Blues Driver vs Tube Screamer – Which Distortion Pedal Should You Buy?

By Melanie Griffin | Pedals

Last Updated on

If you’re looking to crank up your electric guitar playing to eleven, a well-deployed distortion pedal is a great way to do it. It puts the fuzz on your notes and chords without disguising where you’re coming from, and you can add as much edge as you want without drastically altering your playing style.

It’s a great way to add variation without much extra effort, so grab your amps and plug in. We’ve got two O.G. distortion pedals that will make you sound like the greats with a press of a button – literally. The hardest part will be deciding which one makes the sound that best lets you unleash your beast. Read on to figure it out!

What is a distortion pedal?

To know what you want in a pedal, you have to know how they work, so we’re going to give you a primer. There is a lot of variation that goes beyond the two pedals we’ll be reviewing today, so if you want to learn more, look around on here or any other guitar playing forum and you’ll get all the answers you need.

First of all, we’ve got to get into a little bit of science – physics, to be exact. Distortion is an audio phenomenon that means any significant variation on the direct signal of note to noise that comes through the vibrations an instrument makes. “Significant” is a subjective measure, of course, but for guitar pedals, the variation is not so much a bending of the tone itself as a crunching of the audio waves.

Picture each pluck of a guitar string producing an up and down wave with rounded shapes that crest and bottom out at the same ratio. These naturally forming waves and troughs exceed the threshold of the device that is broadcasting them into the air, so the first step in distortion is called clipping. This means the tops and bottoms of the waves are pushed down into the threshold zone of the device. The way this is done is called clipping, and the method of clipping determines the type of distortion.

Soft clipping is a way of suppressing the signal so that the rounded peaks and valleys of the signals are preserved. This doesn’t make a largely noticeable change in the sound, especially if played at a soft level. But hard clipping is a variation that chops off the tops and bottoms of the sound waves, which means the climbs and drops of the tone are more abrupt. This is what makes the “crunchy” sound many distortion pedals are famed for displaying, and it’s achieved by the distortion device playing the same tone as the instrument at a higher frequency. Fiddling more with math and pitches distorts the original sound wave still more, so the original tone gets fuzzier in specific ways that are programmed into the distortion pedal.

One variation of this range of possibilities is called overdrive. You’ve probably heard that term before and might have even used it yourself already – but what does it actually mean?

Overdrive is one of the most common forms of distortion. That means it adds gain, or increases the volume, to specific parts of the instrument’s output at mathematical intervals. It works by using soft clipping, which means it keeps the shape of the soundwaves in tact, and the overall tone of the notes stay basically the same as they travel from the instrument to the distortion pedal. The name of the effect comes from the use of volume variation that “overdrives” the soundwaves in sync, so you have to play at a louder volume to hear the true effect. Overdrive pedals are grouped with distortion effects but offer a warmer sound than hard clipped variations, such as grunge and heavy metal effects. Overdrive is commonly used in blues and other music that wants an extra emphasis without taking the showcase away from the music note tones themselves.

The effect of overdrive was invented when tube amplifiers were how guitarists got their music to the audience through the drums and horns that were plentiful in popular music at the time. Guitarists found that when they increased voltage gain and that would, you guessed it, overdrive the original broadcasted sound. Once most amplifiers didn’t depend on tubes anymore, players who liked the overdrive sound developed effects pedals that could replicate it through whatever amp they wanted to use.

What are two common overdrive pedals still used today?

The Ibanez Tube Screamer and the Boss BD-2 Blues Driver are two pedals that we’re looking at today. They’re both established brands with sterling reputations, so we’re going to get into the details of how each pedal handles, sounds, and costs. We’ll give you our verdict, but don’t be afraid to try them both for your own best sound.

What are the technical specifications of the Ibanez Tube Screamer and the Boss BD-2 Blues Driver pedals?

Ibanez Tube Screamer

Boss BD-2 Blues Driver

Type of pedal

Overdrive/distortion stomp pedal

Overdrive/distortion stomp pedal

Input impedance

500 Kohms

1000 Kohms

Output impedance

10 Kohms

1 Kohms

Maximum output

Level 0dBm

-20dBu

Maximum gain

+ 30dB

-20dBu

Equivalent input noise

-100dBm (IHF-A)

-118dBu (IHF-A, Typ.)

Power supply

9V battery or external 9V AC adapter

9V DC, either a Dry Battery 9V type or an AC adapter

Dimensions

4.9 in x 3 in x 2 in

2 ⅞ in x 5 ⅛ in x 2 ⅜ in

Weight

1.3 lbs

1 lb

Input type

one instrument

One instrument

Output type

one ¼ in

One ¼ in

What are the advantages of the Ibanez Tube Screamer?

  • Simple controls. With just three knobs, this pedal’s controls are a model of less is more. You’ve got your drive, your tone, and your level, and mixing those will give you all the distortion you want without compromising your tone.
  • Small size. If you’re an effects pedal junkie, this little classic will fit right into the rest of your crowd without making you give up any major space. It packs a lot of punch for its size, and since it’s a stomp box, you don’t have to worry about a range of movement when pairing it with your whole line.
  • Versatile range of effects. Simple controls may make you think that you’re sacrificing range of effects, but this overdrive pedal gives you huge variation. You can go from warm, rounded country or blues overdrive to serious metal crunch with just a twist of the knobs, which means you get a lot of value from a small package.
  • Wide range of editions. As a classic, the Ibanez Tube Screamer has been going since the 1970s, and its builders have created a range of variations in the decades since its beginnings. You can choose whatever fits your fancy without having to dig through vintage effects sales or anywhere more obscure than the internet itself – the older versions remain popular with guitarists of all stripes, so its full history is on working display.

What are the disadvantages of the Ibanez Tube Screamer?

  • Plastic variations not up to series standards. A word of warning about certain variations, however: look out for plastic versions that are not up to the quality of original metal casings. You’re going to be stomping on this pedal as a matter of practice, and you want the sturdy versions to keep you going as long as you want.
  • Only three tonal controls. We tout this as an advantage as well, but it could be a bad thing if you’re looking for more tweaking than overdrive variations. If you’re very particular about these types of details, you may want to look elsewhere. But keep in mind, the three controls the Ibanez Tube Screamer does have let you have tremendous range.
  • More expensive than a Boss BD-2 Blues Driver pedal. The Tube Screamer is going to cost you around $99 for a new one. This is around $25 – $30 more than the Blues Driver, which may or may not be significant to your budget, so be aware of that difference.

What are the advantages of the Boss BD-2 Blues Driver?

  • Constantly evolving. The Boss BD-2 Blues Driver is another effects pedal that’s been around a while, which makes it a fertile field to add changes for the better on top of each other throughout its history. Its current iteration is the result of decades of precise engineering from both official and fan-based sources, so enjoy the fruits of all that real-world research.
  • Easy to add modulations. In addition to the pedal’s official uses, you can find a large fan base online who have created their own variations that are easy to add to your own playing. We don’t guarantee anything not vetted through official testing channels, but if you know what you’re looking for, you’ll be able to find something to your own exacting taste from superfans who are happy to share their experiments.
  • Able to switch between moderate and extreme overdrive easily. The Blues Driver has a switch that turns on what we like to call the Spinal Tap effect because it pushes your overdrive effect up to eleven. This switch can take you from B.B. King to GWAR with a flick of your toes, and it’s instrumental in this pedal’s stellar reputation across the large number of music genres that use distortion.
  • Versatile with other pedals and effects. The Blues Driver is a team player; you can plug it into whatever other effects you may want and it’ll slide right in with a definite, noticeable contribution without overwhelming everything else. Its input/output plugs are also simple to hook into an effects loop without needing extra cables or specific hookups.
  • More affordable than an Ibanez Tube Screamer. At around $69 for a new pedal, the Blues Driver is great for a new guitarist who’s just learning, because it’s such great quality for a budget price. And even an experienced player who doesn’t have a lot of extra cash but still wants to invest in a good pedal will find a lot to love and explore here.

What are the disadvantages of the Boss BD-2 Blues Driver?

  • Analog inside workings. Depending on the kind of tinkerer you are, this may not be a con. But some will find this type of electronic board harder to work with if they’re used to fixing things electronically.
  • Less responsive than other overdrive pedals. One thing that may frustrate guitarists who have experience with other distortion pedals is the lower response you’ll find in this one. Once you get it to catch you’ll find a great pedal to work with, but you’ll have to put a good oomph down to make sure this stomp box gives you what you want.
  • Wobbly on an effects board. Despite its ability to play well with others, the Blues Driver isn’t a great shape or size to fit well into a section on an effects board if that’s how you like to corral your  pedals. It’s not overly large, clocking in at just a few quarter inches more than the Ibanez Tube Screamer, but its slightly taller height does mean you’ll need to make sure it’s secured tightly or else it will wiggle on you.
  • LED indicator light hard to see from a stand-up playing position. The Blues Driver’s indicator light is a nice detail to let you know when things are on or off, but it seems to be positioned for those who play sitting down. If you’re moving around stage or like to pace while you practice, you won’t be in the sightline of the light unless you hover over it constantly. However, if you’re able to hear yourself from the monitor, you’ll definitely be able to know when you’re in overdrive.

What’s the verdict?

When you compare them head to head, you really can’t lose with either the Ibanez Tube Screamer or Boss BD-2 Blues Driver. Both are classic overdrive effects pedals simple enough for any level of player to use, while giving performances strong enough for the greats as varied as Stevie Ray Vaughan and the Edge. But if we have to choose, we would go with the Ibanez Tube Screamer, purely for its slight edge of versatility.

It’s a little more expensive and a touch less friendly with other effects, but it’s the best overdrive sound and playing experience we’ve had the pleasure to test out. But don’t worry if you still can’t decide between these two – they’re truly both classics, so your best chance at a final decision is to try them out for yourself.

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