Since its first appearance in the late 70s, the original TS-808 Tube Screamer has enjoyed huge affection by guitar players. Ibanez has now opened the door to us bassists and 2011 saw the introduction of the Bass Tube Screamer TS9B. Having read and heard so much about their legendary tone, I was keen to find out how well it would work grinding up some low end.
The TS-808 Tube Screamer was a progression from the mid-70s Ibanez OD850 Overdrive. These first incarnations of the original TS-808 Tube Screamer have been hailed as the best overdrive by many guitarists. Much is made of the particular chips used in each version of the pedal, and the original JRC4558D commands high prices among collectors. The TS-808 was eventually superceded in 1982 by the TS9, which featured exactly the same circuit as the original, and in 1986 Ibanez launched the TS-10, which had many changes to the circuit but never enjoyed the success of its earlier cousins.
Out of the box you would be forgiven for mistaking this pedal for a standard TS9, save for the glut of knobs atop it and its minty green metallic finish. It’s a very familiar format, and anyone accustomed to Ibanez, Maxon or Boss pedals will instantly feel at home with this. It has simple in and out jack sockets, and a 9V DC power socket, all wrapped up in an apocalypse-proof metal case. The TS9B also has the quirky wide footswitch of the TS9, which I guess adds to the aesthetic, but in my opinion is clumsy and easy to mis-hit.
This version of the TS is bass-voiced, letting through more low end. It also adds a couple of features not seen on the standard guitar version. The usual drive and level controls are there, but separate bass and treble controls have replaced the normal tone knob. This gives bass players more control and allows us to shape the sound to suit our needs very easily. Also new for this bass version is the mix control, enabling you to blend in your dry signal. This is perhaps the pedal’s greatest change from the stock TS9, and enables you to add in your clean bass sound, giving greater clarity and bass response.
I started by setting the EQ section flat, with drive and mix set at 50 per cent. I tweaked the level control to balance up with the bypassed signal. Straight away you get rich overdrive: it’s thick and warm, and totally different to the shrill sound I remembered from stock TS9s that I had tried. Overall, this was a much better experience. I then tested out the manual’s suggested settings. All worked well and showed that the pedal has a good and usable range of tones, from very subtle OD through classic distortion to borderline fuzzy Big Muff saturation. Combining the drive and mix knobs to dial in the right amount of drive was quick and intuitive. I did notice, however, that with the mix set to minimum there was still some noticeable bleed-through of the overdrive.
You can also use the pedal as a boost by adjusting the level control, which gives the user great scope to the application of the Bass TS. It was also noticeable that the character of the pedal is nicely voiced, very musical and responsive to picking attack. The ability to react to dynamic response is what made the Tube Screamer famous in the first place, and it’s good to see it’s here in abundance with the TS9B.
If you are seeking a little more grit to your sound, then the TS9B is an excellent choice. Rock bassists in particular will favour this little box, as it adds warm drive in all the right places. Its ability to react to dynamic changes in your playing makes it very easy to like. While it will give some fuzziness to your tone, it won’t compress the life out of it so much that you couldn’t be heard in a band context. It also covers many applications, working equally well as a boost, OD or distortion pedal. Whether or not this incarnation of the Tube Screamer will become as popular among the bass fraternity as its predecessor was to guitarists is hard to say. But it does have some useful sounds and functions that I imagine many will come to find invaluable.
Chris has amassed a staggering amount of insightful, interesting and sometimes irrelevant information on bass guitar equipment during his career as a professional bassist. Some would say it’s a gift, others that he is a nerd, either way we continue to push boxes of electronics under his nose and make him report to us on his favourites.