Metallica’s James Hetfield Reveals Guitar Players Who Inspired Him the Most, Explains One Major Challenge He Had With Guitar Playing

At this point, James Hetfield is not just a guitar player and a singer of Metallica, but a man who will go down as one of the most important musicians of the 20th and the 21st century. But despite being a metal titan, even James needed giants on whose shoulders he’d stand.

In a recent promo video shared by Ernie Ball, Mr. Hetfield discussed his guitar playing and named two guitar legends who impacted him the most. As he explained (transcript via Music Radar):

“I’m kind of a little bit of a barbarian when I play. [laughs] [I was] always interested in the riff. It was the foundation of the song. Tony Iommi – he’s ruling the song with his riff and everything else joins him. Johnny Ramone – lots of downpicking, just fast downpicking; that helped develop my style. So kind of a combination of punk rock and heavy rock at the time turned into the downpicking style with melody along with it.”

Queen & James Hetfield/Tony Iommi - Stone Cold Crazy (The Freddie Tribute Concert)

The said video, of course, is done for the promotion of his new signature string set with the company. Ernie Ball and Hetfield are coming out with a Hardwired Master Core set that comes with a pretty interesting gauge configuration going .011, .014, .018p, .028, .038, and .050. Reflecting on this particular setup, he explained:

“The biggest challenge was tuning. You got lighter strings, you hit them hard; they’re going, woah – real sharp for a second and then they settled back. It just became such a challenge, especially in the studio.

“When we would sit down and play this thing and then, oh you’re a little out. Then you’ve got to do it again. So the real percussive hitting of it was a challenge. When you’re trying to be creative in the studio and you have to sit and stop and wait for tuning, it’s like a big speed bump in your creativity. It slows you down, and the quest for a string that would stay in tune better is kind of where it started.”

Metallica - Disposable Heroes (Live in Mexico City) [Orgullo, Pasión, y Gloria]

“Ernie Ball said, ‘Let’s look into this some more and see what we can do.’ And we fiddled around with different gauges. We messed around with 11 through 50, we went to 52 for a second and it just didn’t work. We were losing some of the brightness.”

Photo: DoD News Features (James Hetfield (2) – Concert for Valor in Washington, D.C. Nov. 11, 2014), Adam Bielawski (Tony-Iommi 2009-06-11 Chicago photoby Adam-Bielawski)


  • 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, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor.