Category Archives: Tube Screamer Alternative

Digitech Bad Monkey Overdrive: Cheap but not Cheap Sounding

I have featured a number of expensive and less expensive Tube Screamer alternatives over the past year and I thought the Bad Monkey’s turn was long overdue.

It is not really a secret: the Digitech Bad Monkey is an excellent overdrive used by a number of pros, check out Phil X’s videos and you will hear it in action quite often.

As always, I have recorded two videos showing the Bad Monkey in action (see below). They will show how you the beast fares with Single Coil pickups as well as Humbuckers, acting as main overdrive against a clean amp, or as a boost against a distortion pedal.


But before watching the videos, let’s introduce the Bad Monkey. It is a green pedal featuring one input and two outputs. It is not stereo though: one output features the unfiltered sound of the overdrive while the second one features an emulated speaker cabinet output so that you can plug the pedal directly into a mixing desk or a sound interface. It is actually a common feature on Digitech pedals and you can hear a quick demo of the MIXER output after the videos, at the end of this post.

Clearly inspired by the Ibanez Tube Screamer in terms of overall tone, the Bad Monkey features a Gain and a Level setting. But it also features something that most overdrive or distortion pedals desperately need: a 2-band EQ. Instead of the measly Tone control often found on other pedals, the Bad Monkey allows you to tune the Bass and the Treble frequency of your tone. This is a big plus and the only overdrive pedals to feature an effective EQ (that I know of) are the Xotic models such as the BB Preamp.


For this first video, I have used my Stratocaster. This shows how the Bad Monkey sounds against my reference overdrive, an Analogman modded TS9. After comparing the two pedals, I show how the 2-Band EQ can give some “body” to the tone. I found the bass control surprisingly effective with my little Fender Champ which only has an 8″ speaker. At the end of the video, I show how the Bad Monkey can be effectively used to boost a distortion pedal, a good old Pro Co RAT 2:

In this second video, I have used my Gibson SG 61 Reissue, equipped with the stock Classic 57 Pickups. Again, the Analogman TS9 was used as a reference:

Note that for these two videos, I had a Boss RV-3 plugged after the overdrive pedals. It was set on a short Room Reverb (mode Room 2). The amp was my trusty 74 Fender Champ miked by a RODE NT-4.

Direct use

I could not resist and tried the Bad Monkey directly plugged into my Boss Micro-BR.

Here is the reference tone of Strat plugged directly into the “line” input (not the guitar input):

Audio MP3

And now, here is the Bad Monkey with its normal output plugged into the line input of the Micro-BR:

Audio MP3

Pretty bad!! That is what you get when you plug a distortion/overdrive directly into a board.

And now, here is how the MIXER output of the Bad Monkey sounds like (the settings were Gain on Full, Bass and Treble at 2, Level at 1o’clock):

Audio MP3

It is actually not bad at all, I was pretty surprised in a sense that it is usable although a bit dark sounding, but it is definitely not just a gadget. It sounds quite good with the gain on minimum as well, it gets you a usable Jazz/Blues type of tone.


The Digitech Bad Monkey is a great alternative to a Tube Screamer. Actually, more than an alternative, I think it can complement a Tube Screamer really well. I don’t think it sounds quite as smooth as my Analogman TS9 but the 2-Band EQ and the Mixer output makes it really versatile. It is also excellent used as a booster. The best thing is its price, just check it out!

Tube Screamer Alternative: The Keeley modded Boss BD-2

After the super boutique BB preamp and the more mundane Boss SD-1, the next Tube Screamer alternative to be featured on Guitar Tone Overload is somewhere in the middle. Born in the Boss factories and modified in the workshop of mister Keeley, the Boss BD-2 “Blues Driver” overdrive is not a Tube Screamer copy but a different machine as you will gather from the demo videos below.

I will begin straight away with the videos and will give my thoughts afterward.

Here is how it sounds using single coil pickups, followed by a quick comparison with a Tube Screamer (here an Analogman modded TS9). I have decided that instead of changing the gain on the pedal, I would leave it on three o’clock and change the amount of dirt using the volume knob of the guitar and varying picking dynamics, blues style. This is a testimony to the quality of the pedal as this is not something that every overdrive pedal will do well:

And now here is how it sounds with humbuckers:

My Thoughts about the Keeley BD-2

Robert Keeley took a good overdrive pedal to start with and fine tuned it. When a friend lent me his stock BD-2, it gave me the opportunity to compare it to my Keeley modded one and, of course there are differences but both share the same basic tone. If you cannot afford a Keeley model, chances are that what applies to it will stay  more or less true with the stock model.

