Basically, yes, I agree with you in general.
Anyway, trying to get into Ron´s mind,what I see is that he does not want to get an Electronics "Nobel Prize", but rather, he´ll be very happy to see that people *actually* build his designs.
The added fact that he sells the PCBs, of which he tantalizingly shows component side pictures, but never the underside (much less the actual track artwork) seems to confirm this.
All his designs are minimalistic, but work.
I still can´t believe his compressor !!: 2 jacks, 1 lamp, 1 LDR ....!!!
His high quality HiFi amplifier? : 1/2 of a 5532 per channel, 1 LM3886 gainclone, 1 input selector, lonely volume pot.
Anyway I´m sure it works and sounds very good.
I think his guitar preamp is as basic as possible, with a tonestack ripped from classic Fenders, single clean channel, you-supply-the-pedals philosophy.
I agree that the output clipping diodes are not a "distortion" per se, but probably a way to *somewhat* mimic the effect of using the amplifier at high volume.
I think that building up front someting as simple as an MXR Distortion+ or a Rat will make it usable.
J M Fahey