Guitarists spend a lot of time focusing on good tone, good sound, and the gear that support both. It seems the entire music retail industry balances on the fulcrum of this idea; If you are displeased with a sound, then you are encouraged to search outwardly for a quick solution, and if you have a sound in mind that you believe you understand how it was made you should buy everything needed to recreate it. Let’s use the song ‘Either Way” by Wilco as an example.
If you are a fan of Jazzmasters, it’s likely that you are a fan of Nels Cline. If you are a fan of Nels Cline, you are likely a fan of, or familiar with the guitar solo in the song “Either Way” from the album Sky Blue Sky. If you are a fan of the guitar solo from “Either Way”, you likely use this recording to confirm your love for the sound of a Jazzmaster, seeing as you associate it with Nels and his playing. You listen to it, and say, “ah yes, this is how a Jazzmaster should sound” and you begin to conjure ways to manipulate your rig to emulate this sound.
The only issue with this experience is that Nels recorded the solo for “Either Way” with a 1971 Gibson ES-335. It seems to me, like all great guitarists, Nels just sounds like Nels no matter the instrument, and what we like about our projection of this “good sounding Jazzmaster '' song, is truly just an appreciation for the artist. So what is a good sound, if we misrepresent our understanding of sound and how it's created? What is a bad sound?
A bad sound could have been qualified as an experience that happened in a recording studio in 1960 when Grady Martin recorded the bass solo for the Marty Robbins song “Don’t Worry”. Grady was running into a faulty channel into the mixing desk that created the first recorded instance of fuzz, which by all technical terms defined by the recording process of the time, was a bad sound. The mixing engineer left it in, and effectively changed the trajectory of the electric instrument. The Maestro FZ-1 was reverse engineered to mimic this accident in the studio that day.
Both of these examples are given, of good and bad sound, to encourage us all to remove these notions from our exploration of sound and creating. In the instance of the “bad sound”, had this accident been removed the quality of the artistic expression would have suffered, and others wouldn’t have been encouraged to explore other ways to make “bad sound” sound good. Instead we should be asking ourselves, is this the right application of this sound for this experience. There is no bad sound, only bad or inappropriate applications of sound that can lessen or distract from the overall objective of the sonic experience.So before you throw that Metal Zone away, find a way to make it work for you. If you think your Squier is insufficient, explore the tone section of your amp before moving on. Find the reasons why the sound isn’t working for you before deeming it bad. After that journey you will be armed not only with a clearer picture of what works for you, you’ll also have knowledge of what doesn’t and know when to toss a “bad sound” in the mix to make something unique.