How to Capture James Hetfield’s Metallica Guitar Tone
Metallica has had a long and storied career. From their early days with guitarist Dave Mustaine to today’s line-up, one thing has remained constant: James Hetfield’s biting riffs and his guitar tone.
Depending on who you ask, Metallica’s best album was either Master of Puppets or Metallica, more widely known as “the Black Album.” Regardless of your favorite, there is no doubt that the Black Album propelled the band into the mainstream metal market.
From the opening riff to “Enter Sandman” to the haunting guitars on “The Unforgiven” and “Nothing Else Matters,” the Black Album came to epitomize Metallica for a generation of metal fans.
At the very heart of Metallica’s success were the riffs that Hetfield wrote for the band. Many fans can pick out a Metallica song from the first few chords.
One of Hetfield’s most famous pieces of gear was his Gibson Explorer, although he also used a Les Paul, as well. In later years James added several ESP guitars to his collection.
Hetfield’s collection of amps has varied over the years, but like most guitarists of that generation, a Marshall head and cabinet have been an integral part of his setup. He’s also used Mesa Boogie, Krank and an AC30, among others.
Hetfield is not afraid to experiment with new gear from up and coming companies. You can often see him using guitars and pedals from Line 6 these days, replacing some of the gear from more established companies.
To make Hetfield’s tone at my home computer, I chose to go with the “Black Album” since that was their most successful commercial release. I’ll be using Native Instruments’ Guitar Rig 3 with the following settings.
I’m using two amps for this tone: A Lead 800 and an Instant Gratifier. Basically, a Marshall and a Mesa Boogie.
For the Lead 800 I’m using these settings: Master 10; Preamp 10; Bass 7; Mid 2; Treble 8; and Presence 4. I’m also using the Lead 800 cabinet with the mic setting at 91% on mic A and the Dry/Air setting at 1.73. The volume on the cab is straight up at 12 o’clock.
The next amp is the Instant Gratifier. I’m not running that one as hot as the Lead 800 because I want the 800’s grit to come out more in the tone, but the Gratifier will add some bite to the tone. The settings for the second amp are: Master 7; Gain 3; Bass 10; Mid 3; Treble 6; Presence 9. The setting on the amp itself is Raw, which is a more even tone than the modern or vintage settings.
For a cabinet, I chose to use one of the generic cabinets modeled after the Ultrasonic. I’m using a Dynamic 421 in the off axis position with Volume 5; Pan middle; Bass 6; Treble 3; and Air 3. The main volume of the cabinet is pretty much dead center.
I only used two effects in the tone ? a chorus and a Screamer. The Chorus Intensity is at 1.45 and the volume is in the middle. You can even turn the Chorus off and it won’t affect the tone that much, but it is nice to have it in the rack for some songs.
The Screamer has the Volume 5; Tone 8; and Drive 7. I used the same method to make this tone that I always use ? get the basics done with the amp and then shape it with effects.
Have fun playing Metallica!