Tube Screamer vs Klon Overdrive Pedal: Which is Best?
Tube Screamer and Klon-Type overdrive pedals are two of the most common selections you’ll see on a pedal board, but which is best for you? In this article, I’ll be comparing these two overdrive pedal-types and focusing primarily on the Ibanez Tube Screamer and the Klon Centaur/ KTR.
The Quick Answer
The Tube Screamer and Klon are both overdrive pedals, however the Tube Screamer has more of an effect on the EQ by cutting the bass and boosting the mid-range. The Klon on the other hand, is described as a “transparent overdrive pedal” pedal, because it does not greatly impact the EQ.
Tube Screamer Overview
The Tube Screamer is a soft clipping overdrive pedal. It is characterised primarily by the boost in the mid-range that it produces, allowing the sound to cut through the mix for lead playing particularly well. The Tube Screamer also cuts some of the bass leading to a tighter sound. It is often used for the following situations:
- As a boost pedal
- To tighten the signal (cut the bass) when played through a distorted amp
- To add overdrive to a clean amp
The Tube Screamer is not a “transparent pedal”. The easiest way to describe this, is to say that it alters the EQ by boosting the mids and cutting the bass. This means that it changes the overall tone of the guitar and amp, to produce a unique tone, rather than just adding overdrive and volume.
The Ibanez Tube Screamer TS808 is the original type of this pedal. Ibanez have released several versions including a mini pedal, and the TS9 which sounds a bit grittier. You can check out this article I’ve written comparing the different Ibanez Tube Screamers here if you want to learn more.
Since the original TS808’s release, many other brands have made Tube Screamer-type pedals, characterised by the soft clipping overdrive and boosted mid-range. Some examples include:
- Maxon OD808
- EarthQuaker Devices
- JHS Bonsai
- Joyo Vintage Overdrive
- Electro-Harmonix East River Drive
The Klon-type overdrive pedal is often described as a “transparent” overdrive because it preserves the tone of the guitar and amplifier and has a reasonably flat EQ. This makes it very useful as a boost pedal.
It does still have some small impact on the EQ though. It cuts the bass slightly and boosts the upper mid-range. The Klon-type overdrive pedal is commonly used through a clean amp, and can add an impressive amount of gain when you increase the drive control, producing a hard clipping type of overdrive.
The original Klon Centaur models were all handmade, however production stopped in 2009. It has since been replaced by the Klon KTR which sounds incredibly similar and blindfold tests on YouTube have definitely highlighted this!
There are plenty of clones of the Klon-type pedal including the:
- Wampler Tumnus
- Way Huge Conspiracy Theory
- Jrad Archer
- Ceriatone Centura
The Klon and Tube Screamer are both overdrive pedals, but they produce quite different effects.
Difference #1 Overdrive Type
When you turn up the drive control on both pedals, you get different types of clipping. The Tube Screamer is a soft-clipping pedal, and the Klon is a hard clipper. Soft clippers tend to sound more natural and closer to the effect you’d achieve if you cranked a tube amp.
Hard clippers are more aggressive and compresses the tone so that is can almost sound like a distortion effect. However, the Klon tends to be less coarse compared to most hard clippers, and it only sounds more like a hard clipper when the drive is cranked 3/4 the way up.
Difference #2 Effect on EQ
The Klon-type overdrive pedal is described as a transparent overdrive pedal, meaning that it does not dramatically alter the EQ of the amp signal. On the other hand, the Tube Screamer can dramatically impact the EQ by cutting the bass frequencies and boosting the mid-range. The Tube Screamer’s EQ also makes it sound a bit gritter than the Klon.
The Klon still cuts the bass a little bit, but not nearly as much, making it sound a bit smoother compared to the Tube Screamer. The Klon also adds a bit of upper-mids, but again does not have as much of an impact on the EQ as the TS.
Difference #3 Volume
Although not a huge factor to consider because you can compensate in other ways, it’s worth noting that the Tube Screamer is a quieter pedal compared to the Klon. This is one of the reasons why the Klon is considered such a powerful boost pedal, but by no means does the Tube Screamer lack ability in the boost department.
It’s also worth mentioning that there are plenty of clones of both pedals available and the difference in volume may not even be a factor to consider if you’re not looking at the Ibanez TS808 and Klon Centaur in particular.
Difference #4 Level of Overdrive
Again, this may not be something you want to consider if you’re comparing clones of these pedals, however, the Klon Centaur produces more drive than the Ibanez TS808. The Tube Screamer is fairly well known for its limited drive range, whereas the Klon’s range is expansive.
With a Klon, you can go from a very clean boost, to a much more aggressive overdriven tone which verges on distortion when turning the dial. This is one of the reasons why Klon pedals are considered reasonably versatile, despite having quite a specific effect when considering the EQ.
The Differences in Action
Of course, it’s quite difficult to discuss the tonal differences without actually hearing the pedals, so here is a comparison video so you can listen to the differences in action.
Price and Availability
If you want to get your hands on a Tube Screamer, you have tonnes of options. Ibanez make several versions including a reissue of the original TS808. The Tube Screamer Mini offers a portable and inexpensive option, whilst the TS9 provides a more modern sound. They also make DX versions which have an additional boost function, as well as a hand-wired version if you want something super premium.
Remember to check out this article I’ve written comparing the different Ibanez Tube Screamers here if you want to learn more.
Here are some links to Amazon (images and text) so you can check the current prices.
Original Klon pedals on the other hand, are harder to get hold of. Since the original Klon Centaur stopped being produced over a decade ago, you can only find on second-hand and they often cost several thousands of dollars.
Luckily, the Klon KTR which came into production after the Centaur was discontinued, sounds basically the same and can be purchased brand new. However, it is definitely more expensive than a Tube Screamer, roughly double the price in fact. And it’s also much less readily available.
If you’re struggling to get your hands on a proper Klon, you get pick up a clone. One of the best Klon Centaur clones is the JRAD Archer IKON Overdrive pedal which sounds very similar.
Other options include the Wampler Tumnus and the very affordable Mosky Golden Horse which doesn’t sound quite as good but is an absolutely bargain.
Here are links to the pedals so you can check out the current prices.
Using a Klon and Tube Screamer Together
You can use a Tube Screamer and a Klon overdrive pedal together in the same pedal chain. The Tube Screamer can then be used to add some mid-range, and the Klon will provide more transparent overdrive, or can be used as a boost. These pedals can be used in different orders for different effects.
If you put the Klon first (closest to the guitar), then you’ll notice the mid-range hump of the Tube Screamer more. If you put the Tube Screamer first, then the mid-range hump will be less obvious, and the tone will have more top-end.
Experiment with both, there is no right and wrong here!