The original design was meant to emulate a vintage tube amplifier and included a “mid-hump,” accentuating the mid-range frequencies and balancing out the overall sound. These original pedals used an op-amp circuit to create symmetrical distortion, giving the pedal its characteristic tone.
The TS9 variant released by Ibanez from 1982 to 1985 had a brighter tone with more edge in the treble; clones will typically replicate the smoother sound of the original TS808. Though the internal circuitry of the various clones may vary, all 4 of the models listed below will give you a quality reproduction of that original Tube Screamer power and grit. They’re the best Tube Screamer clones on the market.
Maxon Reissue OD808
This pedal is made by the same company that manufactured the original Tube Screamers back in the 1970s, and though it uses an updated circuitry, the tonal characteristics are nearly identical. The updates to the output resistors eliminate the noise from static electricity buildup that could sometimes plague old school Tube Screamer pedals. The sound is both creamy and crunchy, giving you a realistic tube amp overdrive without sacrificing the original tone of your guitar. The chassis is made of cast aluminum to be both lightweight and rugged, and the compact design should fit comfortably on any pedal rig. Want one of the best Tube Screamer pedal clones? Here it is.
Boss BD-2 Blues Driver
The warm distortion you’ll get from a Boss BD-2 Blues Driver is more responsive to picking and quiet dynamics than most Tube Screamer clones, or even overdrive pedals in general. The sound-shaping controls give you a wide range of overdrive options, from a subtle fuzz to a screaming crunch. It excels at blues (as the name might suggest) but don’t let that dissuade you if you’re a rock, country, or jazz guitarist. The versatility and flexibility of the overdrive make it the perfect pedal for any style, delivering a realistic vintage amp sound in a compact package.
Behringer Vintage TO800
You can get that classic Tube Screamer overdrive even on a budget thanks to the Behringer Vintage TO800, which sells for right around $20. This simplified pedal sticks to the basics: a real-tube crunch that puts a powerful overdrive at your disposal. It uses the same MA150 distortion diodes that were used in the originals for a true to history recreation of the classic sound. Three on-board controls let you pick exactly the right amount of distortion for your sound, with a true bypass for your signal when you’d rather play clean. Sometimes, the best Tube Screamer pedals don’t need to be super-expensive, which brings us to the next product . . .
MI Audio Blue Boy Deluxe
If you are willing to shell out the dough, this is an incredible effects pedal for lead players in blues and fusion bands. It’s designed to give players a wide array of gain options. Setting the gain to about 60% will give you the same overdrive as a traditional Tube Screamer; crank it, and you get three times the gain of other Tube Screamers for a truly powerful distortion.
Even with its impressive gain capabilities, the pedal stays smooth and singing. It’s an especially good match for high output pickups, both single coil and humbucker designs. Character control settings let you customize your overdrive to perfectly suit your style, while the balancing controls are like a second EQ right on the pedal. It’s likely the best Tube Screamer clone period.
Choosing a Pedal
What you expect out of your pedal tonally is going to be the biggest determination of which pedal is right for you. If you’re looking for an exact clone, the Behringer and BOSS models are a near-perfect emulations of the original Tube Screamer—of their distinctive sound, but also of their limitations and flaws.
If you’re looking for an upgrade to the original Tube Screamer, the Maxon Reissue (see full specs) gives you a cleaned-up version of the original sound. Maxon was the company that made the original Tube Screamers for Ibanez and so it stands to reason that their new version of the pedal will be a near-perfect clone. They take it one step further, however, removing the annoying excess noise that was one flaw of the original.
The Blue Boy (see full specs), meanwhile, gives you a Tube Screamer and then some, letting you take the overdrive to the next level. If you want a Tube Screamer sound but don’t want to be limited to the capabilities of that original pedal, the Blue Boy gives you a wider variety of overdrive color options than any other TS clone on the market. It’s likely the best Tube Screamer clone because it outdoes the original in every way—think Tube Screamer Pedal 2.0.
The size of the pedal may also be an important consideration for you, especially if this isn’t the only effects pedal in your rig. With its tiny rack footprint of only 2.8 by 2.1 inches, the Behringer can fit easily into almost gig setup. The largest pedal in the list is the MI Audio, which gives you an incredible array of options but also measures 7X5X4” and may be unwieldy to carry with you to gigs. The Maxon and the Boss are also larger than the Behringer, though not as drastically so.
Because these are all clones of one pedal, the layout of the different models is relatively similar. The Maxon and the MI Audio use a foot switch while the Behringer and the Boss have a foot pedal, but aside from this relatively cosmetic difference, only the MI Audio’s controls are significantly different than the typical Tube Screamer clone, owing to its wider range of features.
All of the pedals give you the important feature of a true bypass for your signal when you turn the pedal off; all of the pedals also give you knobs to adjust the gain, level, and tone of the signal (though they may give them slightly different labels). The differences between the Boss and the Behringer are subtle, and price might ultimately be the difference between the two.
If you want something that gives you a Tube Screamer and then some, you’ll likely find it worth the extra initial investment to add a Maxon to your pedal rig and, if you’re really loaded, a Blue Boy. These should be on anyone’s list of the best Tube Screamer clones.