“How can you possibly be satisfied being a singer when you play like that?”: Dave Mustaine recalls the first time he heard James Hetfield play guitar

Dave Mustaine (left) and James Hetfield onstage in the early ’80s
(Image credit: Jim Steinfeldt / Pete Cronin / Getty Images)

Dave Mustaine recently discussed the first time he got to witness James Hetfield play guitar, describing the moment as “kind of shocking.”

These days, Hetfield is renowned as one of the planet’s finest rhythm players, but clearly that was not the case in the early ’80s – even amongst those who knew him best.

Mustaine is interviewed in the new issue of Metal Hammer and – among the other ups, downs, and, well, unadulterated chaos of life as a thrash metal legend – recalls his earliest rehearsals with Metallica.

At that time in their careers, Mustaine says the burgeoning thrash icons were still finding their feet, with Hetfield preferring to take on vocal duties and leave his electric guitar at home. 

As such, the band were hosting auditions for a rhythm guitarist, but had struggled to find a good fit. Meanwhile, Mustaine, says he wasn’t pushing himself as a guitarist, either.

“I was kind of playing at Lars [Ulrich]’s level, because Lars was still learning to play drums back then,” says Mustaine (via Louder). 

“But watching James play guitar for the first time was kind of shocking, because I didn’t know he knew how to play guitar.”

Mustaine says Hetfield’s move to rhythm duties was born more out of a lack of options, rather than any need for Hetfield to prove himself. Indeed, he compares the experience to his own fruitless search for an alternative singer in Megadeth. 

“We just got fed up one day of auditioning guitar players, just like I did with singers,” says Mustaine.

“And he picked up this guitar and started playing, and inside I’m going, ‘Get the fuck out of here. How can you possibly be satisfied being a singer when you play like that? Why not be both?’ I’ve always thought he was a really talented guitarist.”

The animosity between Mustaine and Metallica seems to be long gone now, and the Megadeth man has been dishing out the compliments lately – not least to Kirk Hammett. 

Back in Mustaine’s June Guitar World interview, the guitarist was asked his opinion on Hammett’s lead work on Metallica’s new album, 72 Seasons

Rather than twist the knife, Mustaine took the chance to discuss how Hammett did him an honor taking on his Metallica solos –  and pointed out just how quickly metal guitar’s armchair critics had turned on Hammett. 

“There was a time when Kirk won every guitar contest in the world, and I don't think he's gotten any better or worse as a player,” said Mustaine. “He's always been really good… he's been steady the entire time he's been in Metallica.”

To read Mustaine’s full interview, check out pick up a copy of the new issue of Metal Hammer.

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Matt Parker

Matt is a staff writer for GuitarWorld.com. Before that he spent 10 years as a freelance music journalist, interviewing artists for the likes of Total Guitar, Guitarist, Guitar World, MusicRadar, NME.com, DJ Mag and Electronic Sound. In 2020, he launched CreativeMoney.co.uk, which aims to share the ideas that make creative lifestyles more sustainable. He plays guitar, but should not be allowed near your delay pedals.