Metallica Amp Settings and Guitar Tone Guide

The crushing guitar tone of Metallica has become legendary in the heavy metal world. Both in their early thrash metal days and even more recently.

James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett’s guitar sounds have helped to establish the band’s sound. It’s part of the reason they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! But how do they achieve that sound?

One primary factor is their use of high gain amps and the right settings. If your amp can provide thick, saturated distortion, set the gain relatively high to around 8. Treble and bass should be set to 6 and midrange to 3. From here, you should have a good starting point.

In this Killer Rig article, we’ll take a look into Metallica’s amp settings. We’ll also provide tips for guitarists looking to recreate their sound.

What is Metallica’s Sound?

The Metallica guitar tone is saturated high gain with a tailored midrange. However, the metal band’s sound has evolved over the years.

Their mid scooped sound was easily recognizable in the early days. But they’ve always been associated with a powerful, aggressive tone.

One of the things that makes Metallica’s guitar tone so unique is their use of certain amplifiers. They are designed to produce a lot of distortion. These are not classic rock amps by any means. We’re talking saturation and lots of it!

If you want to recreate Metallica’s sound, you’ll need an amp that can produce an aggressive tone. Both tube (valve) and solid-state amplifiers can pull this off.

Quick amp settings to sound like Metallica are:

  • Gain: 8.
  • Treble: 6.
  • Mids: 3.
  • Bass: 6.
  • Presence: 6.

Your amplifier will need to be able to pull off a saturated sound for these settings to work. If your amp has presence and depth controls, set them flat. Volume can be set to taste.

Be careful if you use a compression pedal in your rig. Some have the tendency to squash the low-end chug when palm-muting. You may want to experiment without it when getting started to get the full impact of the sound.

Click to learn how to play Master of Puppets Chords.

Metallica Amp Setting Diagram.
Metallica amp control explanation diagram.

Grab your Anthrax amp settings here!

Metallica Amp Setting By Album

Metallica has a large discography that spans many years. Over those years, their sound has changed quite a bit. So I have broken up my suggested amp settings by album. This way you can get the tone of your favorite songs right away.

Ride The lightning Amp Settings

During the ride the lightning studio album era, the band was using modified Marshall JCM 800 amps. They also always use guitars with humbucker pickups. These settings can be recreated with most high-gain amps today.

The aim is for a bright but scooped sound with chunky, tight lows. These settings are for the songs in the Ride The Lightning album:

  • Gain: 7.
  • Treble: 8.
  • Mids: 3.
  • Bass: 6.
  • Presence: 6.

On these early studio albums, Hetfield’s tone was more raw and unrefined. He used a Marshall JCM800 2203 amp with the gain set high and the bass and treble boosted.

But the mids were cut to around 3. This setting gave his tone a more biting, aggressive sound. Kirk Hammett was much the same.

If you are using an amp with a thicker sound, you may want to turn down the low frequency a bit if it’s too muddy. The choruses need to sound tight and fast. If you have a presence control, it should be set to 6 as well. Should that be too fizzy, turn it down.

Creeping Death Settings

Songs like For Whom The Bell Tolls or Creeping Death need to be bright. You can always increase the high frequencies if you find it doesn’t cut enough. This will depend on your amplifier, of course.

Make sure to also be using the bridge pickup for rhythm sections. And don’t let the bass get out of control, keep it tight at around 5 or 6.

Lower the gain if you can’t tighten it up. Here is a picture of my Marshall amp and the settings I use for Creeping Death.

My Marshall Amp Settings for Metallica Sounds.
My Marshall amp settings for Metallica.

Fade To Black

A popular song off of the Ride the Lightning album is Fade to Black. This level of distortion isn’t easy to obtain with some amplifiers.

At least not without help. Plus, there are some effects that need to be used. A lot of players will tell you to dime the gain knob. But this will usually make the sound too bass heavy.

Most high-gain amps will do this sound pretty easily! But if yours does not, I suggest a boost or overdrive pedal. If you can send a hotter signal to the amp, it will provide more break up. Just keep it as balanced as you can.

Here are some great amp settings to start with for Fade to Black:

  • Gain: 7.
  • Treble: 7.
  • Mids: 2.
  • Bass: 6.
  • Presence: 5.

If you have a depth control on your amp, set it for a tight bass response. If it’s too loose sounding, then you will miss out on the smoothness of this distorted tone. But these settings will provide the rhythm parts for Fade to Black.

For the lead parts that Kirk Hammet plays, you will also need some effects. A light flanger or chorus is needed.

Just keep the flange effect low because too much won’t work for this sound. You should also use the bridge pickup on the guitar. Just back off the volume and tone controls a tad.

You may also need to increase the midrange knob and lower the bass on the amp. This will provide you with the right amount of cut through the mix. It will also keep your bass frequencies under control while using the neck pickup.

