James Hetfield On Defining His Guitar Playing

Guitar Center recently caught up with Metallica vocalist/guitarist James Hetfield for an insightful discussion about his development as a guitarist and what it means to him to have been able to make a career out of playing music. The full, 13-minute video interview can be viewed below.
Hetfield recalled that purchasing his first guitar from a member of his school’s jazz band for $200 helped him to develop his self-confidence: “I was pretty much afraid of everything. Afraid of the world. Afraid of speaking — really, really shy kid. Music was a way to speak, simple as that. That’s me telling the world about me when I can’t do it on my own — so music was the voice I didn’t have.”
Shortly after purchasing the guitar, Hetifield joined a cover band called Obsession, which was inspired by bands like Black Sabbath: “Black Sabbath was the band that just totally lit me up,” Hetfield said. “So heavy, so moving. I sunk right into that. I could close my eyes and be in there.”
He added: “. . . Obviously, Tony Iommi is a big influence on most metal guitar players, and obviously the single-note riffs, they sounded fat. When you analyze the sound, it’s not really fat sounding — it has an edge that cuts.”
Hetfield soon began writing his own riffs and also seeking more accomplished musicians to play with: “I was on a quest, I wanted to get better.”
By the time he formed Metallica with Lars Ulrich, Hetfield was well on the way to defining his own sound: “I wanted to play drums on guitar, pretty much,” he explained. “I wanted a really percussive sound — one that really reacts quickly and is punchy, but if you hang on a chord, it’s gonna fill the room.”
Despite having been in one of the biggest band’s in the world for three decades, Hetfield said he worked hard to not take anything for granted: “Every day we wake up, there is that reminder, again, that dude, you get to do what you wanna do: create, and it’s sustaining your family,” he marveled. “The validation you get out there is unreal. It’s like a fantasy.”

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