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The 6 Worst Guitar Sounds of all Time

The worst guitar sounds of all time  · 

Jose Luis Carrascosa Martínez / Alamy Stock Foto

All that glitters is not gold. While we’re all constantly on the hunt for the perfect guitar sound, the charm of some of the biggest hits lies in sounds that are, objectively speaking, terrible. I’ve spent a ton of money to get as close as possible to my sonic ideal. Meanwhile, the biggest names of the industry manage to create timeless masterpieces with some of the worst guitar sounds of all time. Why is that?

Note: This article was originally published by Jan Rotring on Translation: Lasse Eilers.

Get ready for the worst guitar sounds

Tube ampsboutique pedals, expensive cables, plek machines, vintage guitars: In pursuit of the sounds I’m hearing in my head, I’ve given in to many GAS attacks – and I’ve even enjoyed it and achieved (subjectively) great results.

With this in mind, it is all the more frightening what an isolated track recorded by a guitar idol can reveal. Piercing highs, buzzing strings, menacing bass orgies. And yet, the parts still work just fine in the context of the song – they are what many of us perceive as the pinnacle of musicality. Let’s get to the bottom of this phenomenon.

What are the best and what are the worst guitar sounds?

I’ll admit that this can be a very subjective matter. But this is my article, so I’m entitled to my opinion here. You’re invited to share yours in the comments.

First and foremost, what makes a good guitar sound very much depends on the genre. Blast beats and sparkling jazz licks don’t go together so well, just like the Swedish chain saw sound of a Boss HM-2Wprobably isn’t such a good fit for a swing song.

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So here’s the first part of the definition of a good (or even perfect) guitar sound: it suits the genre and song.

Great sounds in various genres

Young James Hetfield
Young James Hetfield: the perfect (thrash) sound · Source: Robert Hoetink / Alamy Stock Foto

To shed some light on my own likes and dislikes, here are a few examples of what I think are really great guitar sounds from some of the most popular genres.

  1. Rock: “Sweet Child O’ Mine” – Guns ’n Roses
    Slash’s iconic guitar sound in “Sweet Child O’ Mine” really begins to shine once the intro is over and reaches its climax in the solo. The combination of a Les Paul and a Marshall amp just works.
  2. Blues: “Texas Flood” – Stevie Ray Vaughan
    In “Texas Flood”, SRV demonstrates a smooth, melancholic, and powerful blues sound that’s both unique and instantly recognizable – even though I’m not a big fan of Stratocasters.
  3. Metal: “Master of Puppets” – Metallica
    James Hetfield and his right hand made me want to become a guitarist. The downstroke riffing in Metallica’s masterpiece is so tight, aggressive, and rough that it still blows me away even after listening to it about 20,000 times. True, there are no mids in his sound. Who cares?
  4. Jazz: “West Coast Blues” – Wes Montgomery
    To me, Wes Montgomery’s “West Coast Blues” is a prime example of a warm, melodic jazz sound. Gibson L-5, brilliant playing, and many, many expensive chords – that’s how I like jazz.
  5. Alternative Rock: “Bigmouth Strikes Again” – The Smiths
    Johnny Marr is one of my personal guitar heroes – and I’ll admit that I’m not even that much into The Smiths. I almost liked him better in The The. Anyway, the guitar work in “Bigmouth Strikes Again” is brilliant. And the Rickenbacker 330 with a capo at the fourth fret sounds wonderfully energetic and melancholic.
  6. Funk: “Play That Funky Music” – Wild Cherry
    Funk isn’t really my thing. But Rob Parissi of Wild Cherry created an instantly recognizable funk classic with “Play That Funky Music” – even for me. The opening riff captivates me and somehow the sound just works.
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The flip side: the worst guitar sounds

Pete Townshend soaring high – but does his sound?
Pete Townshend soars high – but does his sound? · Source: Michael Brito / Alamy Stock Foto

Where there’s light (see above), there’s shadow. Here are the worst guitar sounds from the same six genres:

