Opening the Ibanez Tube Screamer Amplifier box instantly put a big grin on my face. The TSA5TVR is just the cutest looking retro-style amp I’ve seen in ages. The added bonus of it being preassembled was pleasing too. Four sturdy little 60’s-style metal-capped TV legs hold up a cabinet that features the same retro look dressed in sea-foam and cream vinyl with a clear and silver piping trim. Too cool!
The TSA5TVR is a Class A, 1 x 12AX7 and 1 x 6V6GT (Ruby Tubes) 5W amp that features an 8” Jensen C8R speaker, Accutronics Spring Reverb and the mighty Tube Screamer circuit.
The Tube Screamer component, which features the same controls you would find on most of their pedal variations – Overdrive, Tone and Level – can be engaged via a mini toggle on the control panel or by an optional footswitch. The rear panel also features Direct Line Out, Speaker Out and Headphone outputs. Ibanez have left little wanting.
The Jensen C8R has been specially tuned to suit this amp and I have to say that it delivers its intended vintage tones beautifully. It throws out a warm and tight bottom end that doesn’t get flubby, perhaps partly due to the fact that the cabinet is elevated courtesy of the amp’s little legs. The Jensen C8R easily copes with all the volume that the amp can generate and never seems on the edge of ‘too much.’ Rather, it submits into a very pleasing break-up state like you might expect from a top-tier speaker/amp combo. That gets a big tick from me. The amp’s semi-open rear design helps it breathe too.
The Tube Screamer Amplifier’s controls are basic: Treble, Bass, Volume and Reverb. Playing a Tele with moderate output pickups lets the TSA5TVR exhibit its clean headroom qualities which it retains right up to maxed out volume when it then starts to break up in a good Tweed-ish way.
The Treble control has merits beyond those its label suggests, as it possesses the qualities of a mid/treble frequency sweep control – kind of like a bandpass filter if you will. Turning it completely anti-clockwise yields more midrange and softer treble accents. Turning it clockwise decreases that midrange and crisps up the treble. Combined with the less drastic but ample Bass and Volume controls, great tones ranging from Jazz to Garage can be had with the right guitar.
The Accutronics Spring Reverb adds a nice touch for those who want a little surf with their turf. It delivers the expected classic ‘spring sound’ that can be overdone if you wind too much in, but very complimentary if used in moderation. That Ibanez have added a spring reverb at all to such an affordably priced amp is another big thumbs up from me.
Perhaps the biggest draw card of the Tube Screamer Amplifier, apart from its fab looks, is the Tube Screamer section itself. And it doesn’t disappoint. Without a doubt, it is one of the best sounding Tube Screamers - integrated or otherwise - that I have ever had the pleasure of cranking. It interacts so beautifully with the amplifier section that to me it is an essential part of the whole package. Absolutely killer tones from this wee beastie are to be had.
The correct use of a Tube Screamer is a hotly debated topic on the boards: I like to use one to drive an amp that’s already on the verge of breakup into further saturation for singing lead and/or dynamic rhythm. Others just like to gun the Gain/Overdrive control. Whatever. I usually crank the Level and keep the Overdrive or Gain control below 12:00, and the Tone somewhere around noon. Adopting that approach with this amp delivers the goods big time. It’s very hard to turn off the Tube Screamer section once it’s on. Ibanez have really thought this one through in terms of the sonic possibilities of their amp and overdrive and I would welcome the TSA5TVR in a studio anytime.
One of the amp’s strong points is its ability to bring out the best in different instruments and make them shine. For instance, my 2001 US Std. Tele with moderate output pickups drew twanging country spank from the amp all the way up to maxed-out volume when the amp approaches throaty, bluesy drive territory. Nice! Of course, engaging the Tube Screamer circuit ups the ante considerably to the point where some classic rock musings are in order. Wanting to tickle its little engine even more and jacking my favourite Gibson CS ’61 Les Paul RI (otherwise known as an SG) with Burstbucker pickups, turned the amp into a much more aggressive but still dynamic rock machine. Think Malcolm Young rhythm and mid-period Zep tones. Yeah!
For the price asked, I can’t fault the Ibanez Tube Screamer Amplifier. It delivers a wide an appealing range of vintage to classic rock tones in a gorgeous package and all through a carefully considered 8” Jensen speaker. Fans of modifications will find plenty of room to tinker, no doubt, but I’m pretty impressed with the package as is. In fact, even if it didn’t make any noise I’d be impressed; it just looks so damn cool.
What we like: Looks for starters. The tones are killer and the idea of integrating the world’s most beloved overdrive with an amp specially tuned for it (and great on its own as well) can’t be ignored either.
Concerns: The Reverb can get quite ‘ringy’ at higher settings.
Build Quality ★★★1/2
Overall Rating ★★★★