In a market saturated with numerous different Tube Screamers in addition to various clones and modified units, Ibanez recently introduced a bold and unique entry with its latest Nutube Tube Screamer. The Nutube Tube Screamer most notably uses a Korg-designed Nutube module, which is said to work in a similar way to a traditional vacuum tube. However, as I’ll discuss later, this isn’t the feature that impressed me the most with the Nutube Tube Screamer, although the NuTube technology itself certainly will grab the most attention for prospective buyers.
The Nutube technology found inside this latest incarnation of the Tube Screamer uses a Vacuum Florescent Display (VFD) which functions and reacts in the way that a vacuum tube would, but uses much lower power consumption, enabling it to provide the full effect of tube compression even with 9v power. The majority of other pedals on the market that use traditional vacuum tubes do not provide the necessary voltages to activate the tubes plate and grid. In other words, those tube-based overdrive pedals are really nothing more than displays put on for show. In fact, I’ve even seen some designs that use a colored LED behind the tube to make it look like it the tube itself is glowing orange!
As you play the Nutube Tube Screamer, you actually can see the VFD react by dimming and brightening as you play. The lifespan of the NuTube, which is also built onto a miniature circuit board that looks similar to a computer chip, is rated at 30,000 hours. And as far as how the Ibanez Nutube Tube Screamer functions with the Nutube, the Nutube is used in place of the typical clipping diodes found inside a Tube Screamer.
The Nutube has new features for our time, but it remains retro in appearance and looks like the original TS-808 but with reversed white on green lettering. In fact, for this writeup, I wanted to compare the Nutube directly with my original beloved 1980 model Tube Screamer to note its differences. The Nutube Tube Screamer, besides its normal Level, Drive, and Tone controls, now features a Mix control. Setting the control all the way counterclockwise provides a pure clean effect, while the full clockwise position will be the overdriven tone all by itself.
Why is this significant? Well, the Tube Screamer circuit is known to be one that blends clean signal with the overdriven signal. It’s what provides the characteristic Tube Screamer sound that people love. With the Mix control at the noon position, this is the typical stock Tube Screamer setting. However, things can get interesting when you play with this control. When desiring as clean of a boost as possible, you can set the Mix control fully counterclockwise, set the Level control full up, and then the Drive counterclockwise for a signal that will be largely unclipped and push a tube amp into nice breakup. Once you’re there, you can always blend in some of the Nutube Tube Screamer’s own overdrive from the NuTube circuit by turning the control clockwise. Depending on whether you use a Strat or Les Paul, there are several sweet spots I found.
On the topic of sweet spots, what I found most impressive was not the Nutube technology, but the mix control! With the Mix control, for the first time a Les Paul or similar style guitar with a PAF style pickup with all its midrange and output, can actually sound good when using the Nutube Tube Screamer as an overdrive! One of the quirks of a standard Tube Screamer is that the sound of the clean unaltered signal can become too dominant when trying to use a Tube Screamer for any of its own overdrive. Sure, as a clean boost (Level all the way up, Drive down – and pummeling an amp that’s already overdriving), a Tube Screamer will play nice with ANY guitar, but using it as an overdrive into a Fender amp? Forget it. A Les Paul will sound like it has a clean signal bleed sound that just isn’t very musical. Now with the Mix control, setting it to 3 o’clock on the dial clockwise produces a much more balanced signal. This is what a Tube Screamer needed to have built in years ago!
For this feature alone, I think of the Nutube Tube Screamer as the most versatile Tube Screamers made yet. Stratocasters always played well with Tube Screamers, but now humbucking-equipped guitars can too.
As an overdrive, the Nutube Tube Screamer is closest sonically to the original TS-808 in that it has the softer bluesier characteristic tone and feel. The Nutube’s overdrive is different from the diode clipping of the original. It imparts a smoother overdrive effect to the sound. It’s a subtle difference, but I do enjoy the voicing and signature overdrive provided with the Nutube technology inside.
On a 1:1 basis when comparing the original TS-808 with the Nutube Tube Screamer and a Stratocaster, they are very similar. At low to medium gained settings, the original TS-808 and the Nutube were nearly identical (when the Mix control was set at noon on the Nutube model), but when the Drive control was up past noon, the Nutube Tube Screamer’s smoothed out overdrive can be described as sounding perhaps a bit more polished and evenly voice. Not better or worse than the original TS-808, but just a little bit different of a flavor. I don’t plan on getting rid of either of mine anytime soon.
When comparing the two Tube Screamer models using my Gibson Les Paul, and using the TS models as overdrive boxes, all bets are off. I just can’t listen to the clean signal bleed and don’t find the overdrive to be useful. The original TS-808’s clean signal is TOO dominate, which ruins the ability to use it as an overdrive when I hear the diode-clipping effect in the background. As stated before, the Nutube Tube Screamer solves this problem and enables me to use a Les Paul again by simply increasing the mix control to better balance the clean-to-overdriven ratio. Even now? Yep, and good to go!
The Nutube Tube Screamer is powered by a 9v battery or standard regulated 9v DC power supply. It can also be run at 18v for higher headroom. Using it at 18v provides a stronger, bolder effect. The feel of the Nutube Tube Screamer becomes punchier with one’s picking attack. Try it at 18v if you’re a rocker or blues guy who wants a bold overdrive, or stick with 9v if you want the signal to be a little more relaxed, softer. Dare I suggest at 18v, the NuTube Tube Screamer can feel a little bit like the Klon Centaur with its tighter feel and bolder response.
The Nutube Tube Screamer also features true bypass switching via a relay activated system which is incorporated onto its retro-looking square on/off footswitch. At $249 street price, some may feel it’s a little pricey for a typical floor box effect. However, the Nutube Tube Screamer is unquestionably the most versatile and unique Tube Screamer overdrive pedal ever released by Ibanez. Once I plugged it in and played with it, I had no concerns over paying for the cost of entry. In fact, I purchased this one from Analogman and his team at www.buyanalogman.com and I mention them because they are not only a great dealer, but they often will include some extras with your purchase (like Analogman branded cozies to keep your beer or soda cool). Back to the Nutube Tube Screamer, with its ability to capture the sound of the classics, as well as forge ahead with new unique sounds, the Nutube Tube Screamer comes highly recommended and will certainly be one of my favored go-to overdrive units for years to come.