In Defense of the Boss Metal Zone

There is perhaps no one pedal in history more maligned than the Boss MT-2 Metal Zone. The Metal Zone was released in 1991, as a successor to the HM-3 Hyper Metal. No matter where one might visit on the internet, the MT-2 is the subject of much ridicule. It’s not uncommon to find Internet denizens comparing the Metal Zone to a “can of bees” with some users going so far as to post memes of Nicolas Cage’s The Wicker Man to satirize the sound. It seems like many people have owned and used the MT-2 at one time or another, and after 24 years, its reputation certainly precedes it. Despite this, the MT-2 remains one of Boss’s biggest-selling pedals.

Cognitive dissonance abounds: Despite the throngs of forum users complaining about the Metal Zone’s futility, clearly there is some practical utility. I am here to say that I am in the utilitarian camp, but not for the reasons one might think. I present to you, ladies and gentlemen, Exhibits A to H, in my defense of the Metal Zone. The defense calls: You, the reader.

Buffer

A buffer is a utility box that you may have heard of. Perhaps, in terms of pedals, you’ve heard of its converse, “true bypass.” Now that we’re on the same page, buffers act as a high-input-impedance, low-output-impedance unity gain current amplifier. What this means in plain English is that buffers block AC from entering a circuit and allow voltage to flow freely. Simpler, it means a stronger signal, and that is good. If you happen to be running more than 18.6 total feet of cable and all your pedals are true bypass, you’re experiencing signal loss. You will likely not hear it if you’re right at 18.6, but if you run long lengths of cables, you are likely missing a little bit and don’t even know it.

Luckily for you, every Boss pedal with a footswitch is “buffered bypass,” which means there’s a buffer in your signal chain whether you like it or not. The Metal Zone is not immune to this treatment—a Metal Zone left in bypass mode is a more-than-serviceable buffer, and is likely cheaper than any standalone unit, given the ready availability of the MT-2. While it may look a little funny sitting on a jazz pedalboard, the utility is there, you’re not breaking any “rules,” and it will do in a pinch.

Gateway “Drug”

If we’re being honest with ourselves, everyone that gripes about the Metal Zone does so because they played it and hated it. The key phrase here is that everyone has played it. And frankly, if you’re taking the time out of your day to drum up that Wicker Man meme every time someone talks about the Metal Zone, it’s safe to say that you care a lot about pedals.

So, why has everyone played the Metal Zone? My theory revolves around the idea of Metal itself, and into what "metal" has evolved since 1991. Allow me to impart a personal anecdote: when I was growing up, I started my first band in 1999, and I played drums. Our guitar player had some crappy no-name practice amp, and our bass player had something equally gnarly. We played metal, and though we liked our sound well enough, it certainly didn’t sound like the big burly guitar tone we listened to on records. We all thought, "what about pedals?" Our guitar player ordered a Metal Zone, and the rest was history. As it turns out, our and Boss’s ideas of metal in 1999 and 1990 (likely the year spent on R&D for the 1991 launch) respectively, were drastically different. However, this experience didn’t sour us on pedals completely—we simply looked for another one, one whose sounds fell more in line with our style. We knew pedals were the answer. The witchery of the effects pedal world had already begun entrancing us, and we were powerless to stop it.

It’s not hard to imagine this exact situation playing out in garages across the country since 1991, as “metal” means so many things to different people. Metal Zones got many of us into pedals, and for that, I am thankful.

Mute Switch

For those of you with headstock tuners and those of you that swap out guitars mid-set, you know the pain of keeping your guitar signal out of your amplifier when you’re tuning, talking to the audience or band members or whatever else. That said, you could do far worse than a Boss Metal Zone with the Volume turned all the way down. Never clank the guitar into the mic stand ever again in between songs! The important thing to remember is actually using it, as this same instructions here could also apply to using the volume knob on your guitar. However, a dedicated mute switch allows the player to unmute and begin playing instantly, plus using the Metal Zone as a mute still imparts the pedal’s buffer-y goodness when turned off.

Excellent Platform for Modding

Modifying pedals is almost as old as pedals themselves. After all, the first Tone Bender was commissioned by Vic Flick, after finding he didn’t much care for his Maestro FZ-1. The technician, Gary Hurst, tweaked values until the results were to Mr. Flick’s liking.

And this is why pedal modifying is so important and necessary. Some folks have even parlayed pedal modding into a full-time job, because their mods are so good that people will buy the original pedal, then pay someone else a premium to “make it sound better.” And with as many people that claim the MT-2 sounds bad, there should be no shortage of modifications, right?

That is correct. There are plenty of modifications available to the general public. Some companies such as Fromel even sell modification kits, so that players can modify their own Metal Zones. Of course, none of these values are set in stone, and as nascent modders read onward, they see what components affect certain aspects of the tone. Theoretically, these modders will eventually be satisfied with the final result, and a brand new modification is born. That said, the Metal Zone has plenty of open-source modifications out there, notably the Diezel (no relation to the amp company) mod, and Brian Wampler includes a great mod in his equally great book How to Modify Guitar Pedals. Best of all, why not try your own modifications? Wampler, Keeley and others didn’t have any prior documentation when they set out on the modding path, so why not make your own action? Try swapping out whatever parts suit your needs. You might even be able to transform the Metal Zone into something completely non-metal, much like Pete Cornish did with the Big Muff when he turned it into an overdrive. The sky’s the limit!

Other Instruments

Yes, we all know that the Metal Zone is technically a “guitar effect,” but nothing good ever came out of staying on the beaten path. In fact, for you experimental musicians out there, there’s not much finer than the Metal Zone for texturizing any instrument. Noise musicians have been sandwiching entire signal chains with the MT-2 since the pedal came out, and continue the tradition today. Rhodes piano sound awesome through it, as do bass synthesizers and oscillators. The powerful built-in equalizer lends a great tone-shaping feature set to any instrument lacking one.

Experimentalists would be wise to invest in a reamping box to fully integrate the Metal Zone into a studio rig. Reamping is a process commonly used in a studio where pre-recorded tracks are able to be run through chains of effects. Try the Metal Zone in your studio to process drum tracks; the MT-2 sounds great on a kick drum or hi-hats.

The Akai MPC series offers resampling, which means users can process a sound externally and loop it back into the machine, storing the new sound in place of the old one. The Metal Zone is so high gain that resampling a sound over and over can process it to mush quickly, leaving behind a soundscape that can be used as an ambient backing track for live or studio use.

There’s a lot to like about the Metal Zone, especially when one thinks outside the proverbial box. After all, the box is called an “effects pedal” for a reason; it provides an effect. What “effect” means to you is totally up for debate, as the uses detailed in this article stretch the boundaries of what a pedal is “supposed” to do, i.e. “plug in and go.” When you put your mind to it, there are plenty of uses for everything. Is there really such a thing as a “bad” pedal, or are there just pedals that haven’t been fully discovered yet? Well, my friends, the Metal Zone is not a bad pedal—in fact, with all this aside, it’s actually a really great high-gain metal box, just as it was in 1991. The defense rests.

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