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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Vintage Ibanez SM9 -A classic 80´s distortion pedal

In 1988 a friend to me had a crazy powerful distortion pedal from the Ibanez classic 9-series, a pedal that took the flagship TS9 a bit further. SM9s distortion was extraordinarily powerful, and had a bit larger bottom. Unfortunately Ibanez closed the production of it, presumably because the TS9 was stronger in the market. TS9 is much used today for various purposes ranging from blues to metal guitarists, and is a bit easier to use than SM9 who had more knobs and a little different "sound spectra". The SM9 is a bit of a forgotten diamond in the world of pedals.

I bought it from my friend in the 90's, but unfortunately it was beaten up badly, so it was mostly lying in a drawer. I sold it a while ago. Then another one appeared a website and I immediately put my teeth in it. Mainly because I was curious how it stands up today among all modern overdrives and distortion pedals that hit us on a regular basis.

Distortion pedals cuts the tone so that the sound wave gets an appearance more like a plateau compared with overdrives that more smoothly cuts the top and you will receive a more severe oversteer which is flashier, but also a little flatter as a result. Not as crunchy as a overdrive.  SM9 tries to compensate the faltering issue by adding both bottom and more punch with some additional parameters.

SM9 is also available in another brand, namely Maxon. Maxon was actually manufacturing ​​SM9 and all other Ibanez pedals in 9 series, maybe more, I do not know. Maxon stopped the cooperation in 2002 and makes its own versions of TS9 and SM9 since then, and they could easily be considered "the original" because they use the original chip. The newer Ibanez TS9 which is not made ​​by the Maxon is slightly different under the cover.

Some of you may have already tried to run two TS9 in the chain for increased gain. In fact, it works really well. I suspect that the idea of ​​SM9 was a bit like that, that is more gain and adding some other values ​​at the same time. What made TS9 got its characteristics was the JRC 4558D chip in it and in SM9 there are two of them, so the comparison with the two TS9 after the other is not so far from what it is all about.

Some people discuss in different forums that a good thing with SM9 is its ability to give a tube amp more solid-state character, but I do not agree on that. It is clear that we have different ears here as in many other contexts. Opinions are very subjective, and should be. There are no truths, just what you here and how you like it.

When I tested it, I put it between the guitar and the amplifier's input jack. I feel that distortion pedals do their best job  there, and not in the effects loop. Maybe it's a matter of taste, I do not know.

Level: adjust volume
Edge: adjusts the top, I think
Drive: adjusts the amount of gain
Attack: adjusts the attack
Punch: adjusts the pressure ahead of the amplifier (bottom)

These five knobs creates almost endless possibilities and that is probably what's on the other hand is its lack, as it requires an ear for finding just the sound that suits your game plan.

This pedal perform completely different depending on what basic sound you have, in other words the amp of your choice. It's perhaps not hugely surprising, but it's important to have this in mind.
Thats why "tips" around "settings" are practically useless in a sense. With a Peavey 6505 it works a little than with a Bugera 333XL. It works best for me with a Marshall JCM800 or JCM2000 or with a Mesa Rectifier. With these you can produce great variety, without risking undifferentiated distortion. I also tried it with a Blackstar HT-5 with good results. I also conclude, after trying several cabs, that the choice of speaker plays a major role.

Another feature that plays an important role is of course the choice of guitar. Passive low-output or medium pickups seems more appropriate than active high outputs with the SM9. With active pups it gets a bit too much, at least with the gain maxed. All depending on what you are looking for. My test was done with av Gibson Les Paul with Alnico Pro 2s and a Fender Stratocaster with single coils.

But there are nevertheless some basic tips, like not to over spice "Attack" and "Edge", as it gets a little too harsh. You'll get more bottom if you hold them back a bit. If you "drive" down to half it actually appears very similar to TS9 and you get a bluesy crunch instead.

SM9 works also very good for sharpening your ordinary gain in the amplifier. But be careful, you can easily override and you lose momentum. If you put a TS9 in front of it and lowers the gain, you can highlight the mid tone, the very same strategy that many metal players use to lift their tone with for example Peavey 6505.

In summary, one can say that SM9 delivers a basic sound close to tube-gain itself and with little tweaking you can get "the Brittish Sound" and "American Sound". It is not for modern metalheads, despite the name "Super Metal", it sounds more like modern vintage hard rock or 80´s hair metal distortion with tube character. With some other effects of your choose you can get Warren DeMartini "You're in love" (RATT) right there in your living room. SM9 requires a lot of love and finesse with the 5 knobs and therefore is patience is a good skill to have with you. In a whole this is very close to a vintage badass pedal...I suggest you test one and listened for yourself.

The experience stays between your ears...stay Zombied...

4 zombies (5)


  1. The new mini line of Ibanez pedals have a version of the sm9... how does brand new Products hold their ground vs vintage hand soldered ones?

  2. it does not compare to the original at all.i have the original from 83 .wild wild wild crazy crazy pedal in every good screamer on steroid.

  3. This is very educational content and written well for a change. It's nice to see that some people still understand how to write a quality post.! best cheap distortion pedal

  4. I happen to own one since 1986. I've always liked it,but readung this, seems to me it is very rare nowadays, am I right? And I see it is like a Tube Screamer with a plus? Please clarify this. Thanks!

  5. nice review...
    you can get its successor MS 10 (Metal Charger)
    for allmost next to nothing nowadays..
    same circuit and components.