–Chameleon of tube boosting and coloring.
By Yoel Kreisler
Originally in Tone Report Issue 148
Sometimes my love of vintage keyboards and sound machines bleeds into the guitar-oriented work I do for Tone Report Weekly. I apologize to any readers who may find my other obsessions in the quest for the perfect sound deviant, but this time you may be interested in what I dug up in a place almost no guitar player would think to look.
Vintage Vibe is a New Jersey based company that is dedicated to the restoration and recreation of everything vintage electromechanical keyboards, such as the Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer, and Hohner Clavinet. It offers replacement parts, repair services, and a couple of its own designs as part of its product line and mission. While perusing its site and getting GAS-buzzed from all the wonderful old and new gear, I came across the Tube Bomb, which interested me as both a guitar player and a keyboard enthusiast.
Feeling the Vibe
The Tube Vibe is a very simple dual-channel tube-based booster, which was originally designed as a preamp to warm, fatten, and dirty up a Rhodes like a good Texas brisket. Inside, it’s extremely simple and quite tidy, with a sole JJ 12AU7 doing all the heavy lifting. Unlike most dual tube-based boosters or drives, the Tube Bomb’s two separate channels are identical, by which I was originally confused. When most builders aim for the guitar market with a dual channel pedal, they want to try and squeeze as many tones in it as possible in order to add versatility and value. One channel will usually be a boost, and the other will be a drive with dedicated EQs or voicing switches. The Tube Bomb is a simpler concept, but just sports two identical, foot switchable boost channels, adorned by a single volume knob for each. This may seem at first like a really boring or uninspired concept; but it is designed (indirectly) for the player who craves transparent tone with a bit of color and warmth. And tubes always make everything better.
Hearing the Vibe
Plugging in, I wasn’t greeted with something incredibly brash or obvious. The tonal change with or without the boost at lower volumes was subtle (discounting the obvious volume jump), but the tube definitely imparted a midrange space and sweetness to the signal, which I find characteristic of JJ 12AU7s. It is a particularly low-gain tube so it takes quite a bit of volume to push into distortion. I don’t recommend doing that if you have sensitive ears, because the Tube Bomb has very high headroom, thanks in part to the circuit design and the 24-volt power on which it runs. This pedal feels like a true tonal utility, with plenty of options when mixing it with other pedals and gear. Pairing the Tube Bomb with a high-headroom amp can sweeten up the tone and help drive your amplifier’s preamp section to distortion faster. Setting the two volumes to two different levels is also incredibly intuitive. If you want a clean boost for rhythm work to get that little extra bit of edge, and then you want to dive into the higher gain character of your amp on the fly, this pedal will do it with ease and class, imparting a sweet and very subtly-colored distortion character.
Tasting the Vibe
Perhaps one of the Tube Vibe’s biggest strong points is how it plays well with other pedals, both solid state and tube-based. It makes almost everything that runs into it sound good, probably thanks to that bit of magical glass we always seem to come back to. Run into a solid state TS-style drive, it added low-end smoothness and high-end clarity, seemingly clearing up those congested high-mids that seem to plague most Tube Screamer-style drive pedals. However, it really shines running into a tube pedal. It imparted a really dynamic and hi-fi tone to my old Real Tube Overdrive, making it growl and spit with a fiery presence that just about peeled the paint off the walls.
This is a tone utility for folks who want something simple that sounds good, and can wear many hats. It works great a boost and color unit for almost anything you can throw at it, but it is plagued with a few small issues. There is switch pop on the Engage and Channel switches, and the price is a little exorbitant for what it does. Still, if you have the funds, this is a nice piece of gear you are sure to enjoy.
What We Like
Chameleon of tube boosting and coloring. Works great as a booster for your amp and your pedals, especially your tube-based ones. Very sweet sounding with open mids and clear highs.
Expensive, and suffers from switch popping.