James Hetfield

James Hetfield

James Hetfield
James Hetfield of Metallica performs during Rock in Rio USA at the MGM Resorts Festival Grounds on May 9, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Background information
Birth name James Alan Hetfield
Born (1963-08-03) August 3, 1963
Downey, California, United States
Genres Heavy metal, thrash metal, hard rock, speed metal
Occupation(s) Musician, songwriter, producer
Instruments Guitar, vocals
Years active 1978–present
Labels Warner Bros., Elektra, Megaforce
Associated acts Metallica, Spastik Children, Leather Charm
Website .commetallica
Notable instruments
Gibson Explorer
ESP Truckster
Ken Lawrence custom models
Gibson Les Paul Custom "Iron Cross"
Gibson Flying V
Fender Telecaster
ESP Snakebyte

James Alan Hetfield (born August 3, 1963) is the co-founder, lead vocalist, rhythm guitarist, main songwriter, and lyricist for the American heavy metal band Metallica. Hetfield is mainly known for his intricate rhythm playing, but has also performed occasional lead guitar duties both in the studio and live.

Hetfield co-founded Metallica in October 1981 after answering a classified advertisement by drummer Lars Ulrich in the Los Angeles newspaper The Recycler. Metallica has won nine Grammy Awards and released nine studio albums, three live albums, four extended plays and 24 singles.

In 2009, Hetfield was ranked number 8 in Joel McIver's book The 100 Greatest Metal Guitarists,[1] and ranked 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 2nd (along with Kirk Hammett) in The 100 Greatest Metal Guitarists poll of the same magazine, only behind Tony Iommi. Rolling Stone placed Hetfield as the 87th greatest guitarist of all time.


  • Life and career 1
    • Early life 1.1
    • Musical influences 1.2
    • Metallica (1981–present) 1.3
    • Personal life 1.4
  • Equipment 2
    • Guitars 2.1
    • Amplifiers and cabinets 2.2
    • Effects 2.3
    • Accessories 2.4
  • Discography 3
    • Metallica 3.1
  • Guest appearances 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Life and career

Early life

James Alan Hetfield was born August 3, 1963,[2] in Downey, California, the son of Cynthia Bassett (née Nourse), a light opera singer, and Virgil Lee Hetfield, a truck driver.[3] He is of German, English, Irish and Scottish descent. He has two older half-brothers from his mother's first marriage and one younger sister. His parents divorced in 1976 when Hetfield was 13. Virgil and Cynthia were very strict Christian Scientists, and in accordance with their beliefs, Hetfield's parents strongly disapproved of medicine or any other medical treatment and remained loyal to their faith even as Cynthia was dying from cancer. This upbringing became the inspiration for many of Hetfield's lyrics later in his career with Metallica including the song, The God That Failed from their seminal 1991 album, Metallica.

Cynthia Hetfield died of cancer in 1979 when James was 16 years old. After the death of his mother, Hetfield went to live with his older half-brother David. Virgil died in late 1996, during Metallica's Load tour.[4] Hetfield attended Downey High School his freshman and sophomore years.[5]

Musical influences

Hetfield was nine years old when he first began piano lessons, after which he took on his brother David's drums and finally, at the age of fourteen, he began to play guitar with Robert Okner.[6] He was also in a few bands as a teenager – one being Leather Charm and another, Obsession.

Hetfield identifies Aerosmith as having been his main musical influence as a child,[7] and has said they were the reason he wanted to play guitar. He has also cited Queen, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Misfits, AC/DC, Cheap Trick, Rush, Alice Cooper, Kiss, Ramones, Motörhead, Sex Pistols, Venom, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, ZZ Top, Thin Lizzy, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Ted Nugent, Rainbow, and Deep Purple as important influences.

