Maxon OD808 Review

TOKAI REGISTRY

"An Ibanez Tube Screamer is an overdrive/distortion pedal that is mild compared to many, but allows the true sound of the guitar and player's technique to come through. The most popular use of a tube screamer is to push a tube amp to make it overdrive more, but they sound good through almost anything." - analogman.com

Ah the old Tube Screamer, there are many variations however the one constant is they have all been manufactured by Maxon. But they all say Ibanez on the front so what's the deal? Maxon has always manufactured the Tube Screamer series and Ibanez marketing them under their brand, Maxon has been what is referred to as an OEM manufacturer... Until now.

Maxon has released under their own brand the OD808 which is built identically to the treasured TS-808. Before jumping into the specifics on the Maxon OD808 I thought it would be good to take a brief look at the history of the Tube Screamer.

Tube Screamer History

The Tube Screamer as we know it today started in the late 70's with the TS-808 model which was made famous by the late Stevie Ray Vaughan. SRV used the TS-808 for his trademark juicy Strat tone. When he used smaller Fender amps that had natural overdrive, he used the TS set clean (low drive setting) with the level up high to push the amp for more distortion. When he played through big clean amps he turned the drive up more, about 1/2 way, with tone on about 3 and level about 7 to get the distortion from the TS.

The main component of any solid state distortion device is the Op-Amp which gives the distortion is flavor. The different Tube Screamers have used different Op-Amps throughout their history with many believing the best to be the JRC4558D chip. The JRC4558 or RC4558 chip was used throughout the life of the TS-808.

Around 1982 the Ibanez pedals were repackaged and the 9-series of effects came out. The most popular is the TS-9 tube screamer, which is almost the same as the TS-808 internally. Externally the on/off switch grew to fill about 1/3 of the effect. The main change in the TS-9 circuit is in the output section. This caused the tube screamer to be a bit brighter and less "smooth". The Edge from U2 uses a TS9 for most of his overdrive tones, as do countless other famous rock and blues players. In later years 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.

After the 9 series was discontinued, the more cheaply made TS-10 appeared. In about 1988 some TS-10 pedals were made in Taiwan, using an MC4558 chip. The plastic TS-5 "Sound tank" followed the TS-10 and was available until about 1999 when the TS7 "TONE LOK" series came out. The TS-5 circuit is very similar to the TS-9 but made in Taiwan with cheaper, smaller components. Also, the box is plastic so there may be more noise than a shielded metal TS-808 or TS-9 box. Some people are happy with these but most prefer the older ones. Compared to a TS-808, a TS-10 has about 3 times more changes than the TS-9. A few years ago, Ibanez started to make the TS-9 again due to popular demand. This "reissue" is basically identical to the last "original" TS-9s in sound, circuitry, and appearance. The IC chip they use in the reissue is the same as some later original TS-9s, the Toshiba TA75558.

In about June of '96 the reissue TS-9 was changed slightly and finally can be told from an "original" TS-9 easily. There is a "CE" symbol on the back, which is required for selling electronics in Europe.

So what about Maxon's OD808?

The OD808 is identical to the original TS808 circuit and features the JRC4558 IC chip. The packaging on the OD808 is reminiscent of MXR pedals with its thin (width) metal box and large foot switch.

When comparing the three pedals the OD808 definitely weighs less than the TS9 Reissue and a bit more than the TS10. Sound wise when using Tube Screamer to push the POD (level at 3 o'clock, tone and drive around 7 o'clock) the modded TS9 and the OD808 sound very similar and better than the TS10. For leads (level 3 o'clock, tone and drive 11 o'clock) the OD808 lets the individual notes to ring just a bit better than the modded TS9 and far better than the TS10. One of the things I really noticed on the OD808 was it's response to pick attack, the amount of distortion or overdrive could really be controlled by varying my pick attack. I set my POD on the Super Reverb setting for this comparison which can be heard in the MP3 files. The rhythm track using the Tube Screamers set to push the amp per the settings above goes in the following order: POD, TS10, modded TS9, OD808.

Final Opinion

If you've got a tube amp and really enjoy the sound but need just a bit more overdrive then definitely check out the OD808. If you've already got a TS9 then listen to the sound files and make the call but it's a close call. If I were still gigging or playing with a group then I would stick with my modded TS9 but without the TS9 I would definitely grab the new OD808. BTW, I still haven't changed the strings on my Strat since I put on the Everly Music B-52's. They're barely tarnished and still sound as good as they did on day one (compare the sound files) over a month later.

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