Hands-On Review:Ibanez TBX Tone Blaster Xtreme Guitar Amplifiers
Extreme high-gain distortion with real tone
By Benny Bartels
Ibanez has given material support to the hard heads since metal’s early days, providing well-made guitars with the right style, high-powered electronics, and monumentally good necks—all the stuff it takes to play loud and proud. Now Ibanez has expanded its offerings to the metal ranks with pumped-up versions of the Tone Blaster amps, the Tone Blaster Xtreme Series.
A smart strategy
The Tone Blaster Xtreme amps are high-gain, made for metal, long on features, and have a pumped-up X channel that starts where other amps leave off. They are also very affordable, intended to be accessible to younger players who lean toward the heavy metal side.
It’s a shrewd move on Ibanez’ part. Give a young player the tools that will allow him to master metal and he may stick with it and become a longtime Ibanez customer. Some may even become famous guitar stars who bring glory to the Ibanez name and influence another generation of guitarists. Judging from the long list of Ibanez endorsers from the metal ranks, such an outcome isn’t all that unlikely.
The TBX Series
The TBX Series parallels the original Tone Blasters, but with a more radical distortion channel and other added features and upgrades. At the bottom end is a 15W practice model with an 8" speaker, two channels, reverb, three-band tone controls with a parametric mid, and an MP3/CD input and headphone output, very handy in a practice amp. With its closed-back cab, this small amp generates plenty of volume for practice and lots of low-end drive for its small size.
Next in the series is a 30W, 10" combo, the TBX35R, that serves nicely for practice, jamming, and recording. It has the same features as the TBX15R, but the channels and the reverb are footswitchable. The cabinet is an open back so it has the volume needed for jamming.
The gig-level TBX models begin with a 65W, 12" combo, and then step up to two 150W amps; one a 2x12 combo, the other a head version for driving a 4x12 half-stack cabinet. The TBX65R is a smoker with plenty of volume for most club gigs. The 150s are powerful amps—big enough for any gig, anywhere. All three have the features needed in a gig amp.
First they share two discrete channels—an important qualification for a working amp. Each channel has its own volume and gain, plus independent three-band active EQ with parametric midrange control for the X channel. You can dial in each channel to its own perfection.
Other tone options have been added. The normal channel has been wired with an overdrive circuit, and the hot channel is equipped with a boost. Both are footswitchable, so you can kick into two different solo modes. There’s also a Resonance control that lets you dial up extra sparkle. The TBX150 models have an effects loop with level to give you another option for placement of external effects.
With all of their gig-ready features, even the biggest of the TBX amps have the practice features—the headphone out, the CD/MP3 in—so you can rave at the gig, come home, and practice silently all night. From the smallest to the largest, the TBX amps are good looking, well built, not too heavy, and have a rugged covering and metal corner protectors. On the combos, the control panel is slanted to make tweaking easy and the knobs are high-quality, chromed metal with ridged edges to make them easy to grasp and turn precisely.
A blast to play
Having all the essential features is one thing, but how an amp sounds makes it or breaks it. The TBX amps become more impressive when you fire them up. I started with the TBX15 and tried each of them in turn moving up through the line. I found them all to be low in noise, simple to dial in, quite versatile, and definitely high-gain in character. The normal channel gives you a nice clean tone and then overdrives through bluesy to a classic lead drive sound.
It’s the X channel that distinguishes these Tone Blasters. It starts hot and gets hotter. It is extreme distortion, but even at the far end, it doesn’t lose the tone component. This is a common problem with super high-gain. It is easy to get so distorted that you no longer hear the note distinctly—it turns into mush. With the TBX, even when you dial up the gain, you still can hear the pitch.
A lot of players mistake high gain with high volume mainly because metal bands generally play loud, but really it’s the distortion level that defines high gain. The new Tone Blasters let you play in the high-gain zone over a wide volume range. Loud or soft, you can get the tone as extreme as you like it.
While the 15W and 30W models give you plenty of high gain tonality, it is the 65W and 150W models that really let you blow the house down. With the TBX150H and the 4X12 cabinet, you have a half-stack rig with tons of muscle. It’s awesome.
The best part is how little you have to shell out for what you get. Even the head and 412 cab are easy on the wallet—about as good a deal for a backline setup as you’re gonna find anywhere, and with Ibanez quality to boot. If you’re looking for an amp that can give you power and tone for heavy metal, the TBX Series amps are a great option.
Features & Specs
TBX Common Features:
- 2 switchable channels
- X channel voiced for extreme high-gain
- 3-band active tone controls with parametric mid
- Reverb with level control
- 1/4" CD/MP3 input jack
- 1/4" headphone/record out
- 15W and 8" speaker
- Shared 3-band tone controls with parametric mids
TBX30R Added Features
- 30W and 10" speaker
- Reverb and channel footswitch jack
- Open-back cab
TBX65R Added Features
- 65W and 12" speaker
- 2 discrete channels
- Independent active 3-band EQs on each channel
- Parametric mids on the hot channel
- Switchable boost on the hot channel
- Closed-back cab
TBX150R Added Features
- 150W and 2x12" speakers
- Switchable overdrive on normal channel
- Resonance control
- Footswitch jacks for reverb, overdrive, boost, and channel
- Effects loop
TBX150H- Head Version of TBX150R
IS412C 4x12" Cabinet
- 4 - 12" speakers
- 320W power handling
- 4- and 16-ohm jacks
- 2-piece split baffle
- MDF baffle board
- 27-3/5"W x 29-4/5"H x 13-1/5"D , 92 lbs.