What Tuning Does Metallica Use? The Definitive Guide (2023 Edition)

Table of Contents

If you’ve been wondering what tuning Metallica uses, this is the post for you!

And if you’re looking for Master of Puppets tuning, I’ll cover that too.

(But the short answer is that Master of Puppets tuning is D standard!)

I know Metallica has a huge fan base, and plenty of guitarists learn from their songs.

So I thought I’d tackle this subject here on the blog.

Let’s get into it!

Master Of Puppets Metallica G/V With Tablature

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Tunings That Metallica Used in Their Career

Metallica has used several different tunings throughout their career.

But we’re lucky enough that its band members are open about their work.

Among other things, we can easily find out more about their tunings.

And that’s exactly what I’ll explain here.

Below, you can find what I think is a comprehensive list of tunings that Metallica has used over the years.

E Standard

E standard is what they used on most of their material.

You can hear this on their first four albums.

The self-titled, or The Black Album also features E standard.

But there are also other tunings on it.

Of course, this is nothing new.

It’s what most bands and artists use anyway.

But for the sake of this guide, I’ll write down every tuning.

This one goes:

  • E2-A2-D3-G3-B3-E4

I also need to point out that the “Ride the Lightning” album was a bit different.

Technically, it counts as E standard.

However, it seems that the album is slightly sharper.

Some sources claim that it’s within the A=444 Hz.

There’s never been a real confirmation of this, or as to why this was the case.

But some theories claim that something happened during the mastering process.

It’s likely that the band tuned to A440 but then something else went wrong.

Eb Standard or D# Standard – Metallica’s Live Tuning

The Eb standard tuning is very common among thrash metal bands.

But Metallica only started using Eb standard tuning in the 1990s on “Load” and “Reload” albums.

As far as studio recordings go, these are the only two records with such a tuning.

However, these days, Eb standard is the most prominent tuning for their live shows.

This is not uncommon as most of the older bands do this.

It makes it easier for James Hetfield to sing.

So, this one goes:

  • Eb2-Ab2-Db3-Gb3-Bb3-Eb4

Or, if you prefer to write it as D#, then it goes:

  • D#2-G#2-C#3-F#3-A#3-D#4

D Standard – Master of Puppets Tuning

Master of Puppets was actually Metallica’s first album to feature a tuning that wasn’t E standard.

Here, they used the D standard for The Thing That Should Not Be.

There are some theories flying around that it’s actually drop D.

However, it’s D standard.

On the so-called Black Album, they came back to this tuning.

It was Sad but True that featured D standard.

But if we count in the covers, then I should mention The $5.98 E.P. – Garage Days Re-Revisited EP. 

Metallica’s version of The Small Hours by the metal band Holocaust is also in D standard.

And it’s also D standard on the cover of Budgie’s Crash Course in Brain Surgery.

The tuning also appears on the Garage Inc. covers album.

This is the tuning for Sabbra Cadabra and Whiskey in the Jar.

D standard goes:

  • D2-G2-C3-F3-A3-D4

Drop D

Drop D is common among metal bands.

However, the list of Metallica songs in Drop D is short:

  1. These are All Nightmare Long from Death Magnetic and
  2. Just a Bullet Away from the Beyond Magnetic EP.

I believe these are the only two songs in their discography to feature this tuning.

And Drop D tuning is:

  • D2-A2-D3-G3-B3-E4

Drop C# or Drop Db

Human - Metallica & San Francisco Symphonic Orchestra

Now, drop C# may not be as common as drop D.

But it’s still something that metal bands use on occasion.

However, when it comes to Metallica, it’s also a very rare thing for them.

There is actually just one song I know of with the drop C# tuning and that’s It is Human that they’ve written for the S&M live record.

Drop C# goes:

  • C#2-G#2-C#3-F#3-A#3-D#4

This tuning is pretty much the same thing as drop Db.

If you prefer to look at it this way, then it goes:

  • Db2-Ab2-Db3-Gb3-Bb3-Eb4

Drop C (on Saint Anger)

Of course, the St. Anger album still remains one of Metallica’s most controversial releases.

In fact, it’s probably one of the most controversial albums of all time.

But despite the unexpected departure from their classic style, the record has its following.

