THE ULTIMATE FAN GUIDE TO METALLICA AMP SETTINGS

With a total of eight Grammy awards, four of the top 10 best selling metal albums of all time, and a member of the “Big Four”, which cumulatively established thrash metal as recognized genre, Metallica holds a special place in the history of heavy metal. From 1983 to the present day, Metallica has continued to turn out platinum albums with clock-like regularity.

Not surprisingly, guitarists from total novices to seasoned experts have tried, and often failed, to figure out exactly what it is about Metallica’s amp settings, amps and guitars that produces their unique tone. Though Kirk Hammett and James Hetfield have tweaked their setup throughout the years, there is still no mistaking that distinctive sound that makes them one of the greatest metal bands ever.

Most Accurate / Expert Approved Interview

With Your Current Gears

Whether your aim is to try to reproduce the sounds you hear on the albums or live shows in your own playing, or you just want to know because you’re into gear, hopefully this list will answer your questions.

The method that makes the most sense is to break the list up by periods in the band’s history where James’ and Kirk’s equipment has remained pretty consistent. Each section includes the albums and any remarkable live shows during that period, the guitars used most frequently, the amp setup each one used and the general amp settings for both James and Kirk.

To wrap up the list, I’ve included a list of the effects used by each guitarist, and where possible, the settings for those too. 

1. EARLY YEARS (1983 – 1985)

During this period, Kill ‘Em All (1983) and Ride the Lightning (1984) were released. Metallica also performed a tremendous live show in Toulouse, France on November 22, 1984 (one of the few recorded with late bassist Cliff Burton) that they offer a free download of on their website.

At this time, both James and Kirk were using Marshall rigs modified by Jose Arrendondo, a guy who’s modded amps for a number of guitar greats from Eddie Van Halen to Steve Vai. James mostly employed the JCM 800 while Kirk used a combination of the SLP (Kill ‘Em All), later switching to a JCM 800 (Ride the Lightning)

AMP SETTINGS

The settings are out-of-date, no available resources to verify the accuracy. 

It’s unclear what the amp settings were for Kill ‘Em All, but according to Danish engineer Flemming Rasmussen who was brought in for Ride the Lightning and kept meticulous notes, for the great majority of the songs, the settings for James were:

  • Gain: 7
  • Bass: 6
  • Middle: 1
  • Treble: 9~10

Kirk’s settings were the same except for backing the gain down to a 4 or 5 for a cleaner sound on the lead overdubs on Fade to Black and The Call Of Ktulu.

GUITARS

- James Hetfield

Electra Flying V

Electra Flying V

via AntonioGuitars.ro

Gibson Explorer “So What”

Gibson Explorer “So What”

via Pinterest.com

- Kirk Hammett

Gibson Kirk Hammett Flying V

Gibson-Kirk-Hammett-Flying-V

via Guitar-Planet.co.uk

Jackson Flying V “Randy Rhoads”

Jackson Flying V “Randy Rhoads”

via Ultimate-Guitar.com

2. MASTER OF PUPPETS (1986 – 1987)

This was the time span of Master of Puppets and a great deal of change was happening at this time. In addition to the loss of founding bassist Cliff Burton as a result of a tragic accident while the band was touring Europe, this was when both guitarists began their association with Mesa Boogie amps. While Kirk was still using Marshalls onstage (and Mesa Boogie in the studio), James was using a Mesa Boogie Mark IIC slaved into his old JCM 800 for both live and studio situations.

Messa-Boogie-Mark-IIC

Mesa-Boogie-Mark-IIC (via Ultimate-Guitar.com)

AMPS SETTINGS

The settings are out-of-date, no available resources to verify the accuracy. 

The pair began to experiment with different amp settings during this time period, but a good general setting for most songs would be:

  • Gain – 7
  • Bass - 6
  • Mid - 3
  • Treb - 7

Again, for clean leads, a little less gain would be appropriate. Also, it would be best to kick the treble up to 9 or 10 to replicated Kirk’s tone more precisely.

