Metallica Sound Part 2 of 2: Heavy Picking Techniques

isthatabanjo1 Metallica Sound Part 2 of 2: Heavy Picking Techniques

Okay, so maybe you're here because you want to know the secret to getting that heavy "Metallica" guitar sound. There is a secret, actually there's a few secrets.

The Metallica Heavy Tone Picking Technique

  1. Down pick all of the notes you play in the riffs. That's right you want to downpick all of the notes. Play Master of Puppets with only downpicking. It's not easy but that's how you play it properly. This will give you an even heaviness and make your playing more intense. Just a word of warning, James himself doesn't down pick everything, but he down picks a lot.
  2. When you strike the strings with your picking hands make sure you hit them with the finger nail holding the pick first, followed immediately by the pick. In essence you will hit the string twice, but too quickly to hear it is a double strike. This will increase the heaviness greatly. Now try that Master of Puppets riff again playing this way.
  3. Make sure your pick isn't thin and flimsy. You'll need a thick pick that doesn't bend easily under pressure. The thicker pick will mean heavier sound, of course icon smile Metallica Sound Part 2 of 2: Heavy Picking Techniques
  4. You know you need some killer distortion, right? Well, that's not all. Make sure to use the right Metallic amp settings too. Check out Part 1 of this post.

To prove to yourself how much of a difference playing heavy riffs like this will make, try playing the riffs with and without the down picking, and scraping of your fingernails when striking the string. I promise you won't ever want to turn back.


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pixel Metallica Sound Part 2 of 2: Heavy Picking Techniques
 Metallica Sound Part 2 of 2: Heavy Picking Techniques

About Michael Jae

Michael is a guitarist of over 18 years and has taught lessons, played in front of live audiences, and wrote and recorded his own acoustic fingerstyle albums. He's especially fond of playing classic rock, heavy metal, classical guitar, and fingerstyle acoustic guitar in the style of Leo Kottke and John Fahey.




  1. Good advice! More please ….

  2. Michael Jae says:

    If you’re looking for another important key to the Metallica sound it’s the amp settings James Hetfield uses. Checkout the explaination of this here at

  3. I will try these techniques, even though I don’t really like Metallica. The fingernail before the pick does give a different sound, even on an acoustic guitar.

    • Heh. Funny you should mention using this on an acoustic. After playing on an acoustic for a while I usually end up doing some metal riffing, and you’re right that using this technique will add quite a growl on an acoustic. I’ve been using it so long on electric guitar I do it all the time and really don’t think about it.

  4. Hi Michael-

    Do you have any tips on how to properly practice a fingerstyle technique with this kind of heavier music? Is it better to learn the tunes without a pick first and then incorporate the pic, or should I just try it all at once.
    Also, I know you said use a heavier pic- what kind do you like to use?

  5. Thanks for the tip. Metallica is still a great band, even after the Napster fiasco.

  6. Metallica sound? Wow. Thing is, I only like the slow Metallica sound. Does that cover this as well? Metallica was always the reason I would want to learn the guitar. Now, after visiting your blog, I see that there are many more reasons why to pick up the guitar and learn to play. Nothing else matters was it for me. But, that is not hard rock style, the style you tend to explain here, is it not?

    I want to compliment you on your awesome guitar site. I spend hours here!!

    This is it. I am buying a guitar. I feel I learned things already, without even owning a guitar. Gee. I love, and I mean, LOVE music. Very impressive the way you play and teach us.

    Thanks for this nice site.

    Rock on dudes!

    • Pete, I am referring mainly to the vintage heavy Metallica sound. However, to be honest this technique of double hitting the strings is still used by Hetfield today, and it will make any metal go to 11 ;) Today Hetfield has a more modern guitar tone instead of that scalloped tone with the mids removed that he used on the first 4 albums, and that I describe in part 1.

  7. This is great info. Only been learning the guitar a few weeks but find it very encouraging when reading about these techniques.

  8. Oh man, speak of Metallica sound, I am going to get a whole lot of that this weekend when I see the BIG 4 is San Diego. I am so excited to see this lineup I can’t stand it. However, I think I leave the guitar to Kirk this time…

  9. Metal Guy says:

    I have purchased ZOOM 2.1nu. Can u help me out with what'll patches i need to use when playing metallica heavy riffs. I've already used H0 Clean and Angus.

    • Hey Metal Guy,

      If you can dial in a tube amp head like a Marshall simulator, and then generally speaking for vintage Metallica sound tweak your high and low raising both those almost all the way and lower you mid setting to about half way (I usually bring it all the way down and then bring it back in just until I hear a bite).

      The distortion itself should be pretty heavy, so I’d dial the overdrive all the way up or nearly so depending on what amp head you have access to.

      See how that goes!


  10. This really answered my problem, thank you!

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