Metallica (1981–present)

In the early days of the band, Metallica experimented with a few different vocals and guitar combinations, essentially creating a setup similar to that of British metal band Diamond Head, another major influence on him. Some of the options considered included adding another guitar player, having John Roads play lead guitar, as well as asking John Bush from Armored Saint (who later joined Anthrax) to sing for the band. The finalized line-up of the band became Hetfield (lead vocals and rhythm guitar), Lars Ulrich (drums), Dave Mustaine (lead guitar), and Ron McGovney (bass) who was soon replaced by Cliff Burton. Hetfield referred to their early sound as Power Metal. The term "thrash metal" was first used when Kerrang journalist Malcolm Dome described the Anthrax song "Metal Thrashing Mad" in an issue of Kerrang in February 1984.[8]

From 1982 to 1983, Mustaine's alcoholism sparked heated altercations between Hetfield and himself.[9] Mustaine also once poured beer onto McGovney's bass[9] nearly causing serious damage. On April 1, 1983, the band recruited lead guitarist Kirk Hammett from the band Exodus and 10 days later Hetfield and Ulrich officially removed Mustaine from the band due to his alcoholic tendencies.[9][10] Mustaine was sent home on a 4-day bus journey, and went on to form the heavy metal band Megadeth.

Until the mid-1990s, Hetfield recorded all rhythm tracks and most harmony tracks. Since the recording of Load, Hammett has been recording rhythm guitars as well. Hetfield occasionally plays guitar solos on songs such as "Nothing Else Matters", "My Friend of Misery", the outro solo on "The Outlaw Torn", the second solo on "To Live Is to Die", the first solo on "Suicide and Redemption", the first interlude solo on "Master of Puppets", the harmonized solo on "Orion" and the introduction harmonic solo in "The Day That Never Comes". 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 has been involved in a number of onstage accidents, most notable being an incident with pyrotechnics at Olympic Stadium in Montreal during the Guns N' Roses/Metallica Stadium Tour on August 8, 1992. Hetfield was the victim of a severe pyrotechnics accident during the song "Fade to Black", in which a pyrotechnic charge exploded. Hetfield's guitar protected him from the full force of the blast; however, the fire engulfed his left side, burning his hand, arm, eyebrows, face and hair. He suffered second and third-degree burns, but was back on stage 17 days later, although his guitar duties were delegated to former guitar tech and Metal Church guitarist John Marshall for four weeks while he made a full recovery.[11]

Hetfield playing in Mexico in 2010

Hetfield has also broken his arm a number of times while skateboarding, which prevented him from playing guitar on stage, and subsequently caused Hetfield's management company Q Prime to add a clause in Hetfield's contract forbidding him to ride a skateboard while Metallica was touring.[12] During a live performance on tour for the Metallica, Hetfield experienced complications with his vocals after performing a cover of the Anti-Nowhere League song "So What?", forcing him to take vocal lessons for the first time. He did basic warm-up exercises to piano keys with his vocal coach who also gave him a cassette tape of the piano warm-up for future use. Hetfield still uses the same cassette he was given in the early nineties to this day before any live performance or any recording Metallica does. Hetfield talks about his vocal training endeavors in the Metallica documentary film, Some Kind of Monster produced & directed by Joe Berlinger & Bruce Sinofsky.[13] During the recording of the band's eighth studio album St. Anger in 2001, Hetfield went into rehab to address his alcohol addiction. He rejoined the band after seven months in rehab and four months recovering with his family. He is now clean and sober and is determined to remain so, all of which is featured in Some Kind of Monster.[13]

Some Kind of Monster also shows the making of the St. Anger album and documents the various conflicts and issues the band were facing at the time including the departure of Jason Newsted, alcoholism, family commitments, and the future of the band with many in the rock press questioning whether the band would even still be together to see the completion of the St. Anger album.