GUITARS

In addition to the guitars used on the first two albums, James added a Jackson King V to his collection, while Kirk continued to use the same guitars he used on the first two albums.

Jackson King V James Hetfield

Jackson King V via Ultimate-Guitar.com

3. ...AND JUSTICE FOR ALL (1988 - 1993)

This era marked a period of transition for Metallica and included the albums …And Justice for All and the Black album. Also included during this period were impressive live shows in Seattle (1989) and Moscow (1991).

This marks the first time that both James and Kirk fully transitioned to Mesa Boogie amplification, first using the Mark IIC and later switching to the Mark IV. Toward 1990, James did begin to experiment with the Roland JC120 for a clean sound.

One significant addition to James’ rig was the introduction of the ADA MP-1 preamp. The MP-1 was the preeminent metal preamp of the late 80s and early 90s because of its ability to provide a heavy overdriven/distorted sound without sounding muddled or muddy, and despite its vintage, is still in wide use by metal guitarists to this day.

Read more: How to choose the Right Guitar for Metalheads - The Definitive Guide

AMPS SETTINGS

The settings are out-of-date, no available resources to verify the accuracy. 

During the recording of both … And Justice and the Black album, James and Kirk used a number of different amp settings, which added a great deal of variety to the song, but made it tougher to nail down a specific set of amp settings that apply to an entire album.

For example, the heavily distorted rhythm section of the song One was recorded with significantly boosted bass and midrange, while the generally more melodic and radio friendly songs on the Black album tended to have the gain and bass dialed down somewhat. The best approximations of the clean and overdriven sounds are as follows:

Clean Sound:

  • Gain – 7
  • Bass – 3
  • Mid – 3

Overdriven sound:

  • Gain – 9
  • Bass – 8
  • Mid – 1
  • Treb – 6

GUITARS

- James Hetfield

Also new at this time was James’ ESP MX-220, his first Explorer style guitar from ESP. He still uses this guitar which is easily identified by its white color and bears the words “EET FUK” on the upper part of the lower bout.

ESP MX220 “Eet Fuk”

via GuitarsCollector.com

- Kirk Hammett

Kirk also obtained two Les Paul style guitars both of which he still uses, one a black Gibson Les Paul Custom fitted with EMG active pickups, the other a black ESP KH-3 Eclipse.

Kirk Hammett's Gibson Les Paul Custom

Gibson Les Paul Custom Kirk Hammett

via GuitarsCollector.com

ESP-Kirk-Hammett-Les-Paul-KH-3

ESP-Kirk-Hammett-Les-Paul-KH-3

via Rhapsody.fr

4. LOAD AND RELOAD (1994 - 1999)

This prolific era was marked by the release of two studio albums (Load and Reload), one live album (S&M), and an album of cover songs (Garage Inc.). Still using the Mesa Boogie Mark IV amps, the amp settings for the studio albums tended to be notable for the absence of midrange for both overdriven and clean sounds.

AMPS SETTINGS

Clean sound:

  • Gain – 2
  • Bass – 4
  • Mid – 2
  • Treble – 5

Overdriven sound:

  • Gain – 7
  • Bass - 4.5
  • Mid – 0
  • Treble - 6.5

GUITARS

Perhaps most notably during this period was the acquisition of several new guitars for both James and Kirk. New guitars in James’ collection included:

  • Ken Lawrence Explorer (recognizable by its unusual shark fin headstock)
  • ESP JH-1 (Flying V body style)
  • ESP JH-2 (Explorer body style)
  • ESP JH-3 (Les Paul body style)
  • ESP Eclipse CustomGibson SG
Ken Lawrence Explorer

Ken Lawrence Explorer (via Equipboard.com)

The was also the point at which Kirk started to collect his “horror movie” ESP KH-2 guitars painted with images from famous horror movies, starting with “The Mummy” and “Ouija”. He also acquired a KH-1 Explorer style guitar, and a truly unique and fascinating ESP Wavecaster guitar featuring a hollow plexiglass body filled with blue colored motor oil that oozed about like a lava lamp. He uses the guitar exclusively for the song Am I Evil.

