SRV – Tube Screamers

From Premier Guitar magazine: “The Ibanez Tube Screamer is arguably the most beloved of overdrive pedals. It’s been rocked by guitar greats as diverse as Eric Johnson, Trey Anastasio, and Brad Paisley, and some would go as far as saying no single pedal has had a greater impact on musical expression or played as important a role in the development of effects modification. The essence of the Tube Screamer’s appeal — what multitudes of similar designs that it has inspired over the years aim to capture — are the subtly pleasing qualities it induces as it interacts with a tube amp: As you increase the amplitude of an input signal to overload a tube amp’s preamp, it distorts the signal in a way that adds sustain, edge, and harmonic liveliness, while preserving the innate tonal characteristics of the guitar and amp — and without obscuring the player’s dynamics. Despite the popularity and Holy Grail status attained by the original TS808, the Tube Screamer wasn’t left alone — and plenty of pedal lovers are glad. Perhaps the most popular of all Tube Screamers, the TS9 replaced the TS808 in 1982.”

Before 1982, Stevie went direct from guitar to amplifier with the exception of a wah pedal for Hendrix tunes. Roadie Cutter Brandenburg would run out on stage between songs and plug the guitar into the wah pedal and the pedal into the amp. After the song, he would run out and disconnect it! Then in 1982, guitar tech Donnie Opperman introduced Stevie to the Tube Screamer from his experience with Joe Walsh. Donnie made Stevie’s first pedal board, a piece of scrap aluminum bent along the top edge to lift that side off the stage floor, had Stevie place the wah, TS and a MXR Loop Selector where he wanted them on the board, and screwed the pedals to the aluminum board and reinforced with tape. Stevie used this board for several years. Here is a photo of the board Donnie made with the amplifier foot switch added, ca. January 1985. 

Stevie used a Tube Screamer more than any of the very few effects pedals he employed from 1982-1990. Although many associate Stevie’s tone with the TS808, photographic and other evidence suggests he only used an 808 briefly in early 1982, and did not use it in the studio. Why Stevie’s tone became associated with the 808 is anyone’s guess. It is a bit of a nit to pick since the 808 and early 9’s like this one had the same chip. It was reported that when Ibanez bought up all the TS9’s they could find in preparation for reissuing it in 1992, only 5-10% of the TS9’s had the early JRC4558D chip. But Stevie used TS9’s longer than any other variant. Stevie’s 1981 equipment list does not include a Tube Screamer. A photo from April 1982 shows Stevie using a TS808, but the 1982 band equipment list shows a TS9 (the year of its introduction). I am not aware of any evidence that Stevie went back to the 808 after he got the TS9 in 1982.

A photo shows Stevie used a TS9 on the Japan tour in January 1985, and the equipment carnét for the tour lists two Tube Screamers. TS9’s appear in other photos until late 1988 when Stevie was using a TS10. In Step producer Jim Gaines said Stevie was using two Tube Screamers together in the studio, and it is very possible he was using both the TS9 and a TS10 (Donnie said, “That sounds like what Stevie would do.”)  One other note about Stevie’s TS9’s — one of them lost the Drive knob and appeared to have been replaced with a Tele-style control knob! The Drive knob on one of the pedals I have wiggles like a loose tooth, so maybe this is the same TS9, and the Tele knob was also lost and replaced with an original-style knob. Interestingly, another of Stevie’s TS9’s is currently on display at the Grammy Museum, and it does not have the Tele knob either. Stevie obviously kept the 9’s even after the 10 came out. He kept the one shown at right in the top photo until early 1990.

 Tube Screamers were not plentiful in the 80’s. The original TS9 was only made from 1982-1985, so Stevie probably did not have more than a very few. That would explain the amount of wear on this pedal.  Other researchers have noted that Tube Screamers did not become big sellers until the TS9 was reissued in 1992. A friend of Stevie’s who played in a well-known blues band told me that Stevie set the TS for a clean boost. The Drive knob would be off or extremely low; the Level would be full on or nearly full, and the Tone between 12:00 and 3:00. The Tone would be adjusted based on how Stevie had everything else set — the guitar tone, the amp tone, etc. It still sounds great today.

Virtually all the wear on the pedal on the right is said to have been there when Stevie parted with it in early 1990, but it was used on tour by Stevie’s friend until 1995, and was still being used by him in 2014. Looks like a perfect mate to Stevie’s beat-up Number One Strat, doesn’t it? Thankfully, another piece of history preserved.

I acquired a second of Stevie’s Tube Screamers from a collector I know who got it from one of Stevie’s roadies who confirmed it. It is the pedal on the left in the top photo. This one was part of Stevie’s rig until July 1985. The electrolytic can capacitors are coded A8138, designating late September 1981 and meaning that this is a very early TS-9. It has the JRC2043DD chip, consistent with the earliest TS-9’s, not regarded as sounding as good as the JRC4558D chip like the one described above from later in Stevie’s career. This earlier TS-9 is one of the two Tube Screamers listed on the 1985 Japan tour carnét. The appearance is similar to the photo of the later TS-9 – more tape residue but less paint loss. Oddly, they both have a large dent on the top left corner of the Ibanez name plate. Neither TS-9 has the serial number sticker still attached.

BONUS: Here is one of Stevie’s MXR Loop Selectors