All of those clones and versions of the pedal can make it difficult to figure out which one you should buy. While there are tons of great options out there, if you’re really going after the authentic Tube Screamer tone, there are two pedals that should be on your list: the Ibanez TS9 and the Ibanez TS808.
So which will win the Battle of TS9 vs TS808 pedals? We’ll look at the features and strengths of each of these pedals in the reviews below and make our best effort at answering that question for you.
Ibanez TS9 vs TS808 Round 1: TS9 Tube Screamer Classic
When you look at details about the TS9 on the company’s product page, you’ll see it called a reissue of the original Tube Screamer and might get the impression it’s a clone of the original. While it’s very close to the design of the iconic Tube Screamer overdrive pedal, and is even made in the same factory as the original, it does have a few key differences from the Tube Screamers of old beyond just its year of production.
The TS9 is not a new pedal itself (see full specs); in fact, the first versions of the pedal were produced as early as the 1980s, with a mind toward making a Tube Screamer that would sound better paired with the solid state amps that were gaining popularity around that time. This remains the key functional difference between the TS9 and the TS808, and if you have a solid state amp yourself, the TS9 is almost certainly your better choice.
Sonically, the TS9 is slightly more aggressive. It’s a brighter, more treble-heavy effect, another modification made so it would be better-suited to transistor amplifiers. The sound will also be a bit tighter, with more of a compression feel to the effect than the airy, open overdrive typical of the TS808.
Aesthetically, the TS9 is a true clone of the old Tube Screamer, down to the shade of the green paint on the housing. Just like the original, it gives you three tone-shaping knobs in addition to the footswitch: tone, drive, and level. This may not seem like an extensive array of controls, but it’s plenty to dial the sound of the pedal in to perfectly match your amp and equipment. At its price, the TS9 is certainly an affordable, versatile overdrive pedal that stays true to the character of the original.
Ibanez TS9 vs TS808 Round 2: TS808 Overdrive Pedal
Now we’ll take a look at the TS808. You’ll definitely be able to see the resemblance to the original Tube Screamer at first glance, though it’s not quite as identical to that design as the TS9. Still, all the basic exterior components are there (see full specs), from the green housing to the three tone shaping knobs at the top of the pedal.
This “close but not quite” approach to cloning the Tube Screamer is a trend that continues when you look inside the pedal, too. In terms of sound, it may be a truer match than even the TS9, with a warm, dark overdrive tone reminiscent of the JRC4558 chips used in the original. The effect is smooth and has that full, inimitable sound of analog circuitry.
There are also some key differences in the sound of this pedal compared to the original. Most notably it has a higher output than original tube screamers. You can still get the subtle overdrive that TS pedals are known for, but it can also give you a broader range of effects, making any amp sound like it’s tube-driven, with a tone that is just at home in rock, jazz, and blues.
The TS808 is a rugged, vintage overdrive pedal that’s capable of both vintage and modern effects. The inclusion of the all-analog circuitry does raise the cost a bit—the TS808 generally costs considerably more than the TS9—but for many players that extra investment is well worth it.
Ibanez TS9 vs TS808 Round 3: Which Pedal Does It Better?
It’s not uncommon for two pedals based off of the same original to have their own distinctive look and feel. In the case of the Tube Screamer, though, both the TS9 (read its reviews here) and the TS808 (read its reviews here) are aiming to be true clones of that distinctive vintage option. The question many players want to answer when they’re shopping for one is which will sound the most like the original.
Neither pedal is exact, although the differences are admittedly negligible, and only a well-trained ear that’s familiar with the sound of the original will likely be able to tell the difference. The all-analog circuitry in the TS808 cannot be replicated, and uses the same chips that were in the original. This is the main factor that makes the TS808 the truest clone of the original Tube Screamer that you’ll find on the modern market (short of buying yourself a vintage pedal).
Having said that, though, whether or not the pedal is an exact match to the original is probably not going to be your main consideration. More important is how the effect sounds when paired with your other equipment. Generally speaking, you’ll get a better sound out of a solid state amplifier when you use the TS9, and the TS808 will pair better with a true valve amp.
This certainly isn’t a hard and fast rule, though. Both of these pedals are capable of a range of overdrive sounds. The Tube Screamer has been a staple of pedal boards for decades, and both of these models can make that famous effect a part of your sound. Good luck!
Micah Johnson started playing music in high school, when he taught himself the bass to join his friend’s band. He added guitar and drums during his twenties playing in local clubs, and along the way, he picked up unique, hands-on experience from hand drums to studio mixers. On Song Simian, he aims to share this knowledge from 20+ years playing and recording music. When not in gearhead mode, he enjoys photography and travel. Email him