In the world of guitar effects pedals, few debates have raged on as passionately as the discussion surrounding the differences between the TS808 and TS9 overdrive pedals. Born from the same lineage, yet with distinct characteristics, these two pedals have carved their own places in the hearts of guitarists across genres. In this comprehensive comparison, we’ll dissect the TS808 and TS9, exploring the nuances that set them apart.

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TS808 Tube Screamer

TS808 Tube Screamer

  • Midrange Emphasis
  • Smooth Overdrive
  • Vintage Voicing
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TS9 Tube Screamer

TS9 Tube Screamer

  • Increased Gain
  • Tight Low End
  • Versatility
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The Shared Heritage

To begin, it’s crucial to acknowledge the shared DNA of the TS808 and TS9 pedals. Both pedals originate from the same family tree: the Ibanez Tube Screamer series. Their roots trace back to the late 1970s, when the original TS808 emerged as a response to the growing demand for a warm, organic overdrive that could enrich a guitar’s tone without overwhelming it.

TS808: Vintage Warmth and Midrange Embrace

The Ibanez TS808 Tube Screamer is often hailed as a vintage classic, revered for its distinctive midrange hump and smooth, warm overdrive. Here are the key characteristics that define the TS808:

  1. Midrange Emphasis: The TS808 is renowned for its midrange boost, which gives guitars a singing quality that cuts through the mix. This pronounced mid bump is favored by blues and rock players who seek to enhance their solos’ presence.
  2. Smooth Overdrive: The TS808’s overdrive is known for its buttery smoothness. It doesn’t aggressively color your tone, instead adding a gentle layer of saturation that retains the character of your guitar and amp.
  3. Vintage Voicing: This pedal exhibits a vintage character, imparting a sense of nostalgia to your sound. It’s favored by players who seek to recreate the tones of classic rock and blues tracks.

Read my full review of the TS808

TS9: Punchy and Versatile

While the TS9 also boasts its roots in the Tube Screamer family, it offers a few notable departures from the TS808’s blueprint:

  1. Increased Gain: The TS9 provides a touch more gain compared to the TS808. This extra gain results in a punchier, slightly more aggressive tone that can suit a wider range of styles, from classic rock to more modern genres.
  2. Tight Low End: One of the key differentiators is the TS9’s tighter low end response. This makes it well-suited for players who require clarity and precision in their low-frequency notes, making it a great choice for rhythm work.
  3. Versatility: Due to its slightly higher gain and tighter response, the TS9 is often viewed as more versatile than the TS808. It can easily handle higher-gain settings while still retaining its characteristic Tube Screamer tonal qualities.

Read my full review of the TS9

Using the TS808 or TS9 with Other Gear: Amps and Guitars

Pairing the TS808 or TS9 with the right amplifiers and guitars can unlock a world of tonal possibilities:

  • Amplifiers: When coupled with a clean or slightly overdriven tube amp, both the TS808 and TS9 can shine. The TS808’s midrange boost can complement amps with a flatter EQ response, while the TS9’s tighter low end can pair well with amps that have a naturally boomy character.
  • Guitars: Different guitars can interact with the Tube Screamer pedals in distinctive ways. Single-coil pickups can emphasize the midrange bump of the pedals, while humbuckers can provide a smoother, thicker overdrive.

Artists Who Use Them

The influence of the TS808 and TS9 pedals extends far and wide, with numerous guitarists across genres incorporating them into their signature sounds. Some prominent artists who have wielded these pedals to great effect include:

  • Stevie Ray Vaughan: The legendary bluesman was known to be a fan of the TS808, which contributed to his iconic tone. The midrange boost and smooth overdrive of the TS808 complemented his expressive playing style, allowing his solos to sing with unmatched emotion.
  • John Mayer: With his dynamic blend of blues, rock, and pop, John Mayer has utilized both the TS808 and TS9 pedals in his rig. These pedals have played a role in sculpting his versatile tone, enhancing his clean and driven tones alike.
  • Eric Clapton: The virtuoso Eric Clapton has also gravitated toward the TS808 and TS9 pedals. The TS808’s vintage warmth aligns well with his penchant for classic blues sounds, while the TS9’s versatility serves him in capturing a range of tonal moods.

Making the Choice

Deciding between the TS808 and TS9 ultimately depends on your playing style, tonal preferences, and the sonic palette you wish to explore. If you’re drawn to vintage-inspired tones and value a prominent midrange presence, the TS808 might be your weapon of choice. On the other hand, if you require a pedal that can span multiple genres, offer more gain, and tighten up your low end, the TS9 could be your go-to option.

In conclusion, the TS808 and TS9 pedals remain revered for their unique attributes. The TS808 captures the essence of vintage warmth and midrange allure, while the TS9 boasts greater versatility and a slightly more modern edge. Regardless of your choice, both pedals stand as testament to the enduring legacy of the Ibanez Tube Screamer series, leaving an indelible mark on the world of guitar tone.