1981 Ibanez TS-808 Tube Screamer Pro

Model Description:

For many musicians, enthusiasts and collectors, the iconic bright green Ibanez TS‑808 Tube Screamer Overdrive Pro from the early 1980s is the ‘holy grail’ of overdrive stomp boxes. The ‘Made in Japan’ TS‑808 was manufactured by Ibanez’s business partner Maxon. The Tube Screamer has achieved almost mythical status over the intervening decades, with the name effectively becoming the industry benchmark for overdrive effects. Its reputation was built on its ability to complement the relationship between guitar and amp, particularly amps like Fender valve amps that have a mid‑range frequency dip. Also, artist association with the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan have only increased its standing amongst its acolytes. Technically, the distinctive sound of the TS‑808 has been attributed to the Japan Radio Company JRC4558D op‑amp chip commonly used by Ibanez at the time. The vast majority of the original TS‑808 were made for a short period during 1980 and 1981 only. By 1982, the Ibanez TS9 had superseded it. Over that 2‑year period, there were about seven different variations comprising the ® symbol next to the Ibanez logo, whether there is a knurled or smooth nut on the DC input, the presence a hyphen in the model name, and the existence (or not) of level markers around the knobs. However, there was little practical difference to the circuit (labelled with either an ‘A’ or ‘B’ suffix). While relatively numerous, the TS‑808 has become extremely collectable. Whether this desirability above all other similar pedals is warranted is a matter of vigorous debate. Regardless of merit, vintage market prices for original TS‑808s are disproportionately, and often prohibitively, high and increasing relentlessly. From 2004, Ibanez has exploited popular demand by reissuing the Tube Screamer. For many, though, only the original early 1980s models will do, further fuelling the legend that is the TS‑808.

Pedal Description:

Often imitated, much revered, rarely bettered – here we have the real deal; a vintage standard box Ibanez TS‑808 dating from 1981 (v.5 – with ®, no nut on power jack, no level markers). Like many original TS‑808s, this example shows typical signs of wear, although it is only superficial to the finish. The only other change appears to be the common battery clip replacement. In use, it is simplicity itself, with the normal gain, level and tone controls, so it’s a straightforward case of plug in and play. Most experts suggest that the TS‑808 works best with the ‘Overdrive’ control set low and the ‘Level’ set high, so that the boost adds a mild gain that helps to push an amplifier’s input valves into smooth, warm distortion. However, this advice is not set in stone and it’s up to the user to experiment to get the tone they want from it. In use, it sounds just as widely documented elsewhere. What I would say is that it is quite unforgiving to mistakes, so a clean playing style is a must. At higher gain and tone settings it has the distinctive fizzy sibilance often associated with transistor distortion. Now, here’s where I get all ‘emperor’s new clothes’… Yes, it’s a good overdrive pedal but so are numerous others out there. Yes, it works better with some gear than others but that is also nothing out of the ordinary. Looking at the bigger picture, one wonders why the TS‑808’s reputation has become quite so legendary. To be honest, I don’t have a definitive answer. Whether vintage or not, I do think that the TS‑808 is overrated and overpriced for what it actually is. I have long been curious as to why some guitarists spend thousands on their guitars and amps and they then rely on a few inexpensive solid‑state components to enhance it. There really is no magic going on here. This is a well‑engineered circuit that has captured guitarists’ imagination and has generally been hyped up. Whether you buy into that propaganda is up to you. However, if the Tube Screamer helps guitarists to make great music (rather than a return on investment), then it can only be a good thing. If you accept it on face value, it is a very good vintage effect overdrive pedal.


  • Made in Japan by Maxon in 1981
  • The ‘Overdrive’ knob controls the amount of gain added to the original signal
  • The ‘Level’ knob controls the overall output volume
  • The ‘Tone’ knob controls the amount of treble or bass
  • Red LED indicator light to show when the effect is in use
  • Ibanez square footswitch turns the effect on and off
  • Standard ¼” mono input and output jack sockets
  • 9V DC power supply input or 9V battery
  • Black ‘Made in Japan’ label on the base of the pedal
  • Original ‘Maxon’ battery compartment cover
  • Dimensions: 70mm (w) x 125mm (d) x 52mm (h)
  • Weight: 500g
  • No box or instructions

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