How did James Hetfield learn Guitar? Is he self taught?

No doubt that James Hetfield is one of the influential figures in the world of metal music, especially in thrash metal. His contribution to the metal community is simply unmatchable.

At the age of 14, Hetfield decided to play guitar but before that, he had his hands on piano and drums. Apart from that, there are still many of his fans that don’t know how he learned the guitar and what motivated him to do so.

So, I thought why not write a complete article dedicated to his early influences and how he actually learned to play the guitar.

How did James Hetfield learn guitar?

In an interview with Guitar Center James said he is completely self-taught and also added that in the early days after school, Hetfield and one of his school mate, John used to jam together on Black Sabbath songs and they also used to show each other what they have learned each day and exchanged ideas. That is how he learned to play the guitar.

What is James Hetfield’s first Guitar?

First guitar – Gibson SG ( 1969 model )

James bought his first guitar from his school mate, Downey High for $200 who was in a jazz band. He had to begg his mom for money he needed to buy his first real guitar. After that, he joined a cover band, Obsession, and started playing covers of Black Sabbath. As the band only played covers, Hetfield decided to play with different people and write original music.

Hetfield’s Early Influences

Hetfield credited Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, and Diamond Head as his main inspiration as a child and in an interview, he also added that Sabbath motivates him still today.

In the early days of Metallica, the band members tried to create the setup similar to that of British metal band Diamond Head and this led to several line-up changes and finalized with James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Dave Mustaine, and Ron McGovney.

James Early Guitar

Until 1984, Hetfield played his Flying V copy with Seymour Duncan invader pickup which he changed to Gibson Explorer model. Despite his endorsement with Gibson and many other guitar brands, he hardly plays them except ESP guitars.

Electra Flying V ( 1980 )Bought it for $200 and used it on Kill ‘Em All
Gibson Explorer ( 1984 )Used on Ride the Lightning and Death Magnetic album
Jackson King V Custom ( 1985 )Used on Master of Puppets Album for Recording
ESP MX220 ( 1987 )Used on ‘And Justice For All’
Fender Telecaster ’52 Reissue ( 1996 )Used to play the intro of Unforgiven II
Gibson SG/Les Paul StandardUsed for Turn the page music video
Gibson Explorer ( 2003 )Used on St.Anger album
LTD H-307Used to record Some kind of monster
ESP/LTD Baritone ViperUsed in Live shows for Drop D tuning
ESP VultureMostly seen on Metallica’s Instagram and Youtube channel

Most asked questions about James Guitar Playing

Is James Hetfield a Good Guitarist?

Hetfield is basically a rhythm guitarist and he is pretty amazing in that. One of his techniques which is very popular is his down-picking ability. Hetfield also played guitar solos in few of the songs like Turn the page, Nothing else matters, and Whiskey in the jar. Due to his ability to do both, he is counted in the list of greatest metal guitarists in the world.

Is James Hetfield better guitarist than Kirk Hammet?

Hetfield is a rhythm guitarist who hardly plays any solo while Kirk Hammet handles mainly the lead work. There is no point in comparing because they both are amazing in their respective field. But, yes in case of playing heavy riffs and down picking James is a beast.