In the 1950s the first guitars have been amplified to enable them to cut through the mix. Before, the guitar has rather been an accompanying instrument.
But the first amps were pretty inefficient and therefore, have been dimed and started overdriving. In those days, Leo Fender tried to create tube amps with a sound as clean as possible and without distortion (according to his own idea of music).
Surprisingly, for countless guitarists, these are the amps that set the standard for overdriven sounds.
But what if not the tube technology but the transistor technology or, in an extraordinary case, the digital technology would have been the initial one?
And how do we know, what the live sound of Hendrix was really like? All of his sounds you can still listen to today have ultimately been recorded and digitalized. The real sound that came from his amp does basically only exist in our imagination according to the ideal of a good sound.
Who dictates that this antiquated sound of the 50s and 60s is the standard for a good guitar sound?
Actually, tube amps are pretty error-prone, they hiss and need a lot of power. Would we refuse to use them if the digital technology would have been there first? Would you say that an amplifier with 12AX7 or EL34 tubes may sound worse than a DSP based amplifier with Class D transistor power amp?
The story of good and bad hiss
The same applies to effect pedals. The maximum delay time of an analog delay muffles the signal and adds a perceivable hiss to the sound. Nevertheless, we appreciate this “faults” as important parts of the character of the pedal while digital delays get along without these side effects. Quite the contrary, emulations of analog delays offer the possibility to add such hiss infinitely variable!
But hiss and a muffled sound are nothing brilliant in general. Many pedalboards are already equipped with special switches to avoid this phenomenon. And when your beloved tube amp starts to murmur it’s about time to change the tubes. We love the hissing of effect pedals and the distortion of tube amps because we know that this is traditional and thereby something good.
In the end, it always depends on the sound we are familiar with and in which context alleged errors and failures appear.