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How Did James Hetfield Learn Guitar

How Did James Hetfield Learn Guitar?

Metallica’s chief composer and rhythm guitarist, James Hetfield, co-founded the band with Lars Ulrich in Los Angeles in 1981. The band was founded after James Hetfield responded to Ulrich’s advertising in the Los Angeles weekly The Recycler.

While Kirk Hammett is the main guitarist, James Hetfield is a rhythm guitarist. He seldom plays solo sections on Metallica records or live concerts. However, Hetfield remains a very influential guitarist who has been named by various sites as one of the best guitarists of all time.

Without question, James Hetfield is one of the most influential personalities in the world of metal music, mainly thrash metal. His impact on the metal community is unrivaled.

Hetfield is well-known for his violent rhythm skills and ability to constantly down-pick at absolutely superhuman rates. It’s a large part of why Metallica became one of the biggest bands of all time.

He consistently rated as one of the top ten finest metal guitarists of all time. He is the epitome of an unexpected guitar hero, demonstrating that you don’t have to be a ‘bells and whistles lead guitarist to have an immense effect on the public.

This article examines James Hetfield’s guitar history as well as some technical notions underlying James Hetfield’s right-hand guitar playing.

Who is James Hetfield?

The voyage through a young James Hetfield’s formative years was fascinating. Significant trials and problems were thrown at him, transforming him into a man and contributing to his future anguish.

James was born in Downey, California, on August 3, 1963, and has two elder half-brothers on his mother’s side and one younger sister, Deanna. His parents were two entirely different people in their professional life; his mother, Cynthia Bassett, was a light opera singer, while his father, Virgil Lee Hetfield, was a truck driver. Unfortunately, they divorced in 1976. They were staunch Christian Scientists, and their religion was so strong that even when James’s mother, Cynthia, was diagnosed with cancer, she stayed steadfast in her faith and refused all medical care. This background, combined with the tragedy, had a significant impact on James, and it continues to inspire his lyrics, as well as his expressing fury via music and performance, to this day.

Early musical recollections and memories would see a young Hetfield begin taking piano lessons by the age of nine, which he kept to as a formality before progressing to his bigger brother’s drums – of course, out of curiosity. In the end, he has become a legend with nine Grammy awards.

How Did James Hetfield Learn to Play Guitar?

Hetfield began taking piano lessons when he was nine before starting to play the guitar. He also had his hands on his older half-brother David’s drums. He subsequently paid $200 to a classmate in the school’s jazz band for his first guitar; it was a 1969 SG standard. Hetfield began playing the guitar at the age of 14. James was determined to have the guitar and asked his mother to get it for him; he worked hard via housework and whatever else he could do to earn the privilege to purchase the instrument. Hetfield got his hands on the SG for $200.

With his guitar in hand, his next goal was to form a band, which he accomplished with several of his classmates. They came together after school and jammed out to their favorite songs, forming the band Obsession.

As guitar culture spread across the school, James discovered that his competitive drive led to his learning new things and advancing swiftly on the guitar. People would compete and show off what they had learned on a daily basis, which naturally led to a thriving advancement all around.

Hetfield said in a Guitar Center interview that he taught himself to play the guitar by jamming with some of his fellow students after school. They frequently performed Black Sabbath songs during such jam sessions in order to enhance themselves. Hetfield sought out better bands to perform with when he felt he needed to develop. He saw that he seemed to be on a drive to grow better and better.

The Rise of James Hetfield

Hetfield immersed and isolated himself in guitar and continues to report it as his favorite place of escapism to this day, claiming that when musicians say they are “in the zone,” they are really referring to being in the moment in music, feeling no pain, no worries, just being locked into a blissful place.

In his adolescence, James was a member of several local cover and garage bands. In his sophomore year, he began to write his own stuff, and this was the tipping point for many things between James and his passion for music.

One of the most notable instances of making a stand in frustration was when he returned to playing football that year and the coach advised him to shave his long hair because he couldn’t play if the hair didn’t go! Hetfield picked out his hair!

After graduating from high school, James went to work at a local sticker factory, where he daydreamed, wrote riffs in his brain, and pondered the prospect of becoming a successful musician.

As an individual, he began to deviate from his local cover bands, Obsession, and Leather Charm, because he desired more and needed to fulfill his unique content and expand his creativity. One memorable fact and observation is that James traded his 1969 SG for a PA system as a compromise to become a vocalist.

The Bands That Inspired James Hetfield’s Choice to Play the Guitar

Hetfield cited Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, and Diamond Head as his biggest influences as a youngster, and he stated in an interview that Sabbath still drives him now.

Metallica’s early members attempted to replicate the configuration of British metal band Diamond Head, which resulted in multiple line-up changes before settling on James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Dave Mustaine, and Ron McGovney.

What Guitar Does James Hetfield Play?

James Hetfield typically uses Explorer-style guitars from Ken Lawrence, Gibson, and ESP. James is also known to possess and play multiple V-style and Les Paul guitars. Throughout his career, he has performed a variety of roles.

Hetfield used to play his Flying V copy with a Seymour Duncan intruder pickup until 1984 when he switched to a Gibson Explorer model. Despite his endorsements with Gibson and many other guitar manufacturers, he rarely plays them except ESP guitars.

