James Hetfield and His Signature Guitar - The 'CARL' Story Unraveled

James Hetfield and His Signature Guitar - The 'CARL' Story Unraveled
James Hetfield and His Signature Guitar - The 'CARL' Story Unraveled

The tale begins with James Hetfield, frontman, rhythm guitarist, and co-founder of the acclaimed heavy metal band, Metallica. Recognized worldwide for his distinctive sound, and his signature guitars have become synonymous with raw and riveting heavy metal. Of all the guitars in Hetfield's extensive collection, one instrument stands out significantly - a guitar affectionately named "CARL". This instrument is not just a mere tool for creating music; it's a symbol, a tangible piece of Metallica's storied history. To fully understand this intriguing tale of the James Hetfield guitar, we need to wind the clock back to its origin.

In honor of the re-release of “The $5.98 EP - Garage Days Re-Revisited” we thought you'd enjoy story about another garage - the Carlson Garage where “Ride the Lightning” & “Master of Puppets” were written. You see, James used some of the wood from the old Carlson Garage to build himself a new guitar. Hear him tell the story of how “Carl” came to be… © 2018 Blackened Recordings. Photo Credit: Metallica

A Boy, His Dream, and His First Guitar

The story starts with a young boy's dream. Eager to express himself musically, James managed to convince his mother to buy him his first guitar, a Gibson SG. This initial acquisition was the first step towards James becoming the revered guitarist he is today. As he moved into the role of a vocalist, the allure of guitar playing never left him, persisting as a promise of future mastery in the craft of music.

James Hetfield and his first electric guitar, similar to Gibson Sg. Photo Credit: Unknown

The Iconic White Flying V and its Impact

As Metallica ascended the ranks of rock stardom, James' personal taste in guitars evolved alongside the band's success. He managed to acquire a White Flying V, an instrument he'd long admired from legendary bands like Judas Priest and The Scorpions. The striking presence and thunderous tone of the White Flying V soon became a staple of his performances, further cementing the James Hetfield guitar as a defining element of rock and heavy metal music.

James Hetfield signature Flying V (Gibson replica). Photo Credit: Metallica

The Arrival of the Explorer Guitar

In Hetfield's guitar-playing journey, the arrival of the Explorer guitar stands as a significant milestone. Its unique, angular design appealed to Hetfield's futuristic vision for his music, fitting perfectly with the band's genre-defining sound. His previously used Gibson Explorer guitars became so identified with the James Hetfield that ESP Company created a custom model for him. This guitar, like the man himself, became an icon in the realm of heavy metal, influencing countless musicians around the world.

James Hetfield playing "More Beer" Gibson Explorer. Photo Credit: Unknown

James Hetfield, holding his ESP Explorer custom Man to Wolf signature guitar. Photo Credit: Ross Halfin

‘CARL’ – A Piece of the Past Reborn

The latest addition to the James Hetfield guitar collection is 'CARL'. But this isn't just another instrument in the arsenal. It's a living piece of Metallica's history, embodying the nostalgia and memories of the band's formative years. Constructed from the remnants of a significant location in the band's history, 'CARL' is as much a symbol of Metallica as it is a functioning musical instrument.

Metallica Garage at 3132 Carlson Boulevard, El Cerrito, California. Photo Credit: Metallica Black Box

A Garage Full of Memories and Melodies

The tale of the James Hetfield guitar brings us to an unassuming garage at 3132 Carlson Boulevard in El Cerrito, California. It was in this garage that the sound we associate with the James Hetfield guitar was refined and matured, leading to the creation of Metallica's iconic albums, 'Ride the Lightning' and 'Master of Puppets.' The resonance of those early days and the memory of their late bassist, Cliff Burton, still echo in the music Metallica creates.

L-R: James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett, Cliff Burton. Photo Credit: Metallica Black Box

An Emotional Pilgrimage - The Return to Roots

Years later, the band decided to revisit their old stomping grounds. They returned to the site of their old garage, knowing it had been demolished. There, they paid tribute to their past and to the memory of Cliff Burton. It was at this moment that the idea for 'CARL' was born. James received a piece of wood preserved from the old garage, a physical reminder of their beginnings.

Woods they used from the garage. Photo Credit: Metallica

‘CARL’ Takes Shape – The Unforgettable Craftsmanship of Ken Lawrence

Crafting 'CARL' became a project of passion. James sought out Kenneth Lawrence, a trusted luthier, to transform the piece of wood into the next chapter of the James Hetfield guitar story. The result was an instrument that embodied the band's past, immortalized in the form of a guitar. 'CARL' thus became a bridge connecting Metallica's past and present, its body resonating with the sounds and memories of the old garage.

A picture of the guitar from Kenneth Lawrence Instruments' custom shop. Photo Credit: Metallica

'CARL' - A Living, Breathing Symbol

The James Hetfield guitar, 'CARL', is more than just a finely crafted instrument. It is a living testament to the band's history, their trials, their losses, and their victories. Every strum, every note played, brings back the spirit of their fallen brother, Cliff Burton, reminding the band and their fans of the enduring power of music and friendship.

And the inlay artwork, also designed by Petar Milivojevic for James Hetfield

The Legacy of the James Hetfield Guitar

As Metallica continues to dominate the world of heavy metal, the James Hetfield signature guitars remain a potent symbol of the band's relentless drive and innovative spirit. 'CARL' not only continues this legacy but also adds a depth of historical resonance to it. The story of Carl is one of passion, music, and an unwavering commitment to creativity, perfectly embodied by Metallica and their indomitable rhythm guitarist, James Hetfield.

The journey of Carl is a story worth telling. It provides an insight into Metallica's history and the personal journey of James Hetfield, from a young boy with a Gibson SG to a rock legend with one-of-a-kind handmade signature guitars such as 'CARL'. As we continue to be captivated by the music of Metallica, we pay homage to the instrument that has played a central role in their sonic evolution.

James Hetfield signature Kenneth Lawrence custom built guitar; CARL. Photo Credit: Kenneth Lawrence

James Hetfield holding his signature Kenneth Lawrence custom guitar; CARL. Photo Credit: Metallica

The artwork was designed by Petar Milivojevic for James Hetfield. Photo Credit: Metallica

The artwork was designed by Petar Milivojevic for James Hetfield. Photo Credit: Metallica

Four coins for the backplate, hand engraving by Shaun Hughes

The backplate view, hand engraving by Shaun Hughes. Credit: Metallica

Watch the interview where James Hetfield talks about the guitar.