In this episode of Sound Like, Rabea & Matt attempt to recreate the sound of heavy metal titans Metallica - for under £1500!
Arguably the most successful metal band of all time, Metallica has established itself as one of the most influential and renowned artists of the last 30 years. A founding father of the thrash metal genre alongside their contemporaries Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax, together “The Big Four” brought metal to a more mainstream audience in the late 80s and early 90s.
Selling over 125 million records worldwide, Metallica has experimented with a number of styles across their illustrious 10-album discography.
Growing a loyal fan base with their raw-sounding, thrashy early releases Kill ‘Em All (1981) and Ride the Lightning (1984), Metallica entered more progressive territory in the second half of the 80s with Master of Puppets (1986) and particularly …And Justice for All (1988), the latter of which boasted super-complex arrangements and highly-technical instrumentation.
With every album maturing as the band became more experimental with their songwriting, their critically-acclaimed self-titled record, otherwise known as the Black Album (1991), is where the band peaked commercially. Featuring a number of their signature songs, including “Enter Sandman”, “Nothing Else Matters” and “Sad But True”, producer Bob Rock’s influence proved vital to the album’s overall success, with simpler song structures and catchy, anthemic choruses.
After 3 years of rigorous touring in support of the album, Metallica took what proved to be their most diverse turn in musical direction with Load (1996) and ReLoad (1997). Going for a less-heavy, more alternative sound, this divisive double release received backlash from some older fans, feeling that the band had “sold out” to remain relevant to a generic audience.
After the cover album Garage Inc. (1998) and the orchestra-backed live record S&M (1999), the aggressive-sounding St. Anger (2003) was the long-awaited follow-up to ReLoad. Also released to poor reviews, Metallica’s audience struggled to accept the band’s new and edgier drop-tuned style, as well as the notable lack of guitar solos.
Choosing to tour extensively after the lows of St. Anger in order to resolve the turmoil within the group, Death Magnetic (2008) and Hardwired… to Self-Destruct (2016) were both considered a return to form for Metallica. Resurrecting their older, thrashier sound, Metallica still draws huge audiences and listeners after all of these years.
With such a huge back catalogue, trying to nail the Metallica sound is not an easy task. However, Rabea and Matt tried their utmost to emulate some of the band’s most notorious tones using a rig that costs less than £1500!
Both James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett have used a variety of instruments in their careers, as you’d expect from their long history. From Gibsons in the early days to custom-built Ken Lawrences, the band’s guitarists are perhaps most synonymous with ESP. With both Hetfield and Hammett having a number of signature models made for them since the early 90s, let’s take a closer look at their preferences when it comes to guitars and pickups.
Papa Het is often associated with the Explorer shape, debuting a white Gibson version during the Ride the Lightning tour. ESP later made the renowned riff-lord copies of this distinctive design (the EXP/MX series’), which Hetfield popularised with frequent use in music videos and live performances from the …And Justice for All era onwards.
James is also known to use LP-shaped guitars too, with his signature ESP Truckster taking on the aesthetic of the Japanese company’s Eclipse singlecut model, but with a distinctive sanded paint finish. The Iron Cross version boasts a similar hot-rodded character, with a racing stripe on the body and a metal cross plate embellishment next to the tailpiece.
Today, however, Hetfield’s flagship signature guitar is the Snakebyte (picture below). Taking on the vibe of his older EXP/MX models, the Snakebyte has a more modern twist, with a sculpted lower bout and sharpened corners on the lower horn of the body and the headstock. The Vulture has the same features and construction as the Snakebyte, but with a V body shape that hearkens back to Hetfield’s Gibson Flying V copy from the Kill ‘Em All days.
The EMG 81/60 pickup combination was a mainstay for Hetfield until a few years ago. Using an active design, Metallica’s James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett were among the first artists to be endorsed by EMG, relying upon their pickup creations since Master of Puppets. Recently, EMG collaborated with Hetfield to design the ‘Het Set’. Deriving closely from his classic 81/60 humbucker pairing, these pickups have more potent mids and a wider dynamic range, allowing for greater articulation.
With Matt responsible for picking out a Hetfield-esque guitar, the Epiphone 1984 Explorer EX that he chose was spot-on considering its price-point. Closely resembling James’ ESP Explorers from the self-titled album era with its stealthy all-black aesthetic, the key ingredient of this guitar is its EMG 81/85 pickup set.
Coming as standard, these pickups excel with high-gain distortion, with the saturated sound of the 81 bridge humbucker giving you that unmistakable chunky rhythm tone. The 85 in the neck isn’t totally dissimilar to the 60 that Hetfield used to use. Offering a smooth low-end and a cutting presence that sings when used with chorus-laden clean settings, this pickup is also ideal for the lead parts that Hetfield plays in “Nothing Else Matters”, “Orion” and “Master of Puppets”.
Featuring an all-Mahogany construction with a set neck, these dark-sounding tonewoods are what give Hetfield’s signature sound such an engulfing low-end and definitive punch. The neck is also adorned with a smooth-feeling Rosewood fingerboard, allowing you to move up and down the neck with ease for fast, intricate riffs.
Much like James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett has relied on his ESP workhorses for decades whilst in Metallica. Opting for the Superstrat-style M-II instruments around the time of the Black Album, this model later inspired Kirk’s KH-2 signature guitar. Featuring a Floyd Rose double-locking tremolo system, EMG 81/85 pickups, and the idiosyncratic skull and crossbone inlays, the KH-2 has remained Hammett’s flagship signature instrument since the early 90s.
The ‘Caution Hot’ version is his most identifiable iteration, however Kirk is also known for featuring 30s and 40s horror movie poster graphics on his KH-2 guitars. The most notable of these is the ‘Boris Karloff Mummy’ KH-2, an ESP Custom Shop one-off, however the ‘White Zombie’ is a mass-produced and affordable LTD variant.
Hammett also previously had a KH-3 signature instrument, a model that he used extensively in the Load and Reload tours. Following a singlecut design much like Hetfield’s Truckster guitars, the KH-3 featured a flat top and included a gothic-style spider web graphic on the body. The JH-1 was another early signature model, however these weren’t produced in large numbers and are considered rare and collectible today. Following a traditional Flying V design, this instrument featured a single EMG 81 bridge pickup and a Floyd Rose tremolo system.
Rabea was tasked with finding a suitable guitar that resembled Kirk Hammett’s signature ESPs, in terms of construction and features. He ultimately settled on an EMG-loaded Jackson DK2RMG-M model, which sported an active set of EMG 81/85 pickups, a licensed Floyd Rose tremolo and a reversed headstock, much like the KH-2.
Despite getting close, the DK2’s Maple fretboard doesn’t give you that whole KH-2 vibe, and Hammett has preferred to use instruments with a neck-through construction opposed to a bolt-on. If you want something practically identical, it may be worth checking out the LTD KH-602, which is Kirk’s far eastern-made signature model.
With all of the essential features of its Japanese-made ESP counterpart, the KH-602 is a fantastic option for the Kirk Hammett fan looking to emulate their hero without spending a huge amount. The LTD KH-202 is an even cheaper alternative, although it features ESP-designed pickups rather than the higher-quality EMGs.
Despite adjusting their sound a number of times over the years, Mesa/Boogie amplifiers have been a Metallica mainstay. Using the legendary Mark IIC+ heads for the recording sessions of Master of Puppets and …And Justice for All, these amps could achieve a tight and saturated distortion, ultimately pioneering the signature Metallica sound.
Hetfield and Hammett later used Rectifiers in the 90s for an even bigger and more modern timbre, and the duo has since experimented with alternative setups since.
Hetfield currently relies on Mesa TriAxis preamps, paired with Simul-Class 2:90 power amps. Apart from their Boogies, Hetfield has also been known to use Diezel VH4 amplifiers, which became his main source of tone for the recording of St. Anger.
The Roland JC-120 Jazz Chorus is another noteworthy element of the Metallica sound, which is James’ exclusive clean tone amp. With a solid-state design, this amplifier has a pristine, high-headroom jangle with a super-sweet chorus circuit built in, based on Boss’ legendary CE-1 pedal. If you love the angelic clean tone at the beginning of “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)”, the Jazz Chorus is the answer to that glorious sound.
