Get the James Hetfield Tone

One of my students is learning some Metallica riffs from the Black album
and mentioned that he is having a hard time getting that heavy crunch that Hetfield had on the Black album.  My initial response was, “Good luck!”  A lot of Hetfield's tone on the Black album was due to layering guitar tracks and sprinkles of voodoo from mega producer Bob Rock.  With that said, there are things you can do to get closer to the tone of the Metallica riff master.

First let's take a look at what Hetfield is using for gear.  This is obviously subject to change, so if you know of new or different gear that James is using, feel free to comment.

The gear-

Guitars
· ESP Explorers
· Ken Lawrence Explorer
· ESP Custom Eclipse
· ESP JH-1 Custom V
· Gibson Explorer
· Gibson Les Paul Custom

Amplifiers
· MESA/Boogie TriAxis Preamps
· MESA/Boogie Strategy 400 Power Amps
· MESA 4×12 Recto Cabs
· Roland JC-120 Combo Amps (for clean sounds)
· Diezel VH-4 Heads

Effects and Accessories
· TC Electronics G Major Effects Processor
· MESA/Boogie Custom Graphic EQ
· MESA High Gain Amp Switcher
· Digital Music Corp GCX Switcher and Ground Control Plus Controller
· MXR Phase 100
· Digitech Whammy Pedal
· Electro-Harmonix Bass Micro Synthesizer
· Audio Technica 5000 UHF Wireless
· Furman Power Conditioners
· EMG 81 and 60 Pickups
· Ernie Ball Regular Slinky Strings
· Dunlop .88mm Tortex Picks

Thats quite a list of high end gear.  Spending thousands of dollars to match Hetfield's rig wont make you sound or play like him.  Always remember, a lot of a guitar player's tone is in his or hers fingers.  Plus, for the average bedroom player or local bar musician, this rig is just not practical.  So what is a guitar player to do?

What I have below is a way to simulate James Hetfield’s tone for The Black album, the fifth studio album from Metallica. For all distortion tones use a Metal Distortion Pedal and for all of your clean sounds use your amps clean tone. Metallica has a trademark sound. On your amp, turn the mids to 0 and turn your amp's Bass and Treble knobs up between 3 “o” clock and 4 “o” clock.

The set up I have given here is a great place to start to get the sounds that are heard on The Black Album.

A good Metal Distortion Pedal is essential for the heavy tone.

  • The Boss MT-2 is a good start for an extremely versatile pedal. There are a lot of parameters you can control with this pedal. It is great for just about any classic metal need.
  •  If you are looking for a newer modern sound the Boss ML-2 distortion pedal is a good choice.

A typical setting you can use for the MT-2 is: Gain = 10 o'clock, Low = 4 o'clock, High = 1 o'clock, Mid Freq = 2.5 o'clock, Mid = 2.5 o'clock, Dist = 10 o'clock.

At the end of the day, you want to develop your own sound and tone but hopefully the above suggestions will help you in building the foundation for that thick metal Hetfield sound.
Now that you have the Metal Master's tone dialed in, put it to some use and check out my James Hetfield rhythm lesson.