Out of all things guitar related that we like to spend our money on, we probably pay the most attention to distortion and overdrive pedals. After all, they are used more often compared to other effects, and it’s just something that shapes your tone the most.
And the variety to choose from is endless so you can easily spend days, weeks, even months, going through different distortion and overdrive pedals until you find the one that suits the style of music that you’re playing.
However, most of the standard overdrive and distortion pedals out there lack the warmth, organic sound, and the dynamic response of tube amps. If you’re not satisfied with that, then there are plenty of tube equipped pedals out there to choose from.
Like the Tube Works Real Tube Overdrive which we will be examining in this review.
The pedal was designed back in the 1980s and it was one of the first (if not THE first) examples of pedals that actually have a tube inside it.
Ruggedly built Real Tube Overdrive features the simple basic configuration – input and output jacks, foot switch, and five control knobs. These knobs are output (as in output volume), drive, hi, mid, and lo.
The controls on the 3-band EQ have exact frequencies that they’re controlling. The low knob adjusts frequencies around 150 Hz, the mid knob works within the 800 Hz to 1.5 kHz territory, while the high knob adjusts everything from 2.5 kHz and up.
As already mentioned, and as the product’s name suggests, this overdrive pedal runs with one tube. We’re speaking of a standard preamp valve, the 12AX7 which you can find in most of the amps out there. It can also work with other compatible tubes like the 12AT7, ECC83, and others.
With frequent and regular use, the tube inside will last somewhere between 2 and 4 years, after which you’ll need to replace it if you want to keep the tone fresh and consistent.
In order to run it, you need a standard 9-volt power supply, either an AC adapter or a pedalboard based power unit. This being a tube unit that requires some power, it cannot run on a battery.
Looking at the Real Tube Overdrive, you’ll easily see that it’s well-built as it is placed in a rugged metal casing.
The knobs, the main footswitch, and all the other parts are also quality built so you most likely won’t have any issues with broken components even after frequent use and rougher handling.
The overall design gives out those old vintage 1980s vibes. When it comes to the looks, we could describe it as somewhat of a more handsome brother of the legendary ProCo Rat pedal.
It’s completely black with yellow writings and other labels on it. Although somewhat small, the letters are neat and easy to read as there are no quirky and unusual fonts.
The Real Tube Overdrive has two LED light indicators on it. On the left side, next to the output knob, there is a green light indicating that that the pedal is in the bypass mode.
On the right side, right next to the drive knob, there is a red LED that lights up when the distortion is on. This makes it pretty easy to handle in darker settings when you really need to know if the overdrive is turned on or off during a gig.
Even after long use and some “battle scars”, the Real Tube Overdrive will still look great. What’s more, some signs of use might even make it look cooler.
There are some divisive opinions online when it comes to the pedal’s tone, with guitar players comparing it to standard solid state units. In our own experience, this is not really true, as we’ve heard the warmth and the overall quality of this piece.
It is a bit fuzzy, which some guitar players might find off-putting, but it still doesn’t “spill” the tone all over the place. But if you’re into ZZ Top and Billy Gibbons’ tone ñ or anything similar ñ you’re gonna love the Real Tube Overdrive.
Although it adds some dirt, it still doesn’t completely suffocate your guitar’s distinctive voice, unless you decide to push the drive and volume knobs to the max.
The single coils will still have that pleasant sparkling tone with some fuzziness on top of it. But in our experience, it works the best with humbuckers.
Sporting a tube inside, you’ll be able to make even cheaper solid state amps to sound good with this one. It’s as if you’re turning a solid state amp into a hybrid with one tube in its preamp section.
At the same time, it also works well with standard tube amps and can really push the tone on clean channels.
While it’s designed to be the main overdrive in your signal chain, it can come in handy for boosting other distortions or even high gain lead channels on tube amps. This way, you can create distinctive tones and additionally shape your already distorted sound.
Although you won’t find one that often, the Real Tube can definitely be a good purchase if you’re into classic vintage and slightly fuzzy drives. In case you want something a little bit cleaner, then you can go with the classic option of Ibanez Tube Screamer or any of its clones instead.
Being simple to use, this can be a good option for anyone wanting to get into the world of tube-based guitar distortion pedals. Yes, the tube replacement might be somewhat of a chore and the manual does not recommend that you do it on your own, but it’s not an impossible task.
Either way, the Real Tube Overdrive is a quality piece of gear and you’ll be satisfied with it if you’re looking for the aforementioned tones that we described above.