Cliff Burton | Rickenbacker

We talk about ‘legends’ a lot in the music industry. We’ve talked about a good few of them on our site. However, the word ‘legend’ is usually bestowed on musicians who, over many years of practice and performance, have fine-tuned their skills to be the best they can be. And then we have Cliff Burton – bass guitarist of Metallica, who sadly only spent 24 years on this planet – but what he achieved in this relatively short time is nothing less than legendary.

Burton was first introduced to music by his parents, who encouraged him to take up piano lessons. At age 13, following the death of his older brother, Burton decided to learn the bass guitar; practising intensely for up to six hours a day – something he continued to do even after he joined Metallica. Burton joined his first band – called EZ Street – whilst still at high school, and clearly had an eye for talent as his fellow band members were “Big” Jim Martin and Mike Bordin – who would go on to be members of rock band Faith No More. Burton joined Trauma – his first professional band – in 1982, and it was when playing a gig with this band that he was spotted by Metallica band members James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich. Spellbound by Burton’s class of bass playing, they asked him to join.

As Metallica’s popularity grew, Burton firmly established himself as a talented songwriter as well as an outstanding bass player who wasn’t afraid to push boundaries or go against the grain. His chromatic intro on “For Whom the Bell Tolls” is often mistaken for a guitar intro and is a great example of Burton’s unique style. His signature bass solo in “(Anesthesia) – Pulling Teeth” also displayed Burton’s love of experimentation with different effects via a wah-wah pedal; not something many bass players did at the time. Burton’s favourite Metallica song is said to be “Master of Puppets” – which was the title track of the band’s third album and the last album that Burton would contribute to. Critically acclaimed, “Master of Puppets” is considered a landmark album for heavy metal music.

In his Metallica years, Burton’s initial bass of choice was a red Rickenbacker 4001, which he used for the entire recording of the band’s “Kill ‘Em All” album in 1983 as well as the tour that followed. Forever experimenting, Burton ended up removing the Rickenbacker’s original hi-gain pickups in order to suit his extensive use of effects pedals and intense playing style. He also fitted a Gibson EB ‘mudbucker’ humbucker in the neck position as well as a Seymour Duncan Stacked Jazz Bass pickup in the bridge to create his unique sound. It’s this individual sound – backed up by an extensive knowledge of musical theory that has led to Burton having a massive musical influence, despite his short career. If further proof were needed, a reader poll conducted by Rolling Stone magazine in 2011 listed Burton as one of the greatest bassists of all time – 25 years after his death. Burton was also posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (as a member of Metallica) in 2009. What’s more, guitar manufacturer Aria launched a replica of Burton’s signature bass – the Aria Pro II Cliff Burton Signature Bass – in 2013, confirming that this legend’s legacy will forever live (and rock) on.

We love the way that Burton constantly tried different things to get the sound he was looking for. Looking for a change of style? If so, get in touch as we’re always looking for new models to add to our collection.

Facts and links about Cliff Burton and Rickenbacker

  1. Check out Burton’s outstanding solo in “Anesthesia) – Pulling Teeth” here:
  2. Rickenbacker produced the first-ever electric guitar in 1931 called the Frying Pan – due to its shape.
  3. Rickenbacker guitars were also popular with The Beatles; with both John Lennon and George Harrison using Rickenbacker models during the early 1960s.
  4. Burton played an 80s Alembic Spoiler II for various live appearances, which was fitted with dual AXY4 pickups. However, it was stolen from Burton’s car in 1985, and its current whereabouts are unknown.
  5. Watch Burton’s outstanding bass intro in a live performance of “For Whom the Bell Tolls” here: