Today’s market is full of tube screamer plugins because most guitarists today seem to have one in their set up. Modern metal’s use of tube screamers and boost pedals has set the hardware and software market on fire. Years back there was only a handful of options but today, tube screamers have exploded like craft beer. Come to think of it, boutique pedal snobs and craft beer drinkers usually walk hand in hand. It’s a joke, relax folks.
I see a lot of players putting a tube screamer in their signal chain with the modern 0-10-10 settings (drive at 0 with tone and level at 10) without a thought of how it pushes their amp or the fact that these are plugins, not hardware. Keep in mind, with software, turning any knob up to 10 can start adding some unwanted digital artifacts. Making 9 your new 10 when it comes to plugins can keep you safer mix wise. Some plugins allow the user full access from 1-10 in the controls but more often then not, diming knobs can create headaches in amp sim land.
My advice is to take the time and really dial it in to suit your amp. My personal preference for a TS setting is more like 1-7-8 but again, it’s to preference. A TS / boost can wreck your tone if it’s not set right. The 0-10-10 settings can also turn lead work into ear piercing nails on a chalkboard so again, mind your settings.
We created this quick guide that includes every TS actively being sold or offered free. If we are missing one that is NOT part of an amp suite or full suite, let us know and it will be added.
MDPP is a suite of drive/boost pedals but for the purposes of this quick guide, we will just talk about the two tube screamers in the suite. The 808 and TS9 included are absolutely top shelf. I do a ton of reviews with MDPP in the signal chain. I highly suggest this plugin to anyone and everyone because the selection, quality and price. The two tube screamers are accompanied by a number of other boosts and every pedal in the suite rocks. I really like the TS9 but the 808 is also more than useful and authentic sounding.
This is a very cool freeware offering from a very gifted freeware developer. The charbooster isn’t your average tube screamer or overdrive. The GUI and controls can take some time to get used to but once you do, it can be used to really do a fantastic job of pushing any amp in the best directions. The Charbooster is free, unique, versatile and effective so I am not sure what more anyone could ask for in a boost pedal. Spend the time, learn how the controls work and how to use the value in the controls to get what you need. You need to use the right click a lot to utilize all the controls but once you get used to it, you can get some really great results.
We begin with the first of two green screamer plugins from two developers. This one is from BBE and you can get it with their stomp board pedal suite. It can be used in the suite or on it’s own. I really like this one for use with Mesa Boogie amp sims. There’s something about this plugin that brings out and enhances the best qualities in various amp sims based on Mesa Boogie products. Another thing I love about this one is that it doesn’t create the same mid boosts you are used to hearing in a TS. Instead, I found the BBE Green Screamer worked nicer for more scooped tones.
The next Green Screamer is from Brainworx and if you know anything about Brainworx or their plugins, you’ll know that these guys never do anything half way. Every plugin they have ever released is of the highest quality. I like this plugin more for vintage tube screamer uses over modern applications. I found this green screamer sounded best with Fender inspired amp sims like the Brainworx bassdude or Thermionik Bassmensch. It also sounds great with a number of vintage Marshall inspired amp sims.
NOTE: THIS PRODUCT IS STILL IN BETA STAGES. This one is for the tweakers and gearheads. You have about a million ways to subtly or dramatically change the way the tube screamer changes the tone. Clipping diodes, chips and tons of other options are provided to really have full control of the customization. These options give the user the ability to use the scream to emulate a variety of tube screamer circuits. The presets are essential. This is a no brainer for any collection. I would say the scream is the highest quality single pedalplugin on the market currently.
This one is one of my personal favorites. It has always reminded me of the ProTone Dead Horse which made sense when I read it was inspired by the dead horse. It works for modern and vintage uses and for Thermionik users, the TS-999 works incredibly well across the entire collection of amps. The Ignite pedals sound incredible with the Ignite amp sims but I find both Ignite TS plugins work really nicely with literally any amp sim. The TS-999 has a fat switch, a clipping switch and then second panel for the “bottom” of the pedal where you’ll find the oversampling and other controls.
I cannot say enough good things about the Tyrant Screamer. I have to give this my pick for the top free tube screamer out there because it’s just so good at everything. While the TSB may be billed or put forth as something for modern metal and drop tuned guitars, there’s more to it. I have used it for every traditional and modern TS application and it always comes through. Cool thing is that there’s an additional boost inside this boost so yes, it really does bring the metal. Not just “the” metal but “ALL” the metal in the sense that it can be employed for really any hi-gain purpose or genre. Another key to the TSB is the sweep knob,There’s a back panel on the TSB just like the TS-999 that gives you access to oversampling and some other controls.
Kazrog has a really nice little pedal selection available with Thermionik. If you don’t have Thermionik yet, you should grab it now at an insanely low price before Kazrog eventually replaces it. The Vintage drive is an average but effective plugin based on an Ibanez TS and while it’s fairly average, it gives you what you need with quality. (Yes, I know this one is part of a collection but Thermionik is only $50 and it may not be available much longer in it’s classic form, if you don’t have it GET IT HERE!)
The Greed Smasher is based on the Mesa Boogie Grid Slammer and yes, I am aware that the Grid Slammer is more of an overdrive pedal but to me, when I use it for tube screamer applications, it excels. I like the Greed Smasher as a tube screamer, to me there’s a huge difference between a tube screamer and an overdrive pedal but this plugin as well as the hardware original tread the waters between the two. I really like using the Greed Smasher with amps that are already very bright or mid voiced because instead of a mid range cut, it adds more of an overall enhancement. I have yet to find an amp sim that the Greed Smasher didn’t work well with.
Another really great sounding tube screamer for $0.00. Mercuriall Audio plugins all share one factor and that is quality. Whether it’s a free pedal plugin or a paid amp sim, you get professional level quality results. The TSC tube screamer’s graphics make it obvious as to which pedal it was inspired by but Mercuriall Audio went a step further and put switches onboard to activate some popular tube screamer mods. I love this one most with Marshall amp sims and more specifically for solos and leads. I find the TSC cuts in such a way that it became part of many of my lead chains.
A classic if there’s such a thing in the amp sim user community. Everyone should have this pedal in their arsenal because it’s free, versatile and it meshes with a wide range of amps. For a long time I had the 808 out front of LePou amp sims and to this day, that combination still sounds great. It does modern and vintage tones well and it’s still very useful despite being a little older than some of the offerings out there.