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Ibanez Tube Screamer Amp TSA15H Review

Ibanez Tube Screamer Amp TSA15H Review

Ibanez''s Tube Screamer Amp provides 15 watts of all-tube power with a built-in Tube Screamer circuit for around $300.

Download Example 1
Clean - no TS or boost. Les Paul (neck)
Download Example 2
Tube Screamer circuit & Boost engaged. Les Paul (bridge)
Download Example 3
Tube Screamer circuit & Boost engaged. Les Paul (neck)
Download Example 4
Tube Screamer circuit & Boost engaged. Strat (neck)
Download Example 5
Clean - no TS or boost. Strat (second position)
All clips recorded with Gibson Les Paul Custom or Fender Stratocaster Reissue (maple neck) with slight reverb added.
Ibanez—a name long associated with guitars and effects—has once again entered the world of guitar amplification with the TSA15H. This newest offering is a 15-watt, all-tube head and matching cabinet featuring none other than the world-famous Ibanez Tube Screamer built right in to the amp.

Using a Tube Screamer to drive the front end of a good tube amp is really nothing new. We guitarists have been doing this for years with great success. I think I would be hard pressed to find a player who has not at least tried this in the search of their special tone. The results differ based on the type of amp that was being overdriven—British amps end up more gainy and robust, while American amps are more bluesy. Ibanez has set out to try to achieve both types of desirable tones.

First Impressions
The Tube Screamer half stack is a very clean-looking rig in cream vinyl covering with black grille cloth and a dark green faceplate and two-button footswitch (sold separately, Street $34.95).

The head’s front panel (left to right) consists of Input, followed by the Tube Screamer controls—Overdrive, Tone, and Level—a Tube Screamer on/off toggle, a boost toggle, which gives a 6 dB boost to the front end, Bass, Treble, and Volume controls, and Standby and Power switches.

The rear panel features the AC power input, a 15-watt or 5-watt selector switch, output and footswitch jacks, and a send return for the effects loop. For this amp, Ibanez opted for a set of output jacks, rather than a switchable impedance selector. Combinations include two 8 ohm, one 4 ohm, two 16 ohm, one 8 ohm, one 16 ohm selection. The amplifier boasts two 6V6 output tubes and two 12AX7 preamp tubes.

The cabinet, model TSA112C, is a half-open back enclosure fitted with one 8 ohm Celestion Seventy/Eighty 12-inch speaker.

Plugging In
The theory behind the recent trend of low-wattage, portable tube amps is that a player can achieve great tube sounds for low volume practicing or recording. It is necessary however, to push the power section into the amount of output tube clipping required for best sound and response. As a player who grew up on tube amps, I feel that a lot of these amps fall short of these expectations. This Ibanez amp actually delivers.

The first thing I noticed was the 6V6 tube’s character. Unlike the usual EL84 types frequently used in small watt amps, 6V6 tubes are more robust when driven and have higher headroom than other smaller types. The second feature that I liked was the fact that there was no master volume. This meant that the amp actually had to be cranked up to drive the output tubes. With all of the switches in bypass position, I was met with a very pleasing clean tone—even at nearly full volume and with humbucking pickups. The tone controls were very effective and wide ranging and provided me with the control necessary to dial in a great clean tone.

Engaging the Tube Screamer, I was able to get a very nice crunchy tone similar to a Twin with a Tube Screamer. With a Stratocaster, this translated into a very bluesy, almost Texas type of sound, but not as aggressive. The higher I ran the actual amp volume, the better this sound got—think SRV with his TS 808 engaged. Switching to a Les Paul, boost engaged, and working with the amp’s volume I was able to dial in amazing bluesy tones a la early Bluesbreakers Clapton.

Turning down the guitar’s volume on either instrument yielded many more classic blues tones, and also cleaned up nicely. The volume level I was using was loud and punchy—not low “bedroom” volume. As a matter of fact, I had a rehearsal with bass, drums, keys, and vocals, and I was a bit too loud. Changing to the 5-watt setting helped, but using less of the tube degraded the tone I had been working with. Disabling the boost switch offered more bedroom volume, but again the tone was not the same. The boost section creates a more British sound with more mids, while the boost off setting was definitely more American.

Between the Les Paul and the Stratocaster, I was able to get great professional-quality tones for most kinds of music. However, I had to resort to using pedals for convincing metal sounds, from more modern metal to Van Halen or George Lynch territory. Luckily, the amp appeared to be very pedal friendly, and I had good luck with a few distortion pedals. With the pedals, I turned the Tube Screamer off, engaged the boost, and ran the volume at about 8 or 9 on the 15-watt setting to achieve a good metal tone. This was one setting where you could get a consistent lower volume by adjusting the output on the distortion pedal. As nice as the amp sounded with its own single 12, I could not resist the urge to put it through something bigger. I tried an old Vox 2x12 cabinet with Celestion G12-30H anniversary speakers, which was amazing, and a 4x12 with Celestion Vintage 30s. With the 4x12, the amp literally screamed—you have to hear it to believe it!

The Final Mojo
I think this little amp makes good sense for any guitar player who needs a respectable tone at a lower db level. I took it to a jam session in town and it was very well-received by most players. Despite the lower price tag, the amp is sturdy and held up to everything I put it through. It feels and responds like a good tube amp, and varying the controls dials in the response even further. Even at the lower home levels, it was still a cut above other small amps I’ve tried.
Buy if...
you are looking for a small all tube package that sounds like the real deal.
Skip if...
you are happy with your present tone or do not need a small amp.

Street Head $299 Cabinet $199 - Ibanez -