Overdrive on its own is a very old effect. However, the Ibanez TS808 was one of the first instances of overdrive being packed into a pedal format, and actually sounding incredible. First one of these hit the market back in the late ’70s and it didn’t take long before people recognized the potential. Even so, TS808 is not as popular these days as its successor, the TS9 Tube Screamer. Many will tell you it’s an exact same pedal, but that is not quite the case.
There are enough subtle differences between the two, even though the insides are more or less the same. The absolute biggest difference is the output section, which has changed pedal’s tone color. Recognizing that there is a significant demand for the old TS808, Ibanez has released a reissue of this epic model.
On a first glance, the pedal looks exactly the same as the original. We have that bright green chassis with a really old school foot switch. No matter where you look, everything points to Ibanez following the exact blueprint of the original. That’s great, right? Well, not really. Having the same electronics and the same old output section is awesome, however, we have expected Ibanez to sort out some well-documented issues with the design of this pedal. Namely, the footswitch. Just like it was the case back in the day, the reissued pedal comes with a really weak footswitch that can easily go out on you.
Aside from this issue, overall build quality is rock solid. Its die cast chassis is hard to put a dent in, making it great for heavy duty stage use. Again, that footswitch is the only limit.
Control cluster features the familiar Overdrive, Tone and Level knobs. There’s an input port on the right side of the chassis, with a matching output port on the left. In terms of powering this bad boy, your choices are standard. You can either go with a battery or a power adapter which doesn’t come with the pedal.
Once you plug everything together and start opening up that volume knob, all of the imperfections we have just mentioned simply go away. The tone of the pedal is exactly what TS808 became known for. It’s that smooth overdrive with a whole bunch of delicious overtones. Granted, the pedal will work best with a decent tube amp, but you can still make it work with any solid state unit out there.
Compared to most modern overdrives, not to mention distortions, TS808 comes across as weak in nature. That hasn’t changed. However, those who know how to dial in a good tone will make the TS808 work for them. This is the type of pedal where you just have to go with the flow, or otherwise you will get disappointed real fast. Additionally, running the TS808 through an effects loop is a bad idea. For some reason, the pedal just won’t cooperate if it’s not fed directly into the front of the amp.
Let’s talk a bit about different settings and what to expect from them. At half gain, the pedal will add some depth to your clean sound, without really pushing too much overdrive at its core. In other words, you won’t notice much of a difference until you hit a juicy chord. In that sense, you can really choose how to express yourself. Once the Overdrive knob maxes out, the pedal really starts to ‘scream’. With a good EQ on the amp side of the business, you can dial in a sweet bluesy tone or even a good classic rock tone. Think of Clapton type sound.
Generally, if you were to put the TS9 and TS808 Reissue side by side, the former would come out as a bit more aggressive. TS808 is noticeably smoother to work with, while it’s gain levels are fairly balanced. With that said, TS808 works rather well with other effects pedals, so you don’t have to worry too much about there being a conflict on your pedalboard. If you were to ask us which amp really extracts the most out of this pedal, we would have to go with any of Marshall’s tube configurations. You’d be surprised just how delicious this thing sounds on a JCM800 or JCM900.
At the end of the day, we are fairly satisfied with how TS808 turned out to be. The sound is there, and that is what matters the most. However, we can’t pass a good opportunity to give Ibanez a piece of our mind. If only they had done a few things differently, this pedal could have been so much better. The worst thing of all is that those differences wouldn’t really be that costly at all. For the most part, a different switch could have made a huge impact on how this pedal was received.
With that said, we are definitely happy that we got a TS808 reissue in the first place. The originals are getting harder and harder to find, especially if you are looking for an unmolested one. Even though there are many tube screamers out there, some belonging to a high-end boutique variety, a good old TS808 is still the standard. Do we recommend you get this pedal? Sure, absolutely. However, we can’t emphasize enough how important it is to be aware of the limitations and issues it brings along. Maybe one day we’ll be able to enjoy the classic TS808 without these issues, but that day is not today.