To meet these tonal requirements, Matt therefore tried to ensure that he picked an amp that could provide the best of both worlds.
Renowned for its versatility, the Egnater Tweaker 40W 1×12 combo is a popular choice in the ‘Sound Like’ series. With a valve-powered design, this amplifier is revered for its authentic tones and immense tweaking options, hence its name!
Boasting 2 channels and a raft of voicing switches, you can tailor your tone to the very finest of detail with this flexible amplifier. Also featuring an essential 3-band EQ that gives you that familiar control layout, the Tweaker 40 has a vibrant clean sound that can stretch to aggressive high-gain via its dedicated distortion channel. Matt used both channels to great effect in the video, demonstrating what great value-for-money the Tweaker 40 is.
Despite using Mesa/Boogie amplifiers previously for many years, Hammett currently has a signature line of amplifiers with Randall. Their flagship model is the K103, a sophisticated 120W 3-channel head that has voicing mode switches and EQ sections for each channel, as well as two tube-driven effects loops and MIDI enability.
Attempting to find an amplifier with such an impressive amount of features at a low price is nearly impossible. That’s why Rabea made the decision to find an amplifier that could serve as a fantastic platform for effects pedals; ultimately settling on the Fender Bassbreaker 15. Tube-powered much like the Egnater, Fender amps are notorious for their big, luscious clean tones, which was evident in the “One” excerpt in particular.
Despite this amplifier only having 15W of headroom, it is still incredibly loud and punchy, remaining relatively clean even at high volume. If you’re keen to play live, the Bassbreaker 15 won’t struggle against a hard-hitting drummer. However, if you really want to retain a purer sound, the more powerful 45W version will pump out greater volume, especially with its two 12” speakers.
Metallica aren’t distinguished for using pedals to achieve their core tones. James Hetfield has famously stated that he prefers the direct distorted tone from an amplifier, as opposed to relying on pedals. Having said that, back in Metallica’s heyday, distortion pedals were nowhere near as advanced as they are today, with only a handful of options available.
With many companies producing advanced, flexible stompboxes that can closely imitate the tones of distorted valve amp, Rabea chose a great contender to stay within budget. Using the MXR 5150 Overdrive, this high-gain pedal has the essential features that you’d typically find on a genuine amp channel.
The MXR is based on the EVH 5150 amplifier, an iconic head that has been used by a countless amount of metal bands over the years. Adored for its scooped and dynamic high-gain tone, the 5150 Overdrive encompasses that distinctive sound, and with a powerful 3-band EQ section you can ensure that it sounds good into almost any amplifier.
With a built-in boost circuit too, you can really tighten up the overall sound of the pedal, akin to when you place a Tubescreamer-style stompbox in front of a distorted amp. The 5150 Overdrive’s noise gate is another thoughtful addition, eliminating the frustrating hiss that can occur when running an ultra-hot amplifier.
As previously mentioned, the Roland JC-120 Jazz Chorus solid-state amp is the main source for Metallica’s clean tones, both live and in the studio. To emulate its beautiful, washy chorus effect, Matt and Rabea chose a chorus pedal each, with the desire to closely imitate the JC-120’s wonderful sound.
Matt went for the popular MXR Analog Chorus pedal, which uses an old-school bucket-brigade circuit much like the original Boss CE-1 units. This gives you a bold yet warm chorus sound, and features all of the key controls you’d expect to find, as well as two EQ controls that allow you to boost/cut the lows and highs.
Rabea went for a more affordable candidate to keep below the £1500 threshold for his rig, but the Tone City Angel Wing is by no means a cheap-sounding pedal. Although it doesn’t have the same level of flexibility as its MXR counterpart, the Angel Wing delivers that unmistakable analogue tone for around £40!
Kirk Hammett is a borderline wah addict. Once quipping that he’d need to have his foot cut off to stop him from using his wah pedal, Kirk employs this effect in many of his pentatonic-based guitar solos. With his Jimi Hendrix influence evident, Hammett uses wah in a heavier context to not only achieve a screaming lead tone, but to also allow his playing to cut through in frantic mixes.
