Mastodon’s Bill Kelliher Reveals What James Hetfield Made Him Realize On Guitar

Mastodon's Bill Kelliher Reveals What James Hetfield Made Him Realize On Guitar

Mastodon guitarist Bill Kelliher discussed his early influences, revealing how Metallica leader James Hetfield influenced him at the time.

James Hetfield is known for being a rhythm guitarist and lead vocalist for his co-founded band Metallica. He has a distinctive playing style combining intricate picking patterns, heavy palm muting, and a powerful right-hand technique. Moreover, he often employs down picking, which involves striking the strings only in the downward direction to create a very tight and precise sound. He also combines these power chords with fast, intricate riffing and occasionally uses fingerpicking to create melodic interludes.

Picked up the guitar during his youth, Bill Kelliher learned guitar playing from his early influences, including the guitar legends Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, and Eddie Van Halen. Kelliher‘s playing has been characterized by his use of arpeggios and fingerpicking. He has often incorporated these techniques into his solos and created intricate melodies and harmonies by weaving together multiple guitar parts. Since his first day with his band, the guitarist has contributed to Mastodon‘s entire studio efforts, featuring eight albums.


In his recent interview with, the guitarist mentioned his guitar heroes. He thought he had never reached his guitar gods’ level, but when he picked up the guitar, he learned fast, and his idols changed.

“My guitar heroes started as these big mythical Gods who were untouchable, like Eddie Van Halen, Jimmy Page, and Jimi Hendrix – people I always put up in the clouds on these pedestals,” the guitarist says. “In my mind, those people were born that way, and I thought, ‘I can never reach those levels.’”

“But as I picked up guitar and started to learn how to play, my idols changed. Those guys will always be up there, but now I’ve got guys like Johnny Ramone, who taught me that you only need one chord and that it’s more about songwriting than proficiency in guitar solos.”

Bill then recalled hearing Metallica legend James Hetfield with his rhythm guitar. Saying that he was impressed by his right-handed picking style, the guitarist admitted that James Hetfield made him realize playing clean and proficiently.

“So, my musical heroes changed with my progression on guitar, and my needs kept changing,” Bill reveals. “And then I heard James Hetfield, who has such great right-handed picking as a rhythm guitarist; he’s very clean. That’s when I started to be like, ‘Oh, I should really try to play proficiently and cleanly. Maybe I don’t have to be all in with the sloppy punk rock style all the time.’ I learned how to play all these galloping rhythmic patterns of a thrash guitar.”

James Hetfield of Metallica
James Hetfield with Gibson explorer – image: Richard Isaac

Elsewhere in the interview, Kelliher also stated that James Hetfield was the reason why he owned a Gibson Explorer guitar. He thought the guitar was cool and looked heavy.

“Somewhere along the way, after I acquired the wine-red Les Paul, I bought an Explorer because I thought that was the new king of guitars when I saw James Hetfield playing one,” he comments. “I was like, ‘That guitar looks fucking cool. It’s huge. It’s heavy. It just screams fucking hot-rodded badass guitar.’”

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