The Tech 21 SansAmp: A Tribute to an Indestructible Studio Staple

By August 28, 2019Bass, Features, Guitar, Recording
SansAmp Bass Driver

In the studio, much is made of capturing the right guitar or bass cabinet tone. Understandably so. In developing the SansAmp, Andrew Barta created a new way to capture these instruments with the same level of personality and nuance as the real deal – all without the challenges of dealing with a loud speaker in a live environment.

So what set of ingredients went into this groundbreaking design? We’re taking a look at how this innovative little box garnered the audio world’s attention, spawning its own family in the process.SansAmp Bass Driver

Since the Classic hit the streets in ’89, the Tech 21 SansAmp has earned credits on thousands of recording sessions. Read on to discover its transformative impact on the studio and stage.

It Began with a Classic

Tech 21, the company that manufactures the SansAmp and its siblings was established in New York by Andrew Barta in 1989. Barta had a background in electronics and at the time, was spending his working hours doing repairs and modifications on guitar amps. Therefore, he was well-placed to deliver a pint-sized product capable of delivering the authentic tone of a living, breathing guitar amp.

Funnily enough, if it wasn’t for the rejection that Barta received for his original concept, Tech 21 or the SansAmp might not have come to fruition. He never had designs on becoming a manufacturer, so the only plan was to pitch the prototype to various manufacturers. And as is the case in many a Hollywood tale, his idea was unanimously ignored. This forced Barta to set up his own company in order to pursue the development: Tech 21 was born and the rest, as they say, is history.

For a such a small device, the original version of the SansAmp, now known as the Classic, packed in loads of features and wasn’t short on sophisticated tonal options. Not just another way to DI a guitar or bass, it offered up an all-analog amped up experience.

The knobs on the front panel control the how hard you hit the preamp (otherwise known as the Presence Drive), then the power amp contour (Amplifier Drive), an overall tone control (High) and volume (Output).SansAmp ClassicThe central collection of DIP switches, simply marked Character, substantially adds to the pedal’s versatility. You can select from a range of amp characters with variations on virtual microphone positions. Plus, there’s a three way input switch for your selection of a hot lead channel, a mellow channel (or Normal as makers call it) and bass.

The Last Word in Bass Recording

Guitar players need not have all the fun though. A few years after the emergence of the Classic, the SansAmp Bass Driver hit the scene, having a remarkable impact on how the instrument was recorded onwards.

It quickly became an industry standard, due to its ruggedness and its ability to dish up the thick tube tones that would normally be associated with Ampeg or Fender Bassman heads. It comes with a three band EQ that gives maximum bang-for-buck on bass friendly frequencies. Bassists can also freely experiment with drive too, but nothing that would sacrifice bottom end power.

Meet the Family

Since these early forays into this world of portable amp simulation, the SansAmp has become more diverse. Their line of Bass Drivers for instance has culminated in a Deluxe version, which has the capacity to store four switchable presets, switchable effects loop, dual inputs for different guitars and more. To call it DI doesn’t come close to doing it justice.SansAmp Programmable Bass Driver side angleThey’ve expanded on their six-string offerings as well over the years, with models like the GT2 – similar to the Classic, with simplified controls, but still providing options for mic placement, amplifier style and more. The Blonde is the SansAmp homage to the classic Fender black and silver face amps of the ’60s and ’70s which is a study in refined simplicity.

Of all the SansAmp’s virtues, right up there is something that it doesn’t do: add latency. One of the hurdles that inhibits natural expression on the guitar – when you don’t have an amp and cabinet to work with – is that roundtrip from guitar to DAW and back.

Digital amp simulation has come ahead in leaps and bounds in recent years, driven by the demand realistic performance with a minimum of fuss in setting up, or loud volumes – but none approach the level simplicity and tonal character of a SansAmp. Not only has it been a boon for guitarists and bassists, being latency free means that its work seamlessly as a parallel processor on any number of sources in the mix.

That doesn’t mean that it’s completely escaped they clutches of digital technology. ProTools has long since included a SansAmp plugin as part of its stock package. It’s kind of weird when you think about it – an emulation of an emulation. Some people swear by it and it’s the kind of plug that might just get you out of a jam, if you in search of instant harmonic saturation.SansAmp pluginThe SansAmp isn’t a piece of gear that announces itself as soon as you enter the studio. It is, however, always reassuring to see it in a session. The simple act of switching the damn thing on instantly improves things, especially when attempting to inject life and warmth into a bass guitar signal. Surely Andrew Barta could not have predicted that his humble black box would become so mighty in decades to come.

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