Hammett has his own Jim Dunlop KH95 Signature Wah pedal, however it is more expensive than most standard wahs. That’s why Rabea opted for the CBM95 Cry Baby Mini, a highly-compact version of Dunlop’s flagship GCB95 wah model. Giving you a wide sweep despite its tiny footprint, this pedal has an internal voicing switch that adjusts its spectrum, letting you attain crazy highs much like Hammett’s very own custom wah.
Do you think Rabea & Matt got close to the Metallica sound? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts!
If you’re interested in finding out how to achieve the tones of your favourite artists, check out more of our Sound Like articles by clicking here.
Rabea: Hi, I’m Rabea.
Matt: And I’m Matt.
Rabea: And this is Sounds Like on Andertons TV.
Rabea: Hi, man.
Rabea: How are you?
Matt: I’m good. Who are we going to sound like today?
Rabea: We’re going to sound like the massive, the brutal, the absolute thrash gods Metallica.
Rabea: Yes. They don’t need introduction.
Matt: They don’t need. Everyone should know who they are and everyone should appreciate how good/big and everything else they are.
Rabea: And influential.
Rabea: We’re looking for guitars with active pickups. We’re looking for amps with lots of gain, preferably two channels so we can do the clean bits and some of the songs we want to do.
Matt: We need a really nice [unintelligible 00:01:03] as well.
Rabea: Of course, my entire rig– I don’t need a guitar or an amplifier, I just need a Wah pedal because I’m doing Kirk Hammett.
Matt: I think maybe hopefully with the budget we have, we can maybe get you 10 Wah pedals.
Rabea: Yes, 10 Wah pedals would probably be better.
Matt: [crosstalk] roll it down the street.
Rabea: Let’s go and get some Wah pedals. Okay, so we’re in the guitar department-
Rabea: – and we’re looking for specific guitars. We need active pickups. I would like a guitar with a Floyd Rose because that’s very common of Kirk Hammett’s style. I guess you need–
Matt: I need James Hetfield, obviously, as you know probably has played Explorer types, Les Paul types. He has his own signature, but way too expensive. He also has his own signature set The Het set, EMG pickups, which is the 81/60 and preferably an Explorer or Les Paul shape with EMGs. I’m probably going to be around that about that.
Matt: I like it.
Rabea: It’s £615.
Matt: I think I want an Explorer shape.
Rabea: This is an LTD single cut with EMGs, hardtail. This is pretty damn close, is it not? Surely this is close.
Matt: [laughs] It looks like a brush.
Rabea: Looks like you can– You might want to move out with some dust on the floor.
Speaker 3: The Nimbus 2000.
Matt: I have gone and found this Epiphone Explorer in a nice party bat black color with EMGs installed. It’s very simple, it’s all that it is, it’s just all black, made in China and it’s 450 quid.
Rabea: Are you going to go with that or are you going to go with the–?
Matt: Yes, I think this is one of the rare occasions where an Explorer has its day. He’s very renowned for playing an Explorer.
Rabea: That’s a very good point.
Matt: I’m going to go with this.
Rabea: Fair play.
Matt: Okay, so you’re looking for a guitar for Mr. Kirk Hammett.
Rabea: I am. I think I’ve just spotted one. This has got EMGs, it’s got a Floyd, it’s £651, and it’s got a really weird neck joint, three bolt.
Matt: That is for better access.
Rabea: It’s totally to get to that 24th fret, but you know what, this might actually do the job. I don’t know, I’m just going to go with this.
Matt: Cool, sounds good.
Rabea: I’ve got two paths I can choose. One being a high gain, heavy metal amplifier. Of course, the wah is the most important thing. I’m thinking of using the EVH pedal, the two-channel pedal with the boost and something that does crunch, maybe a distortion, but not necessarily a high gain amp so that I can do some of the cleaner stuff, whereas I think for you it just needs to be straight up.
Matt: I just need a straight up, but really versatile amp that can do loads of different gains and really nice cleans. I’m thinking the Egnater Tweaker-40 might be the shout. I only say this, we’ve looked at lots and lots and lots of amps and just the amount of switching this amp has, it means that you can get that long vintage sound. All these different switching options mean that hopefully, we can get it somewhere close.
