According to a lot of people, Metallica’s guitar tones are really excellent, especially in the riff sound. The person who created this tone, James Hetfield, told his secrets that he reached this guitar tone.

Speaking in an interview with Total Guitar, James Hetfield explains the secrets of his ideal guitar tone. He said:

“Yes… the never-ending quest for the Holy Grail of guitar sounds, for me it’s got to be percussive. It’s got to push air, what we call bark. It’s got to bark.

But I don’t want it really abrasive, so any fake fuzz to me really just takes away from the sound. And it’s tough because when you turn guitar sounds down, you really hear what they sound like and when you push them up it sounds a different way.

So we’re trying to find that balance of enough mid push while still sounding big and what I’ve found is the wider and bigger you make it sound the thinner it becomes in a way, at least depth-wise.

You’ve got to find your space. Elbow your way in there and sonically make some room. And it varies throughout certain songs, the guitar is really important in this song but this one, maybe it’s all about groove. I think we’re learning to be a little more forgiving on each other’s need for volume [laughs] and look at the big picture.


It is a work in progress still from ‘Kill ‘Em All’ on. The Crunch Berries amp that we’ve used, I think, since ‘Ride t’he Lightning’ on or at least ‘Master of Puppets’ for sure. That Mesa/Boogie C++ [Simul-Class] is a very integral part of the sound still.

In the interview he also talked about the feelings he felt towards the drums and the effects he had on the music of enjoying playing the drums. He said:

“When I pick up the guitar – I want to be the drummer. I’ve always loved playing drums, so it’s kind of what I’m doing on the guitar. I love syncopation, just unique drum beats so I’ve always incorporated that in. The percussiveness and the downpicking, that’s something that just came through competition, really. ‘Hey, these guys are faster; I’m going to be faster!’ Goofy guy stuff like that, but at the end of the day it has its own sound. It’s like hitting a drum, it really is.

There have obviously been influences that have shaped it somewhat. Listening to Scorpions. [Rudolph Schenker], I like that he’s just the rhythm guy. He’s not trying to be everything and he’s the best at what he did. At the time he was really percussive in a way. So yes, quite a few people have influenced it, but a lot of it is the drums.”

Click here to reach the full length of the interview.