Here is what the modification brings: a lot more output volume, an “edgier” tone and I would say a bit more gain while being very silent. The relative absence of noise is a quality that most “Boutique” pedals have when compared to mass produced models. There is also a little switch that will make the sound a bit fatter when on and let’s not forget the super bright blue lead!

How does it fare as a Tube Screamer alternative?

The Keeley BD-2 will appeal to people who are looking for a grainier, edgier overdrive pedal. It is not as smooth as a Tube Screamer but in a good way as you have probably noticed from the videos. I even find that with Humbuckers and a little delay, there are some similarities to Robben Ford’s tone. I am not saying it is the same but it is reminiscent of it (in order to get the same tone, you would need his fingers of course).

And there is also a big difference in terms of available gain compared to a Tube Screamer (here an Analogman modded TS9). With the gain on 2 o’clock, the BD-2 matches the gain of the Tube Screamer on max. With the gain on 3 o’clock or more, the Keeley BD-2 comes close to a distortion pedal. This is especially true with Humbuckers (see above the video that I recorded with the Gibson SG).

Also, like any good overdrive pedal, it is very efficient used before an already distorted amp or another distortion pedal in order to give it a kick.

All in all, a worthy alternative to the Tube Screamer if you are looking for a gainier overdrive tone while retaining a blues/rock feel.

Tube Screamer Alternative: The BOSS SD-1

A good overdrive pedal is a must have for nearly every guitarist. You can use it against a clean amp to obtain blues and classic rock tones, or you can use it to push an already overdriven amp or distortion pedal to reach for higher gain tones.

After introducing the Xotic BB Preamp as a possible alternative to the ubiquitous Ibanez Tube Screamer, I will now leave the expansive boutique route and go for a cheaper model: the BOSS SD-1. As with my previous post, I have made a video to illustrate my point (see the end of this post).

The BOSS SD-1 - Photo by Pia Jane Bijkerk

I know that it is trendy to bash BOSS pedals and that some guitarists only use expansive boutique pedals nowadays but I find this is a bit of an extreme position. There are very good models in the BOSS line and the SD-1, which has been in production for 29 years (!), is surely one of them.

The SD-1 is quite close in conception to a Tube Screamer and not so far tone-wise. It also sports the same three knobs: Drive (amount of overdrive), Level (output Volume) and Tone (Equalization). But I find it to have a bit more grit, it has a more “rock” tone whereas Tube Screamers lean more on the “blues” side (I am over simplifying here).  Also, The BOSS SD-1 is a favorite among metal players to be used as a booster, not a main distortion. You won’t get a better and cheaper option to push an already overdriven Marshall amp over the edge.

This is exactly how Zakk Wylde used it for years before getting his own signature overdrive model with MXR. Even the almighty Eddie Van Halen had a BOSS SD-1 in his pedal board in the 90s, presumably used as a boost to give his Peavey amps a kick. In that respect, the level control is very useful on both the Tube Screamer or the SD-1. By cranking it while keeping the gain quite low, you can push any tube amp into natural overdrive.

And did I mention the BOSS SD-1 was cheap? I think I did but check out your favorite shop, you’ll know what I mean. Here in Europe, they go for for about 50€. And 29 years of production means there is plenty of them on the second hand market.

Is this the perfect overdrive? Of course not, otherwise there would be no other on the market. The SD-1 is quite noisy compared to boutique alternatives. The noise level is actually often in favor of boutique pedals when compared to mass produced models. Also, it suffers from the same “bass sucking” problem as Tube Screamers do when used against a clean amp (not so much when used against an already overdriven amp). In band situations, it is usually not a big problem as the bass frequencies are already occupied by other instruments though I can understand why some guitarists have a problem with it. Finally, when I mentioned earlier that it has more grit than a Tube Screamer, it can be a plus or not, depending on your style and preferences.

Video Demos

In this first video, I am comparing my Analogman modded TS9 Tube Screamer with the SD-1 using a Fender Stratocaster. I use various amount of gain and show at the end how it can be used to boost an amp, and a distortion pedal (a Proco RAT 2):

Gear used for the video: American Classics Stratocaster fitted with Kinman AVn blues pickups and 1974 Fender Champ. The amp was miked with a RODE NT-4. The recording was transferred into Cubase 5 to optimize the volume (compression) and add a hint of reverb.

In this second video, I show how The SD1 and the TS9 sound with a Gibson SG 61 reissue equipped with Humbuckers:

Gear used for the video: Gibson SG 61 Reissue with stock pickups and 1974 Fender Champ. The amp was miked with a RODE NT-4. The recording was transferred into Cubase 5 to optimize the volume (compression) and add a hint of reverb.

