The Ibanez Tube Screamer is perhaps the most iconic distortion pedal in history. Today, we’re going to compare the two most popular Tube Screamer models, the TS808 and TS9.
The original Tube Screamer first hit the market in 1979, and since then, we’ve been practically obsessed with this groundbreaking stompbox. From the original TS808 and TS9 to all the other versions Ibanez has released through the years, we’ve played them all and loved most of them.
While most Tube Screamers look quite similar with their iconic bright green case, plenty is going on under the hood that separates the different models. For certain, the TS808 and TS9 are the most iconic and best-sounding pedals in the Tube Screamer family. Read on as we compare the TS808 vs TS9 to help you decide on the best pedal for you.
Bottom Line Up Front – Tube Screamers at a Glance
While Ibanez has released countless pedals over the years, the TS808 and TS9 are the most sought-after, best-sounding versions. So, which one is best?
Unfortunately, it’s not as cut and dry as declaring one pedal superior to the other. While they’re both Tube Screamers, the TS808 and TS9 are wildly different. If you forced me to choose one over the other, I’d go with the TS9. But, that doesn’t mean that it’s the best pedal for you.
All the striking similarities of these two pedals disappear when you take a look under the hood. The TS808 is an analog overdrive that’s best for adding a light drive to your existing tone. Think of artists like Stevie Ray Vaughn and John Mayer, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of the kind of tones a TS808 will provide you.
Meanwhile, the TS9 is a digital distortion pedal that brings much more grit, snarl, and distortion to the table than its predecessor. If you’re looking for an aggressive pedal for metal and hard rock, the TS9 will fit your needs much better than a TS808.
Keep reading as we take a deep dive into the different features and characteristics that separate these two Tube Screamers.
TS808 vs TS9 – Benchtop Comparison
Whether you’re after a creamy, musical overdrive, or you need a pedal that can deliver full-on face-melting distortion, there’s a Tube Screamer for you. Let’s compare the two to help you find your best fit.
Casing, Controls, and Build
One area where these two pedals are virtually identical is their build quality and exterior components.
Both the TS808 and the TS9 feature Ibanez’s signature green die-cast cases, with a nearly identical layout. You’ll find controls on the front of each pedal for drive, tone, and level, and a footswitch for toggling the pedal on or off. The TS808 features a slightly smaller stomp mechanism, while the TS9’s takes up most of the front of its case. Both pedals offer single ¼” jacks for the input and output and feature a LED light to indicate the pedal’s status.
The only small detail that separates these two pedals in terms of construction is how they’re powered. The TS9 takes an AC power adapter, while the TS808 needs DC. Either pedal will also accept a 9V battery.
Both these reissues are made in the original Ibanez factory in Japan, using identical components to the versions made famous in the ‘80s.
Both pedals are built like tanks, and they’re made to stand up to anything you dish out. Whether you’re a touring musician, a weekend warrior, or you’re looking to sculpt your tone from the comfort of your bedroom; you’ll never have to worry about your Tube Screamer failing you.
All of the differences when comparing the TS808 vs. TS9 reveal themselves when you open the pedal up to see what’s under the hood.
The TS808 is about as faithful a reproduction of the original as you can get. Today’s TS808 offers the same Japanese JRC-4558 op-amp as the first 808 that ever rolled off the factory line, and the analog circuitry is just as meticulously wired today as it was back in 1981.
While Ibanez now makes the circuit board, resistors, and other components instead of Maxon (as they were on the originals), the tone is close to the original.
The TS808 also includes a JFET buffer circuit, which mitigates all of the issues inherent with true bypass pedals without adding any discernible color to your tone. Most buffered pedals are noted tone-suckers, but that isn’t the case with the 808. Ibanez went the extra mile to ensure that your tone remains transparent whether the pedal is on or off. You just gotta love that!
Like the TS808, the TS9 reissue is manufactured in the same facility in Japan that produced the originals. But, there are some critical differences with the circuitry today compared to back then. Most notably, the TS9 reissue doesn’t include the original JRC-4558 op-amp, and it’s been replaced with a copy made by Ibanez.
Unlike the TS808, which boasts analog circuitry, the TS9 is a digital pedal. We’ll dive further into the implications of that in the section below.
From a circuitry perspective, the TS808, with its analog circuit and original op-amp, is superior to the TS9 reissue. Tone-obsessed guitarists looking for the most faithful recreation of the original will likely prefer the TS808 to the TS9.
Everything we’ve discussed thus far has led us to this point, which is by far the most crucial aspect of selecting one of these pedals. How do they sound, and what kinds of tones will you be able to achieve with these pedals?
The TS808, with its analog circuitry and original op-amp, delivers a warm, smooth, and musical overdrive that’s made it a favorite of some of the biggest and most varied names in the guitar world. From Stevie Ray Vaughan to Adrian Smith of Iron Maiden to Joe Bonamassa, the TS808 has a long line of devotees.
The TS808 isn’t going to deliver balls-out, high-gain metal. But, it’s going to provide you with an exceptionally musical and warm overdrive that’s ideal for adding a little extra “oomph” to a single channel amp or giving a bit of extra output during solos and leads.
The TS9 has always been the more bold and aggressive Tube Screamer, and that’s true of the reissues as well. The analog warmth of the TS808? You won’t find it here. The TS9 is much more a distortion than an overdrive, and it delivers tons of gain and midrange snarl that have become a signature of guitarists like Kirk Hammett, Steve Vai, and even The Edge.
As for which is better, that’s a tough call. It’s mostly a matter of the tone you’re after. If you’re looking for a warm and musical overdrive, reach for the TS808. Or, if you need an aggressive distortion that will cut through any mix, the TS9 will be the better choice for you.
Another differentiator between these two classic reissues is the price. You’ll notice that the TS808 is a bit more expensive than the TS9.
While both pedals are made in the same factory that produced the original versions in the 80s, their circuitry differs considerably. The TS808 features an analog design with the original op-amp, which contributes significantly to the price.
The lower price of the TS9 doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a lesser pedal; it’s just less expensive to produce.
Ibanez Tube Screamer TS808 vs TS9 – The Overall Winner
With so much history shared between these two storied pedals, it’s almost impossible to say that one is better than the other. But, for the sake of our TS808 vs. TS9 battle, we’ll try to pick a winner.
If I had to choose one, the TS9 represents the quintessential Tube Screamer sound. This pedal has the growl and bite that immediately comes to mind when you think of this little green monster, and it’s graced some of the most legendary recordings of the last four decades.
If you’re looking for a pedal that will deliver hard hitting distortion and a tight, punchy response, the TS9 will be ideal. The tone of the TS9 is such that it also makes an excellent boost for solos, acting almost like a third (or fourth) amp channel when you need a little more edge for a particular section.
If that doesn’t quite sound like what you’re after, then the TS808 is likely the better choice for you. The TS808 features an analog warmth and response that’s tough to mimic, and it’s much more smooth and refined than the punishing crunch of the TS9.
The TS808 is a versatile stompbox that delivers a myriad of driven tones from subtle and sweet to downright menacing. In spite of the Tube Screamer pedigree, this pedal is probably most at home, dishing up smooth and creamy tones reminiscent of 70s blues rock and fusion.
The 808 works well as a standalone overdrive or when used with the drive channel on an amp to provide an extra boost.
Whether you prefer the aggressive and biting tone of the TS9 or the smooth and musical sounds of the TS808, both Tube Screamer reissues are faithful reproductions that are pretty close to the bone. Take a closer look at the TS9 and TS808 today.