How to achieve the perfect Metallica sound
The powerful heavy Metallica sound has fascinated many generations of guitarists. Heavy Metal was born in the late 60s with Black Sabbath songs, thanks to Ozzy Osbourne and Tony Iommi. On that wave, over the decades, many bands were born and have carried out the “religion” and the philosophy of life and sound.
Metallica is one of the bands that made this style famous, thanks to great songs and super powerful riffs as a trademark. Another stroke of luck or skill was due to the fact that the single One of their album And Justice for All was the first Heavy Metal videoclip broadcast by MTV. In the ’80s, when the tv channel was born, there were already around Hard Rock videos, like Bon Jovi, Guns N’ Roses and many more, but Metallica broke this style entering the market violently with their extreme sound. After their entrance, other long established Trash Metal band such as Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax have enjoyed more and more exposure.
Let’s make an overview over the James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett instrumentation and try to figure out how to get a sound like that.
First let’s talk about guitars: the choice can only fall back on brands with Heavy Metal construction philosophies, such as ESP and Jackson. These two brands have always leaded this genre; long 24 frets necks in order to shred, Floyd Rose bridges to maximize the use of the bar, even with artificial and natural harmonics, no more “classic” and very extreme aesthetics thanks to paintings and airbrushes of any kind (think about the Jackson of Enter Sandman). In addition to these brands, they are often used Gibson, both models Les Paul and Flying V, for their big amount of low frequencies, that will help the final result during the sound equalization.
The guitar pickups have always been active, the brand Metallica and EMG are one virtually. James Hetfield often uses EMG 81 and 60, Kirk Hammett almost always only 81.
The active pickups output allows a more gain in terms of decibels and attack, in short, just what we want in heavy metal.
The string set used is large for both, 0:11 to 0:48. Usually they use Ernie Ball.
Early in their careers, the amps were Marshall, but almost immediately they have changed and married till this day the sound of the Mesa Boogie, an house of amplifiers always been known for the power and sound definition of its products.
These amplifiers were an obvious choice i would say; they are born of a classic concept but they have the technology of the modern school of amplifiers, send and return with valves, always with a master additional volume for solos and the opportunity to diversify the tone of each channel with the switch.
In particular, the model usually used by James and Kirk is the Mesa Boogie Rectifier, James uses the Triple Rectifier and Kirk Dual Rectifier. During the tour or in the studio they are also used for Randall or preamp like Triaxis, always of the Mesa Boogie brand. But I think the real sound comes from Rectifier.
So, assuming you have guitars with active pickups, amps like the Rectifier, here’s how you need to set the equalizer to get a sound so powerful.
First play the E 6th string using palm muting, you will point out all the bass frequencies of your guitar, now turn that frequencies from the equalizer to 9 or 10, also increased the Treble to 7 or 8 and, at this point, adjust the middle frequencies to your taste.
If you get them down sounds a bit ‘sharper, more similar to the first album as Kill’em All and Master of Puppets, but if you want to sound more fat like the Black Album raised the average. Obviously, the gain should be very high on the Rectifier will be ok even set it to 6 or 7, while not your amp will be pushed more and you’ll have to turn up the gain. Needless to say, if you have a Fender or Vox amps blues, pop, country certainly you can not get a sound like that.
Once you have set a similar tone, you will have to learn to control it and avoid all that Larsen, you necessarily need a NoiseGate. The NoiseGate is a processor that reduces background noise, thanks to it you can monitor your riff in Palm muting till the point of creating the perfect silences between the notes and the other. This is very important because the metal riffs have much “Groove”, the rhythmic approach is very important and, thanks to breaks, you will be able to manage the sound in order to be very incisive and intelligible at the same time.
Regarding clean channel, usually it is used a lot of Chorus or Flanger, equalization remains unchanged, it is simply a channel change with less distortion and the bridge pickup. Set the Dept around 40-50% and the speed very low, say around 10%. Adjust the mix to about 30% and that’s it.