So today Maxon announced its own contribution to the 808 Overdrive 40th Anniversary celebrations - most will know that Maxon OEM’d Ibanez’s original TS808 Tube Screamers and continued making the same after the partnership dissolved - as the OD808. Maxon has delivered a pretty bog-standard looking OD808 bar for an option/mode toggle above the Balance knob, and Robert Keeley’s familiar signature in sharpie fashion across the main facia. In fact only 40 of this exact signed model will be made - to retail at the princely sum of $400. There will also be unsigned editions of the Robert Keeley Max Gain Mod pedal, but these will have no signature and no mode toggle to switch between Max Gain and Stock settings - and they will retail for half the price of the signed editions. I’m struggling to see why there would be many takers for either option here - but perhaps I’m missing something - or else outside the intended demographic?
I was slightly critical of Ibanez when they announced their own limited edition Anniversary pedals back around Winter NAMM this year - a Ruby Sparkle paint job version and the rather obscenely pricey Vemuram collaboration - the TSV808 - actually a mix of the Jan Ray and 808 circuits with additional surface-accessible trim-pots on the top of the pedal - for adjusting Saturation and Bass. There’s also a couple of internal dip-switches for applying symmetrical or asymmetrical clipping - so you can get sort of stock 808, stock Jan Ray or a mix of both. In light of what Xotic just did with their newest mini boost pedals - I don’t see why said dip-switches could not be surface-accessible too. At least for your $450 you’re getting one of those classy Vemuram style brass enclosures, this time with a subtle hint of green in the finish. I still question value for money here, and I much prefer what Boss did with JHS/Josh Scott for its JB-2 Angry Driver - a hybrid pedal that was bigger than the sum of its parts - but was also relatively reasonably priced - and no doubt had lots of takers - including my good self.
I really don’t get what Ibanez and Maxon are trying to achieve here - this seems to be largely an exercise in ’Shelf-Ware’ where these pedals mostly appeal to the wealthy collector rather than the actual active and gigging musician. I thought Anniversary celebrations were all about everyone (or as many people as possible) sharing in the commemorative experience - but Ibanez gives you either a jazzy paint-job or a rather over-priced heirloom - while Maxon in some ways goes one level weirder?
For Maxon to only produce 40 of the pedals with the toggle switch and then charge $400 for the privilege of a sharpie signature - it just doesn’t make sense. It makes even less sense that the unsigned versions don’t have the toggle-switch at all? And why is the switch in that odd position right above the Balance knob?
I like an 808 as much as anyone - but I don’t really understand the motivations in any of the above. Ibanez and Maxon will surely not sell enough of the expensive versions to make it worth the gold-rush - and a 40th Anniversary Edition by way of a paintjob really does nothing for me either. If you’re going to celebrate 40 years of tone - then you should be creating something special - which is intrinsically different and properly added value for money. I don’t know why Ibanez felt they needed to lean more on the Vemuram side of things? I would surely pay a premium for such a pedal but $450 is steep even to my level of flexibility. And the’ve totally limited the clipping flexibility by internalising those dip-switch elements - which is something of a dumb move in my book.
Regardless of how good these sound - I feel that there are inherent flaws in each of these approaches - unlike Chase Bliss Audio’s recent collaborations where you are getting something greater than the sum of those parts - with those pedal luminaries collaborating at the highest level to produce something different - but delivering a product to the same price point. Chase Bliss Audio is pricey to a degree, but it also always delivers value in everything it does. The TSV808 feels like a mid-level brand collaborating with a luxury brand - but unlike say H&M where you get the cachet of the high ticket-value designer at your regular price point - this is more like H&M collaborating with Gucci - but then trying to sell the resulting products at Gucci price levels. Obviously there is some form in what ’Supreme’ is doing - but I wholly fail to see why Ibanez would be trying to operate at that level for a 40th Anniversary commemorative product.
For the 3 pedals above not one of these is really right for this momentous occasion in my opinion - i.e. 40 Years of the 808. I feel that the JHS Bonsai (£229) is a more fitting memento to 40 years of 808 - with its 9 included circuits / voicings (it also has a Keeley Mod Mode!) - notably this was also a collaboration between JHS head honcho Josh Scott and Jon Cusack of Cusack Music (not to be confused with the actor!). This is the very thing that Ibanez and Maxon should have been trying to deliver - another parallel is the new KAT Brian May Classic Treble Booster which features 3 modes to cover each of Brian’s era-specific tones - said pedal is an anniversary pedal of sorts and retails for £249 - which I feel is about a fair exchange rate.
I look at the above 3 examples and think increasingly how very good value the JHS Bonsai really is - and how well it serves as a proper 40 Year Ode to the various 808 Overdrives - I’ve had mine since it first launched - I nominate as my candidate for best 808 40th Anniversary Pedal!
For those who still haven’t made up their minds - here are your runners and riders: