So. The whole Bad Monkey thing lately. This post is not about that. It's about Tube Screamers in general. Sort of.
The first drive-ish pedal I ever bought was a DS-1. I bought waaaaay back when. I had just bought my first electric after playing only acoustic for 15 years or so. Figured I needed a pedal to go with it. Ebay was all the rage and the newest way to get cool stuff cheap, so I hit Ebay and found the cheapest drive pedal I could find. Kept it for a long time. Not really sure what happened to it. I don't remember selling it or trading it off or anything, but I have not idea when or where I got rid of it, and it's not in any of my stuff anymore.
6 or 8 years later, I bought my first OD pedal that I figured I would use. It was a Visual Sound Route 66. The one with the compressor on one side and the drive on the other. I bought it because there was a guitar player I liked that swore by that compressor (the single pedal), so I figured it would have to be good if it had a drive attached. So I bought it.
Always liked the drive side. At the time, I didn't know that it had been modeled after the TS808. It was the only drive pedal I had for several years. Then, one year when we were on vacation, I happened into a music store and spent waaaaay too much time talking to the staff and playing with stuff in their shop. It was a mom and pop in nowheresville, so I felt like I owed it to them to buy something before I left. So I paid too much for a TS9. It had a little bit different character than the Route 66, but it did the same thing. It quickly became my favorite.
Sitting in the quiet of my little music room, I think I can hear the difference in a TS9 and a TS808, but, truthfully, they do the same thing, and I'm not sure I could hear the difference in a crowded room. So, at some point, I started into one of those collect-them-all phases.
At some point, in addition to the actual green Ibanez Tube Screamers, I have picked up (in no particular order):
After trying all those different TS-type pedals, I still believe that I like the sound of the TS9 better than the TS808. I'm not sure exactly what I'm hearing that makes me think that, but I do. All of the TS-type pedals made by everyone else are modeled off the TS808. I've, also, never tried a TS10 to see how it compares.
Here's how I would rank them at the moment from my favorite to least favorite. Also, the ones that I own are prefaced with an "o-" and the ones I no longer have are prefaced with a "g-". The ones actually on my current boards also have a "b" added to the preface.
So what's your favorite TS-type pedal?
Back in 2019 I became aware of the NuX brand of pedals. Maybe it was actually the end of 2018. It was whenever they announced that they were making a Klone. At that time, I was on a kick to try just about every pedal of that variety that I could find, especially the cheap ones. I already had several, and had my favorites (which are still my favorites today), but NuX announced their Horseman. It caught my interest because, knowing there were two types of Klons (the gold and silver), but not really knowing what the difference in them was, NuX was apparently making a klone that could be changed from one type to the other just by holding the switch down long.
So, shortly after it was announced, I placed my order for it. It was supposed to ship in like 2 months. After nearly 3, I got a notice that shipping had been delayed, but it was still coming. After waiting a total of about 4 months, I finally got it in hand. I excitedly pulled it out and put it in my chain to test out.
I was underwhelmed on all counts.
Granted, I'm not a huge Klon fan, I think in the right places, it is a standout pedal. Yes, I am one of those folks that Josh Scott hates because I like it at the front of all my drives on an amp that is just beginning to get some hair. Set the volume to push the amp and the drive at about 9 o'clock, and I think, on the right amp, that is one of those guitar tones that people chase. Sorry, not sorry, Mr JHS.
The NuX Horseman just didn't do much for me. It quickly got put in the closet and forgotten. A few months later, I pulled it out and tested it against some of the klones I had at the time. It didn't do very well. In fact, it went back in the closet, and was one of the first pedals I grabbed in the great gear purge of 2020.
On a sort of related note, in that same gear purge, I got rid of a Vertex Steel String Clean Drive. I had never really bonded with it, so it got sold. I'll come back to this in a sec.
So, earlier this year, I kept getting those targeted adds for the NuX Ace of Tone. I was completely unfamiliar with it. Turns out it is a double pedal with their Morning Star on one side and their Tubeman on the other. Two things caught my eye about it. First, it has a switch so that you can change the signal so it routes to the side that you want it to hit first. So it can go left to right or right to left. Second, the MS side is supposed to be their Blues Breaker circuit, and the TM side is a TS-type circuit. A good TS of some sort has been on my board since I first started buying pedals. The first OD pedal I bought was a TS-copy, but I didn't know it at the time.
Neeways, it was the BB side that I really wanted to try. I had heard a couple of guys talking about those along with the legendary King of Tone just before I started seeing the ads. I had never tried a BB-type that I knew of, and only knew that the KoT was talked about in the same hushed tones as the original Klons. Since, this had the circuit that I wanted to try as well as the circuit I always used and I could route it through either side first, I figured the worst that could happen would be for me to buy it, and then flip it because it sucked.
I had some Amazon gift credit, so I grabbed it there on the cheap. Got it the next day, plugged it in, and it has held a spot on my Affordaboard since. I prefer it routed right to left (BB -> TS). Honestly, I'm not super impressed with the TS side. It's just missing something that every other TS-type I've got (and kept) has. But I forgive that because the BB side sounds really good to me. It has a little thing on it called Shine-mode that pushes the treble, and, with that on, the pedal just sounds super good to me.
Then, back during the fall, I was talking to someone about trying to get that Robben Ford sound, and they told me that a lot of it was because he was using a Dumble amp. I don't ever see me getting a Dumble. Even if I am ever in a position to afford one, I don't think I could rationalize it. So I decided to try a D-type pedal. When I googled those, I saw the NuX Steel Singer. Since I had been liking the Ace of Tone so much, I decided to check them out. I found one on Reverb for $25 that looked in good shape, so I got it.
When it came in, I thought it looked an awful lot like that Vertex I had never liked. So, I immediately discounted it because I never really liked the Vertex. Although, in retrospect, I may not've given it a fair shake. I plugged the pedal in and started playing around with it. I immediately dug it! Kind of like this klones I have always had at the front of my ODs, I leave the gain really low and was using it to just push the amp. I like it better than any of my sub-$100 klones enough that it ended up taking that space on my Affordaboard.
Then, last week, I was thinking I wanted to try a cheap Marshall in a box. Saw one of the NuX Plexi Crunch pedals on Reverb for $20 and grabbed it. I don't have a Marshall to judge it against, but it sounds about like I expected it to sound. It'll probably get traded off at some point, but I'll hang on to it for a while.
Now they're advertising that Queen of Tone. It's a BB-circuit and their klone. Granted, I didn't like their stand-alone klone, I may give the dual pedal a shot. Just because. I haven't decided though. I got the Ace of Tone brand new for $110, but they're asking $200 for the Queen of Tone. I could get the two individual pedals for $120, so why would I want to spend an extra $80 just for them to be in the same box. If they drop the price to the price of the Ace of Tone, I may grab one.
That's been my NuX journey since I first heard about them. Some of their stuff has been extremely average, and some of their stuff I have really liked. You'll see the Steel Singer and Ace of Tone both on my Affordaboard below.
What budget-minded pedals have you tried that surprised you? Was it a good surprise or a bad one? Did any of them stay on your board? Let me know in the comments.
I don't use my pedal board as often as I could these days. Truth is that I often find myself just running straight into the amp I'm using. That means that sometimes I get a pretty clean tone, especially at the house, because you can't really turn up loud enough to get good overdrive on some amps. However, I do use it occasionally. Used it last weekend in fact. Ran my guitar through the board and then straight to my mixer to do some recording.
Now the board itself is pretty small. I saw some of those ads for the Holeyboards that Chemistry Design Werks makes, and really liked them. So, being the cheap dude that I can be sometimes, I headed down to the local Home Depot and picked up a couple of 2'x4'x3/4" boards. The first board I made was about 18"x36". Painted it surf green, and then loaded it down with pedals. That one lasted until the first time I moved it. That's when I realized that it was just too big and unwieldy. That's when I made the next one. Didn't paint it or anything, it's just a piece of raw wood. This second one is about 10"x15" and seems to be about the perfect size for what I need. Like the Holeyboards, I've got it drilled up so that the pedals attach with zip ties. Unlike the Holeyboards, I don't have room for a power supply on it so I use a TrueTone One Spot with it.
I actually had disassembled it for about 6 months, but recently put a board back together for what I wanted. Here's the path. Guitar > TU2 tuner > Wampler Tumnus > TS9 TubeScreamer > GarageTone Axle Grease Delay > Danelectro Big Spender Spinning Speaker > Mooer Acoustikar > whatever amp I happen to be using. Now here's why.
I've got the TU2 tuner for a couple of reasons. First, everyone seems to be using a Snark or some other clip on tuner. I do too. But, when you're playing out, sometimes the clip-on is a bit awkward, and, the tuner, when turned on, will immediately silence the guitar. Who hasn't been in a situation when you wanted to be able to do that for some reason. In my head, between the guitar volume and the pedal, that solves that problem. Plus, it tunes accurately and is bright enough that you can see it in most cases.
From there, signal goes to the the Tumnus. It's pretty much an always-on pedal. I use it as that magical boost. In my head, it just makes whatever amp I'm using sound a bit better as it hits it a little harder and adds a bit of sparkle (how's that for a one of those meaningless guitar player adjectives). Like I said, it's almost always on. At the moment, it's the Tumnus because I'm a huge Chronicles of Narnia fan, but it just as often is my Soul Food. To my ear, using them as just a boost, they do about the same thing.
From there, it's into the Tube Screamer. I use a TS9 just because it was the least expensive Tube Screamer that the store had when I bought. I kind of like the Tube Screamer sound...mid boost and all. I use it to get a little overdrive when I'm not quite getting as much as I want. It doesn't really add a lot of drive. It mostly just pushes the amp a bit more.
From that, it goes to the Axle Grease delay. These were made by Virtual Sound (now Truetone) several years ago. The GarageTone pedals were budget-priced and great pedals for the money. For a simple delay (I have it set for just a touch of slapback), this pedal is the best bang for the buck (imho). I wish they hadn't discontinued this line.
Then to the Danelectro Spinning Speaker. It's supposed to do the Leslie thing. Mrs Snarf got it for me for Christmas, and it's been a ton of fun. It replaced the tremolo pedal I had been using. This is another one of those pedals that, bang for the buck, you just have to try. It's a great little pedal.
From there, to the Mooer Acoustikar. This pedal does a good job of simulating an acoustic. I've got it set on the piezo setting rather than the unplugged acoustic sound just because, in a worship setting especially, you're always plugged in using the piezo. Got this one used off of Reverb, and, for what I paid, it does the job well.
Now there are a whole bunch of other pedals in the closet, but these are the ones that currently make me happy. The others will eventually get rotated out I'm sure. Just not at the moment. Maybe I'll do a more thorough review of the pedals later.
Snarf is a wannabe musician who currently resides in the great state of Texas. His wife is his favorite. He believes chocolate milk made from milk that is anything less than whole milk is basically water and deserves to be dumped down the sink so nobody has to suffer through it. He hates having to shop for clothes. But he has a thing for really cool bags, and, consequently, has more gig bags than guitars and a closet full of messenger bags and backpacks. He still misses his dog who was taken by cancer years ago. Check out his Reverb shop and see if he has any gear he's trying to get rid of.