It’s easy to forget just how novel the concept of amp simulation was when Andrew Barta launched Tech 21.
In many ways, his inaugural SansAmp pedal was an unprecedented design. It was a stompbox that was more interested in helping players sculpt a tone than in delivering a discernible “effect.”
And in an era when grunge guitarists, living blues legends, and over-the-top arena rockers still captured much of the nation’s imagination, it gained grassroots notoriety fast.
Although purists may still turn up their noses, while others use amp modelers on sources their creators never intended, this class of signal processor is now as much a part of modern recording as once-outrageous developments like the electric piano, the synthesizer, and the DAW.
Even detractors would find it hard to deny that modelers have helped changed the way we think about sounds.
These devices were at the forefront of encouraging the post-modern approach to tinkering with tones that has since spilled over into recording technology, and gave new players an easy overview of classic sonic colors.
Tech 21 has been there since the beginning, and in an age where digital amp modelers have become ubiquitous, Barta has stuck to his original vision, developing new amp simulators using an entirely analog signal path. Dale Krevens, Tech 21’s Vice President and an integral part of the company’s success explains that at first, Barta had no plans to go into business for himself.
“Andrew took years developing this technology in his spare time, with the hope that [he’d] sell it to one of the major manufacturers.” The reception, she says, was the same everywhere: “Thanks, but no thanks.”
With persistent encouragement from the upbeat Krevens, Barta made the decision to begin building the SansAmp himself, selling the first units directly to players in 1989. “We didn’t know anything about manufacturing at first,” she says, but Barta learned as he went, finding new ways to shrink the size of the technology every step of the way, essentially building complete tube amp circuits in miniature, using FETs in place of valves…