Hetfield and Metallica addressed their need for a new bassist by recruiting Robert Trujillo, former bass player of Ozzy Osbourne. It was more of a swap since Ozzy Osbourne surprisingly recruited Jason Newsted shortly after Trujillo's transfer. The new line-up has continued to make music and tour worldwide. Metallica's ninth studio album, Death Magnetic, was released on September 12, 2008. Like St. Anger and every album of original material released by Metallica since 1991's Metallica, Death Magnetic went to #1 on the Billboard charts in over 30 countries during its first week of release.[14]

On April 4, 2009, Hetfield, along with remaining Metallica members Ulrich, Hammett, Trujillo, as well as former bassist Newsted and the deceased Cliff Burton (who was represented by his father) were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.[15] In an interview after their nomination, Hetfield commented that everyone who had appeared on an album with the band would be inducted. This excluded original guitarist Dave Mustaine and original bassist Ron McGovney, as both had appeared only on the band's early demo tapes. Hetfield and the rest of Metallica, including Newsted, performed Master of Puppets and Enter Sandman to end the ceremony.

Hetfield was ranked 24th in the Hit Parader's Top Metal Vocalist of All Time.[16] In 2009 he was listed at number 8 in Joel McIver's book The 100 Greatest Metal Guitarists.

Personal life

Hetfield backstage at the Big Day Out 2004

Hetfield enjoys a variety of activities such as hunting, skateboarding, snowboarding, water-skiing, jet-skiing, sketching, customizing cars and motorcycles in his garage, watching the Oakland Raiders, and going to hot-rod shows.[17] He is also a member of the National Rifle Association.[18]

He put his 1968 Chevrolet Camaro up for sale on eBay, with the proceeds going to a Music for Schools program.[19] The car was used in the video for "I Disappear" and was given to him as a gift upon the video's completion. Years later, Hetfield donated the car to the Hard Rock Cafe which is featured in the movie Hard Rock Treasures. "Slowburn", his 1936 Auburn boat tail speedster, won the 2010 Goodguys West Coast Custom of the Year.

Hetfield has a number of tattoos, including one which shows flames encasing four cards, – ace (1), 9, 6 and 3 – representing the year of his birth, and the words "Carpe Diem" ("seize the day"). The flames on the tattoo are in reference to the pyrotechnic accident which he suffered in 1992 during a concert in Montréal, Canada.[20] He has tattooed an "M" on his right hand for "Metallica", and an "F" on his left hand for "Francesca". He also has some Christian tattoos, including crosses and one of Jesus in his right arm. He has a tattoo of two razors forming the straight edge X symbol on his left wrist.[21]

Hetfield says he is often happiest spending time with his wife Francesca and their three children:[17] Cali (b. June 13, 1998), Castor (b. May 18, 2000), and Marcella (b. January 17, 2002). Hetfield married his wife Francesca Tomasi on August 17, 1997.

During an interview [22] on NPR's Fresh Air, Hetfield stated that his wife had helped him to mature and learn to deal with his anger issues more constructively, explaining that after they met, his destructive tendencies embarrassed both of them. He is also sober and has been since undergoing a rehab program in 2002 (documented in the film Some Kind of Monster), maintaining total abstinence from alcohol. In a 2010 interview with So What!, the official magazine of Metallica's fan club, Hetfield stated that he is a "reborn straight edge".[21]

The first single he ever bought was "Sweet Home Alabama" by Lynyrd Skynyrd.[23]

He was featured in a documentary, called Absent, directed by Justin Hunt, which takes a look at the effects of absent fathers on their children and the "father wound" that they leave behind.[24][25][26]

Hetfield has expressed his disdain for politics and celebrities who "soapbox their opinions," stating that, "For us, people are people – you should all have your own opinion."[27] In 2007, Metallica performed at London's Live Earth concert. When James was asked for his thoughts on climate change, he responded by saying:

I really avoided the press around the Live Earth day. I didn't quite agree with what was going on there. Politics drive me crazy, and I don't like talking politics. Politics get in the way of things; they get in the way of getting things done, and getting our music across is what we wanna do – we don't wanna cloud it with 'Democrat, Republican,' whatever. Our philosophy is 'think for yourself' at the end of the day – do what you think feels right. I really believe that humans will survive. I have a lot of faith in mankind that we will overcome and adapt – whatever it is; whether it's man-made or God-made, or Earth/Mother Nature – we have a lot of smart people on this planet that will make something good out of bad.[28]


Hetfield in 2008


Hetfield has been a major endorser of ESP Guitars since the 1980s, and is best known for playing custom-made Explorer-style guitars with an EMG 81/EMG 60 set for pickups. 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.