ESP WaveCaster

ESP WaveCaster (via Equipboard.com)

5. ST. ANGER (2000 - 2005)

The period was somewhat slower paced encompasses the St. Anger album, and was more notable for changes in guitars than in amps but in one of the more interesting changes, Kirk began using a 1959 Fender Twin Reverb. This was an extremely unusual move considering that the Twin Reverb is more commonly associated with country and classic rock sounds; however, according to Justin Crew, Kirk’s guitar tech, it remains one of his favorite amps. The settings didn’t change much from the previous albums except for a more pronounced midrange tone.

AMPS SETTINGS

Clean sound:

  • Gain – 2
  • Bass – 5
  • Mid – 5
  • Treble – 6

Overdriven sound:

  • Gain – 5
  • Bass - 5
  • Mid – 4.5
  • Treble - 6

GUITARS

James added the following to his collection of axes:

  • Les Paul CustomLTD H-307 (7-string)
  • LTD Viper (baritone guitar)

Kirk added a couple of flying Vs, one with a Floyd Rose tremolo system and the other with just a single EMG active pickup.

6. DEATH MAGNETIC (2006 - 2011)

Featuring the albums Death Magnetic, Lulu and Beyond Magnetic, this time marked the most significant change in amps since the guitarists switched to Mesa Boogie in 1986. While James began to use a Diezel VH-4 head alongside his trusty Mesa Boogies, Kirk signed a deal with Randall to use their heads, cabinets and preamps alongside his Mesa Boogies.

AMP SETTINGS

For these albums James and Kirk seem to have gone back to their minimal use of mids with the mids set at about 2 for clean leads and 0 for the overdrive.

Clean sound:

  • Gain – 2
  • Bass – 5
  • Mid – 2
  • Treble – 6

Overdriven sound:

  • Gain – 5
  • Bass - 5
  • Mid – 0
  • Treble - 6

GUITARS

James picked up his ESP Truckster and Iron Cross guitars, both Les Paul body style guitars with active pickups.

Worth to Read: What makes a Great Metal Pickup ~ Best Pickups for Metal
ESP Iron Cross

via GuitarsCollector.com

Kirk added to his KH-2 “horror movie” guitars with “Frankenstein”, “Dracula” and “Bride of Frankenstein” paint jobs.

ESP KH2 M-II Dracula

via Metallica-Japan.com

7. HARDWIRED… to SELF-DESTRUCT (2011 – PRESENT)

Since 2011, Metallica has released the album Hardwired … to Self-Destruct and the feature concert film Through the Never. They also played the 2012 Orion Fest. Again, marking a sea-change in amplification choices, James has settled on a combination of Diezel and Mesa Boogie amps with a Mesa Boogie Triaxis preamp and Mesa Simul-class 2 stereo power amp

Kirk is currently using a Randall Meathead amp designed by famous amp designer Mike Fortin along with Randall cabinets.

AMP SETTINGS

Actual numbers are hard to come by, but the closest numbers I have seen are:

Clean Sound:

  • Gain - 5
  • Bass - 4
  • Mid - 7
  • Treble - 8

Overdriven Sound:

  • Gain - 5
  • Bass - 4
  • Mid - 7
  • Treble - 8

GUITARS

James’ new guitars include the LTD Vulture flying V style guitar and the instantly recognizable LTD Snakebyte which has become his main guitar for most songs.

ESP James Hetfield Snakebyte

via RareElectricguitar.com

Kirk has added a greenburst KH-2 and an LTD KH-2 with a “White Zombie” horror movie paint scheme.

