Is a Tube Screamer an Overdrive or Distortion Pedal?


There’s no doubt that the Tube Screamer is one of the most iconic pedal effects out there. It’s used by loads of famous guitarists from Noel Gallagher to Billie Joe Armstrong. But what actually does it do? Is it an overdrive or distortion pedal?

The Tube Screamer is an overdrive pedal, and not a distortion pedal. It adds grit and crunch to your tone and is popular with classic rock, indie and blues guitarists. Distortion pedals on the other hand are more aggressive and suit heavier styles of music. 

If you’re new to guitar effects pedals, then you may not be familiar with the differences between overdrive and distortion pedals, so this guide will take you through it, plus exactly what a tube screamer is and does, plus some cheaper alternative. So let’s get started!

What are Overdrive Pedals?

So now you know that a Tube Screamer is an overdrive pedal, let’s go through exactly what this means. 

Overdrive pedals are one of the most popular pedal types out there, and there are countless different makes and models catering to different price ranges. The Ibanez Tube Screamer, is crowned by many people, as the king of the overdrive pedal category. 

An overdrive pedal is used to mimic the sound of driving a tube amp hard enough distort the signal produced on a clean setting. 

This means that it adds a touch of grit to your tone, without upping the gain. It allows you to have better sustain and crunch, without impacting the clarity of the tone as much as if you just cranked up the gain. 

It’s such a popular pedal because it’s very versatile and suits loads of genres. It is usually most associated with classic rock and indie music. That’s why it’s no surprise that it has famously been used by Oasis and the Arctic Monkeys. 

There are many different scenarios where a tube screamer is useful. It’s great for producing that gritty classic indie rock tone, so if you’re looking to play something from that genre, then it can be a great addition to your setup. It’s also great for cutting through the noise of other instruments, so it’s a good choice for lead guitars and for soloing. 

What are Distortion Pedals?

Distortion pedals offer a completely different effect to overdrive pedals like the Tube Screamer. They are typically more aggressive and suit heavier genres like metal and hard rock, as opposed to classic rock, indie and blues like the overdrive pedal. 

Distortion pedals are particularly useful for providing a thicker and beefier tone to cut through the sound. They’re popular with rhythm and lead guitarists as they are capable of emphasising power chords and solos equally. 

These are a popular choice when you feel like your amp can’t give you as much gain without increasing feedback and an overall lack of clarity. 

If you’re looking for a distortion pedal,  then the Boss DS-2 Turbo Distortion Compact pedal is a great one to go for.

What Exactly Does a Tube Screamer Do?

Now you know that the Tube Screamer is an overdrive pedal, and you also know what an overdrive pedal actually does (and why it’s different to distortion), you should have a better idea of if it’s right for you. 

However, just saying that the tube screamer is an overdrive pedal, isn’t the whole story. A tube screamer is a type of overdrive pedal. There are in fact a number of different types. The saying is true, all tube screamers are overdrive pedals, but not all overdrive pedals are tube screamers. Here are a few of the main types:

  • Tube screamer type overdrive pedals
  • Klon type overdrive pedals
  • Amplifier emulators
  • Pre-boosters and boosters

The Tube Screamer produces a very iconic tone, associated with many famous guitarists, it suits blues, classic rock and indie music particularly well and is known for it’s ability to boost mid-range frequencies very well. 

Klon type pedals are also a hugely popular overdrive effect choice. They offer a more rounded sound, with less emphasis on the mid-range. They usually sound a bit smoother and thicker and less gritty than tube screamers. The Keeley Oxblood Overdrive Pedal is a great option if you’re looking for this kind of tone. 

Pre-boosters and boosters are used mainly to give a cleaner tone some much punch. And amplifier emulators mimic the sound of specific amps being overdriven. 

Ibanez Tube Screamer Pedal

The Ibanez Tube Screamer is the most popular pedal in this category and it has been around since the late 1970’s. It’s famously been played by Noel Gallagher, Alex Turner,  Stevie Ray Vaughan and Billie Joe Armstrong. The Tube Screamer comes with volume and drive controls and also a tone control. 

It’s particularly is known for it’s ability to push the mid-range frequency when you need that extra boost, for example when soloing or for cutting through the rest of the instruments in a band. The built-in tone control is great for when you don’t want quite as much of a boost though, so is equally great for rhythm guitar players. 

The Ibanez Tube Screamer Pedal comes in a few main forms:

Differences Between the Mini, TS9,  TS808 and TS9DX Tube Screamers

The TS808 Tube Screamer was released first and was followed by the TS9 around half a decade later. The two models are mostly identical. But the TS-9 is a touch brighter and rougher. 

The TS9DX is very similar to the TS9 but has four more mode functions. It gives you more volume, bass and distortion than the earlier TS9. 

The TS Mini is a cheaper version of the TS9. It’s not as high quality, and obviously it’s smaller. But it’s still a great option, especially if you don’t want to splash out on the more expensive TS9. 

However, I was surprised to find out just how cheap the iconic Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer is on Guitar Center. To be honest, if you’re looking for a proper tube screamer, then the price difference between the Ibanez Tube Screamer Mini and the TS9 probably isn’t worth it. 

tube screamer
Ibanez Tube Screamer TS808

Best Tube Screamer Pedal Clones

If you don’t want to go for the one of the Ibanez Tube Screamer options, then there are plenty of other choices out there that will give you a similar effect. Here are some of the best tube screamer clones. 

Maxon OD-820 Overdrive Pro

This pedal is actually more expensive than the Ibanez option, but has some great features. It also has drive, tone and volume controls, but offers a more smooth and warm tone. You can pick up the Maxon OD-820 on Guitar Center for a great price. 

Behringer TO800 Vintage Tube Overdrive 

This is the perfect option if you’re looking for a starter tube amp pedal that will give you a great effect. You can find the Behringer TO800 online for a quarter of the price of a Ibanez TS9. 

 

So that’s it! Pretty much everything you need to know about the iconic tube screamer type effects pedals. I hope you found this article useful, thanks for reading. Here are some other posts that you might like: 

Heather

Hey, I'm Heather. I started playing an electric guitar when I was given a Squier Strat for my birthday around 15 years ago. I now own an acoustic guitar and several electric guitars including my personal favourite, a PRS SE Custom 24.

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