James Hetfield recently discussed how Dave Mustaine’s Metallica firing changed the way he played guitar in a new Total Guitar interview.
What about when Mustaine left the band and you became the main rhythm player?
“I was competing with myself, for sure. You know, ‘Here’s the drum beat, can I play along to that?’ And downpicking always sounded better than alternate picking. Just in the way the string stopped, the chunkiness of it…
“But there’s a point where you just can’t do it and you’re making too much palm noise while you’re pounding on it, so then you have to go back to alternate picking.
“But down-picking is tighter and heavier. And that’s the end of it!”
So, do you think that always alternate picking is a bit of a cop-out?
“Now, not necessarily, no. There are tons of songs that we gallop on. You gotta do that! There may be guys out there who can do that with all downpicking, but it gets to that point where if it’s too fast, it’s muddled.
“The challenge is for it to sound as good as possible. I guess, yeah, in the early days alternate picking was considered a cop-out.”
Do you do any specific exercises before a show to help you loosen up?
“Not me! I’m fine. Kirk [Hammett, guitar] has some things with his elbow and wrist and sometimes his fingers, and Rob [Trujillo, bass] with his forearm – you know, he’s a tarantula!
“He’s got a few issues, but for me, the only problems I have are calluses building up on the finger bone under the skin that come just from playing too much. But as far as muscles go, thank God, I’m doing fine.”