Tube Screamer Alternative: the BB Preamp (Updated Feb 2012)

Although the Tube Screamer is the king of overdrives, a few pedals that have come out in the past decade could have a claim to the throne.

I have decided to start this series of posts dedicated to Tube Screamer alternatives with the Xotic BB Preamp. Released around 2005, it has become quite popular and is used by guys like Andy Timmons and Greg Howe. And speaking of Andy Timmons, he even had a signature BB Preamp model made by Xotic.

Update Feb 2012: there is an interesting piece of info that came out following the release of the BB Preamp-comp by the Xotic custom shop. The standard BB Preamp was modified to have less compression after serial number 3643. My BB Preamp has a serial number of 526 so the video demos below  show the “compressed” version. Interestingly enough, the limited Andy Timmons edition of the BB Preamp featured the extra compression of the early BB Preamp. In order to please everybody, The BB Preamp-comp features a toggle switch to go from no compression at all, to a bit compressed (current BB Preamp) and to more compressed (early BB Preamp and Andy Timmons models). You can read all the details here.

BB Preamp
The Xotic BB Preamp

The BB Preamp, much like the Tube Screamer, is extremely good at two things:

  • Used with a clean amp, it will provide you with a very credible and articulated overdrive tone.
  • Used before an already overdriven amp or even a distortion pedal, it will give you more sustain and fatness.

But this is where the comparison stops. The BB Preamp is not a Tube Screamer clone. Some guitarists don’t like the Tube Screamer because they feel it sucks too much bass out of their tone and also that it is a bit tame. The BB Preamp addresses these issues and adds some welcomed improvements such as a massive volume boost capacity and a very effective two band EQ instead of the single tone control of the Tube Screamer. Also, the BB Preamp is built with excellent components and is quite silent. This also means it is a bit pricey (MSRP US$ 200) as this really is a boutique pedal, not a cheapo knock-off.

The result is an amazing overdrive pedal which can get quite wilder than a Tube Screamer. BB actually stands for “Blues Breaker”, an obvious reference to early Marshall amps. They were nicknamed “Blues Breaker” after they were used by Eric Clapton on the now uber famous “John Mayall and the Blues Breakers” album. And indeed, the BB Preamp is quite “Marshally”… in a good way.

I have a nice story about Xotic customer support. I bought my BB Preamp over the Internet about five years ago when it was just out (the serial number is in the 500 on my pedal). Last year, I lost two of the plastic knobs, the little screws that were holding them got loose. I wrote Xotic asking them if they could sell me some knobs. I received a reply a few hours later and it said : “just give me the serial number of your pedal and I will send you some knobs”. A few days later, I had fours knobs delivered to my home in Holland, free of charge. That’s what I call service…

Used with a clean amp

There are many ways to use the BB Preamp. Let’s start with how it sounds compared to a Tube Screamer against a clean Fender Champ tube amp. I start with a clean tone then switch on alternatively my Analogman modded TS-9 Tube Screamer and the BB Preamp.

And now with a Gibson SG 61 Reissue equipped with humbuckers:

For these two videos, the settings were:

  • Tube Screamer Settings: DRIVE at 3 o’clock, TONE at 10 o’clock and LEVEL at 1 o’clock.
  • BB Preamp settings: GAIN at 2 o’clock, VOLUME at 1 o’clock, TREBLE at 11 o’clock and BASS at 12 o’clock.
Used as a booster

And now used with a Proco RAT 2 as a booster with almost no gain and the volume at 2. This is a moderate amount of boost, you can go way further but be careful with the noise level. This is not a BB preamp problem per se, this pedal is actually quite silent but this is the bane of any heavy boosting and high levels of gain.

As you can hear, the sustain and fatness increase but the basic tone stays the same. It also works well against clean amps. With a strat and a bit of boost from the BB Preamp, it really “sparkles”.

For this video, I had plugged the BB Preamp before the Proco RAT 2 and had the following settings:

  • BB Preamp settings: GAIN at 8 o’clock, VOLUME at 2 o’clock, TREBLE at 11 o’clock and BASS at 1 o’clock.
  • Proco RAT 2 settings: DISTORTION at 10 o’clock, FILTER at 3 o’clock and VOLUME at 2 o’clock.

Remark: for all the videos of this post, the Fender Champ was miked by a Shure SM-57 and recorded by a BOSS Micro-BR. The recordings were then transferred into Cubase 5 to add some reverb and volume.

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