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12 of the Best Compact Tube Screamer-style Pedals

Boost and OverdriveFoxpedalIbanezJHS PedalsKHDKMI EffectsNobelsSeymour DuncanTubescreamer Style OverdriveVFE PedalsWalrus AudioWamplerXotic Effects+-
2018GPX12TubeScreamerTypes700-min.jpg

There’s been a couple of significant Tube Screamer type releases this year and I’ve discovered a whole load more that I like since I last did this overview. I wrongly had the Super Blues Pro in with my Blues Driver / Bluesbreaker category, and the Xotic BB PreAmp often gets mischaracterized as a Bluesbreaker type where its circuit is really Tube Screamer with Baxandall Hi/Lo Tone Controls.

 

This biggest newby this year is no doubt JHS’s 9-flavour Bonsai - which covers all your favourites iterations, while Ibanez Japan has just released a Super Limited Ikebe Gakki Gold Edition of the TS9. The listing includes the classics, as well as a number of Tube Screamers that give you a whole lot more. Nearly every pedal brand in the world has produced a Tube Screamer style pedal at one stage in its history - it’s easily the most cloned type of circuit. In standard format this consists of just 3 dials - Overdrive, Tone and Level or variations thereof.

 

I have reviewed a lot of these pedals, and for a while actually mostly preferred to use Mini Tube Screamers - Ibanez’s own, OneControl’s Persian Green, and Keeley’s Red Dirt Mini. I then came across the dual-footswitch Foxpedal The City V2 - which still remains my favourite singular Screamer type, even though it was later ousted by the JHS Bonsai.

 

The true odd-one-out here is the Nobels ODR-1 which is not a Tube Screamer at all, but often gets included in such an overview as something a little bit different - and it indeed has a much flatter EQ Curve vs the Mid Hump of the classic Screamers. Both the Seymour Ducan 805 and Wampler Clarksdale give you 3-band EQ, where the Walrus Warhorn and Xotic BB PreAmp and 2-Band EQ, and the Foxpedal City, KHDK Ghoul and MI Effects Super Blues Pro have a number of really smart voicing, clipping and compressions switches. You can rely on VFE to do their own thing with essentially 2-Band EQ and a variable Compression dial.

 

I firmly believe that this is a suitably representative collection of the best that the Tube Screamer has to offer - and there is an enormous variety of tone-shopping and gain on show here.

 

I am already pretty convinced I have two of the best in my collection, and know that I want to add a Nobels ODR-1 at some stage too, I’m not sure I really need another Tube Screamer - but there are several here that are tempting!

 

Pedals listed alphabetically by brand as usual.


Ibanez TS808HW - £291

The TS808 is my favourite core Tube Screamer - I don't exactly know why as there is almost nothing between the TS808 and TS9 circuits - but placebo or not - it's the one I gravitate towards, and if I wanted the ultimate version of that it would be this HandWired edition - which yes is a little more pricey, but also hopefully just a little more articulate! There is also a larger twin footswtich version TS808HW which obviously exceeds the dimensional characteristics of this category - but it does give you a switchable pre/post boost. (Standard TS808 is £148)


Ibanez TS9 Ikebe Gakki Ltd Gold Edition - £317 (Reverb.com)

This is obviously a gimmick to a degree - the guts I believe are standard TS9 and its only the shiny exterior that's changed. I would imagine Flavor Flav would buy one and wear it dangling from a gold chain in place of his usual clock. It's obviously hugely impractical as anyone who has ever owned anything Chrome will now - a finger-print magnet which shows up dirt and scuffs like no other material. This is obviously a collector's piece as it would soon loose it's lustre on a gigging pedalboard - the TS9 is of course a great pedal, but in this format it is pedal suited to the shelf than the floor - It's still very cool, and part of me is still very tempted... (Regular TS9 is £100).


Foxpedal The City V2 - $239

Still my favourite individual screamer with its many voicing options and independent / pre-boost on separate footswitch. This is just a really clever pedal that can pretty much get you all the major TS-type tonalities - of course it cannot quite compete within the larger PLBR Floral Green or the EQD Pallisades - but I feel at this size with it's two clipping modes it's the most versatile singular voiced pedal here - of course the JHS Bonsai is another animal entirely and has more 'voices' but less individual shaping.


