The Guitar James Hetfield Could Not Live Without…

By Richard •  Updated: 03/16/22 •  4 min read

James Hetfield has a massive collection of guitars but he does have one guitar that he could not live without…


When you’re the frontman and main riff writer of one of the biggest and most influential metal bands to ever exist, and you’ve been doing that for three decades, you tend to amass a huge collection of guitars, gear, and amps.

James Hetfield has A LOT of guitars. In terms of sheer numbers, the current roster of guitars used by Hetfield probably costs in the region of a few hundred thousand dollars. Hetfield even has his own signature pickups these days too.

But out of ALL these guitars, there is one guitar that James Hetfield loves above all the others…

James Hetfield’s Favorite Guitar

Since the late-1980s, Papa Het has been onboard the good ship ESP, following his acrimonious split from Gibson. Since then, Hetfield has released a string of signature ESP models, had a load of custom models made based on his exact specifications, and even had ESP made him Explorer and Les Paul style guitars, all outfitted with his signature EMG Het Set pickups.

But out of all the possible guitars Hetfield has at his disposal, he currently loves to play one above all the others. Hetfield’s favorite guitar right now is his ESP Vulture, a flying v-style guitar that Hetfield helped develop with ESP’s designers. The Vulture is designed to be lightweight and it runs his EMG Het Set pickups.

ESP LTD Vulture

Superbly constructed in Japan, the James Hetfield Signature Vulture Electric Guitar features active EMG Hetfield pickups, set-neck construction, and a lighting fast thin U neck profile with ebony fingerboard and custom inlay

Pros:
  • Fast thin U neck profile
  • EMG Het Set Pickups
  • Tonepros locking tune-o-matic bridge
  • Gotoh locking tuners
  • Schaller straplocks
BUY NOW
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

It’s mostly ESP guitars for me – all of which have Ernie Ball strings and my EMG Het Set pickups. I’m really loving my ESP Vulture – which has a Flying V type of design that I came up with last year – and also my ESP Snakebyte.

I’ve also got a few Gibsons in there – just for diversity. I love the V shape, the Explorer shape, and the traditional Les Paul shape. Those shapes fit my body best, and I love playing them. But that Vulture guitar! It’s nice and light and it’s really lively sounding.

James Hetfield | Guitar Player

Hetfield’s Preferred Guitar Design

Looking back at James Hetfield’s arsenal of guitars – and it really is an arsenal – a couple of things really stand out to me. First, Hetfield is 100% committed to ESP. Nearly all of his most-used guitars are made by ESP. Second, he tends to favor Les Paul, Explorer, and Fly V-style designs. Watch any live Metallica performance from the last 10 years – he only ever uses these styles.

I personally much prefer his Explorer-style ESP Snakebyte – it is a phenomenal-looking guitar.

Hetfield isn’t alone in his love for the Flying V-style design. Mastodon’s Brent Hinds is also a huge fan of Flying V-style guitars. As was Randy Rhodes. You don’t see that many Flying V-style guitars used much these days, so it is nice to see Hetfield keeping the classic design alive and kicking.

And Hetfield’s bromance with Ghost, and the fact that Ghost are big fans of Metallica, seems to have informed the band’s choice of guitars as well. Ghost use Explorer-style guitars, either from Gibson or Hagstrom, when playing live, and have done since the beginning. From 2016 onwards, Ghost tends to use Hagström Fantomen Custom guitars (and they are truly a thing of beauty).

Interested in learning more about Metallica’s approach to guitar and how James Hetfield creates his tones? Check out the following guides below:

ESP LTD Vulture

Superbly constructed in Japan, the James Hetfield Signature Vulture Electric Guitar features active EMG Hetfield pickups, set-neck construction, and a lighting fast thin U neck profile with ebony fingerboard and custom inlay

Pros:
  • Fast thin U neck profile
  • EMG Het Set Pickups
  • Tonepros locking tune-o-matic bridge
  • Gotoh locking tuners
  • Schaller straplocks
BUY NOW
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

Richard

Richard has been playing guitar for over a decade and is a huge fan of metal, doom, sludge, and rock music in general – though mostly metal. Having played in bands and worked in studios since the early 2000s, Richard is a massive music production geek, a fan of minimalist recording techniques, and he really likes old-school guitars.

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