Ibanez expands the capabilities of the venerable TS808 with a boost circuit.
It's hard to believe the Tube Screamer has been around in one form or another for more than three decades. In that time its knack for driving an amp to spaces from mellow drive to growling low-gain distortion has won legions of fans—and stirred up a few critics too, who usually go on at length, uninvited, about midrange humps and other easily avoidable or barely noticeable phenomena. But I digress.
Even a dedicated Tube Screamer fan can be forgiven for losing track of the many varied models that have carried the TS designation. But the new TS808DX Pro is bound to stand out in the TS family picture—not just for its size, but for an added boost circuit that makes it one of the most adaptable TS pedals ever.
Tanks Come in Green
Though more than a simple three-knob overdrive, the TS808DX is a return to the Tube Screamer's roots in many respects. The unit is built in Japan, and when you crack open the back, there a busy but ordered assemblage of printed circuit board and breadboard circuit that looks like it could have been extracted from a 30-year-old pedal. Even the enclosure has a “they don't make 'em like this anymore" heft. The pedal feels like something that's passed through the hands of experienced builders rather than a sprawling assembly line.
Even with the added boost circuit, the layout is simple. There's the standard TS volume/ tone/overdrive trio, plus a boost level knob. Two footswitches activate OD and boost. Beneath the boost level control is a small toggle to switch the effect order—a function that significantly expands the pedal's palette. There's also a 9-volt/18-volt toggle, providing a choice between standard operation and a higher-voltage setting with greater headroom.
Green Pedal, Blooming Tones
I've played original TS808s, owned a few clones, and have used a very early TS9 off and on for years. But while I've got a pretty good idea about what a good Tube Screamer should do, individual specimens can be very different shades of green.
Through the blackface Fender Tremolux used for this review, the overdrive voice of the TS808DX is recognizably in the 808 camp. It's a little less bright and quick to distort than a TS9. It's also a little more controlled, compressed, and boxy-sounding than other 808s I've tried. This isn't necessarily a disadvantage—the relatively compact sound is great for fattening up chords from single coil-pickups without generating a lot of unwanted overtones. It's also agreeable with humbuckers, adding focus and extra heat to the high-mid register that woofy humbuckers can obscure.
Humbuckers are a good match for single-note lead tones, at least if you look to a TS for snappy, hot blues-rock sounds. Bridge humbuckers take on sharp-edged but civilized menace when you run the level control high and set the tone and overdrive controls to excite the upper mids. Single-coil bridge tones (I tried an E Series Stratocaster, a Jaguar, and a Stratocaster fitted with Fender Custom Shop 1969 pickups) are less satisfying. They tend to sound a little dry, though switching the power pedal to 18-volt operation definitely makes the tone feel less boxy. It's worth leaving the voltage toggle in this position if you favor thinner-sounding single-coils.
Boxy is not what you hear from neck-position single-coils, however. Much of the TS808's initial fame came via Stevie Ray Vaughan acolytes, and with a neck-position single-coil and a Fender amp, the TS808DX provides a perfect setting for sultry double stop-based blues ballads and slow-burning soul leads. It's here that the TS808DX can go from good to extraordinary with single-coils.
A Kick In The Pants
There's nothing revolutionary about pairing a boost and an OD, though the TS808DX provides an especially complementary tandem. If you like your overdrive tones burly and a bit rowdy, the combination of these two effects can be addictive.
The footswitch layout makes it easy to kick on the two effects simultaneously. The considerable power of the two effects together lends a plexi-like, slap-in-the-face presence, growl, and attitude to single-coils and 6V6- and 6L6-powered amps. Here too, bridge humbuckers sound especially exciting. But both single-coils and humbuckers can have the bristling edge of Jimmy Page's early lead tones when both effects are on.
The post/pre switch adds additional tone-shaping flexibility. Placing the boost before the TS circuit adds focus and a touch of compression. To my ears, this works best at reeling in the overtones of 1st-position chords and big-voiced humbuckers.
My favorite settings, however, place the boost after the OD. If you're a slashing power chord player who relies on suspensions and sustained chords (aspiring Townshends take note), you get more ringing, colorful harmonics and greater sustain. And if you just set all the OD controls to noon and work the boost between 3 o'clock and maximum, the TS808DX lends a hot, nasty Marshall-like edge for slashing, punky chords and leads.