It’s only natural for James, a metal guitarist, to have some Gibsons in his collection. On the other hand, the 1973 Les Paul Custom is one of the most intriguing guitars. It’s unclear when or where he obtained it, but it came with Sperzel locking tuners, EMG 81 and 60 pickups, and golden covers. This one was popular during the “St. Anger” era. The Maltese cross easily identifies it beneath the bridge and the golden stripes on the body’s bass side. As far as Mr. Hetfield is concerned, Gibson Les Pauls are often linked with later Metallica stages.

James grew to love ESP guitars throughout the years. As a result, he received his customized custom-made guitar from them. This specific ESP model is a James Hetfield trademark guitar. The Iron Cross was inspired by the aforementioned 1973 Gibson Les Paul Custom. Looking at the body, it appears to be very similar, albeit the “Iron Cross” appearance is slightly different. The fretboard is noticeably unusual, featuring ESP’s trademark “flag” inlays and a Maltese cross inlay on the 12th fret. The guitar also features active pickups. Both ESP and ESP LTD make James Hetfield signature versions based on this instrument. It is one of James’ current Metallica arsenal’s most well-known guitars.

Acoustic Guitars That Used by James Hetfield

While many metal elitists chastised Metallica for integrating acoustic elements in their songs and penning ballads, they continued to do their thing in the studio and on stage. James had Gibson’s Chet Atkins trademark nylon-string guitar for a short time. This one may be seen on “Live Shit: Binge & Purge” from 1993. It was specifically for the performance of “The Unforgiven.” It is a deep cut that only the hardcore community is aware of.

While it’s still being determined whether James still has this same item in his collection, he was seen in the 1990s utilizing an ancient Martin D-28. According to legend, this instrument ended up on the “Load” album for “Mama Said.” He also performed the song live several times using this identical instrument. Even now, the D-28 is one of Martin’s most distinguished models.

Amplifiers That James Hetfield Used

Metallica is one of the most well-known metal groups, owing to its distinctive sound. Aside from Hetfield’s loud vocals and superb guitar work, the band also uses massive amplifiers to propel their music forward.

Half of the sound from any electric instrument comes from the amplifier, so it’s no surprise that Hetfield selected expensive, high-end amplifiers to fatten his tone.

James Hetfield has utilized hundreds of amplifiers throughout his career, beginning with the Marshall JCM 800 in his early days. He has collaborated with several companies throughout his career, but one of his favorites is the Diezel VH4.

The Blackstar Series One amp head is another staple. This strong digital amplifier is ideal for Metallica’s thunderous sound. This amp head delivers a powerful punch, and we can hear it in his songs.

Marshall JCM 800 feels out of place for Metallica. Its antique elegance conflicts with its heavy metal tastes. This amp was only utilized in the group’s early days before being replaced by digital and gain-heavy variants.

The VH4 is a strong, metal-heavy tube amp head as well. James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett utilize this monstrous amplifier to produce Metallica’s signature thrash metal tone. This amp includes a variety of knobs and switches for controlling EQ, distortion, and other effects.

Is James Hetfield a Good Guitarist?

Hetfield is mostly a rhythm guitarist, and he excels at it. His down-picking talent is one of his most popular methods. Hetfield also contributed guitar solos to a few tracks, including Turn the Page, Nothing Else Matters, and Whiskey in the Jar. He is regarded as one of the world’s finest metal guitarists due to his ability to play both.

James Hetfield or Kirk Hammet: which one is better?

Hetfield is a rhythm guitarist who seldom takes solos, while Kirk Hammet does most of the lead work. There is no point in comparing them because they are both exceptional in their fields. However, James is a beast when it comes to playing big riffs and down-picking.

Final Thoughts

Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield, two young and ambitious musicians founded Metallica in the early 1980s. Despite living in the United States, European bands mostly influenced them. Metallica breathed fresh life into metal music by fusing music from two cultures. They, along with a few other American bands, laid the groundwork for what the music press and major record companies dubbed “thrash metal.”

Hetfield’s quest to improve led him to establish Metallica, one of the greatest metal bands of all time. Since then, he has developed to the point that his name is frequently listed on lists of the world’s finest metal guitarists. However, the band’s powerful, tight, and rapid riffs performed by James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett had a tremendous effect on metal music. And it was Hetfield’s riffs, particularly his tight downstroke picking technique and extremely creative use of palm muting, that transformed the game.

Even now, he is recognized for his playing style; only some can replicate it exactly. Although some might dismiss metal music as just aggressive, strong power guitar noise, we can hear a lot of nuances in Hetfield’s playing. Especially we can see in terms of dynamics and how he’s emphasizing some notes, all while sticking to his downstroke picking and alternating between palm muting and open-hand positioning.

Learn Hetflied’s Techniques with Deplike

In this article, we learned how James Hetfield started to play guitar and which equipment he used while playing guitar on the stage or during practices. But none of Hetfield’s writing or playing techniques would be the same without his tone, which has changed through time. If you want to play guitar like James Hetfield, follow the Deplike Blog and use the Deplike Learning App. On the other hand, you can try Deplike App to find amps that James Hetfield uses or create your unique guitar tone with various amp plug-ins in Deplike App.


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