In early 2016, Korg released its Nutube technology to the public. With an anode grid filament structure, it operates exactly like a triode vacuum tube, adding rich overtones to electric guitar tones. Unlike conventional tubes, Japanese-made Nutube utilizes vacuum fluorescent display technology; it’s smaller and more efficient. This had huge implications for the world of guitar amplifiers and electronics. Premium tone no longer requires a large footprint or substantial power source.
The first major brand to use Nutube technology in a pedal is Ibanez, which announced an updated Tubescreamer earlier this year. While some brands are content resting on their laurels, Ibanez decided to implement innovative technology into its most-respected pedal. The implications of this are great, but I needed to get my hands on a Nu Tubescreamer to see if the new technology really made for a better pedal.
The Good: This is great sounding pedal with a warm tube compression and amp-like response. The lifespan of Korg’s 6P1 Nutube is 30,000 hours, significantly longer than conventional tubes found in overdrive pedals from B.K. Butler, Electro Harmonix and others. The Nutube is also very small, so the pedal takes up much less real estate on your board compared to the aforementioned options. Compared to a TS808 or TS9, you can run this pedal at either 9V or 18V, the latter of which gives you increased headroom and gain (the area this pedal really shines). Also, the addition of a mix knob lets you blend your clean and overdriven sounds to your own liking.
Who It’s For: If you want an analog distortion that responds to touch, this is a great option. It has the signature mid-range peak that the Tubescreamer is known for along with a thicker bottom end. The harmonic richness added to the tone thanks to the 6P1 Nutube is definitely welcome and creates a different character. If you’re a devotee of traditional Tubescreamers, the new model offers a different perspective, but may not be so different that you need to splurge on it. The mix knob does allow for a new level of control over your sound, though, and could be enough justification for tonal perfectionists.
Watch Out For: This is not an inexpensive pedal. Though, compared to a vintage TS808, which start at $750, it’s a pretty good deal. It’s comparable to the price of a B.K. Butler pedal, and it’s definitely not aimed at the entry-level player. The sound of this pedal is different than traditional Tubescreamer. If you’ve got a vintage TS808 already and you love what it does for your sound, you probably don’t need one of these. On the other hand, if you’ve ever wanted more control over the sound of a Tubescreamer, it’s worth checking out.
Alternatives: Nutube technology has yet to proliferate in the pedal space. But if you want to try another overdrive that utilizes the technology, you can pick up the Soul Power Instruments Priest pedal for $359. Alternately, if you want a traditional tube overdrive pedal, you can try the Electro Harmonix English Muff’n ($201) or you can find used versions of the B.K. Butler Tube Driver ($279+) or the Ibanez Tube King ($150+). If you’re not convinced by Nutube technology and don’t care for the hassle of traditional tubes, you can always scoop a vintage TS808 starting at $750, or a used TS9 for around $75.
Review: Why update the iconic Tubescreamer? That was my initial thought when I heard that Ibanez was offering this variation. The TS808 and TS9 were — and are — favorites among countless guitar legends. They can coax a tube amp into natural distortion or add a layer of smooth distortion to an already crunchy amp. With a characteristic upper mid-range peak, they keep your guitar from getting buried in the mix. Relying on diode clipping with a 50-50 clean-to-distorted blend, the Tubescreamer is a versatile workhorse pedal.
The Nu Tubescreamer features Korg Nutube technology, which has many of the same elements as conventional vacuum tubes, but in a smaller more efficient package. Noritake Itron Corporation used its vacuum fluorescent display technology to create a tube that is less than 30 percent of the size of traditional tubes and uses less than two percent of the power. That means you can get an amp-like response out of a pedal that is no larger than traditional stompboxes.
The resulting pedal is more responsive to right-hand touch and pick attack. The bottom end seems fuller and there is increased harmonic depth in every register. Adding another layer of subtlety, Ibanez included a mix knob, which allows the player to blend clean and distorted signals to their own preference. Keep the knob at noon for the traditional Tubescreamer blend, roll it all the way counter-clockwise to use the pedal as a clean boost or turn it clockwise for a more distorted sound. As I experimented with the pedal running directly into my ’65 Princeton Reverb, I found myself really enjoying the sonic areas between 10 and noon.
Another major plus for the Nu Tubescreamer is that you can run it with an 18V power supply to juice up your tone. The increased power translates to greater headroom and increased gain, in turn giving you a wider dynamic range to explore. No matter the settings, the Nu Tubescreamer is a wonderful addition to any pedalboard, showcasing a customizable and nuanced warm tube sound.
Verdict: This is a worthy addition to the Tubescreamer famil. It’s a very cool pedal that utilizes new technology in an approachable way. If you’ve got the money, and value an amp-like response and increased tonal controls, this will make for a great addition to your pedalboard. If you’ve got a TS808 or TS9 already, and are content, you may find yourself wondering if it’s really worth the money. But if you’ve considered getting a conventional tube overdrive pedal, I’d highly recommend giving the Nu Tubescreamer a try before losing valuable space on your board.
What Others Are Saying:
• “I think Ibanez has a definite winner here. That tube response, the dynamics you get, the different type of compression compared to diodes clipping, the ability to change the blend on the clean and the overdrive signal: all these are great features that allow you to really dial in exactly the tone, and exactly the feel you want from your guitar.” — Mitch Gallagher, Sweetwater Sound
• “We’ve done what no other video channel seems to do on these things is talk ourself out of a sale. For me, I don’t really know that it offers anything that the old ones don’t do.” — Lee Anderton, Andertons Music Co.
• “I think it’s absolutely superb. Drive pedals and distortion pedals are so hard to describe the sound until you actually feel it and play it for yourself. But, this feels so much more enjoyable to play than even my original old Tube Screamer. It just feels a lot more real and a lot more natural sounding.” — John Priest, Peach Guitars
True Bypass: Yes
Features: Korg 6P1 Nutube
Power Source: 9V or 18V DC power supply required (sold separately)
Nutube Lifespan: 30,000 hours
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