Ibanez Soundtank Guitar Effects

Bob Leggitt | Saturday, 28 June 2014
Ibanez Soundtank Guitar Effects

Whilst this ad for the Ibanez Soundtank guitar effects pedals was published in 1992, and introduced six new additions to the range, the Soundtanks per se were very much a child of the late 1980s. Born out of the battle to court the massively lucrative rock market with a distortion for every conceivable purpose, whilst simultaneously trying to appeal to the youth of the day’s appalling sense of fashion, the Soundtank range was initially restricted to clipping effects. Six of them, to be precise.

Priced at around £35 (UK) each in 1989 and representing good value, the orginal Soundtanks were nevertheless not considered perfect. One common gripe (which also reared its head under professional review) was that the six drive/fuzz effects weren’t really distinct enough from each other, suggesting that their creation was perhaps more about out-diversifying competitors than fulfilling a necessity. That didn’t compromise the individual pedals of course, but by the summer of 1990 when Guitarist magazine reviewed them (now officially priced at £37.50 per stomp box), they were starting to look a bit unremarkable, and tellingly, dealers were not typically giving them space in their ads.

The big range revamp of the early '90s was surprising in many ways, as the market was definitely detaching itself from the late ‘80s and moving towards retro chic by then. The last thing some guitarists expected to see was the legendary Tube Screamer – the original design of which fitted perfectly into the then burgeoning blues and vintage rock revival – repackaged into some caricature of late ‘80s design hell, which had gone out of style two years ago and was, debatably, dangerously close to missing the boat even when introduced.

Behind the hype, though, the Soundtanks had actually been rebudgeted for cheaper production. Originally, the Soundtanks’ battery access ‘lids’ were the only bit of their casing made of plastic. The rest of the casing was made from rugged metal and the units felt solid – to the point that they were commended on it by the guitar press. But Ibanez had managed to switch the metal construction for plastic without altering the units’ basic appearance, and this made for a much less reassuring, and very noticeably cheaper feel. The new, cheapie packaging also explained a lot regarding the Tube Screamer and other additions to the range. The Soundtanks were now a viable means of making desirable processing available to new, more impoverished areas of the market.

It should be noted that there was no widespread perception of declining sound quality when the range was rebudgeted, so the pedals were still attractive in terms of their musical function. They might now have been an unacceptable compromise in durability for some, but for others, they represented an opportunity to get a renowned piece of gear, with a highly reputable sound, for an affordable price.

It was always only a matter of time before a range of pedals steeped in late ‘80s tack passed its sell by date. The "great sound at a low price" ethos definitely helped the Soundtanks survive through the ‘90s, but they would not make it into the 21st century, and today they’re remembered with mixed emotions.

The early Soundtanks with metal cases would be the models to collect, but the TUBESCREAMER wasn’t included in this range, which comprised only: 60’SFUZZ (sic – apostrophe was in the wrong place on the actual pedal), THRASHMETAL, MODERNFUSION, CRUNCHYRHYTHM, CLASSICMETAL and POWERLEAD. I always felt that these devices were at least in part Ibanez’s attempt to plug some of the gaps in the well-researched range of DOD drive pedals. But ultimately, maybe there was a reason DOD left those gaps unfilled…