A tube screamer is one of the most important pedals in any guitarist’s arsenal. They help to enhance the tone and overdrive of a normal amp. The dynamics and responsiveness of the pedals are truly outstanding. They can take you from a bluesy sound to a hard-rockin’ sound in an instant!
“This page contains Affiliate Links. This means if you make a purchase through this site, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.”
Why you need a tube screamer
A tube screamer is my favourite type of effects pedal, it’s a staple on any pedal board that I create. It is also commonly used by many famous guitarists. A tube screamer is essentially designed to overcome the problem of achieving the over driven sound you get when a tube amp has the volume turned up, but you want to play at a lower volume so as to not upset your neighbours.
A tube screamer is very versatile, with it you can:
- Use it on my clean tone to give the sound more definition by having the gain low and turning the volume up.
- Get a great bluesy tone by turning up the gain to give an over driven tube amp sound.
- Use it on my distorted sound to boost it even further which is great for lead tones.
The Best Tube Screamer Pedals
1. Ibanez Tube Screamer Mini
The Ibanez Tube Screamer Mini is a great pedal, it takes the legendary circuitry including the JRC4558 op-amp, and crams it into a miniature pedal. Meaning it takes up less space on your pedal board or in your gig bag. Don’t let its small size deter you, it packs all the tone of the original TS808, but in a smaller package. It’s capable of delivering both bluesy over driven tones and punch lead tones with the gain turned up.
The only drawback with this pedal is that it can’t be powered from a battery, however, as most players will incorporate this into their pedal board it’s something that is unlikely to affect most people.
Buy if you’re after a traditional tube screamer in a more space-saving package with a lower price tag.
2. Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer
The Ibanez TS9 took the original tube screamer and tweaked it a little. The result was that the pedal had more gain, making it a favourite amongst the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughn and other blues/rock guitarists. The fact that this pedal has been around since 1982 proves what a versatile and useable pedal it is.
The pedal is built to withstand everything you can throw at it during a gig, its case is extremely sturdy and the foot switch is large meaning your foot will still find it even if the stage is dark.
Buy if you’re after a classic design and low-mid gain overdrive.
3. Behringer TO800 Vintage Tube Overdrive Pedal
The Behringer TO800 Vintage Tube Overdrive deserves a worthy mention for a number of reasons; Firstly the sound this produces gives you that iconic tube screamer tone. Secondly it is at the time of writing, the cheapest pedal in the list. This makes it an ideal buy if you just want to experiment with a tube screamer or you’re only going to use it occasionally.
Behringer have a good name in the industry of producing excellent performing equipment at a lower price point. This pedal is no different. It can take a battery if you don’t have a power supply, although it is slightly fiddly to open up. The only real negative to the TO800 is that the pedal casing is made of plastic which might mean it may not be as durable as other offerings.
Buy if you’re new to tube screamers and are looking for a low gain over drive.
4. Ibanez TS808 Tube Screamer Overdrive Pro
If you’re looking for a tube screamer then you really can’t go wrong with this vintage re-issue of the TS808 which was the original tube screamer. The design of this pedal is both iconic and timeless due to its green colour and square foot switch. It’s instantly recognisable and is probably the most widely used and owned guitar pedal among guitarists. The enclosure is made from die-cast zinc which adds to the reliability. The pedal can be powered from either a 9V supply or a battery, which offers the user flexibility in their rig.
The circuitry remains the same as the original, at the heart of it is the JRC4558 Op amp giving that much-loved mid-boost overdrive. There’s a high pass filter in the clipping stage which the distortion is only applied to frequencies above 720Hz, a low pass filter then clips the treble resulting in the mids being boosted. The clipped waveform also contains part of the original signal which adds clarity to the output tone.
Buy if you’re a fan of vintage gear and no amount of clones and mods can pry you away from the original.
5. Electro Harmonix East River Drive
Electro Harmonix has a reputation for providing well-made and good-sounding pedals in an enclosure with an eye-catching graphic on top. The East River Drive is no different. This is an over drive pedal that has taken inspiration from the TS808, it has the same op amp at its core the JRC4558.
It has a similar boosted mid over drive to the TS808, allowing you to get some great bluesy tones. To my ears, it has slightly more gain on tap than the TS808 and sits somewhere between it and the TS9. The pedal is well made and can be powered from a 9V battery or a DC input, giving you that flexibility. One of the key features of this pedal is that it is true bypass, which many people prefer as your signal isn’t buffered when the pedal is switched off.
Buy the East River Drive if you fancy a tube screamer that is slightly different from the norm, has an eye-catching design, and is true bypass.
How to use a Tube Screamer Pedal
Understanding how to properly use a tube screamer can make a world of difference to your guitar tone. The ideal place for your tube screamer in your signal chain is after your tuner and before any distortion or fuzz pedals (see Pedalboard Signal Chain: A Simple (But Complete) Guide). As for the settings, a classic starting point for a Tubescreamer pedal is with the tone at noon, the volume level somewhere between unity gain and a slight boost, and the drive just below the halfway point. This provides a clean boost that adds some drive and warmth to your tone. However, the ideal settings may vary depending on the individual player and their desired sound. It’s also important to note that dialing in the settings on your amp is equally critical. A Tube amp, for instance, should be overdriven, but not overly distorted. By tweaking the preamp and master volume controls, you can get a warm and harmonically rich sound that perfectly complements your tube screamer. Take some time to experiment with the settings on both your tube screamer pedal and amplifier to create your perfect guitar tone.
Final Thoughts On Tube Screamers for Guitar Players
If you want a pedal that will take your overdrive and tone to a whole new level, then you need a Tubescreamer. There are plenty of pedals on the market to choose from, to make your job easier I’ve listed what I think are the top choices. My recommendation is that you can’t go wrong with an Ibanez TubeScreamer, there’s a reason why they’ve been around so long and there are so many clones of them. If you’re on a tighter budget then the Behringer TO800 is a worthy contender.