Chad Zaemisch, guitar tech for Metallica frontman James Hetfield, looked back on the musician’s legendary Flying V guitar. The one that we’re talking about is James’ Japanese-made copy of Gibson’s Flying V, the one that he got in 1980 and that’s still with him to this day.
Zaemisch, while interviewed by RJM Music Technology, discussed some of James’ guitars and reflected on this old then-affordable V copy made by Japanese company Electra. He brought up the guitar after being asked, “which guitar do you have to do the most work on?”
“So James’ original Flying V,” he replied (transcribed by Killer Guitar Rigs), “the white one from all the old pictures way back, is a Japanese copy. And he found a Gibson truss rod cover and put it on, so everyone would think he could afford a Gibson, but it was just a Japanese copy.”
These days, it seems that this isn’t the only Electra V in James’ possession. Officially released as the Electra Flying Wedge Model 2236, they got a few more of these same guitars, Chad revealed. He continued:
“In just trying to kind of get a little bit of that magic back, they found three or four of them, maybe about a year and a half, two years ago now, and just put all of his pickups and everything in it, gave them a listen in the studio, then picked a couple out, sent them up to Bill Nash to do the aging, to kind of recreate that look of the original one.”
Bill Nash, who Chad mentioned, is the guy behind Nash Guitars, well-known for their deliberately “aged” instruments. Knowing his work, Bill was the perfect guy for this job.
On the other hand, Chad admits that he wasn’t initially happy about having to work with these guitars.
“And I was like, ‘Oh no, it’s a bolt-on neck,'” he continued. “It’s the only guitar I have that’s a bolt-on neck. And I was like, ‘This thing’s gonna be a piece of crap.'”
Talking more about the matter, he said that they also hired Gary Brawer to do more work on it and change the frets. And when he finally got one of these newly acquired and sorted guitars, Chad changed his mind:
“So by the time I got it in my hands, I was like, ‘It’s still not going to tune well.’ And it turned out to be the most consistent and the best-tuning guitar that I have. So go figure that out.”
When a guitar is maintained properly, you can make it work in any setting. For the comparison, Chad also mentioned working with James’ high-end ESP guitars. Praising their consistency, he explains that there’s always work to be done:
“But they’re all pretty much the same. I mean, ESP guitars — you don’t really get like, ‘This was a bad batch’ or like, ‘Well, this one’s good or that one’s not.’ They’re all pretty consistent. So the general maintenance that you need to do is when you move from one climate to another, or you go from one continent to another and they sit or they, you know and humidity, and all that kind of thing.”
“And then that’s just what I do have to do, just a little bit of truss rod work just to keep the action the same. But they’re all pretty good.”
“If something was extremely difficult, I think I’ve had one that I just kind of said, ‘Oh, hey, I’m gonna leave this guitar back at HQ.’ [Laughs] ‘That’s okay.’ Just to get it off my hands a little bit.”
Singling out one guitar that he found particularly difficult to work with, Chad commented:
“But I’ve got one Les Paul that has a Bigsby on it, and that’s probably the most difficult one just to string it and to keep it in tune. And I’m not really using it on this tour — I’ll have it out with me, but that one takes a lot of extra time.”
Elsewhere in the chat, Zaemisch was also asked to reveal what’s James Hetfield’s favorite guitar, apart from the Electra Flying V, or, as some may know it, the “OGV.” The tech replied:
“Basically, since the OGV [James Hetfield’s original Electra V] — as you call it — is the latest one we’ve gotten out, it’s his favorite thing. So that’s the most popular to him right now [but] he likes them all.”
“He’ll pick up the Cthulhu-looking one now, and he’s like, ‘Oh, yeah, this one.’ And he only plays it for one song, but it’s got a cool vibe to him. It’s not that it’s old or anything — we’ve had old guitars out, but he doesn’t really lean towards anything other than the V for the last couple of years.”
“And it’s also really light, so if we’re doing rehearsals, and he’s standing there for anywhere from half an hour to two hours, you should probably have a light guitar on.”