Very few pedals have the mojo, the karma, the sustainy crunch- the oh, so smooth feel as does the TS-9 Tubescreamer. This is often imitated and duplicated, and is modified with differing specifications and is still the standard for overdrives. Here is my story-
Once upon a time, a young 15 year old boy got his first electric. It was a basic model Samick, with 2 humbuckers and he was given a cheap Epiphone 40 watt amp. A young friend told him about the beauty of stompboxes. So the young boy went to the guitar shop, saw the ‘soundtank’ plastic version of a popular pedal and bought it. Upon arriving at home and playing the pedal, the boy was disappointed in the lack of “scream”, as the term “scream” obviously refers to metal-esqe distortion, right?
So in a fit of disappointment, our young hero clicked on the overdrive channel on his amp with the tube screamer clicked on as well. And music…. beautiful music came out. The drive channel no longer had the crack and fuzz, it was smooth, but still “screamed”. There was an infinite sustain!! And thus the idea of stacking effects/overdrives was confirmed in his young, impressionable mind.
Well, as the wisdom of the young would have it, the lad- still searching the metal scream- sold the pedal and continued on. After purchasing a Boss DS1, he was happy. Then, the boy grew up.
This mature hero brought his battle axe to a church youth group. Now, in his current state of wisdom, he plugged in his DS1 and proceeded to try to play along with a bout of slow worship. The results- embarrassing. Too much fuzz, too loud, too… everything. So he turned his head back to this TS9 idea. Upon purchasing, he realized it had just a small amount of crunch and could sing smoothly when playing one string at a time. It fit well with smooth worship and was not overpowering. It was the perfect medium between a clean guitar and a complete raging distortion.
The TS9 is THE standard for overdrive. It is designed to simulate a standard tube amp being pushed to natural distortion. Another notable example is the Boss SD1. This is a very similar circuit, just with a different clipping mechanism. Pedals such as the Voodoo Labs’ “Sparkle Drive” and Visual Sound’s “Jekel and Hyde” are identical circuits with slightly differing features. So this pedal is quite the innovator in our field. Check out the complete history from Analogman here: www.analogman.com/tshist.htm
My basic train of thought now is that the TS9 is excellent, and awesome. Its main characteristics are a very smooth, silky sustain with a hint of distortion when playing one string leads. It has a subtle “crunch” when hit hard, which is perfect for power chords. The other affect on your tone is the midrange. There is quite a nice hump- and gives a very smooth, warm feeling as neither the bass (dark) or the treble (brights) are emphasized.
The “crunch” is the sound I have been looking for for almost 8 years now. And what most guitar players do is use this midrange-ness to have their leads “stand out” better. Think about it- The bass is playing the… well, basslines, and you or the other rhythm guitar is playing the treble parts. When you click on this pedal for a lead, you are in a different frequency that isn’t being used, and it takes less volume for others to hear your part! This is the beauty of the pedal! The 2ndry effect is the way it affects your pedals following it. It adds sustain, a hint of compression, smooth distortion, and a touch of midrange when played into a Boss DS1 distortion at all settings at 12 noon.
Lastly, this is the effect most modified by dealers and guitar techs. Talk about versatility!
If you read the Analogman history, you know of the mojo contained within JRC4558 chip is the defining part of the classic TS808 sound. The modern TS9 does not use this chip and is a bit lacking in tone and crunch. My opinion was that the newer TS9 sounds thin. I honestly was very disappointed when I bought my new TS9 and had the attitude I had in my teens: this pedal sucked! I read the history in Analogman and thought I would give it one last ditch effort and sent the thing in to be modded. As I am now raving about this pedal, it obviously worked.
My “custom” setting with the Analogman TS9 is tone knob @ 2’clock, drive @ 12 to 2’clock (depending on song set: 12 for softer songs and less crunch, 2 for when rocking or for where a definitive lead overtone is desired for a softer song), and level where its just a touch louder than my clean sound for when the drummer kicks it up a notch i can still be heard. This performs beautifully with my humbuckers and gives me nice range. At the 12’oclock setting, at my treble pickups, there is a very sweet spot for SRV blues. However, in church, I generally use my neck pickups and place my tone knob on my guitar at midway. Excellent smooth sustain with no grating on the ears.
Speaking of the wealth of modifiers, here is a listing of mods and the websites where you can find them:
www.buyanalogman.com: this guy started the TS9 modding trend. His TS9 mod replaces the chip and cleans up the overall sound to the classic vintage TS808. He is more concerned with the vintage sound, than an actual effect. This is also known as the “Brown mod”. He does have a specialty mod called the “Silver” mod, in which more components are replaced for a smoother sound, less midrange hump, and a more transparent tone.
www.robertkeeley.com: is the newer guy on the scene. His TS9 is perhaps a little more well known. He performs the same mod as Analogman, but adds a few different adjustments. His mod gives a bit more gain (gain knob is changed, it goes from 4 to 14 now, instead of 1-10), and he adds a bass response to level out the sound some. He has a second mod called “Baked mod”, which gives 3x the gain for an ultimate smooth, singing TS9.
www.monteallums.com: is the pioneer “do it yourself” modifier. He has created kits that you can purchase and mod your own pedal with, in your own home. His painstaking eye for detail and direction has created many new mods and completely changed and affected this industry. If you have patience, a solder gun, and the will to try, his instructions and parts are the same and just as good as the others, but at 1/2 the price.
www.cmatmods.com: is the guy who is approved to install Monte Allum’s mods if you really like them, but don’t want to do it yourself.
www.buildyourownclone.com: Also Do It Yourself. They do NOT mod, they recreate the effect with top quality parts to make a BETTER clone (at times). Build your own tubescreamer from the ground up and paint the box and everything- absolute control!
My thoughts on the mods:
I have played the top 3- the Analogman, the Keeley Mod Plus, and the Keeley Baked Mod. I explained each one above, and after playing each, decided to keep the Analogman.
Analogman self describes his mod as: making it sound “Less” like an effect. It actually sounds like a tubeamp being overdriven- but with a mid hump. This was a very clear, clean effect- very natural sounding, with minimal compression.
The Keeley Mod Plus added a bit too much bass for me. My humbuckers were a touch too powerful. The guy who bought it from me plays a strat, and it fit him perfect. Sounded great, but a bit like an effect to me with the bass response. It was a little excessive for my tastes.
The Keeley Baked Mod gives a very smooth, creamy effect. It was great fun- but did not sound like my guitar at all. This effect was greatly compressed without much of playing dynamics left. If TONE is your quest, do not get this. If a new, interesting, violin-y sound is what you want, try it. Not for me– I replaced with Electro Harmonix “Lil Big Muff”. I prefer its warm violin sound to this TS9. Its perfect for me.
In my effects chain I place this after the wah to get nice, distorted spikes with the wah. Since this is the main overdrive, I place it before all the effects that will change its performance (tremolo, phase) so their voicing will be coming from my OD.
And if I have not convinced you of using a Tubescreamer yet, just look at the players who use it. My top here are: Santana (a compressor and TS9 is his signature sound), The Edge, SRV, Eric Clapton, John Mayer and Pearl Jam. There are a tons more, so check it out!
Again placement: I place this after the wah, so when I get the dynamic spikes, they are more extreme and overdriven more. You will also hear notes with more squeal as you play up and down the neck with the wah filter at a fixed point. The noticable dynamics work well for me- but many others use the OD first, then the wah. No bad choice. Just see what fits your music better!
Until Next Time….. Happy Playing!
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