Metallica's Guitar Rig

Metallica's Guitar Rig

Metallica are the biggest metal band of all time, selling over 125 million records and counting! Their influence across music and pop culture in general is huge, but in the guitar world more specifically, James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett’s crushing high-gain tones, chorus-laden cleans, lightning-fast riffs and wah-drenched solos have inspired countless players. Across their 10-album discography there are plenty of incredible guitar sounds that, with the gear we’ve recommended, you can closely emulate. Consider this our comprehensive Metallica rig rundown!

Metallica’s Guitars

Over Metallica’s 40+ year history, James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett have used a huge variety of electric guitars on stage and in the studio. The duo employed Gibson Flying V guitars in the early Kill ‘Em All era, with James Hetfield later acquiring an Explorer model during the Ride The Lightning tour — a shape that he’s become synonymous with. However, it was around 1987 that Metallica began their longstanding association with ESP. Both Hetfield and Hammett have used numerous ESP signature guitars since the early ’90s, all equipped with active EMG pickups.

James Hetfield’s MX Explorer copies have been a mainstay since the late ‘80s, but his current ESP Snakebyte signature model is arguably his most used on-stage instrument. It’s Explorer-inspired, but has a more modern vibe with its sculpted lower bout and sharpened corners. Hetfield also plays ESP Eclipse singlecut guitars; notably the distinctive ‘Iron Cross’ model.

Kirk Hammett has used his signature ESP KH-2 guitars since the early ‘90s. These “Super-Strat”-style instruments feature Floyd Rose tremolo systems and reversed headstocks – with the ‘Caution Hot’ and ‘Ouija’ versions the most renowned. Aside from his ESPs, Hammett performs with Jackson Rhoads and Gibson Les Paul guitars too — including the “Greeny” ‘59 LP Standard previously owned by Peter Green.

Metallica’s Amps

Metallica crafted some of their most desirable distorted tones with Mesa Boogie valve amps. The Mark IIC+ head was used extensively for the recording sessions of Master of Puppets and …And Justice for All, later employing Rectifiers in the ’90s for their self-titled album and Load/Reload. The duo have experimented with alternative rigs though, for example, using modded Marshall amps in the early ‘80s. James Hetfield is also a fan of the Diezel VH4, and Kirk even has a signature amp line with Randall!

The gorgeous Metallica clean sound comes from the solid-state Roland JC-120 Jazz Chorus combo, which James and Kirk have used for decades. It's renowned for its pristine, high-headroom jangle and sickly-sweet, built-in chorus effect based on Boss’ CE-1 pedal.

Metallica’s Pedals

Kirk Hammett is practically addicted to wah pedals! Once joking that someone would have to sever his foot to stop him from using his wah, Kirk employs this effect extensively for many of his solos — heavily influenced by Hendrix. The Dunlop signature KH95 wah is a must for the Kirk Hammett fan.

James Hetfield’s guitar rig doesn’t boast many pedals at all. He has famously said that he prefers the direct tone from an amp, and doesn’t rely on effects to create his core guitar sounds. Having said that, it’s been documented that James used a ProCo RAT and Ibanez Tube Screamer into his Marshalls when recording Metallica’s first two records.