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Review: Ibanez Tube King TK999HT

The original Ibanez Tube King gets beefed-up with this flashy reissue

Have you ever just looked at a piece of equipment and knew it was going to sound good?
That’s exactly the feeling I got when I opened the box and saw the Ibanez Tube King TK999HT pedal. It’s probably an unfair, naïve way of evaluating gear, but I just got excited when I saw the pedal. The Tube King is a hot red, diamond-shaped tube distortion pedal with a glowing window at the top of the pedal with a visible tube inside. This thing should win awards for the design alone. The best part is, it only got better from there.

We’ll get to more of the cosmetic features in a minute, but first some stats. The Ibanez Tube King is a pedal that offers aggressive, modern tube distortion. It features an actual 12AX7 tube, 3 band EQ and drive controls with a presence switch for a variety of tones. It also includes a unique “VOID” control, which gets rid of the noise and can create sharper rhythmic sounds.

The Tube King isn’t exactly new – it was originally available in the nineties. The name and purpose of the pedal is the same, but this reissue differs from its predecessors by featuring internal high-voltage DC circuitry. The former pedals utilized “starved plate” circuitry, which basically means if you run the tube at a low voltage (“starving” the plate) the tube will quickly run out of headroom and start distorting. The previous tube acted more like a filter to achieve those tube tones, whereas the 12AX7 in the new Tube King now gets normal DC high voltage, which allows for genuine tube-like distortion.

Being a former metal guitarist growing up in the eighties, I’ve always been a sucker for any high gain products I could get my hands on. The Tube King did not disappoint! This pedal can truly make any solid-state amp sound just like a tube amp. I had to go for the full-on test drive immediately, so I plugged in my Schecter guitar with Seymour Duncan pickups and turned the Level and Drive knobs on the pedal to 10. It definitely took on every heavy, brutal guitar riff I threw at it with ease, quickly achieving huge and tight distorted tones. It’s configured with a scooped mid-range and heavy low end that is so prevalent in modern hard rock and metal.

I did try the sample settings that are included in the manual – everything from ''70s Drive to Death Rhythm – and they are great places to start before fine-tuning and tweaking the parameters to your liking. I tried this pedal with many guitars and different configurations, using different solid-state and tube amps as well as Pro-Tools amp simulator plug-ins. The pedal is very versatile in its tones, from a more subtle classic seventies rock sound to a very heavy, extreme metal sound. Either way, you get that genuine warm tube tone!

There are two controls I really liked on the Tube King. One is the Presence switch, which on the “Hi” setting adds more sizzle to the high end, just for an extra kick in the tone. The other is the “VOID” knob which acts as noise reduction or gate, which was perfect for canceling that evil single-coil noise if you’re rocking out with a Strat. As a gate, it can go from subtle to very tight and controlled. It can definitely enhance your rhythms – especially with playing quick, staccato chords, since the highest level of “VOID” shortens the sustain and cuts out the extraneous noise in between chords. In a high gain situation, I’m so used to doing a quick turn with the guitar volume knob to cut out the noise during chord stops so it was a nice surprise not having to deal with that, thanks to the “VOID” option.

The Tube King itself is huge – it’s more than twice the size of two average stompboxes and is a very heavy, durable pedal. I like the fact that you can easily control the Drive and Level knobs with your foot if you want to quickly change sounds in a live setting. The 3-band EQ knobs stay out of the way nicely by sitting on a recessed panel on the pedal. It may be too bulky or command too much pedalboard space for some guitarists, but with the incredible sounds this pedal can supply, I was happy to make room for it.

Overall, the Tube King TK999HT is a very easy to use, versatile pedal with excellent, authentic tube tones. It can make any guitar setup with average pickups and amp sound amazing. With its massive tone and size, the Tube King can definitely rule over all in your guitar setup!
Buy if...
you crave that tube sound when using a big rig is impossible.
Skip if...
you already have a tube amp stack and refuse to downsize.

MSRP $249 - Ibanez -