ESP LTD Kirk Hammett Signature “White Zombie”

via Shop.Absolute-Guitars.co.uk

EFFECTS

James Hetfield

  • ProCo Rat distortion
  • Ibanez Tube Screamer
  • TC Electronics G-Major 2
  • MXR Phase 100
  • Digitech Whammy
  • Dunlop Cry Baby
  • Line 6 DM4
  • Klon Centaur
  • Boss NS-2 noise suppressor
  • Love Tone Brown Sauce

Kirk Hammett

  • Ibanez Tube Screamer
  • DigiTech Whammy
  • Dunlop Wah
  • Vox Wah
  • EMB Audio Remote Wah
  • Dunlop KH-95 Signature Wah
  • TC Electronic G-Major 2
  • Line 6 MM4 modulator
  • MXR EVH 117 flanger
  • MXR Octaver
  • Boss NS-2 Noise Suppressor
  • Digitech Space Station Pedal

CONCLUSION

If getting that elusive Metallica sound is what you’re after, I hope you have found this list comprehensively enough.

I tried to include every album so your Seek and Destroy doesn’t sound too much like your Whiskey in the Jar. And if that’s not enough, Bobby Kittleberger, contributor at Guitar World magazine has produced this piece on getting Kirk’s guitar tone for yourself, including the amp settings he uses. If you enjoyed this article and/or have any additional comments, please be sure to leave them below, and until next time, keep rocking.

6 thoughts on “THE ULTIMATE FAN GUIDE TO METALLICA AMP SETTINGS

  1. adam says:

    Great guide! I’m nowhere near Justice cleans i love so much, though. I’m running Samick AV with SD Distortion at bridge, SH-6 was the name, or sth like that). Great for hard rock stuff but not really Justice cleans. I’m aiming at To live is to die kind of clean. My other guitar has Merlin Hellfire and it’s so much better for the job but I’m considering swapping Duncan’s for EMG H4 in Samick just for the science and comparision. How good is H4 for Metallica in general? Also I don’t like the idea of actives and while i’m now thinking aboug EMG Het set i’d still go for H4 if it’d do its job right.

  2. Stephan says:

    The ESP LTD KH202 does not have active pickups, the ESP Designed LH-301’s are passive. If you step up to the ESP KH602 it comes with EMG 60/81 active pickups.

  3. Harry says:

    Thought it was odd you didn’t include any of James’ signature guitars in the tribute rig, but hey, whateverI actually have a Snakebyte and an AT-100, and I can vouch for the sound they produce. Very metal

  4. Dru says:

    A lot of guys are very happy about your post, however it would be even better if you could show us how to get the right tones using iOS Apps like ToneStack Go 3 or even Amplitube. It is really hard to nail his sounds with cheap systems like ToneStack but I am so sure it can be done. Thanks for your effort.

  5. Thomas Catlin says:

    A significant of the information here is incorrect, especially regarding the amps used for the main rhythm guitar sound on each record. Though many of these albums feature numerous amps that are slaved into one another and/or layered on top of each other in the mix, one amp sound is usually more dominant than the others. Here is each album’s main amp sound for the heavy rhythm guitar parts.

    Kill Em All = Jose Modded Marshall SLP
    Ride the Lightning = Marshall JCM 800
    Master of Puppets = Mesa Mark IIC++
    …And Justice For All = Mesa Mark IIC++
    Black Album = Mesa Mark IIC++
    Load = Mesa Mark IIC++
    Reload = Wizard Modern Classic
    Garage Inc. = Wizard Modern Classic
    S&M = Custom modded Mesa Triaxis
    St. Anger = Diezel VH4
    Death Magnetic = Mesa Mark IIC++
    Hardwired = Mesa Mark IIC++

    Also, none of the amp settings listed in this article are correct. Case in point, the bass knob would NEVER EVER be set higher than 2 on a Mark IIC++, let alone 8! Furthermore, there are many more knobs on a Mark IIC++ than just treble, mids, bass, and gain. In fact, there are 2 different gain controls (Volume 1 and Lead Drive), 2 different loudness controls (Master 1 and Lead Master), a presence control, and a 5-band graphic EQ in addition to the standard treble, mids, and bass. It appears that all of the amp settings listed here were simply made up by the author. Take the info within this article with a grain of salt.

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