Cliff Burton wrote one of Metallica’s heaviest riffs on a de-tuned classical guitar

 Cliff Burton (1962-1986), performs at the UIC Pavillion in Chicago, IL during the Damage, Inc. Tour on April 5, 1986.
(Image credit: Photo by Ross Marino/Icon and Image/Getty Images)

Even after 40 years of Metallica’s evolution, For Whom The Bell Tolls, track three of the group’s era-defining Ride The Lightning album, has retained its status as one of the most recognisable bass guitar anthems in the history of metal. Speaking to Rolling Stone in 2014, lead guitarist Kirk Hammett revealed that Metallica’s first truly heavy song took shape, strangely enough, on bassist Cliff Burton’s acoustic guitar. “Cliff would play that riff a lot in the hotel room, when him and I were hanging out,” said Kirk. 

“He used to carry around an acoustic classical guitar that he detuned so that he could bend the strings. Anyway, when he would play that riff, I would think, ‘That’s such a weird, atonal riff that isn’t really heavy at all.’ I remember him playing it for James, and James adding that accent to it and all of a sudden, it changed. It’s such a crazy riff. To this day, I think, ‘How did he write that?’ Whenever I hear it nowadays, it’s like, ‘OK, Cliff’s in the house.’”

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Nick Wells

Nick Wells was the Editor of Bass Guitar magazine from 2009 to 2011, before making strides into the world of Artist Relations with Sheldon Dingwall and Dingwall Guitars. He's also the producer of bass-centric documentaries, Walking the Changes and Beneath the Bassline, as well as Production Manager and Artist Liaison for ScottsBassLessons. In his free time, you'll find him jumping around his bedroom to Kool & The Gang while hammering the life out of his P-Bass.