Tech 21 – Sans Tubes For 20 Years!
Tech 21 is celebrating 20 years in the musical equipment biz this month and we are honoring that with this Spotlight feature. With the introduction of the SansAmp back in 1989 the company’s founder, Andrew Barta, made his mark in the industry. Since that time he has designed and manufactured some pretty amazing pieces of equipment that are great sounding and practical for musicians of every level. All Tech 21 products are built right here in the good ol’ U.S.A. using high quality components and thoroughly tested using various methods for years of reliability. Since there aren’t any tubes in any of their analog (not digital) products there is virtually zero maintenance and they provide tonal consistency at each and every live performance or studio session.
In this Spotlight feature Vice President, Dale Krevens, talks about Tech 21’s beginnings, analog vs. digital technology and Barta’s new limited production Private Stock products.
300guitars: Hi there Dale. Please tell us a little history about Tech 21.
Dale Krevens: Andrew Barta, inventor of the SansAmp, started Tech 21 in 1989. He actually spent the 2 years prior trying to sell what was then a nameless black box to some of the major MI manufacturers, but they turned him down. Looking back, it’s hard to believe and frankly, I’m glad they did or we wouldn’t be here now. Andrew never planned on becoming a manufacturer, but the idea was too good not to. We were good friends, so he asked if I would help him. I jumped at the chance because I saw tremendous potential for Andrew’s technology. At the time, I was in advertising and marketing, so I gave the box a name, wrote the ads, brochures, and owner’s manual and enlisted the help of some of my co-workers for logos, ad design and other graphics. I worked behind the scenes until 1991, which is when I switched to Tech 21 full time. Andrew’s first employee did all the assembly work and she’s still with the company overseeing all the other assemblers.
300guitars: What were the first products produced?
Dale Krevens: The first was the SansAmp, which was later renamed the SansAmp Classic, to distinguish it from the subsequent versions. Between 1992 and 1994, we had the SansAmp Bass DI with internal controls that later became the Bass Driver DI with external controls, a non-programmable rackmount version and the SansAmp GT2. After that, we did some effects, and in January 1996, we came out with the Trademark 60 amplifier. That was the first “multiple personality” amplifier on the market that also had a direct out for recording.
300guitars: Why was the decision made to design equipment without the use of vacuum tubes?
Dale Krevens: It wasn’t a premeditated “decision.” It was the whole idea behind the SansAmp technology. Andrew, being a guitar player, loved the sound of tube amps. But they were so frustrating to him because they’re temperamental, unreliable, inconsistent, costly to maintain, heavy and bulky, and you had to play them really, really loud. Studio time was expensive and it made no sense that so much time had to be devoted to mic’ing the amps instead of playing through them. He thought there had to be an easier way. So he made it his mission to find it -and he did.
300guitars: Can you explain the advantages and differences between the Tech 21 analog technology and digital technology?
Dale Krevens: It’s like the difference between vinyl Lps and digital Cds. Vinyl is “dirtier” and has a more natural ambiance. Digital is squeaky clean so it doesn’t have the same feel. Analog tends to be much warmer and responsive. There’s also a latency factor, which doesn’t happen with analog. With digital, there’s a conversion process and it causes minor delays. It may or may not be audible, but somehow you can feel it, which can throw you off when you’re playing if you’re sensitive to it.
300guitars: What are the advantages of the analog technology as compared to tube amplifiers?
Dale Krevens: Basically there are none of the drawbacks I mentioned earlier regarding being temperamental, unreliable and costly to maintain. With our technology, you get consistent sound every time you plug in a SansAmp or one of our amps. You get a wide range of different amp styles in a single piece of a gear so you don’t have to lug around a bunch of amps. And you don’t have to have the level all the way up to get a good sound. We give you the sound of a cranked up stack at low volume. That keeps the spouses, kids and neighbors happy, not to mention it’s also healthier for the player! Of course, you can go direct to a PA or studio mixer and not waste time fiddling around with mics.
300guitars: Do Tech 21 products “model” other pieces of gear or do they have a signature sound of their own?
Dale Krevens: They actually do both. You can get the sound of the major well-known amps, but you can also tweak the controls to basically customize your own sound. We have charts in the owner’s manuals to get you started and then it’s up to you how you want to change it to get your own signature sound.
300guitars: Is there any maintenance with a Tech 21 guitar or bass amplifier?
Dale Krevens: Not really, other than cleaning. We happen to have a very low repair rate because there’s not much that can go wrong with normal use. All of our products are made in the US and we’re extremely picky when it comes to quality control.
300guitars: What was the inspiration for the Private Stock products and when can we expect to see them available?
Dale Krevens: Andrew has a passion for designing products he wants for himself. That’s really how the SansAmp came into being. However, not all of his ideas make sense for us as a company to produce in large quantities. On several occasions, artists would visit and see some of Andrew’s creations. Their responses inspired him to offer his “Private Stock” to anyone who wants them. So we are starting with the Vacuum Tube Bass Pre-Amp Head, which is available by custom order. I’m not sure what’s next, but it could be anything. Even I don’t know.
300guitars: What is planned for the future at Tech 21?
Dale Krevens: There are always a bunch of things on the bench, but I can’t get into any specifics.
300guitars: Thank you very much for taking the time for this Spotlight interview.
Dale Krevens: It was my pleasure. You’d think after 20 years I’d get tired of telling the story, but I never do.
For more info visit Tech 21 www.tech21nyc.com