During the mid-1990s, ESP produced the first of his signature model guitars. To date, Hetfield has had six signature guitars (may soon be seven) with the company. However, Hetfield often uses guitars from Gibson and other companies instead of ESP despite his endorsement.

Some of Hetfield's current tour guitars are:

  • ESP Truckster signature models in grey and black finishes
  • ESP "Iron Cross" – Has the Eclipse body shape; distressed black with gold hardware, with a gold racing stripe and a gold Iron Cross on the body. It is based on the design of his 1970s Gibson Les Paul Custom.
  • ESP EXplorer – distressed black finish with white pickguard
  • ESP EXplorer – silver diamond plate
  • ESP EXplorer – black diamond plate
  • ESP EXplorer "Papa Het" – with a white finish and some drawings by Dirty Donny
  • ESP EXplorer – black diamond plate with deer antler inlay
  • ESP Flying V – white finish (replica of his old Flying-V copy)
  • ESP LTD "The Grynch" – signature guitar, black with green flames on both the front and back of the body and neck, used for the song Frantic
  • ESP "Snakebyte" – custom guitars in black and white finishes; feature a custom body and headstock designed by James. The retail model was revealed to the public at the Winter NAMM 2011 show.
  • Gibson Explorer – silverburst with white pickguard
  • Gibson Explorer "Rusty" – black satin with tarnished metal pickguard
  • Gibson Flying V – sunburst
  • Gibson Flying V – silverburst
  • Gibson Flying V – white, chrome pickups
  • Gibson Les Paul Custom 1970s-era Les Paul with distressed black finish, gold stripe and gold iron cross on body; referred to as "Uncle Milty" and was the inspiration for his ESP Iron Cross signature model
  • Gibson Les Paul Custom – purple satin finish
  • Gibson Les Paul Custom – natural finish with drawing on body that says "Cliff Burton RIP"
  • James Trussart metal Explorer
  • James Trussart Steel DeVilleLes Paul-shaped guitar with a perforated, rusted steel front
  • Ken Lawrence Explorer – The first of three custom made Explorer-type guitars made by Northern Californian luthier Ken Lawrence. It features a mahogany body with a chechen bark laminate top, modified Kenneth Lawrence headstock and custom "Tribal Hunting Scene" inlays.
  • Ken Lawrence Explorer – It features a mahogany body with a quilted bubinga top, modified Kenneth Lawrence headstock, chechen rear cover plate and custom "Sun-Ray" inlays.
  • The Unforgiven
  • "Dave of England custom aluminium engraved tattoo finish" – a Zemaitis guitar with an engraved metal top
  • Fender Telecaster – with B-Bender in butterscotch finish

Other guitars owned/previously used by Hetfield include:

  • 1984 Gibson Explorer#1 – white finish with "MORE BEER" written on white tape in the bottom left corner, the stock pickups were swapped for EMG 81/EMG 81 set
  • 1984 Gibson Explorer#2 – white finish with "So What" written in the bottom left corner, the stock pickups were swapped for EMG 81/EMG 81 set
  • ESP Explorer – black finish with EMG pickups, used as a warm-up guitar in the early 1990s
  • Several Gibson Les Paul models – including Standard models in black, cherry sunburst, and lemon burst finishes
  • Gibson EDS-1275 – red finish
  • 1963 Gibson SG – red finish with Gibson Vibrola vibrato system
  • Gibson Moderne – black finish, gold hardware
  • Gibson Firebird – seen in practice
  • ESP EXplorer#1 – Hetfield's first ESP guitar: white finish, "EET FUK" on the body, "middle finger" inlays. The headstock broke many times and so the guitar was eventually retired from live use, it has been seen in use on the recording of the new album during the making of "Suicide and Redemption"
  • ESP EXplorer#2 – Hetfield's second ESP guitar: white finish, occasionally used live but Hetfield retired it for studio use
  • Numerous other ESP EXplorer models – including models with black finishes and custom inlays (including the "man-to-wolf" inlays model and eagle inlay model); a double-neck model; a model with a custom "Burnt Elk Skull" finish; and a model with a black finish and EMG pickups in an H/S/S configuration.
  • ESP JH1 Flying V – signature guitar with flames over a black finish
  • ESP Flying V with green flames (similar to the JH1)
  • ESP Eclipse JH3Eclipse with black finish, with white "hot rod" pinstripe design, gold hardware, and checkered flag inlays
  • ESP Eclipse – "kustom kulture" graphic finish with iron cross inlays
  • Other ESPs include: a Viper with custom artwork, several Eclipses and F-series models (including 7-strings in standard and 6-strings in drop-C tuning)
  • ESP Horizon Double-neck – Used while touring for the Black Album. Was possibly used after his ESP Explorer Double-neck was damaged in a pyrotechnic accident
  • Ken Lawrence Doubleneck Explorer
  • Ken Lawrence Dragon Les Paul
  • Zemaitis GZ Series GZV500MF-MBK – V-shaped guitar that has an engraved metal plate on the front of the body. Recently used by James in the World Magnetic Tour.
  • Fender Stratocaster – modified with natural finish, gold hardware and EMG pickups
  • Jackson King V – white finish with chrome hardware, used during the Master of Puppets tour
  • White Flying V copy – This guitar is not a Gibson Flying V, but a Japanese copy made by Electra which Hetfield purchased for $200. It was retired after the neck broke twice and the guitar started to go out of tune easily. The stock bridge pickup was later replaced with Seymour Duncan Invader. Recently James had ESP make an exact copy of it even down to the bolt on neck. The pickups were swapped for EMG 81/60, knobs were replaced with Gibson style black speed knobs, pickup selector has been moved up and stock machineheads were replaced with Shaller machineheads. This guitar has been seen during the making of Death Magnetic during the making of "The Judas Kiss".

(This list is not exhaustive – he has a large collection of guitars, not all of which are listed.)

Amplifiers and cabinets

Throughout Metallica's career, Hetfield has used a wide range of different amplifiers. For the first two albums, he used Marshall heads and cabinets, with occasional effects. The specific Marshall that he used for Kill Em All was stolen after a concert prior to the recording of Ride The Lightning; Hetfield was extremely upset by the theft, as his mother had helped him purchase the amp before her death. In 1986, for the recording of Master of Puppets, he and Kirk Hammett each bought a Mesa/Boogie Mark IIC+ amplifier (the preamp sections of which were connected to Marshall power amps), and since then he has mostly used Mesa/Boogies, including the Triaxis and Rectifier models. Around the time of St. Anger, Hetfield began using the Diezel VH4 head. The majority of his clean tones come from a Roland JC-120 Jazz Chorus Guitar Amplifier, although many different amplifiers have been used over the years.

In December 2011, it was announced by Fortin Amps that they would team up with Randall Amplifiers to start a new line of tube amps based on the Fortin Meathead amplifier. Kirk Hammett currently has two prototypes, and Hetfield will eventually be receiving one.

The amplifiers currently used on tour by Hetfield are:


To avoid problems with pedals being damaged during live performances, Hetfield keeps his effect pedals in a rack along with his amplifiers and his tech controls them through a pedalboard sidestage. The pedal controller allows him to change between different effect pedals and amplifiers.

Hetfield's live rig in 2008 included:

In 2010, a Line 6 effects unit was added to the list, along with the TC Electronics unit, perhaps indicating that this had replaced his stompboxes.


In addition, Hetfield uses Shure Super 55 microphones for vocals.