Learn Nothing Else Matters chords, click here!

Master of Puppets Amp Settings

For the master of puppets album, Metallica was using Mesa Boogie Mark IIC+ amps. They are still popular with guitarists to this day and can be easily emulated with a modern high-gain amp.

This video of their song master of Puppets will give you a reference of the right sound.

Great amp settings for Master Of Puppets are:

  • Gain: 7.
  • Treble: 7.
  • Mids: 3.
  • Bass: 6.
  • Presence: 5.

For the lead melodies, the treble can be increased to 8 or 9 to cut through the mix. If you are using a Mesa Dual Rectifier or an amp like it, the bass might need to be lowered slightly. In this case, the mids might need to also be turned up.

Master Of Puppets Sound

The guitar tone for Master Of Puppets is mid-scooped, with tight bass and good treble output.

You don’t want to cut the mids out completely, as you will lose some of the definition in the sound. If your amp is already somewhat scooped, then don’t be afraid to set the mid-control higher.

If you are experiencing a bass-heavy tone, try lowering the gain slightly to clean it up. The low frequency needs to be tight and full, but not overbearing or flubby.

Try using your bridge pickup and a lower bass setting if you are struggling to get it under control.

Some amps have a bright switch that can be engaged to get a closer emulation of the master of puppets’ tone. If your amp has this, set it to on.

And Justice For All Amp Settings

For the And Justice For All album, Metallica was using Mesa Boogie amps. The amplifier settings were different between songs, and some also had clean parts. There was more mid-range in some songs than before.

Good amp setting for this album would be:

  • Gain: 8.
  • Treble: 8.
  • Mids: 5.
  • Bass: 7.
  • Presence: 6.

If you are using an amp that is brighter, lower the high frequency slightly as well as the mids. Mesa Boogie amps have a larger low-end and sound thicker than others.

You will also want to make sure your guitar is using humbucker pickups. It must be made for more aggressive tones.

Learn how to improve your metal amp settings, click here!

Metallica One Amp Settings

A lot is going on in this song between the two guitar players. The clean and distorted parts are dialed in, much different from just going for a scooped tone. Here are some Metallica amp settings that can get you started.

Clean Settings
  • Gain: 3.
  • Treble: 6.
  • Mids: 5.
  • Bass: 7.

With a lower gain setting, the bass will also be thinner, so a higher adjustment will fill it out. This might work great for your particular amp as the tone needs to be bright.

If not, you will want to experiment with the mid-setting and maybe try your neck pickup for a thicker sound, especially for the choruses. You will also want to use reverb with a medium decay on the clean part.

Heavy Tone
  • Gain: 8.
  • Treble: 7.
  • Mids: 4.
  • Bass: 8.

It’s best to use guitars with humbuckers in both the neck and bridge positions. Use your bridge pickup for rhythm parts to get articulate but punchy sounds.

The Black Album Amp Settings

For the black album, Metallica was still using Mesa Boogie amplifiers. The Mark IIC+ and IV in particular. For this album, there were many amps used to record it. Many layers of guitar tracks were done to give it a monstrous tone.

Enter Sandman Amp Settings

The clean parts of Enter Sandman are more of a jazzy, chorus tone. The Roland JC120 was used for some clean parts on this album, enter sandman being one of them.

Most amps can obtain this clean sound with the EQ settings at around noon. You will want to keep your gain low to around 3. Then adjust the tone to taste with the amplifier you are using. Add some reverb or effect to fill it out.

If you prefer chorus, that will work great also. As long as the sound is bright and mid-focused, it will be perfect, especially for the intros. The distorted riffs and solo parts are a mix of different amps, but the Mesa Boogie Mark IIC+ was the core sound.

To get this high-gain sound, use these amp settings:

  • Gain: 8.
  • Treble: 7.
  • Mids: 4.
  • Bass: 6.

If you have presence and depth controls, set them at 6 and tweak them to taste from there. Higher volume levels will produce a better sound.

The foundational rhythm parts are primarily James Hetfield. If you want to emulate the leads, Kirk Hammet’s sound is similar, but brighter.

You can get his tone by going for a more mid-scooped sound. Using a boost to tighten up the lows and drive your amp harder is useful here. Here is a picture of my Revv Generator amplifier set to get these tones.

My Revv Amp Settings for Metallica tones.

Nothing Else Matters Amp Settings

This song has a very clean, chiming tone. James uses a guitar with humbucker pickups, but you can experiment here. Single-coil pickups at the neck would also sound pretty good if you have a guitar with them.

This sound can be obtained by setting the bass and treble to 6 and the mids to 5. Set the gain low to somewhere around 3 and then adjust the volume as you require. Add some reverb or chorus to fill it out.

If it’s too bright, you might also want to try your neck pickup for a warmer tone. Some guitars will work better this way, so try it out.

