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer Sound
In some ways the name “Tube Screamer” is misleading. While the pedal can certainly sound like a screaming tube amp under the right conditions, the TS9 is not as abrasive as the name suggests.
The TS9 utilizes symmetrical, soft clipping, which creates an even and smooth distorted sound. It has a substantial midrange hump (around 500kHz), attenuates low end, as well as tames some high-end.
It is these colorful tonal characteristics that leaves guitarists either loving the tube screamer, or outright hating it. I personally love it. One thing is for sure, the mid-boosted voice of this pedal helps the guitar stand out in a mix, making it a truly useful tool.
Now would be a good time to address the differences between the 808 and TS9 Tubes Screamer models tonally. In short, there are subtle (if any) differences between the two. Any differences you hear come from part tolerances for each individual pedal, as opposed to some mythical chip or other component.
Josh Scott (JHS Pedals) and Brian Wampler (Wampler Pedals) have illustrated this well in multiple videos including the one below.
- Effect Type: Overdrive
- Signal: Analog
- Power Requirements: 9V DC
- Dimensions: 5.3 x 3 x 3.4”
- Features: Buffered Bypass, Larger Footswitch, Battery Powered Optional
Limitations of the Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer
The TS9 is a low to mid-gain overdrive, not a high-gain distortion unit. It is actually quite a versatile pedal and can allow you to use your guitar’s volume/tone controls to great effect. However, it will not sound good when placed in front of a clean, low volume amp.
The resulting sound is thin, like a pedal is trying to emulate a tube amp and failing.
The limitations and simplicity of the TS9 are what make it one of the most modified/cloned pedals ever. Common mods include increasing the low-end, extending the range of gain, adding a click bypass switch, and shaping the midrange EQ.
I personally own a TS9 with the Keeley Mod + and added footswitch. To learn more about this mod, check out this video.
Popular Questions About the Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer
The Tube Screamer is not a high-gain distortion pedal and will not be powerful enough to create heavily saturated distortion needed for most metal.
However, the Tube Screamer is very popular with metal players that use heavily distorted and loud amplifiers. The TS9 reduces low end, saving heavy metal guitars from sounding muddy. Metallica used this pedal early on in their career.
Transparent overdrives are pedals that don’t change your EQ, but add grit and volume.
The TS9 is not transparent, because it has a substantial EQ curve, especially in the midrange.
The current re-issues use JRC4558D, which are the same chips used in the original 808.
To learn more about the chips used in Tube Screamers and how they impact the sound, watch this video on the history of the Tube Screamer.
The Boss DS-1 is comparable to the TS9 in terms of price, but sounds much different. The DS1 is aggressive, saturated, and bright. The TS9 is smooth, compressed, and mid-focused.
Sonically, the TS9 reissue and the Tube Screamer Mini sound practically identical. The TS9 has buffered bypass and can be powered by batteries, whereas the Mini has true bypass, no battery power, and has a smaller footprint.
A Classic Overdrive Worth Having Today
The Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer is a classic, soft-clipping overdrive that has inspired countless pedals. It is modestly priced and built like a tank, so it can stay with you for decades if you take care of it.
I think it sounds awesome in front of a loud tube amp and lets your guitar push the amp, while also helping your guitar stand out in a mix.
Even though there are literally thousands of other pedals out there, I often find myself coming back to my trusty tube screamer. It just gets the job done and is a great pedal for the value.
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Davis Wilton Bader is a professional guitarist/writer based out of St. Louis, MO. He plays in the bands Lumet and The Outskirts.