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Breadboarding Overdrive

Tube Screamer on a Breadboard

I think there is no need for a long introduction for Tube Screamer pedal. It’s been around since 70’s and featured on many-many-many guitar player pedalboards. While maybe identified a lot with blues, it is used in all possible music genres – blues, rock, grunge, heavy metal, trash metal, metal core … I mean, all sorts of metal 😁 … and the list goes on.

A pedal copied in one way or another by probably every major pedal manufacturer, and nearly all boutique ones.

Here I cover the basic schematic for the circuit, cover some interesting details, there’s even SPICE simulation if you want to do some analysis yourself. I’ll move on to put the effect on a breadboard and try it out. I also added bill of material (of components that I used for breadboarding).

In this post I do cover only TS808 version of the pedal, but I plan on covering lots more. I’ll be looking into derivatives as well – like Boss’ OD-1 and SD-1, MXR Zakk Wylde and GT-OD pedals for example.

They all have nearly identical circuit topology, but they definitely do not sound the same. Having said that, because they have very similar topology, with rather small tweaks you can get the same circuit to sound like either of them. Anyway, let me get started 😊.

Schematic

I got the basic schematic from Electrosmash and geofex, here’s my version of it:

Schematic of Tube Screamer.
TS808 – Schematic (click for full image)

Op-Amp Difference

I should probably note that this is not 100% TS808 vintage schematic, I did adapt it a bit to use components I had available. The most notable difference is the op-am. I used NE5532 which is a great low-noise BJT op-amp.

The original, of course, uses “magical” JRC4558/RC4558, which is not really magical at all – very similar to μA741 op-amp (LM741). The magic is in the circuit itself and that’s what makes Tube Screamer what it is, and that’s why the topology itself was copied so much.

The likelihood of the pedal sounding different due to an op-amp is smaller than, say component tolerances. Some caps have up to 20% tolerance, and even 10% tolerance in C3 above makes the quoted 720Hz cut-off frequency really be anything between 650Hz and 800Hz. That is probably a difference you might be able hear at far ends of the tolerance.

Anyway, long way of saying, there should be no difference in sound. But I guess I’ll have to try comparing the actual pedal and this version at some stage 😉.

Transistor Differences

I used BC549C transistors instead of 2SC1815 (there were different ones used throughout the years). This should not make any difference either, because the transistors are used as unity gain buffers.

True Bypass Version

Oh, I should probably mention that this is a true bypass version. The original pedal uses JFETs for switching. The switching system probably constitutes half of all the components used. Doing true bypass version gets rid of lots of parts.

Interesting Bits

For in-depth analysis go to Electrosmash, I can’t do anything better 😊. I’ll just point out some interesting things about the circuit.

Here are the sections of the circuit – and I breadboarded the effect section by section in the video below:

Schematic indicating sections of the Tube Screamer effect
Tube Screamer Sections

Power supply is self explanatory, but more interesting are input and output buffer. While totally transparent unity buffers, they are helping with input impedance and output driving. Also, they are needed for the JFET switching to isolate the circuitry from whatever comes before and after the effect.

This means that, even when the effect is disengaged, the guitar signal goes through the buffers. This also means that you cannot run the original pedal without power supply – even when not using it.

When using true bypass, with slight modifications to the circuit, we could get rid of input and output buffers, thus greatly simplifying the circuit. I’ll do that in one of the next posts, so stay tuned.

SPICE

Here’s a handy SPICE circuit diagram you can play with:

What is probably interesting to see is how tone pot taper affects the tone control. Now, having linear taper (B) or G taper (B4) makes no difference to the tone. The difference is in the level of control you get with them. Look at these frequency responses of the two tapers:

Linear vs G Taper for Tone Control

You can notice that at the maximum and the minimum values – the curves are identical, but the linear curves are totally squashed (each curve corresponds to 10% knob turn).

Here’s how various B tapers look like in Bourns’ datasheet:

Bourns – B Series potentiometer tapers

Highlighted in green are 4B and B tapers. The way the tone section is designed, pretty much requires 4B taper or similar to give decent control over tone.

Breadboard Diagram

Let me prepare a breadboard diagram for this. As usual, I used DIY Layout Creator. Here’s a possible layout:

Breadboarding diagram for the pedal
DIY Breadboarding Diagram for Tube Screamer

If you want to experiment yourself with the layout, here’s the DIY file I used:

Bill of Material

Here’s the list of components I used for breadboarding:

DesignatorsComponentNotes
BreadboardAny breadboard will do, I used full size breadboard. You probably don’t want anything smaller than that.
Jumpers and wiresAs many as you need. I got some online, but 24 AWG solid core wire will do just fine. I used some crocodile clips for pots so I didn’t need to solder anything.
9V batteryI used 9V battery snap with Dupont wire.
DPDT push buttonI used ALPS SPPH410100 latching push button for bypassing the effect – totally optional.
INSwitchcraft 12BIn – stereo jack (mono will do too)
OUTSwitchcraft J111Out mono Jack
RV1Alpha 16mm 500K log potAny 500K log pot will do for Overdrive
RV2Alpha 16mm 20K-tone potI actually used 25K linear pot … that’s what I had, that’s what I used 😊
RV3Alpha 16mm 100K log potAgain, any 100K log pot will do for Level control
C122n (0.022uF) Metal film PET cap (original uses 20nF, no difference to the sound)
C2, C71 uF Metal film PET cap (Electrolytic will do fine here, just mind the polarity)
C347nF (0.047uF) Metal film PET cap
C447pFCeramic C0G (NP0) – (original uses 51pF – within tolerance quite frankly)
C5, C6220nF (0.22uF) Metal film PET cap
C8100nF (0.1uF) Metal film PET cap
C910uF Electrolytic cap 25V
C10100uF Electrolytic cap 25V
C1147uF Electrolytic cap 25V
C12100n (0.1uF)Ceramic X7R
D1, D21N4148Small signal diode for clipping
D31n4002Reverse polarity protection, 1N4001, 1N4007 and likes will do, I didn’t bother using it for breadboarding
R1, R7, R9, R111K1% 250mW metal film
R2, R12470KOriginal used 510K, no difference to the sound, used for biasing
R3, R5, R10, R13, R15, R16, R1710K
R44.7K
R651K
R8220 ohm
R14100 ohm
Q1, Q2BC549COriginal used 2SC1815
U1NE5532Original used JRC4558/RC4558
List of components for Tube Screamer breadboarding

Breadboarding It

Let’s do the actual breadboarding and hear what the effect sounds like.

Photo showing breadboarded Tube Screamer pedal
Breadboarded Tube Screamer
Breadboarding and trying out the Tube Screamer

I think the pedal sounds great. There’s a lot of noise due to high gain of the pedal and lots of wires and this being a breadboard. But if you get past that, it actually sounds quite good.

And, funnily enough, I tried convincing everybody earlier that the op-amp does not matter. Well, don’t use LM358 … it sounds horrible in this circuit. NE5532 and TL072 sound pretty much the same though. Have a look and let me know what you think.

3 replies on “Tube Screamer on a Breadboard”

I’m taking the plung into making some of my own pedals, the video and all this awesome information is greatly inspiring.

Thank you so much for allowing me to feel excited again.

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