For the heavier riffs, try these amp settings:

  • Gain: 8.
  • Treble: 7.
  • Mids: 4.
  • Bass: 6.
  • Reverb: 4.

Use your bridge pickup for these parts and keep any presence controls at 6 or 7. The depth control, if equipped, can remain at 5. Tweak it to taste from here, as your equipment can have a different sound depending on the design.

Learn more about the different types of guitar pickups here!

Metallica Load Album Amp Settings

Both load and reload albums were made using the same type of tones. This time around, however, they were heavily scooped. Both the clean intros and distorted sounds have an old-school, low mid-range setting.

Clean Sounds

To get a good starting point on the clean tones, use these settings:

  • Gain: 2.
  • Treble: 6.
  • Mids: 2.
  • Bass: 6.

Distorted Tone

For the Load album, these settings will work for most amps:

  • Gain: 8.
  • Treble: 7.
  • Mids: 3.
  • Bass: 5.
  • Presence: 6.
  • Depth: 5.

You can also try using an EQ pedal in the effects loop of your amp to offer more tone-shaping control. This is a good way to try and emulate the sliders on a Mesa Boogie Mark IIC+ which will get you even closer.

St. Anger Album Amp Settings

Metallica changed yet again with the production of the St. Anger album. Kirk Hammett changed up his amp to a Fender Twin Reverb. James Hetfield kept his rig and amp settings intact.

The mid-range was returned to their sound as they tried something a bit different. They also began to use different guitars, which also changed the sound. The clean tones are pretty standard. You can expect to find them with a flat EQ and lower gain setting.

If you have an amplifier without a gain knob on the clean channel, then set the treble and bass around 6 and mids to 7.

This should be a nice, lush tone with most amps. Fender amps will do great when it comes to capturing these clean tones.

St. Anger distortion tones will need amp settings like these:

  • Gain: 7.
  • Treble: 6.
  • Mids: 5.
  • Bass: 6.
  • Presence: 5.
Marshall JCM800 amplifier.
Marshall JCM800 Amplifier.

Death Magnetic Album Amp Settings

The Death Magnetic album was produced with a mix of old and new equipment. James began using Diezel amps along with his Mesa’s. While Kirk started using Randall amps. But you don’t need the net worth of James Hetfield to get his tones!

They also went back to their roots of low mid-scooped tones on this album. Most high-gain amps can get these settings quite easily.

You can also try using a boost pedal to get more aggression and tighten up the sound.

Any of the clean sounds are pretty common with the Load album. Use those amp settings to get your clean parts down.

Death Magnetic high-gain amp settings are:

  • Gain: 6.
  • Treble: 6.
  • Mids: 2-3.
  • Bass: 7.

The presence should be set to 6 if you have this control on your amp. Depth control should be set to 5. If your amp is somewhat bass-heavy, lower the depth.

Check out our guide to Iron Maiden settings as well!

Troubleshooting Tips

The settings in this guide are generally focused on more modern-sounding amps. But there are things to keep in mind if yours is different.

Too Thin Sounding

If your sound is too thin, try these tips:

  • Use the neck pickup to thicken your tone.
  • Increase bass and lower treble.
  • Increase the gain.
  • Try a different guitar.
  • Make sure to use humbucker pickups.
  • Try using an EQ pedal in the effects loop.
  • Use a boost pedal in front of the amp for more bass.
  • Turn down the tone control on the guitar.

Bass-heavy or Muddy Tone

If, on the other hand, your sound is too bass-heavy:

  • Use the bridge pickup as it’s brighter.
  • Increase treble and lower bass.
  • Lower the gain.
  • Try a different amplifier.
  • Use a different guitar.
  • Boosts are great for fixing muddy bass sounds.
Metallica Amp Settings.
Amp knobs showing Metallica settings.


Getting the Metallica tone is quite easy when you have the right equipment. If you are having a hard time making your rig sound right, try a distortion pedal instead. This might be another great way to get a different, distorted sound.

Even Metallica uses them occasionally, as they can be a great utility pedal to get you certain sounds. And make sure your palm muting skills are up for the task. This is another primary way to sound like Metallica!


What guitar amps does Metallica use?

James Hetfield uses Diezel VH-4 and Mesa Boogie amplifiers. Kirk Hammett uses Randall and Mesa Boogie Amplifiers, but also really likes the Fender Twin Reverb.

What tuning does Metallica use?

Metallica commonly used E standard for the first four albums. However, they have used other tuning arrangements throughout their career. This includes D standard, which is a full step down from E.

More Metallica Articles

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Don East

My name is Don East, I'm the editor for Killer Rig. I've been playing guitar for over 20 years and have designed and manufactured products like guitar amps, effects pedals, and more. Over the years I have played in many bands and have a deep love for quality gear. I am an electrical engineer and have a passion for music gear, and now want to share what I know with the community!