Billed as tough enough to survive any on-stage battle or foray in the mosh pit, the Ibanez 5 Series (a.k.a. Ibanez Sound Tanks) debuted in the early 1990s. At a price point aimed at blasting the competition and relying on their growing street cred in compact pedals, the goal was to innovate the traditional all-metal stompbox design in a plastic housing.
I still remember the guitar magazine ads announcing the Ibanez Sound Tank series. The header read in bold print: “Winning the War Against Expensive Effects.” At the very bottom of the ad was a not so subtle reminder that the tank troop was commanded by the “most popular distortion pedal in the world,” the Ibanez Tubescreamer. In between these claims was an image of a sandy battlefield with the Sound Tank pedals rolling through an exploded landscape of metal cased effects, their wiry innards signed from the onslaught.
There’s no doubt about it, this ad campaign was as bold as the design philosophy it championed. To put things in context, while effect pedals were on the rise in the early 1990s the market was a far cry from where we are today. Pedals remained essentially in the domain of major brands all of which were still trying to clear a space in the toppling dynasty of rack effects. The limited offerings meant effects were, in many ways, still a commodity. This posturing certainly had an impact on their price point.
What Ibanez understood in all of this was that effects are about sound and sound is about circuitry. So in all of the places you could cut corners on cost, the bits, wires, and boards under the hood of a stompbox was not one of them. The housing and other control components, however, could be revamped to bring costs down, especially if these components could be outsourced.
While it is not 100% certain, it seems that Ibanez had an arrangement for building aspects of the Sound Tank series with the little-known, Chines pedal builder, Daphon. This company too was known for plastic-housed pedals that looked eerily similar to the Ibanez Sound Tank lineup. Whether Ibanez was part of this tag-team or designed and developed their products in house, the result was an economical version of effect pedals in a market that was struggling to reach consumers with fewer dollars in their pockets.
So what did the line include? From 1990 through 1999, Ibanez developed and released nine stompboxes including: the Classic Metal, Thrash Metal, Powerlead, Flanger, Phaser, Compressor, Super Chorus, Digital Delay, and, of course, the Tubescreamer. To make a point that the best of effects could be yours for the cost of a few of your favorite tapes or CDs, you could leave the guitar store with a brand-new Ibanez Tubescreamer Sound Tank for just $49.95.
As with most effects, we could debate all day whether this strategy worked or if the sounds of the pedals were a smash hit or something better off forgotten. But what I love about these Ibanez pedals, and the other series they released in the years up to and after the millennium, is it shows Ibanez was not simply leaning on their heritage. They were ever extending it, innovating it, and rethinking how their classic sounds and builds could do more when they literally broke the mold. Design differently, market boldly, and get more pedals on the floor for players on any budget. Now that’s an approach to gear I can get behind.