Today’s featured artist is James Hetfield! Born August 3rd 1963, he is an American musician and songwriter best known for being the co-founder, lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist and main songwriter for the American heavy metal band Metallica. Hetfield is mainly known for his intricate rhythm playing, but occasionally performs lead guitar duties and solos, both live and in the studio. He also writes the majority of the guitar harmonies, as well as writing the lyrics, vocal melodies, and co-arranging the songs with Ulrich. Hetfield co-founded Metallica in October 1981 after answering an advertisement by drummer Lars Ulrich in the Los Angeles newspaper The Recycler.
Hetfield was nine years old when he first began piano lessons, after which he took on his half-brother David’s drums and finally, at the age of 14, he began to play guitar. He is an exemplar of the downpicking rhythm style, which if he didn’t invent he certainly helped to pioneer. Metallica songs notable for intense downpicking – a right-hand technique whereby one strums the guitar using only downstrokes instead of the more instinctive ‘up-down-up-down’ motion – include Master of Puppets, and Creeping Death. He is also known for his powerful, booming, and distinct singing voice.
Hetfield often uses guitars from Gibson, despite being a major endorser of ESP Guitars since the 1980s. During the mid-1990s ESP produced the first of his six signature model guitars with the company. He is best known for playing custom-made Explorer-style guitars, which have become almost synonymous with him, and part of his signature style. Hetfield’s main guitar from the early days was a Flying V copy made in Japan by Electra, used almost exclusively until 1984 when he switched to the Gibson Explorer model.
Metallica has won nine Grammy Awards. In 2009, Hetfield was ranked 8th in Joel McIver’s book The 100 Greatest Metal Guitarists and 24th by Hit Parader on their list of the 100 Greatest Metal Vocalists of All Time. In Guitar World’s poll, Hetfield was placed as the 19th greatest guitarist of all time, as well as being placed second (along with Metallica lead guitarist Kirk Hammett) in The 100 Greatest Metal Guitarists poll of the same magazine. Rolling Stone placed Hetfield as the 87th greatest guitarist of all time.
Check below for a performance of Master of Puppets from their “Quebec Magnetic” concert film, and a tab of one of many of its incredible downpicking riffs!
Has Metallica influenced you as a musician? What are your favourite Metallica songs, Hetfield guitar parts, or Hetfield vocals? We are returning to in-home lessons as well as Video Conference Lessons if you want to learn about the ongoing history of music with a professional!
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