Ibanez TS-9 Tube Screamer Reissue Review
Suggested Retail Price-$169
Ibanez began producing pedal effects in the mid 70’s. At that time, many of their products were remarkably similar in sound to one of the leading effects maker of that era, MXR. In the early 80’s, the first Tube Screamer, model TS-808, was introduced and became a success. In 1982, the updated Tube Screamer, model TS-9, was introduced and was even more successful. Acclaimed for its soft-clipping distortion characteristics that was fairly touch-responsive, especially for a pedal made in that time, the Tube Screamer became a favorite for both blues guitarists as well as rock guitarists that wanted to add more punch to their already distorted sound.
With prices of original TS-808 and TS-9 Tube Screamers literally going for hundreds of dollars more than they ever sold for new (TS-808’s have gone for $450+ on Ebay and I’ve seen original TS-9s in the $250-$300 price range), Ibanez decided to make the most of this demand and reissue the Tube Screamer TS-9.
The look and feel of the TS-9 reissue is indeed authentic, from its seasick-foam green paint to its 80’s-era footswitch and knobs. In fact, the TS-9 reissue was even built in the same factory as the original.
The TS-9 reissue is a simple stomp box with controls for Level, Drive and Tone. Additionally, it can be powered with a standard 9-volt battery or with an AC adapter. A large red LED status indicator resides on the face of the unit.
Unlike many of today’s commercial pedals that are manufactured in Taiwan or China, the Tube Screamer reissue is still being manufactured in Japan. While I can’t claim that if the TS-9 was manufactured outside of Japan it would be inferior, but it is generally regarded that Japanese-produced electronics are of higher quality.
Looking at the inside of the TS-9, I was impressed by the wiring and use of high-quality parts. I was amazed to find the potentiometers wired to the TS-9’s circuit board in the same fashion as how pedals used to be constructed – with insulated copper stranded wire. What’s so profound about that? Many of today’s mass-produced pedal effects have potentiometers that are either attached directly to the circuit boards, or they use specialized parts with mini ribbon cables (similar to those found inside computers) that are then plugged into the circuit boards. Neither of these other methods are "wrong" and they do reduce manufacturing costs, but they also make any potential repairs or replacements more difficult to do. So indeed, I was stunned to see the TS-9 reissue wired up "old school". In addition to the wiring, my TS-9 sample unit had excellent solder connections and also used quality enclosed input and output jacks. The open-circuit photograph shows the inside of the TS-9 with the circuit board lifted out.
One pays a price for this historically accurate and well-built reissue, but I personally and genuinely appreciate that Ibanez made the effort to make the TS-9 as accurate to the original as possible.
What’s most important with any device of course is the sound. I’ve read about some people complaining that the reissue TS-9 sounds "harsher" or not as "smooth" as the original. I believe that this is a stigma that occurs with any product dubbed a "reissue". However, from an electrical standpoint, I may have an explanation as to why there can be some truth in this. There are two factors that can contribute to any variance or change in tone: 1) The main IC used for the TS-9 reissue is manufactured by Toshiba, and is not "exactly" the same as the original. And, 2) the resistors and capacitors used inside any electronic product will tend to waver a bit from its original value as the components age. What this means of course is that the sounds of the circuits themselves can change a little bit in time. The tolerances are usually in the 5% range in either direction (e.g. a resistor responsible for producing bass in a circuit may produce more or less bass in time depending on which way its resistance moves). So it is entirely conceivable that any reissue product can sound a little different from the original. Also with reissue products, sometimes the original parts that were used are no longer available or have been changed and must be substituted. All said, any real sonic differences between an original TS-9 and the reissue will undoubtedly be very small.
I found the reissue TS-9 has a nice soft-clipping distortion effect that is pleasant for adding extra sustain and drive. By turning the volume on full and the drive at a minimum setting, the TS-9 is also well suited to be used as a clean boost effect. This, incidentally is also how legendary guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan tended to use his Tube Screamer (note that Stevie used the TS-808 model Tube Screamer, the TS-9's predecessor, which is almost the identical circuit as the TS-9). Make no mistake though, the clean boost effect isn’t just for use for clean or on-edge bluesy sounds. Early master-volume Marshalls (e.g. JMP and JCM 800-era) can get a nice heavy and dynamic boost in distortion even at low volumes when using this effect, making them sound like modern high-gain amps. 80’s guitar God and tone freak George Lynch often put a Tube Screamer in front of a Marshall Super Lead to get heavier, grind and distortion tone. Listen to the various sound files of the Tube Screamer to hear it used in these different applications.
When used as a stand-alone overdrive unit, rather than a boost, the reissue TS-9 sounded like what it is famous for - a nice dynamic overdrive effect and nothing more. You'll want to dial in the tone to suit your amp (certain amps I played the effect through made it sound too midrange or "nasally"), and certainly for most rock players, there's enough gain built in as well. When playing at louder volumes, the tone suffers somewhat - this is not a substitute of a tube amp after all - so it is best used in conjunction with some gain dialed in from your favorite tube amp when used in this way.
Conclusion and Overall Rating
If I had to judge the reissue TS-9 solely on its accuracy of being an authentic remake of the original 80’s era TS-9, the reissue would earn an easy 10. In the 80’s and early 90’s, the TS-9 was one of the best overdrive games in town. However, judged as a stand-alone overdrive unit, there are many others that can be found today that are just as suitable, and perhaps a bit more versatile - for a lower price. While they may not be constructed with quite the same degree of quality as the Japanese-made TS-9, this may not be the most important issue for many musicians that are aiming to get a certain tone. For those that do want a quality mass-produced overdrive however, the TS-9’s construction is second-to-none.
It should be noted that the famous players that have or continue to use the TS-9 usually do so as a boost on top of an already tube-overdriven sound, or as a clean boost for added punch. Those that plan to use the TS-9 as the sole source of distortion may find themselves disappointed, or at the very least, feeling somewhat limited in tones available to them. While the sound is fairly dynamic and sensitive, this is really only in comparison to other pedals on the market. For the best tonal results with warmth and character, I recommend again you mix the sound of the TS-9 with a tube amp. For the TS-9’s weak point, as is virtually with all solid-state distortion effects is its ability to get a full-bodied tone, especially as you turn up an amp to play at band or club levels. Think of the Ibanez reissue TS-9 as a great enhancer, not savior, of tone. With all areas considered, LegendaryTones gives the Ibanez reissue TS-9 a solid rating of 9 out of 10.