TAKING A CUE FROM WHAT MILLIONS OF GUITARISTS have been doing for decades, Ibanez has released a line of tube amps with Tube Screamer circuits built right into the front end. Reviewed here is the smallest and cutest of the batch, the 5-watt TSA5. It sports beautiful, classy cosmetics, with white Tolex and a sweet green control panel. On the inside, nestled underneath the ﬁve knobs and one switch, is a lone Ruby 12AX7 and a single Ruby 6V6 that send the tones into a specially designed 10" Celestion speaker. The whole thing weighs only 17.4 lbs, making for a super-compact tone machine.
So, how about those tones? I plugged in a variety of guitars, including a G&L ASAT, Gibson Les Paul, and a Dean Cadillac. This single-channel beast is simple to operate. With the Tube Screamer off, I set the Volume and Color knobs at high noon and got a surprisingly full clean sound with good punch and deﬁnition. My ﬁrst amp was my beloved Fender Champ, and I got a little of that classic vibe from the TSA5, but with more girth and muscle, partly due to the sweet-sounding Celestion 10. Kicking the Volume knob up produced more bark, but even when maxed it doesn’t get exactly distorted. The Color knob has a big range, from wooly and dark-ish to bright and spiky, with everything but the extreme trebly end being very usable.
The unique selling feature of the TSA5 is its onboard Tube Screamer circuit. You engage it with a mini-toggle or with a foot- switch (not supplied) and you get three knobs—Volume, Tone, and Overdrive—for shaping your scream. I started with the high-noon approach again, kicked it in, and was met with a ballsier, grindier version of the tone I had before. In true TS fashion, the sound was very transparent and didn’t really sound like I had stepped on a pedal. It’s more like I hit a magical “More” button on the amp. An interesting thing also happens at Tone set- tings of noon or below: I hear what sounds like a bit of the dry signal mixed in with the Tube Screamer sound, almost like it’s running in parallel. I noticed this on some online demo videos of this amp as well. Although subtle, it makes for a super-cool, dimensional sound. This phenomenon goes away at higher Tone and Overdrive set- tings, but that’s okay because those sounds kick so much ass. It’s difﬁcult to get a tone that isn’t cool out of the TSA5. Even when every knob is completely cranked it creates a fuzzed-out sound with a slicing top end that simply ruled on the neck pickup of the G&L. My favorite sound was Volume at 3 o’clock, Color at noon, and Tube Screamer pretty much dimed. Kicking the TS in and out was cool, but I almost always left it on and just turned down on the guitar for cleaner textures. The TSA5 has an extension speaker jack, and when I plugged into a 1x12 Marshall cab, everything got bigger and badder. A 4x12 sounded even better.
Despite its cute looks, the TSA5 is a serious tone generator. None of us should exactly be astonished by the fact that a Tube Screamer in front of a tube amp is a great sound, but I think this amp will really surprise people. Whether you mic it for gigs or use it as a brilliant studio tool, this thing will deliver the goods. I can’t wait to try the TSA5’s 15- and 30-watt channel-switching siblings. It’s amazing that they haven’t done it before now, but Ibanez deﬁnitely got it right with this one.