Rabea: I hope so. Seeing as we’re here by the pedal cabinet, I have spotted the EVH 5150 overdrive. It’s got its own noise gate, it’s got boost in there, it’s got a full three-band EQ. I reckon that that will achieve a high gain thrashy tone. If not for anything else, most definitely for leads, but only if there’s a Wah pedal, so we’re going to do that, and we’ll just see what happens. Literally, my options are I go Marshall DSL40, which we always have used in the past. I go Blackstar, which I don’t think will get us anywhere close. Fender won’t get us anywhere close.
Matt: You could also go Egnater.
Rabea: I could also go Egnater.
Matt: Because if you’re controlling overdrive from a pedal, it’s a bit less risk.
Rabea: It does not have a built-in reverb and my guitar’s more expensive than yours.
Matt: How much is yours, £640?
Matt: £650. These are already £650, so that’d be £1300 for pedals.
Rabea: Yes, for pedals and I have to get at least 10 Wahs.
Matt: That’s like 700 quid.
Rabea: It’s just not going to happen. I’ve just been speaking with the wonderful people at Andertons and we– Just a complete hunch, but the Bassbreaker 15 combo is a new amp that Fender have brought out. It’s two-channel, it’s got built in reverb. The overdrive on it is actually quite modern and it has a clean channel. I’m thinking I’m using the 5150 overdrive to get my thrash metal tones. Because it’s a modern voice overdrive, if you blend the two you might get somewhere really close-
Rabea: – but the most important thing, aside from everything else, is Wah, so really it doesn’t matter what guitar or amp I’m using as long as I get a good Wah pedal. For this particular video, the most important element of the entire rig, and that is the Wah pedal. As you can see, we’ve got a great selection of different Wah pedals from all different manufacturers. We’ve got Morley Wahs, we’ve got Xotic Wahs, Vox Wahs, Fulltones, we’ve got these classic Jim Dunlops and we’ve got the signature series. As you can see, there is every kind of Wah pedal you could want. I reckon if we use all of them at the same time, it will sound just like Kirk Hammett, but we don’t have the budget, so I have to choose just the one.
Matt: James Hetfield uses the Jazz Chorus 120 by Roland for his clean sound. Therefore, I’m thinking I’m going to get a reverb pedal, use the Boss RV-6 for a bit of reverb because my amp doesn’t have reverb. The JC-120 has built-in chorus, and so I’m thinking if I just get a chorus pedal just in case we need it.
Rabea: What kind of sound of chorus? What kind of quality chorus?
Matt: Maybe something–
Rabea: The Angel Wing, Tone City, £40?
Matt: Yes, that’s super cheap. I’ve got a bit more money, I might as well get the–
Rabea: Your MXR Analog Chorus?
Matt: I think I’ll do that. I’m going to get the MXR Analog Chorus.
Rabea: I’m probably going to add a little Angel Wing to my rig just for the beginning. I really want to do the beginning of One, and that’s a clean guitar tone for Kirk’s part. Surprisingly no Wah, so just the chorus from that. We’re going to sound like Metallica.
Matt: Let’s do it.
Rabea: We are here in the video room.
Matt: We’re here again once again in our quest and our long-time mission to sound like Metallica.
Rabea: We are and in fairness, it’s been one of those missions where because of the way the tracks sound on the way they were recorded back in the day, it’s made it quite difficult to get those tones out of more modern gear, in fairness. I think we’ve got somewhere close.
Matt: Hopefully, but again, as always, we’re aiming for an all-rounder. Something that could–it probably replicates more of their live rig than it does each studio recording that they have.
Rabea: Indeed they do.
Matt: Yes, without further ado–
Rabea: You’re Mr. Hetfield, aren’t you?
Matt: Which we’ll have a look.
Rabea: Let’s have a look at what Hetfield’s packing.
Matt: I’ve got this beautiful, beautiful all black-
Rabea: It’s the Epiphone Explorer.
Matt: – Epiphone Explorer. It’s very black. In keeping Hetfield, obviously, is very famous for playing these, so– Yes, it does the job, EMGs as well. What more can you say?
Rabea: It looks right. It looks the part. If you were in a Metallica cover band, you’d probably want to get one of these guitars.