JHS Bonsai - £219

If you want 9 of the most classic Tube Screamer tones in one pedal, then this is your only option - an all analogue circuit with just digital route switching for the 9 different circuits. My favourite flavour here is actually the Polish Exar OD-1 which was my mainstay Tube Screamer tone for the longest period. I am currently in experimental mode with my pedal-chain at the moment, and the various Tube-Screamers are somewhat sidelined until another challenger arises or I get inspired in a different direction once more.


KHDK Ghoul Screamer - £194

This is another quite unique TS-style pedal with 3 EQ boost switches for Low, Mids, High, you also get 3 different compression settings for beefing up your gain - all those little 2-way toggles are really very clever. It's definitely worthy of consideration as something significantly different.


MI Effects Super Blues Pro - £140

A 5-knob tone-shaping wonder with dual parallel 3-position clipping options - Silicon, None, Mosfet - where you can pair them up in any combination. Although principally based on a TS-style circuit this is another one of those pedals that gives you so much more. I'm a huge fan of MI Effects pedals and have and love their Super Crunch Box V2 and Megalith Delta - I will probably add one of these at some stage if the price is right!


Nobels ODR-1 - £85

The Nashville overdrive favoured legions of American country music guitar players. This is a much flatter and more balanced EQ's pedal with lots of texture and articulation. It's really well priced, and I've been meaning to get one of these for the longest while. It's kind of the Tube Screamer ball park pedal for those that don't like the classic Tube Screamer mid hump honk.


Seymour Duncan 805 - £142

One of only two proper 3-band EQ Tubescreamers - this always seems to be somewhat overlooked, but is a great alternative in its own right. I still kind of prefer the Wampler Clarksdale which also has 3-band EQ, but adds 2-way clipping to that. Nevertheless this is a very versatile and great sounding Tube Screamer style pedal which will appeal to most.


VFE Pale Horse (discontinued) - c£70 (Reverb.com)

This is one of 2 Petter VonRutter pedals based on the Tube Screamer circuit - The Screamer is a more vanilla style approach, while the Pale Rider moves the voicing on somewhat with more tone-shaping and compression. This is a proper cult Tube Screamer style pedal which is increasingly hard to find nowadays as it has been discontinued for a while.


Walrus Audio Warhorn - £199

Another great sounding and hugely versatile TS-style circuit, not only with 2-band EQ, but also has a 2-way clipping toggle switch for Symmetrical or Asymmetrical clipping modes.


Wampler Clarksdale - £189

Brian has two derivations of the Tube Screamer circuit - this 3-band EQ version with Big/Smooth voicing modes, and the more specialist but less tone-shapable Paisley Drive. Of those two my preference is for this one which provides all the versatility you might need out of a Tube Screamer.


Xotic BB PreAmp Andy Timmons Edition - £149

And finally the sometimes wrongly attributed BB PreAmp Andy Timmons Edition with more compression added into the core circuit - to suit Andy's playing dynamics. You have a classic Baxandall 2-Band EQ for enhanced tone-sculpting, and the degree of compression is closely tied into the gain dial to give you the maximum playing dynamics across the range.


Final Thoughts

There's generally two quite distinct camps of Tube Screamer users - those that like it's core overdriven sound and use it as a low to medium gain overdrive, and the others who merely see it as original intended - as an Amp Booster to push the front end of an already somewhat cranked amp. As a pedal platform player I liked to use this pedal type mostly as an overdrive, although I do also layer it up as a boost on occasion. When I had The City in the chain - I used it's Clean Boost side quite a lot to boost pedals down-stream.

 

As mentioned above I believe I've already acquired two of the best here, although the only original Tube Screamer I have is the Mini. But I'm really actually more tempted by the pedals with more tone-shaping options. I categorically don't really need any more of these - but I really like the look of the KHDK Ghoul Screamer, MI Effects Super Blue Pro and VFE Pale Horse. In fact I pretty much know I will get the Nobels ODR-1 pretty soon, and I still have the softest spot for the Super Blues Pro which really has the most incredibly range - so those are the most likely next acquisitions.

 

As for the rest of you who have none of these - I would recommend you start with the JHS Bonsi - spend some time with that and decide which is your favourite flavour before going further down the rabbit hole. All of the above sound great and all will server the needs of both Boost and Overdrive fanatics alike.

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