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Maxon Apex 808 Overdrive review

Is this Susumu Tamura-designed drive pedal the finest Tube Screamer on the market?

Maxon Apex 808
(Image: © Maxon)

Our Verdict

Pricey but worth every cent, the Apex 808 is the ultimate TS-style overdrive pedal, with exceptional tube-like response and the most musical and warm drive on the market.

For

  • Arguably the best a Tube Screamer can be.
  • Clarity and grit in equal measure.
  • Simple control layout.
  • Top-quality build.

Against

  • Price.

If ever there was an app similar to Tinder for overdrive pedals, guitarists would never stop swiping. I say this because there must be thousands upon thousands of popular and boutique dirt boxes available for guitarists to fixate on and mull over as “The best!” but in reality, these armchair pedal pushers rarely ever settle on just one. 

Debate all you want, but only two are primarily considered the “Holy Grail” (*cough* Tube Screamer! Klo– *cough*). But that still won’t stop me from asking, “Does the world need another overdrive pedal?” 

Well, after recently discovering the Maxon Apex 808 Overdrive, I must emphatically say, “Yes!” because of two salient points to consider: It has newfound pedigree, and it’s the ultimate TS-808 Tube Screamer variant to date with astonishing tube-like response and more sweetly refined clarity and gritty punch. 

Compulsive tone chasers, you’re gonna want to swipe right

Compulsive tone chasers, you’re gonna want to swipe right. You won’t need the Ancestry app to trace the genesis of the new Apex 808 because all you need to know is the Apex 808 is designed by Susumu Tamura, the creator of the original and legendary Tube Screamer.

Improving on your creation requires a modicum of obsession, which explains why Tamura examined more than 100 vintage and current production TS-808 and OD variants over a three-year period and concluded that the best-sounding ones contained a particular brand and model of OpAmp, but more curiously, ones from a certain production period.

Needless to say, Tamura was able to procure a stockpile of these coveted ICs to incorporate into the design of the Apex 808, and the rest, as they say, is history.

If you know a Tube Screamer, then you’ll know the Apex 808. It features three controls labeled L, D and T, a super-bright white LED light, runs on a nine-volt battery or external 9V power and feels heavy and impervious housed in its familiar green metal chassis. For the Apex 808, you won’t hear the pronounced midrange bump and cloudiness of the venerable TS-9, nor will you find the softer and gentler drive of a TS-808.

It’s pricey, but the Apex 808 really is a total notch above anything else out there

To my ears, the Apex has a beautiful upper-register clarity that adds shimmer, meaty tube-like breakup with a touch of warmth, and nominal compression that sounds organic. It’s an open quality sound that’s audibly distinct once you engage it, and works to give you a far more complex overdrive delivered with transparency.

Whether boosted through an already-overdriven amp, or setting the drive low and the level high, I find the Apex's tone cuts through more vividly with a real emphasis on note definition and added low-end punch.

It’s pricey, but the Apex 808 really is a total notch above anything else out there, and proves Tamura’s fastidiousness has paid off with an evolved version that’s closer to his vision of what a Tube Screamer should be.

Specs

  • PRICE: $300
  • ORIGIN: Japan 
  • TYPE: Overdrive pedal 
  • FEATURES: Buffered bypass 
  • CONTROLS: Tone, Drive, Level, 
  • CONNECTIONS: Standard input, standard output 
  • POWER: 9V battery or 9V DC adaptor (not supplied) 
  • CONTACT: Maxon
Paul Riario

Paul Riario has been the tech/gear editor and online video presence for Guitar World for over 25 years. Paul is one of the few gear editors who has actually played and owned nearly all the original gear that most guitarists wax poetically about, and has survived this long by knowing every useless musical tidbit of classic rock, new wave, hair metal, grunge, and alternative genres. When Paul is not riding his road bike at any given moment, he remains a working musician, playing in two bands called SuperTrans Am and Radio Nashville.