The Tube Screamer is arguably the most copied and modified overdrive circuit ever. With good reason, this classic effect delivers a soft compression that truly is amp-like in response, feel, and tone. Maxon, the original manufacturer of the Tube Screamer, has now released its own response with a modified design and dubbed it the Maxon OD808X Extreme. But will the OD808X Extreme just provide more gain and the “same old” sound, or will it provide something truly unique?
At first glance, the idea of a hot rodded Tube Screamer circuit held little appeal to me personally. I’ve heard plenty. And I don’t believe most people want to use this circuit (which is identical to Maxon’s green OD808 pictured) with the gain up very high. Usually people like these overdrive boxes to blend in with a lighter amount of overdrive mixed in with their already overdriven amp. Or, they’ll run the volume high on the overdrive unit and keep the drive control low to send a hotter signal and give a boost to the amp’s tubes. Either way, the higher gain settings are not as desirable in the original circuit.
Fortunately, the engineers at Maxon understand this too, and I was very pleased to hear what they did with the OD808X. The controls are the same: Drive, Tone, and Level (Balance on the standard OD808), with standard 9v DC or battery options. But Maxon addressed the complaints that some people had about the older circuit, namely too much of that characteristic mid-hump, a loss of low end, and a high end respond that was a little muffled in some applications.
Now with that said, if you take the original Maxon OD808 and match it to a Fender blackface like our pre-CBS Super Reverb, crank up the amp, and hit the OD808 as a boost, it is THE sound. Heaven. The added mid bump character enables a bolder overdrive that better cuts through the mix, especially since blackface Fenders temp to be glassy and mid-scooped. The slight low end loss of the pedal actually works in its favor because sometimes those old amps will flub out on the lows as you turn them up. It’s not uncommon to run the bass control on an old Fender lower and lower as you increase the amp’s overall volume. I run mine at 2! And those same Fenders can have a stinging top end (especially if you like using the bright switch, which I do not), so again – the standard OD808 – with slightly less treble response, sits perfectly in the mix with an old style Fender amp that is turned up to sing.
If that’s your setup, and you have the ability to play at the necessary volumes, the Maxon OD808 is perfect.
But if you have a clean amp as your base tone and you’re looking to add overdrive fully from the pedal, the OD808 can be a little limited in its capabilities.
Enter the Maxon OD808X Extreme. The sound of this pedal is BIG, wide and open. The mids are still bumped up, but less so than the standard OD808, and the highs are full, but not piercing. And the lows are put back in to the circuit. Playing with high gain and the Drive control maxed, the Maxon OD808X with my Les Paul neck pickup was thick and full sounding with leads. In the bridge position of the Les Paul, the OD808X roared and provided an authoritative crunch, while retain a smooth non-raspy character. Again, it provides a wide open and big rock and roll sound.
This was all a new revelation to me as Tube Screamer-like circuits usually don’t like to be run overdriven with humbuckers. They often exhibit excessive clean-signal bleeding through the distortion which isn’t pleasing to my ears. The OD808X loved my Les Paul as much as my Strat!
What I also loved about the OD808X is the fact that it could be dialed back on the drive control and simply be used to provide a much more transparent light overdrive. With some adjustments, the OD808X exhibited plenty of warmth and would make a great partner into either a purely clean amp or one that was slightly overdriven. Touch response and dynamic character were excellent.
Testing the unit’s clean boosting capabilities (volume up, gain down, into an already lightly overdriven amp) revealed the Maxon OD808X provided fantastic note articulation with transparency. It simply makes the amp and guitar you have sound better and gained-up whenever you’d like.
While I think some people may get the wrong idea of what the Maxon OD808X is with its “extreme” moniker, I’d have to say that this just may be Maxon’s most versatile and useful overdrive I’ve heard from its family of compact pedals. There are many great boutique options out there (I’ve used and owned many!), but when it comes to the famous screamer circuit, the original makers at Maxon really did something right with the new OD808X Extreme. And at a street price of $159, this is one affordable pedal that sounds much more expensive and refined then you’d think at the reasonable price of entry. In fact, it just may get you excited about overdrive once again like it certainly did for me.