Metallica has become more than just a band. They are a global brand, a club and the proverbial bar by which other metal bands are judged. Much has been made of the band’s gear over the years: James Hetfield’s Explorer-style ESPs and Kirk Hammett’s “Ouija” and “The Mummy” M-IIs.
But much of Metallica’s more esoteric gear remains unexplored. Here, we step into the trenches and uncover lesser-known facts about the group’s arsenal.
James Hetfield Amp Mods
For Metallica’s debut album, 1983 Kill them allHetfield used a Marshall Master Volume that had been modified by California amp guru Jose Arredondo.
Arredondo was famous for modifying amps owned by Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai and George Lynch, stacking them and often adding an extra preamp tube.
Hetfield’s modified Marshall was stolen – along with much of Metallica’s other gear – from the band’s van while it was outside a venue in Boston in 1984. The loss was devastating. , both creatively and financially, and inspired Hetfield to write the classic track. Fade to black. “I’m sure I wasn’t really thinking about killing myself,” he later said, “but that was my favorite Marshall amp, man!”
Before recording the band’s next album, 1984 ride the lightning, Hetfield bought a replacement: a brand new Marshall JMP 2203 head. This amp would be modified by Ken Fischer of Trainwreck Amps, to allow him to bypass the preamp, but not until long after his purchase. For registration of Stroll…Hetfield used an old Ibanez Tube Screamer to drive the JMP 2203 a bit louder, trying to replicate what Arredondo’s mod had done for him.
During the recording of the Black Album, Bob Rock and Hetfield both got new Marshalls modified by Arredondo. According to Hetfield, Hammett also had one in the works, but Arredondo died before it could be completed.
Kirk Hammett’s Randall Amps
While it’s true that Hammett played a great sounding amp that said “Randall” on it, it wasn’t designed by Don Randall. This amp was actually designed by Mike Fortin and was simply licensed by Randall Amplifiers for use by Hammett.
Randall had done this before – making licensing deals with boutique builders such as Egnater and selling the results as Randall amps – and explains why Randall amps from certain eras are more sought after than others. Hammett’s signature amp dates back to a Fortin Meathead.
In 2011, Fortin made four hand-built prototype amps under the Randall banner for Hammett, all based on his Fortin Meathead model. These prototype amps were built using more expensive components than would be found in a Randall production model, although Hammett still uses his production model signature amp as well. This KH103 was basically a three-channel variant of the Fortin Meathead.
Although the band uses Fractal units on stage, they still use their “real” amplifiers in the studio. According to Mike Fortin, the prototypes he built, along with Hammett’s signature Randalls, are still in heavy rotation in the studio and form the basis of the Fractal profiles the band uses live.
Cliff Burton played acoustic guitar on record
In a guitar world 2016 interview, Hammett confirmed that Cliff Burton recorded the acoustic intro for Fight fire with firethe opening track on ride the lightning.
“That acoustic piece was Cliff’s. Cliff was writing this on a low tuned acoustic guitar… He had a really good command of the guitar and a good grasp of classical modulations. This introduction was his play. We heard it and pasted it on Struggle, and it worked wonderfully. We knew this would be the opening track. There was no doubt about it. »
Metallica has long been the archetypal American metal band. But before their partnership with Gibson, the gear they used was often made elsewhere, usually in the Asian market.
The guitar that launched James Hetfield’s career – and is still part of his studio arsenal today – is a late 1970s Electra Flying Wedge Model 2236, a Flying V copy with a bolt-on neck. Kirk Hammett used a few copies of Fernandes Stratocaster – an FST-135 he nicknamed “Edna” and a custom red 1985 FST-65 with a CS Style 22F. Meanwhile, Cliff Burton was using an Aria Pro II. All of these instruments were made in Japan. It is possible that Hetfield’s Electra and Burton’s Aria were made in the same Matsumoku factory.
After a brief stint at Gibson, Hetfield left due to a souring business relationship with the company during the Henry Juszkiewicz years. Hammett soon followed suit, as both left for ESP. Hammett recently returned to Gibson, which is now under new (and better) management.
The garage days guitar
Many have heard of the custom builds master luthier Ken Lawrence has made for Hetfield over the years. The most notable of these is the garage days guitar, or as Lawrence calls him, “Carl”.
This guitar was built for Hetfield using salvaged wood from the band’s old rehearsal garage, where they wrote most of the material for Stroll… and 1986 Puppeteer. “Carl” was the sixth build Lawrence completed for Hetfield.
Due to the questionable condition of the wood salvaged from the garage, Honduran rosewood was inlaid under the guitar’s rustic top so that its bridge and tailpiece could anchor to something sturdy. The wiring cavity cover featured custom-engraved American quarters of the birth years of Hetfield, Hammett, Burton, and Lars Ulrich. But perhaps the most striking detail is embedded in the canvas of the African black wood fingerboard…
Ken Lawrence explains its symbolism. “The brilliant inlay design is the brainchild of Petar Milivojević,” Lawrences tells us. “He is an extremely talented Serbian artist, with whom I have been working for a few years. He’s a huge Metallica/James fan who knows their history so well that he came back with this design in three days. I showed it to James and, no deliberation, no suggestion, no change, just, ‘Damn, we’re good’.
The fantasy overlay features Hetfield looming and Hammett as “the Reaper”, in reference to his stage nickname. Ulrich is depicted holding a lighting staff, as he brings thunder, while Burton is depicted with the constellation Orion in the sky. The Golden Gate Bridge nods to the band’s roots in the San Francisco Bay Area, while the tombstones nod to the Puppeteer masterpieces.
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