Classic gear: Ibanez Tube Screamer

Ibanez TS808 Tube Screamer overdrive pedal
(Image credit: Future)

Not only is the Ibanez Tube Screamer the most famous overdrive ever produced, it’s also probably where we get the name ‘overdrive’ from, as the original TS808 model labeled the gain control on the pedal ‘overdrive’. Its origins are interesting - although now Maxon is a company you can buy readily in a guitar shop, back then they were an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) for other brands, in this case Ibanez.

The Tube Screamer circuit was designed by Susumu Tamura, an engineer for Maxon, in 1979. It was conceived as a competitor to the Boss OD-1 and MXR Distortion+, and its op-amp based topology instantly set it apart from transistor and JFET-based designs, as well as fuzzboxes. 

To this day, the family tree of Tube Screamer pedals includes most op-amp based drives that use soft clipping in the op-amp’s feedback path - which is to say, almost all overdrive pedals.

When people say ‘Tube Screamer’ tone, they're generally talking about the Ibanez TS-808 AND TS-9

The original Ibanez units are rare and coveted, but there are also Maxon units available, which where marketed as the OD-808 and OD-9; these correspond to the two classic Tube Screamers that Maxon produced - the TS-808 and TS-9. 

Although Ibanez would continue to build variations of the unit and alter the circuit further for the next 20 years, when people say ‘Tube Screamer’ tone, they’re generally talking about the TS-808 or TS-9 models, and this is reflected by the number of high-profile players that have gravitated towards these units over the years. 

Since then, not only has the pedal been cloned to death, it’s been built on and adapted into a huge spread of different forms.

3 great alternatives to the Ibanez Tube Screamer

Classic tones

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Alex Lynham is a gear obsessive who's been collecting and building modern and vintage equipment since he got his first Saturday job. Besides reviewing countless pedals for Total Guitar, he's written guides on how to build your first pedal, how to build a tube amp from a kit, and briefly went viral when he released a glitch delay pedal, the Atom Smasher.