Dave Mustaine Shares Honest Opinion on James Hetfield’s Guitar Playing, Recalls First Reaction to Hearing Him Play in Metallica

Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine looked back on his days in Metallica in the early 1980s, recalling how he reacted to hearing James Hetfield play guitar for the first time. In a recently published interview segment with Metal Hammer, Mustaine addressed the issue when he was looking for a suitable vocalist for Megadeth, right after leaving Metallica. Not being able to find anyone who would fill this role the way he felt was right, Dave decided to just do it by himself:

“I was reluctant right up to the last minute. And then I finally said, ‘OK, fuck it, I can’t be worse than some of these other dudes.’”

Metallica feat. Dave Mustaine - Live in San Francisco, CA, USA (1983) [Full show]

Discussing the matter, he drew a parallel with James Hetfield’s experience in early Metallica. Around the time when Mustaine and bassist Ron McGovney were still in the band, Hetfield handled only vocal duties for a while. However, Dave was pretty surprised at how well James handled guitar parts when he took a guitar in his hands.

Of course, as expected, Mustaine first started the comparison by mentioning Lars Ulrich’s drumming:

“When I was in Metallica, I was kind of playing at Lars [Ulrich]’s level, because Lars was still learning to play drums back then. But watching James play guitar for the first time was kind of shocking because I didn’t know he knew how to play guitar.”

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As Dave recalled, they were all pretty tired of trying out rhythm guitar players and James then returned to his guitar duties. Mustaine admits that he was more than impressed and that he still values James’ guitar skills:

“We just got fed up one day of auditioning guitar players, just like I did with singers. And he picked up this guitar and started playing, and inside I’m going, ‘Get the fuck out of here. How can you possibly be satisfied being a singer when you play like that? Why not be both?’ I’ve always thought he was a really talented guitarist.”

Despite Mustaine’s usual complaints about Metallica and how he was (and still is, in a way) mistreated by them, he still had a few surprisingly nice things to say about some of the members. For instance, in another recent interview, Mustaine actually praised Kirk Hammett and went against some of the narratives that are “taking the piss” out of Metallica’s lead guitar player. He said:

“I heard that people are taking the piss out of Kirk. But Kirk’s a really good guitar player and I think that people forget real quickly he was winning every single guitar contest there was for 30 or 40 years … I have not heard their new album, but I’m sure it’s great.”

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During that interview, he also reflected on mending things with his former bandmates, even with Lars Ulrich. He said:

“It took a while for James and Lars and I to kind of come around and become friends again. But I would say we’re probably better off now than we’ve been for a long time.”

“And it comes and goes. I think the emotions between all of us… It’s probably understandable for a lot of people who break up with someone, it’s like a marriage and you part ways and sometimes you try and justify in your head the decision that you make.”

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Back in June this year, in another interview, Mustaine was also very open about liking Kirk Hammett’s work. This came up when he was asked whether he heard Metallica’s latest album “72 Seasons.” Dave replied:

“No, I have not heard Metallica’s latest record. But there was a time around 20 years ago when we were not being friendly toward each other when I couldn’t listen to their music when it came on the radio.“

“But none of that bothers me anymore, and it’s not why I haven’t heard the record, especially after the Big Four thing that we did. I really think we should do that again.”

“It’s probably not ideal for people to ask if they stack up against what Megadeth is doing. I really do liken Megadeth and Metallica to comparing the Ramones and The Clash. I actually remember one of the guitar magazines said that long ago, and it made sense to me.“

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“So, I’ve always thought that idea is a cool thing. So, it’s fun to make comparisons, and I think they stack up just fine against us. We’re different in some ways, but we still share many of the same fans.”

When then asked to weigh in on some of the critiques that Kirk received for these solos on the new album, even tho he said he didn’t listen to it, Mustaine then added how he has nothing but good things to say about Kirk, even though he admits that he always “poked fun” at him:

“It depends on which solos you’re talking about [laughs]. Jokes aside, I’ve always kind of poked fun at Kirk. And unfairly so, as he never did anything to me.“

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“Whenever I felt singled out, picked on, or antagonized by James [Hetfield] or Lars [Ulrich], it was really easy to pick on Kirk.“

“But the truth is Kirk did me an honor by trying to play my solos on those early songs the way he did.”

Sure, it’s kind of cocky. But those solos were impressive for that time. Asked to elaborate on what he said, Mustaine replied:

“Well, I think that some people would have just started over again. So, I thought it was honorable that Kirk took my solos and did his best to play them as I did. That couldn’t have been easy.“

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Photo: Selbymay (HF2022Megadeth 2), Kreepin Deth (James Hetfield live in Amesterdam 29 April 2023)

  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at Ultimate-Guitar.com, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor and brands like Sam Ash.

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