Matt: Yes, and they’re not even very expensive. For £450, I think for this [crosstalk] which is great.
Rabea: My guitar, I’m using, this is the Jackson and it’s one of the Dinky series. That’s essentially what Jackson is, they have the double cutaway with the extra access to the upper frets. It’s normally got Floyd and some pickups depending on- not always EMGs, but a lot of the Dinky models do. I love the reverse headstock. It’s not exactly what Kirk Hammett would use, it’s got the Maple fretboard, but its got EMGs, it’s got Floyd Rose, and it plays really well. It’s a really easy guitar to play.
Matt: That’s really a nice guitar. It’s a couple hundred pounds more than this. I think that you can tell. Amps, I’ve got the Egnater Tweaker-40-
Rabea: Which is a beast.
Matt: – as we said in the store, the reason was just to try and get something with enough versatility to cover the really– The thing is with Hetfield, he has such a nice plinky clean tone, and that is all because of the Roland JC-120. We’re basically trying to get something that could get a nice clean as well as some high gain American tones.
Rabea: My amp is, funnily enough, it’s the Fender Bassbreaker 15 combo. My hunch, I think I got off lightly with this because it’s a two channel amp, clean and distortion. I’m only really using it on the clean channel. If I just quickly give you a chord. It’s a powerful clean, but the thing is that’s probably due to the high-powered EMG pickups that you get in that extra little bit of boost. I then teamed up with my EVH 5150 overdrive which is doing all my distortion.
Matt: That is doing you a service.
Rabea: It really, really is. Of course, I’ve scooped all the mids. That’s what you expect from your early ’90s late ’80s thrash metal sounds.
There’s no mids in the amp at all-
Matt: Neither on mine.
Rabea: – because that’s just not what the tone was about. Dimebag being an extreme example of such. That’s how I’m getting my two main tones and I use the Angel Wing for the clean at the beginning of One on the neck pickup just to–
What about your rig?
Matt: I’ve got the MXR Analog Chorus and the RV-6 reverb just to give us a bit of ’80s space, so it sounds like this–
Rabea: It’s great.
Matt: It sounds beautiful and spacey.
Rabea: We really wanted to explore doing some of the more, I guess, how would you describe the beginnings of Fade to Black and Sanitarium and stuff like that. We wanted to do some of the more epic, written out musical parts of Metallica tunes rather than just throw out a load of riffs. Because it’s more of a challenge, it’s actually more enjoyable to play. It’s really satisfying when you get it right.
Matt: They have a lot of guitar interplay, don’t they? Which is always fun.
Rabea: None of this would be possible, any of it. None of the tones. None of the- just basically Metallica-
Matt: Or life itself.
Rabea: – wouldn’t exist. The universe wouldn’t have happened had we have not got the Crybaby Mini on the floor right down here.
Matt: Perhaps it was a mistake choosing the mini one because, I don’t think it really represents how much Wah, it really is.
Rabea: The magnitude of this situation.
Matt: Maybe less is more in this situation.
Rabea: Maybe less is more. The thing with it is that it has the three different modes, the three different voicings, and that’s like three-dimensional universe of what you can do with the Kirk Hammett sound, essentially, because you’ve got three different modes. Changes the response of the Wah, so you can get all generations of Kirk Hammett’s Wah.
Matt: Can you give us at least one.
Rabea: Yes, I’ll give you one.
Anyway. As I say, it’s a pretty straightforward rig, but it did take quite a bit of time to work out exactly how to replicate those old-school Metallica tones because that’s what we wanted to hear, and I think that’s what most people want to hear. There you go.
Matt: Let us know how you think we’ve done in the comments section below as usual.
Rabea: I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this, brings me back to being 16, 17, learning Metallica tunes.
Matt: Yes, it’s a good one.
Rabea: It’s pretty good.
Matt: It’s been heavily requested, so yes, let us know what you think on how we’ve done.
Rabea: Please discuss so in the comment section. All the information for all of these bits of gear will be in the description box. That’s it. I’ve been Rabea.
Matt: I’ve been Matt.
Rabea: This has been Sound Like on Andertons TV.
[00:18:08] [END OF AUDIO]