Metallica Amp Settings – James Hetfield & Kirk Hammett Guitar Tone!

Author: Dedrich Schafer | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

Metallica is not only one of the biggest bands in metal, but one of the biggest bands in all of music. Their decades-long career has helped to popularize metal and make it one of the biggest genres of music in the world.

The two guitarists of Metallica, James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett, are also considered two of the best players in the industry and are certified guitar gods.

Their sound has helped to shape modern metal. But what goes into creating this defining sound? Let us take a look at some of the gear that they use and the amp settings to some of their songs to understand how they achieve their famous sound.

The Guitars

There are three main guitar brands that both Hetfield and Hammett have used throughout their careers: ESP, Gibson, and Jackson. They have used a number of other brands as well, but these are the three that are most frequently associated with them.

But even though they choose the same brands, their choice of guitar does differ a bit.

James

James Hetfield is probably best known for his Explorer shape guitars, from the classic Gibson Explorer to his more modern-looking ESP Snakebyte.

He can also often be seen playing with Les Paul shape guitars – both his own ESP signature model and the classic Gibson Les Paul.

Hetfield also plays with Flying V shape guitars, like the Jackson Pro King V. He does seem to prefer the more traditional shape over the asymmetrical V shape used by guitarists like Alexi Laiho and Randy Rhoads.

Kirk

A big ESP player like his bandmate, Kirk Hammett prefers the more traditional Super Strat shape, usually playing with his ESP LTD signature.

But just like Hetfield, Hammett also often plays with Les Paul-shaped guitars. He also has his own signature ESP model and a Gibson Custom which is his main Les Paul.

Kirk is also a fan of the Flying V shape. He used a Gibson Flying V on many of Metallica’s greatest hits and has a Jackson Randy Rhoads that he still plays live.

On a Budget

Many of the guitars used by James and Kirk are quite expensive and likely outside the budget of many guitarists. That doesn’t mean that you can’t recreate their sound with cheaper alternatives.

Even within their brands of choice, there are many guitars on offer that will get you very close to Metallica’s sound.

Jackson and ESP both have very affordable guitars that can emulate both the Metallica sound and look.

Jackson’s JS series has Explorer and Flying V shape guitars. The Jackson Kelly has a similar shape to the Gibson used by Hetfield, while the Jackson Rhoads is the same V shape used by Hammett.

For ESP, there is the ESP Eclipse for those looking for a Les Paul shape, while the ESP EX-201 has a sharper Explorer shape. Kirk Hammett’s own signature Super Strat shape also comes in a more affordable variant.

The Amps

Although there are some similarities with the amps that they use, Hetfield’s and Hammett’s choices differ a bit more when it comes to their guitars. Both guitarists have also used a wide variety of amps over their careers.

Both have used Mesa/Boogie, Marshall, and Vox amps over the years. Mesa/Boogie Dual and Triple Rectifiers, Marshall JCM800 and DSL, and the VOX AC30. There are a few other amps that both guitarists have used, but these are perhaps the most well-known amps that are still in production today.

James

James Hetfield is known for also using Krank amps for live performances. Both a Krank Revolution and a Krank Krankenstein are used. He also uses a Diezel VH4 amp head.

For cleaner tones, Hetfield also uses a Roland JC-120. He has moved over to the head version of this amp in recent years.

Kirk

Kirk Hammett has his own signature range of Randall amps that he uses live. The Randall KH series, which he pairs with Randall 4×12 cabinets.

Hammett also uses a Bogner Uberschall and Peavey 5150. These amps are a bit hard to come by, but the Bogner Helios and Peavey Invective are great alternatives.

On a Budget

Just like their guitars, the amps used by Hetfield and Hammett can also be quite expensive for most guitarists. And just like their guitars, there are a number of great alternatives at more affordable prices.

The best alternative would be a combo modeling amp. These amps will feature all the effects needed to sound like Metallica and eliminate the need to also buy a bunch of effects pedals.

There are quite a few excellent modeling amps on the market, the top picks being the Boss Katana MKII, the Blackstar ID:Core, and the Marshall Code 50. These amps come with a fantastic selection of effects and amp sounds and are all more than powerful enough for practically any venue.

The Pedals

The list of pedals used by James and Kirk is almost too extensive. Both have their own unique pedalboards with their own selections of pedals.

There are a few pedals that can be found on both pedalboards, as well as a few noteworthy ones found on each.

Both Hetfield and Hammett use the Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer. This is a classic distortion pedal that is used by countless metal guitarists and is beloved for its excellent distortion and tone.

Both guitarists also use the Boss NS-2. This is an excellent noise suppressor that helps to maintain control over your sound and avoid feedback.

For wah, both use the tried and true Dunlop Cry Baby wah pedal, although Kirk has his own signature model. James also has a Pro Co RAT that he uses to fatten up his distortion a bit more.

The Amp Settings

While there is going to be a slight difference in the settings of Hetfield and Hammett’s amps, it isn’t a massive difference. Their settings are close enough that either one will work for a Metallica sound.

But both settings are based on the same basic principles to create a sort of standard Metallica sound. Using these principles, we can then get fairly close to the actual settings used by Hetfield and Hammett.

The Basics

First, let us take a look at the basic elements of Metallica’s sound: distortion, reverb, and EQ.

For distortion, more is generally better. Metallica has a very heavy sound. This means that you want to push the distortion on your amp or pedal as far as possible.

In most cases, you will likely max out the distortion on your amp or pedal. If the distortion sounds too harsh or starts to break up too much, then dial it back very slowly until you are left with a nice and heavy distortion. Ideally, you won’t go any lower than 9 on the dial.

As for EQ, it can be split between distortion and clean. Hetfield and Hammett also use reverb to give their sound more weight and character.

Distortion: Metallica’s sound is very bottom-heavy, with a slightly scooped mids sound.

The bass should be set quite high, usually around 8 to start. Mids are set fairly low, never really going higher than 4. While treble hovers around 6, depending on the song.

Clean: Metallica’s clean sound is a bit brighter than its distorted sound, but not shiny or sparkly.

The best way to achieve this tone is to turn the bass way down to around 3. Mids are set slightly above halfway at around 6. And Treble hovers around half to start, around 4 or 5.

Reverb: The reverb is usually set fairly low, around 3 or 4. This is to add some character and fatten up the tone a bit without giving it a reverb sound.

With this basic setup down, you can then start to adjust each part until you get to the right sound for each specific song.

To help get a better sense of what the settings should look like eventually, here are the settings for a few of Metallica’s most famous songs.

Amp Settings for Songs

Nothing Else Matters

Clean:

  • Bass – 6
  • Mids – 4
  • Treble – 4
  • Gain – 1/2
  • Reverb – 4

Distorted:

  • Bass – 6
  • Mids – 3
  • Treble – 8
  • Gain – 8
  • Reverb – 4

Enter Sandman

Clean:

  • Bass – 5
  • Mids – 4
  • Treble – 6
  • Gain – 3
  • Reverb – 3

Distorted (Kirk):

  • Bass – 9
  • Mids – 2
  • Treble – 5
  • Gain – 9
  • Reverb – 3

Distorted (James):

  • Bass – 9
  • Mids – 4
  • Treble – 9
  • Gain – 8
  • Reverb – 3

One

Clean (Kirk):

  • Bass – 7
  • Mids – 6
  • Treble – 8
  • Gain – 1/2
  • Reverb – 4

Clean (James):

  • Bass – 8
  • Mids – 6
  • Treble – 6
  • Gain – 1/2
  • Reverb – 4

Distorted (Kirk):

  • Bass – 7
  • Mids – 7
  • Treble – 8
  • Gain – 7
  • Reverb – 4

Distorted (James):

  • Bass – 8
  • Mids – 3
  • Treble – 7
  • Gain – 10
  • Reverb – 3

Fade to Black

Solo (Kirk):

  • Bass – 8
  • Mids – 4
  • Treble – 7
  • Gain – 10
  • Reverb – 4

Riffs (James and Kirk):

  • Bass – 8
  • Mids – 3
  • Treble – 7
  • Gain – 10

Master of Puppets

  • Bass – 9
  • Mids – 4
  • Treble – 8
  • Gain – 10

Conclusion

As you can see, quite a lot goes into one of the most recognizable guitar sounds in history. But with all of this, hopefully, you now have all of the information you need to recreate Metallica’s iconic, heavy sound.

About Dedrich Schafer

Dedrich is a guitar player, songwriter and sound engineer with extensive music production and studio experience. He mostly listens to classic rock and punk bands, but sometimes also likes listening to rap and acoustic songs.

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