Cliff Burton is no “unknown soldier” to millions of metal-heads. The late bassist contributed heavily to the early Metallica sound that many people still love to this day. Unfortunately, Cliff was taken away from us by a tragic bus accident in Sweden in 1986 and left a void that nobody has been able to fill since then. His “solo” approach to bass, his grinding sound, combined with his majestic songwriting and great sense of melody, helped define Metallica’s sound and is still, after more than 30 years, one of the most sought-after and best-sounding bass tones in the world of metal music. To celebrate Cliff Burton Day, we honour him by looking at 5 essential pieces of gear he used in his life.
The bass of choice for the late Cliff – a trademark of his that’s visually striking, like a Les Paul in Slash’s hands. This bass was heard and used on countless records and was replace by only one model, as per Cliff’s decision: his custom-made Aria Pro II. While the original Rickenbacker 4001 is hard to find, you can rely on the similar Rickenbacker 4003, which is available in a variety of colours.
Boss CS-2 / CS-3
The pedals that Cliff allegedly used to produce that characteristic fuzz bass sound are these: Boss Compression Sustainer CS-2 + Electro-Harmonix Big Muff + Morley Power Wah. Of course these changed over the course of time but these are said to have been part of his last signal chain setup. Some say that his Big Muff was later replaced by a Ibanez TS-808 overdrive pedal.
These pedals are no longer available in the same versions as the ones Cliff used but here is the closest you can get these days (unless you’re buying vintage)…
The Boss CS-3 is virtually the same pedal as the CS-2 but it has some an added feature: a Tone control knob which allows you to brighten the sound. Some people who have compared the two also say that the CS-2 has a more “classic” sound, but this can be taken with a grain of salt. There’s no evident audible sample of how the compressor shaped his sound, but you can clearly see the evenness in his bass tone by listening to some live bass solos.
Electro Harmonix Big Muff Pi
The Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi is what produced the fuzz in Cliff’s sound. It’s a classic pedal which has not changed much over time. The only difference which is barely noticeable, is that the 1970s version produces slightly higher mids (mid-range frequencies).
Morley M2 Cliff Burton Fuzz Wah
The Morley M2 Cliff Burton Fuzz Wah pedal is very similar to the 1970s one that Cliff used. His had a glossy chrome finish and had Intensity and Tone knobs on the left-hand side for the Fuzz effect. On the current version the knobs are all on the top of the pedal and the Fuzz controls are as follows:: Modern/Vintage switch, Intensity, Level, On/Off switch . This version also has a Level knob for the Wah effect. It’s basically the same as the one Cliff used but slightly more versatile.
Harmonics / Delay rack mount
Cliff also used a special harmonics / delay rack mountable effect box called the Ibanez HD1500.
It can produce a polyphonic pitch shift (+/- 1300 semitones) and various delay/chorus effects (0 – 504 ms with modulation). If you set the delay low enough you can get some nice chorus, flanging or doubling tones. Since this product is no longer made we recommend a classic digital delay pedal such as the Boss DD-7, which allows you to experiment with the “modulate” mode and allow you to get very close to Cliff’s sound. Another great pedal for similar experimentation is the Ibanez ES2 which uses analog technology and has a more vintage look.
And to end this celebration, we picked out 10 of our favourite Metallica songs featuring the late Cliff Burton. Rock on, metal brother! ?