One (and I speak for myself, but maybe you resonate to this) can have many pedals but there’s one we are extremely picky about: The overdrive pedal. The differences are very subtle and mostly related to your picking attack. But if I come on stage without my overdrive pedal, I feel there’s something missing in my tone.
Yes, the overdrive pedal is a key part of almost every guitarist’s pedalboard. But how do you choose the right overdrive pedal?
Well, two of the most popular overdrive pedals are the Boss SD-1 and the Ibanez Tube Screamer. But how do these two pedals compare?
Let us take a look. And just for simplicity, because there are multiple versions of the Tube Screamer, I will be using the TS9 which is the “basic” version and most comparable to the SD-1.
Finally, one of these pedals has been on my pedalboard for the past 15 years uninterruptedly. Do you want to know which and why? Read on, because this battle is ON!
Boss SD1 vs Ibanez Tube Screamer
Comparing the Pedals
But the truth is that, despite their similarities, these are two distinct pedals, and the SD-1 certainly is more than just a clone of the Tube Screamer.
At face value, the SD-1 and the TS9 are almost identical. They have the same controls, each featuring a Level, Tone, and Drive control, and a footswitch.
The Level and Drive controls are reversed. The TS9 has its Drive control on the left and its Level on the right, with the SD-1 being the opposite.
If it weren’t for the TS9’s distinct green color and the SD-1’s big Super Overdrive labelling, you would probably not be able to distinguish between these two pedals.
The SD-1 is a touch bigger than the TS9, however. The SD-1 is slightly longer and taller than the TS9. Oddly enough, though, the TS9 is slightly heavier than the SD-1, even though it is smaller.
This is probably where these two pedals differ the least. In fact, I would call them identical.
The controls are super responsive, and the footswitch on both pedals feels really good to use. They are both smooth and react immediately. There is no delay when hitting the footswitches and they don’t get stuck or have any weird clicks or hitches.
Since both pedals use a simple input and output, they are also super quick and easy to set up.
You could be forgiven for thinking that these pedals sound the same. They do have a very similar sound, but there are some subtle differences that set them apart.
The SD-1 was a bit more of a saturated sound. It has a nice bit of muddiness to it that gives it a slightly more bluesy tone.
The TS9, on the other hand, has a cleaner sound. It is a bit crisper when the overdrive is active.
The TS9 also has a bit more attitude than the SD-1. While the SD-1 certainly has a lot of grit and bite, it does feel a bit more subdued compared to the TS9.
Playing each of these pedals in a vacuum, you wouldn’t really notice these differences, though. But comparing them side-by-side, you certainly pick up on these slight differences in their sound.
Even though these pedals are similar, each has an advantage over the other. The Tube Screamer, for example, works really well as a boost pedal.
If you just turn up the Tone and the Level, you can give your guitar a significant boost without distorting it.
The SD-1’s advantage is simply that it is cheaper. It is a great pedal that is comparable to the Tube Screamer at almost half the price.
Who are these Pedals for?
Because of their similar sounds, neither pedal is particularly better suited to one genre or another. And they are both equally versatile, capable of performing in a wide variety of different genres from blues, to rock, and even metal.
Each pedal is preferred by a different type of guitarist, however. Guitarists that favor a slightly dirtier sound prefer the SD-1. This includes guitarist like Eddie Van Halen, Zakk Wylde, and Josh Homme.
While guitarists looking for a cleaner, but meaner overdrive will pick the Tube Screamer. This includes guitarists like Kirk Hammett and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Even John Mayer uses a TS9, showing just how versatile the pedal is.
A Story of the Midrange, My Favorite Pedal Revealed
I have to say that the pedal that has been on my board for the past 15 years and always on is the good old Ibanez TS-9 Tube Screamer. It’s as much a part of my sound as my right hand or my vibrato are.
But how did I get there? Well, I got to the TS-9 by chance because a friend of mine was selling his, and I just bought it. But the big difference I started noticing was that my guitar suddenly appeared in the mix like never before. Yes, the subtlety of my settings (Drive in 0, Level at noon, and tone at 10 o’clock) gave each of my guitars a sudden new super power: cutting through the mix.
Although at the beginning I didn’t realize it, what happened was a game-changer for me. Moreover, it became more apparent the one time I had it fixed and out of the board for a week. My tone felt lacking, my bandmates commented that my tone was different. Hey, even the drummer realized about it because he needed more guitar on his monitors!
That is, in my opinion, the best thing about this green rocker: You get an absolute razor-like, rocking, and not-so-distorted midrange. Your guitar gains tone and character without (almost) any dirt.
Funny enough, during the time I didn’t have my TS-9, I had a borrowed SD-1, and while the results gain-wise were very similar, the midrange was lacking. I mean, Boss pedals are built like tanks and sound great, but there’s a different element between these pedals.
That element is clearly located in the midrange.
Just don’t expect this to be an overnight sensation, an epiphany moment. It’s not like you plug the TS-9 and the skies open to let a green beam of midrange nurture your tone. On the contrary, it’s a pedal that grows in you. Or, better said, grows with you. You have to learn to tame that super power and use it to your benefit.
The SD-1, on the other hand, doesn’t have that midrange. Its tone is more “scooped” if you think of it as an EQ curve. Hence, most players that grew up in the ‘80s listening to the shredders who needed a lot of bass and treble but virtually no midrange, will gravitate toward the SD-1.
Also, the Boss pedal can generate more dirt and is slightly more compressed. This means your guitar will sound more compact, cutting the mix in a different frequency range.
Perhaps, the TS-9 is an always-on kind of pedal and the SD-1 is more of an occasional stomp. That said, you can cascade them and use the SD-1 to complement the TS-9.
They have both earned their place as two of the most beloved overdrive pedals among guitarists. And I don’t see them falling out of favor any time soon.