Guest appearances


  1. ^ I’m Over My Metallica Demons,' Says Dave Mustaine"'". Claasic Rock. 
  2. ^ "James Hetfield Biography, Bio, Profile, pictures, photos from". Netglimse.com. Retrieved 2011-11-04. 
  3. ^ "Family Tree Maker's Genealogy Site: Genealogy Report: Ancestors of James Alan Hetfield". Familytreemaker.genealogy.com. 1963-08-03. Retrieved 2014-07-29. 
  4. ^ Playboy Interview. Ilikethat.com. Retrieved on 2010-11-05.
  5. ^ "Exclusive: Metallica’s James Hetfield Inducted Into Downey High Hall Of Fame « CBS Los Angeles". Losangeles.cbslocal.com. 2011-05-27. Retrieved 2014-07-29. 
  6. ^ "Biography". Web.archive.org. October 27, 2009. Archived from the original on October 27, 2009. Retrieved 2010-11-11. 
  7. ^ Search Articles, Artists, Reviews, Videos, Music and Movies. Rolling Stone. Retrieved on 2010-11-05.
  8. ^ Dome, Malcolm (February 23, 1984). "Anthrax 'Fistful of Metal'".  
  9. ^ a b c "Behind the Music: Megadeth". Behind the Music. 2001. VH1. 
  10. ^ Metallica.com. Metallica.com. Retrieved on 2010-11-05.
  11. ^ Peisner, David (February 2007). "Rock Stars Who've Caught Fire Onstage!". Blender Magazine Online. Retrieved 2007-02-27. 
  12. ^ Music Fan Clubs Metallica – Metallica > The Band > James Hetfield. Musicfanclubs.org (August 3, 1963). Retrieved on 2010-11-05.
  13. ^ a b Metallica.com. Metallica.com (January 25, 2005). Retrieved on 2010-11-05.
  14. ^ Metallica – "My Apocalypse" Review – Music Review at IGN. Uk.music.ign.com (August 28, 2008). Retrieved on 2010-11-05.
  15. ^ "Metallica: inducted in 2009". Rock And Roll Hall of Fame. February 2007. Retrieved 2010-02-24. 
  16. ^ Hit Parader’s Top 100 Metal Vocalists of All Time — HearYa – Indie Music Blog. Hearya.com. Retrieved on 2010-11-05.
  17. ^ a b Metallica.com. Metallica.com (August 3, 1963). Retrieved on 2010-11-05.
  18. ^ "IMDb.com – Biography for James Hetfield". Retrieved 2013-05-01. 
  19. ^ "Metallica News". blabbermouth.net. October 23, 2003. Retrieved 2009-08-21. 
  20. ^ S&M DVD special features interview
  21. ^ a b Interview with James Hetfield about his new straight edge tattoo in So What! magazine
  22. ^ "Metallica's James Hetfield on Rock and Therapy". January 28, 2005. 
  23. ^ Wood, Mikael. "Metallica: The Billboard Cover Story". Billboard. 
  24. ^ RMM: James Hetfield featured in ABSENT documentary, exclusive interview with director Justin Hunt. Rockvillemusicmagazine.com (August 25, 2010). Retrieved on 2011-04-21.
  25. ^ RMM: James Hetfield Interview with Filmmaker Justin Hunt: The Fight For Fatherhood. Rockvillemusicmagazine.com. Retrieved on 2011-04-21.
  26. ^ a b RMM: James Hetfield to Appear on FOX and Friends with Filmmaker Justin Hunt. Rockvillemusicmagazine.com (March 28, 2011). Retrieved on 2011-04-21.
  27. ^ Harris, Chris. (August 4, 2008) Metallica Tackle Forgiveness, Resentment In 'The Day That Never Comes' Clip – Music, Celebrity, Artist News. MTV. Retrieved on 2011-04-21.
  28. ^ "JAMES HETFIELD Says METALLICA Is Focusing on Feeling Around 'Master of Puppets' For New CD – July 14, 2007". 
  29. ^ "METALLICA - Encyclopedia Metallica - Projects - James Hetfield". Encycmet.com. Retrieved 2014-07-29. 

External links

  • James Hetfield at the Internet Movie Database
  • NPR Interview With Metallica Guitarist and Vocalist James Hetfield (2004, audio)
  • James Hetfield discography at MusicBrainz
  • Peisner, David (February 2007). "Rock Stars Who've Caught Fire Onstage!". Blender Magazine Online. Retrieved 2007-02-27.