I WAS SKEPTICAL TO SAY THE LEAST. IN 1989, I HAD BEEN RUNNING SOUND & VISION STUDIOS in San Francisco for six years, and I’d been sweating bullets squeezing decent guitar sounds out of balsawood guitars and amps that wouldn’t even be sold by Montgomery Ward. I had a trick bag of sonic strategies and mics and outboard gear, and now someone was showing me a tiny pedal that claimed to deliver ferocious guitar sounds by simply plugging an audio cable from said box directly into a mixer. You had to pick me up off the floor when the thing actually worked.
The aptly named Tech 21 SansAmp was instrumental in launching the home-studio boom (no blaring amp to mic—no eviction from premises), and Tech 21’s Andrew Barta—who was turned down flat by many manufacturers when he initially tried to sell the idea—became a pioneer of direct-recording technology. Although Tech 21 eventually designed conventional amps and other devices, the SansAmp remains in the line (15 different versions are currently available), and the company has produced a “relic” model ($375 retail/$279 street) to honor its groundbreaking achievement in analog-circuit design.
“Overall, I think analog is much warmer, more organic, and more responsive,” says Barta. “I also prefer analog because there’s no latency. No matter how minor it is, [digital] latency can still be felt, and I find it distracting while I’m playing.”
For 20 years now, many players can thank Barta for not only giving them an option to record raging guitar sounds at home without cranking up an amp, but also for providing a tonal failsafe if one’s amp implodes on the bandstand (you can simply route a SansAmp to the house mix and hear yourself through the stage monitors)