Friday, November 7, 2014

A Brief History of Crunch: The Tube Screamer (Part II)

Written by: Jimmy McQuade

Date: November 7th, 2014

In 1982, the TS808 (revered at this point as sort of the Unholy Grail of overdrives) was succeeded by the TS9; and much to Ibanez’s disbelief, presumably, the TS9 went on to out-shine the original TS808 in the stomp-box overdrive market.

Oddly enough, internally, the TS9 is almost identical to the TS808; the only real alterations made in development of the second iteration of the Tube Screamer are 1) the on/off switch, which now took up about a third of the effect’s face and, one could safely assume, was an attempt to mimic the stomp-friendly design of Boss effects pedals, and 2) an expanded output, which “caused the tube screamer to be a bit brighter and less ‘smooth’,” according to a wonderfully detailed article on the Analog Man site. If the TS9 varies only slightly from the TS808 in design, the two couldn’t be more distinct in the component used to manufacture the pedals, which is important to note since component choice has an unquestionable affect on sound. As the Premier Guitar article, referenced in the first installment of this here post, has it: “one drawback of the new Tube Screamer…was that TS9s were built with a somewhat random sourcing of parts-basically whatever was readily available at the time of manufacture.” This resulted in considerable tonal variation between each batch produced; weighing in on the issue, Mike Piera, the “Analog Man,” writes that “the TS-9s were put together with seemingly random op-amp chips, instead of the JRC-4558 which is called for in the schematics. Some of these sound BAD, especially the JRC 2043DD chips.”

Ironically enough, Ibanez and parent company, Hoshino, made a name for itself in the late 60s and early 70s for producing Fender, Gibson and Rickenbacker knockoffs. Nisshin, the Japanese outfit that supplied pickups for some of Ibanez’s ersatz instruments, was in fact the company that manufactured the first Tube Screamer, and other effects, for Ibanez, but as result of an interesting if somewhat vague arrangement between Nisshin and Ibanez/Hoshino, “Nisshin was allowed to market its own line of effects, which were identical to those it made for Ibanez,” as Tucker writes. In 1979, the fist Tube Screamer, TS808, debuted and was quickly picked up by the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan and other guitar greats.

But upon its release, the TS9 was not necessarily received with arms open. As John Lomas, the former product manager at Ibanez, puts it to Premier Guitar’s Lindsey Tucker, the unveiling of the TS9 “was not a magical moment by any stretch of the imagination…. The public didn’t give a rat’s ass-not for the longest time. It caught on much later. I would say guys really started talking about it in the late ’80s, and by 1990 it was really starting to roll along.” Because the TS9 failed to really take off on its debut, Ibanez discontinued the pedal in 1985, after only about three years on the market. But the Tube Screamer wasn’t gone for long; after putting out Super Tube STL, which wasn’t branded as a Tube Screamer but a part of the Master Series and contained the same circuitry as the Tube Screamer and an additional two-band EQ, Ibanez released the TS10. Which, unfortunately, was a complete flop. As Lindsey Tucker writes, the TS10 was developed with “with quieter circuitry that eliminated the vexatious chirp that older Tube Screamers sometimes emitted when all the controls were turned up. However, these alterations affected the burgeoning star’s signature tone, and the TS10 wasn’t as well received as Hoshino hoped.” Even Piera has a particular distaste for the TS10, complaining to Tucker, “I still hate [the TS10]…. They used cheap, proprietary parts-jacks, switches, and pots that often break and can’t be replaced, because the sturdy parts used in handmade, handwired pedals like the TS9 won’t fit. They have circuit boards that have all these parts mounted on them that break off, just so they could make pedals cheaply with machine soldering.”

But despite Ibanez’s failure with the TS10, the classic sounds of the TS808 and TS9 began rearing their heads in the music and guitar work of beloved artists like Stevie Ray Vaughn and U2’s The Edge. In the early 1990s, the Tube Screamer’s distinctive sonic crunch became once more a sought-after commodity, prompting Ibanez to return to its roots.

(To be continued…)

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