  1. Rock: “My Generation” – The Who
    Even though “My Generation” is a true classic, Pete Townshend’s guitar sound is shrill and overly distorted. In a way, the whole track seems unfinished. Sure, it contributes to the raw energy and rebellious attitude of the song. But does it sound good in the true sense of the word? Nope.
  2. Blues: “Boom Boom” – The Yardbirds
    Eric Clapton is beyond compare. But in this case, the young Clapton seems almost chaotic. I have a hard time following his playing, the dynamics are erratic and the guitar is all over the place. Still, the song is an important contribution to the history of blues rock and just works.
  3. Metal: “Walk” – Pantera
    Yes, this one had to be included. Assignment: Find a forum discussion about bad guitar sounds that doesn’t mention Dimebag Darrell. The sound in “Walk” is infamous for being overly distorted and aggressive. In my view, the problem is a complete lack of structure, depth, and substance. It’s metal, after all. One of the worst guitar sounds ever?
  4. Jazz: “Minor Swing” – Django Reinhardt
    “Minor Swing” is one of only a few songs by Django Reinhardt I’m having a hard time listening to. Somehow, it’s too sharp and overly bright and piercing, especially if you’re used to the warmer, rounder sound of modern jazz guitars.
  5. Alternative Rock: “When You Sleep” – My Bloody Valentine
    Kevin Shields’ guitar sound in “When You Sleep” is overly fuzzy and heavy on feedback. Yes, it adds a chaotic and unruly quality to the song. But then it also ends up sounding chaotic and unruly.
  6. Funk: “More Bounce to the Ounce” – Zapp
    Despite the fact that this is one of the best names for a funk song ever, talkbox effects can quickly get old. Using it throughout the entire song? I don’t think so.
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Listening to the guitar in isolation, these six examples are truly awful. No guitarist would brag about their sound if this was coming out of the speaker – at the end of that expensive signal chain. But is that all there is to it?

Intermediate conclusion: it depends!

You’ve guessed it: I won’t be able to maintain the controversial title and tone of this article forever. So here’s my first concession: The aforementioned guitar sounds are only bad if you’re listening to them by themselves.

Ultimately, what’s good and what’s bad depends on the musical context – the mix. And all of a sudden, Pete Townshend’s whiny sound perfectly suits an iconic track like “My Generation”, just like chain saw distortion is perfect for “Walk”.

What do we learn from this? There are truly terrible guitar sounds that still work extremely well in the musical context. The big question is: Why is that? And how can we use it to our advantage?

It’s in the mix

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In my 20 years as a guitarist, even I eventually learned that the guitar sound is pretty much meaningless by itself. Whether or not a sound is good is ultimately a question of the mix. Every guitar track, no matter how well it was played and how good it sounds on its own, must be judged in the context of the complete arrangement. A well-balanced mix ensures that the guitars, vocals, and other elements of the mix complement each other and don’t fight for attention.

The mixing process includes adjusting the volume, EQ, compression, and effects for each track to ensure that it is positioned right in the mix. It is essential to give each sound its place in the frequency spectrum, so that they don’t overlap and clash. We guitarists are often guilty of intruding into the midrange of other instruments, which can lead to a muddy sound without careful EQing. Anyone who’s ever played in a garage band should know this.

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In the end, it’s all about how the guitar sounds together with the other elements. A good mix makes every instrument shine and contributes to the overall quality of the song, instead of focusing on making a single element sound perfect.

Bye, bye GAS?

Taking all this into consideration, why is it that we spend a fortune on boutique amps and hand-made effect pedals? After all, those things don’t seem to matter that much for making a sound sit well in the mix.

Nobody would want to listen to Keith Richards’ sound in “Satisfaction” for six hours on end in the rehearsal room. And that’s part of the answer: Most guitarists spend a lot of time and money to achieve the best possible guitar sound (in contrast to the worst guitar sounds). Unfortunately, the result can sometimes be too much when it’s time for mixing.

What remains is the sobering conclusion that most of our effects, amps, and other gear mainly serve one purpose: to please our own ears.

Hello GAS, my old friend

But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Like I said, who wants to hear the worst guitar sound for six hours? And could motivation also be a factor?

I’m firmly convinced that sounds write songs. They do for me, anyway. I’ll play around with a bunch of effects, hear something I like, and suddenly, an idea arrives. So I need the sound as an inspiration to write music. And that saved me from sliding into a bad case of gear depression. After all, what if I’d bought all those nice things for nothing?

The flip side is: I can think of so many things I want to try with my sound that I could definitely use a couple of new toys. Oh well, let’s see …

Anyway, back to the subject of the worst guitar sounds of all time: they obviously don’t exist. What does exist, however, is the realization that no sound is great by itself. Even we guitarists are only one part of the puzzle. Sometimes that means that we have to make compromises when it comes to our own standards. At least in terms of the sound. Good playing is always important.

Which guitar sounds are the best and worst for you?

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I’m always curious to find out which sounds you think are great, and which ones you consider to be among the worst guitar sounds of all time. Of course, there are countless heated discussions all over the web. But what does the GEARNEWS community think? Let me know in the comments.

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The worst guitar sounds of all time

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John Smith

My John Smith is a seasoned technology writer with a passion for unraveling the complexities of the digital world. With a background in computer science and a keen interest in emerging trends, John has become a sought-after voice in translating intricate technological concepts into accessible and engaging articles.

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