Welcome back to Analyzing the Hype, a series in which we look at some coveted pieces of old school gear and we look into why they became so damn popular, and what is out there that can get you some of that sound. Today; the original Ibanez TS808

The Ibanez TS808 Tubescreamer is the grandfather of modern drive pedals, as it was the first one to really hit home with a lot of players looking for a rounded, tube-esque overdrive sound. It was launched in the late ’70s (’78 or ’79) and it was replaced by the TS9 in 1982, but what is it about this pedal that causes it to be such a coveted design? Well, let’s delve into the history of the little green box.

The History

In the mid ’70s, Ibanez launched a line of pedals that were designed in conjunction with Maxon. This included a Phaser, EQ, Compressor, and 2 overdrive pedals, called the Overdrive and Overdrive II respectively. These overdrive pedals are where the design originated.

The Overdrive (called the D&S in the Maxon catalog) was similar in sound to an EHX Big Muff (that will be in a future article, I swear), a fuzzy distortion with a lot of gain and sustain. The Overdrive II (D&S II in Maxon’s catalog), however, shares a very similar circuit to the TS808, including the same op amp chip. The sound of this pedal was quite different, though, with more low end, less midrange, and a less defined, gainer and fuzzy tone.

The TS808 (OD808 in Maxon’s catalog) came along a couple of years later as a refinement of the Overdrive II circuit, to make it sound clearer, more defined, and more rounded. The TS808 was made from 1978/1979 to 1982, and had several minor tweaks to the circuit and chassis before being replaced by the TS9 in 1982, which had some more major cosmetic tweaks and more circuit changes to boot.

Why Is It So Hyped?

There are a few reasons why the TS808 has cultivated the amount of hype it has. Firstly, when the TS9 came along, some players did not enjoy the circuit changes, which mostly affected the output stage of the pedal, and complained that it wasn’t as warm or as smooth sounding as the 808, and thus the 808 was held in higher regard.

The 808 also garnered interest due to the fantastic players who made use of it, most notably Stevie Ray Vaughn and Rory Gallagher, who used it as integral part of their sound. Lastly, the short production life and large number of changes to the op amp makes certain types of 808 very rare indeed, with 4 or 5 different variations on the coveted 4558 op amp chip used over it’s lifetime, with the most desirable one being the JRC4558D.

Now, when you put all of this together, you begin to find used prices of $400 to $1000, depending on the pedal. That’s a lot of buck for a snot green box.

Real World Options

If the thought of spending $1000 on a 35 year old pedal makes you feel just a little queasy and uneasy, there are plenty of models that have cloned or copied this pedal.

Arguably, the most complete version comes straight from the originators themselves, as Maxon make the OD808 Reissue, which is very, very close to the original pedal in terms of specs, and it’s only $130.

If you are on a real shoe string budget, though, the EHX East River Drive is probably the best quality clone for under $70, as it still includes the JRC4558D chip like the original, very similar circuit, and it comes in a reassuringly robust housing.

Finally, if you like the basic sound of the 808, but want a little more flexibility, the Way Huge Green Rhino is one to check out, as it has the classic op amp and circuit, but you now have two active EQ controls that allow you to cut and boost the frequencies at 100Hz and 500Hz respectively, so you can really tune the low end and low mids to taste. And, at $130, it’s also pretty good value, to boot.


I hope I was able to cut through a bit of the mystery for you on such an eminent piece of gear. Almost everyone uses an overdrive for some purpose right now, so understanding the 808 circuit and its variants is important!

Do you like learning about cool old gear? How about reviews of the hottest new guitars out there? How to write better songs, or improve your tone? Click here to read more articles!

This article written by community contributor John Waldock.

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