While the TS808DX's overdrive probably won't convert TS skeptics, it's an excellent effect that humbucker fans in particular should investigate. But the powerful combination of boost and overdrive should intrigue any player who likes organic-sounding distortion. The two circuits together can generate spine-tingling tones—the stuff that can make a guitar you've fallen out of love with sound alive again. Provided you don't need high gain or over-the-top fuzz tones, you could make this the only dirt pedal in your line and still have a huge range of distortion tones to work with.
Looking for more great gear for the guitar player in your life (yourself included!)? Check out this year's Holiday Gear Finds!
D'Addario XPND Pedalboard
DR-05X Stereo Handheld Recorder
Wampler Pedals Ratsbane
Created in collaboration with legendary guitarist George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob fame, the Mr.Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage and an onboard Deep control, which together are designed to enable an amp to have increased sustain while still retaining note definition and dynamics.
LegendaryTones, LLC today announced production availability of its new Mr. Scary Mod, a 100% pure tube module designed to instantly and easily expand the capabilities of many classic amplifiers with additional gain and tone shaping. Created in collaboration with legendary guitarist George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob fame, the Mr.Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage and an onboard Deep control, which together are designed to enable an amp to have increased sustain while still retaining note definition and dynamics.
Originally released as the Lynch Mod in February 2021, the updated Mr. Scary Mod features the same core circuit as the Lynch Mod but is now equipped with a revised tube mix combo per George’s preference as well as a facelift in a newly redesigned electro-galvanized steel enclosure. As with the Lynch Mod, each run will be limited and the first run in Pumpkin Orange with Black hardware is limited to just 150 pieces worldwide.
The Mr. Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage on top of the cathode follower position, keeping note definition and articulation while further increasing sustain. Each Mr. Scary mod is meticulously built by hand in the USA, one at a time, and tuned using high-grade components. Equipped with a single ECC81 (12AT7) in the first position and ECC83 (12AX7) in the second, the Mr. Scary Mod can clean up beautifully when rolling down your guitar’s volume, and still adds scorching gain when you roll it back up. This is a gain stage that’s been tuned and approved by the ears of the maestro George Lynch himself.
“The Mr. Scary Mod excels with dynamics and is incredibly touch-responsive, allowing me to shift from playing clear, lightly compressed cleans to full-out aggressive sustain and distortion –and control it all simply by varying my guitar’s volume control and picking,” said GeorgeLynch. “In many ways, it’s an old-school approach, but it’s also so much more natural and expressive in addition to being musically fulfilling when you can play both the guitar and amp dynamically together this way.”
The Mr. Scary Mod installs in minutes, is safe and effective to use, and requires no special tools or re-biasing of the amplifier. Simply insert the module into the cathode follower preamp position of compatible amplifiers (includes Marshall 2203/2204/1959/1987 circuits) and
immediately get the benefit of enjoying a hot-rodded amp that delivers all the pure harmonic character that comes with an added pure tube gain stage. The handmade in the USA Mr. Scary Mod is now available to order for $319.
For more information, please visit legendarytones.com.
October Audio has miniaturized their NVMBR Gain pedal to create two mini versions of this beautifully organic-sounding circuit – including an always-on gain device.
The NVMBR Gain is a nonlinear amp that transitions gracefully from clean boost to overdriven tones. Volume increases from just over unity to about 10db before soft-clipping drive appears for another 5db of boost. Its extraordinary ease of use is matched by outstanding versatility: you can use it as a clean boost, push a stubborn amp into overdrive or create a just-breaking-up sound at any amp volume.
October Audio’s new family of mini NVMBR Gain pedals includes a switchable version that allows you to bypass the effect: one option features brand logo pedal graphics, while the other sports a fun “Witch Finger” graphic with a Davies knob as the“fingernail”.
The second version in the new lineup is an always-on device featuring the Witch Finger graphic and Davies knob, with the same NVMBR Gain circuit that lies at the core of the switchable version.
- Knob controls gain and clipping simultaneously
- Stunning silver hammertone finish
- Switchable versions are true-bypass, available with classic or witch finger graphics
- Authentic Davies knobs, including the “fingernail”
- 9V center negative power supply required
- Dimensions: 3.63 x 1.50 x 1.88 in
Witch Finger (always on NVMBR Gain) demo
All October Audio pedals are assembled in Richmond, VA, and available for purchase directly through the online shop. Street price is $109 for NVMBR Gain footswitch versions and $89 for the always-on device.
For more information, please visit octoberaudio.com.