Stompbox Fever(6)

June 1, 2004

Ibanez Overdrive Pro TS808 Tube Screamer

Ah, the Tube Screamer. Has there ever been a stompbox more revered by guitarists than this puke-green masterpiece? Methinks not. Until now, Ibanez had never reissued the first version of this classic overdriver, focusing instead on various incarnations of the later TS9 model.

But the company has finally reached all the way back with the new TS808 Tube Screamer ($239 retail/ $169 street), which features the original JRC4558 chip—the engine behind the TS808’s tonal mojo.

The reissue pedal makes it easy to hear why players—particularly blues cats—go cuckoo for the 808. Rather than slam your amplifier’s front end with copious amounts of gain, the TS808 gently coaxes a warm, singing overdrive that is more tube-like than many pedals that actually sport tubes. Plugged into an old Fender Super Reverb—with the pedal’s Tone on zero, the Level maxed, and the Overdrive knob barely cracked—the reissue TS808 delivered a refined midrange response that chirped with a natural vocal-like quality, and its burnished high-end sizzled with just the right amount of toothy bite. With qualities like this, it’s somewhat understandable why original TS808s go for upwards of $500. Well, those prices may start coming down now that guitarists have a lower-cost alternative that oozes just as much tone as the original.

—Darrin Fox

Gjika Mini Amp

The Gjika Mini Amp ($750 direct) is a tube-powered “stompbox” designed primarily to obtain low-volume distortion from high-powered, non-master volume amps. The Mini’s controls include Gain, Treble, Middle, Bass, and Level knobs, a Sustain switch, an Active Load switch, and a Low/High-power switch that reconfigures the EL84 from triode to pentode operation. Inside the anodized aluminum chassis, you’ll find a JJ 12AX7 preamp tube and a JJ EL84 power tube that drives an output transformer and a 3" speaker (which serves as an active load only, and produces almost no sound). Amp geeks and tone junkies will dig the point-to-point wiring, carbon-comp resistors, CTS pots, costly paper-in-oil signal capacitors, and true-bypass footswitch.

Plugged into a ’67 Marshall 100-watt head, the Mini elicited complex, full-bodied tones, as well as the elusive dynamic magic normally obtainable only at ear-splitting volume. In High power mode, I found it easy to dial in dynamically sensitive, overdriven Brian May-style Vox AC30 chime, with a girthy low-end that didn’t mush out (thanks to the Marshall’s ample reserve power). In Low power mode, the Mini offered compellingly rich and buttery-smooth Eric Johnson and Robben Ford-style lead tones.

The Mini can also drive a speaker directly through its 8ž jack, and, when connected to a Celestion Vox Blue 12" speaker, it produced impressive, Vox-flavored tones with both single-coils and humbuckers. If you’re looking for a versatile, well built, and great sounding solution to the age-old search for happening “bedroom” tones, the Mini Amp is definitely worth consideration.

—Terry Buddingh    

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