It seems that it aged better than expected.

One notable thing on this album is that Metallica went down to the drop C tuning.

Bear in mind that this album was released during the early 2000s or the era of nu metal when plenty of bands were using this tuning.

Nonetheless, it was a huge departure for Metallica especially if you add the different riffs, song structures, and lack of solos.

All except one song on the St. Anger album was in this tuning.

The drop C tuning goes:

  • C2-G2-C3-F3-A3-D4

As you can see, it’s pretty much the D standard tuning with a dropped bottom string.

Or, another way to define it is to take the drop C and tune all strings one whole step lower.

Drop Bb or Drop A#

Metallica - The Unnamed Feeling from album St. Anger HQ live

The lowest Metallica ever went was drop Bb or drop A#.

And, of course, this was on the St. Anger album.

However, the only song with drop Bb tuning on the St. Anger album is The Unnamed Feeling.

Many consider this an underrated metal masterpiece.

It features some of their heaviest riffs.

Despite all the accusations of going into nu metal, this is an interesting song.

At the first listen, it seems that the song is in drop C.

However, they use the open Bb power chord just in the chorus.

Drop Bb tuning is:

  • Bb1-F2-Bb2-Eb3-G3-C4

Or, if you prefer sharps, then it’s drop A# and it goes:

  • A#1-F2-A#2-D#3-G3-C4

Drop Ab

Metallica - Invisible Kid (Live In Studio)

This is the lowest tuning Metallica ever used.

And thanks to Tony in the comments for pointing it out to us!

Drop Ab was tuning was used on the song, Invisible Kid, on the St. Anger album.

And Drop Ab tuning is:


Metallica Tuning: Conclusion

I hope this article has clarified which tunings Metallica uses!

And if you’re interested in reading about some other bands’ tunings, check out the following posts:

As usual, feel free to message me in the comments below if you have questions about this or another guitar-related subject!

10 Responses

  1. Thanks for the guide, it was helpful.

    I believe that there’s one tuning missing here. “Invisible Kid” from St. Anger album is in drop Ab tuning and this is the lowest tuning that Metallica ever used.

    1. Thanks for pointing that out, Tony.

      I’ve updated the article accordingly!

  2. Jason Fieldhouse says:

    Morning Harrison(cool name that, was gonna call my second son Harrison, but I had more girls, nvrmind…)

    I was just working on a guitar lesson I’m thinking of doing for a beginners workshop, on alternate tunings.
    My plan is to start in standard and go through some, with 2 or 3 example riffs.
    Standard, to drop D, to open G, to full step down(CCR), to half step down, to the half step and slightly dropped B string for EVH, to standard tuned at 444hz.(as above), back to standard.

    But I was just looking for something for Master Of Puppets. Now, have you seen the Circle Of Tone video on this? I’m trying to work out a way to aproximate the effect of ‘playing it at a slower tempo, and speeding up the tape when mixing’, and wondered if a different tuning pitch might do it, as it would be slightly off pitch due to tape stretch ect…

    I’m going to look into the D standard method first, because I’ve never tried playing it in that, BUT I’ve only ever got it nearly sounding right by tuning to a different pitch…. I just can’t remember what…

    Now, that’s not actually quite as daft as it seems. Classical composers have used varies different pitches, as there wasn’t a universal ‘standard’ pitch to tune to. Things like 432hz or 436hz ect.

    Now Lars is in the know of these things, he is classically trained and knows classical music. Might it be possible he may have suggested these different tuning pitches to ‘spice’ it up a bit?

    It’s all interesting stuff, and goes over my band’s other guitarist’s head (who is still playing Brown Sugar and Proud Mary in standard), but I can’t help hear the differences when practicing. 🙂

    Thank you for the very informative and thorough article.

    1. Hi Jason,

      Thanks for the kind words! The non-standard pitch stuff is quite the rabbit hole! My brother who is also a musician is really into using non-standard pitch as the basis of his music. I’m out of my depth here, but I’m pretty sure there are frequencies more in line with the natural frequency of the Earth that are popular among a (very) small group of musicians.

      I haven’t seen the circle of tone video but it sounds cool!

  3. Cool article on the different tunings they’ve used, and I’ve noticed some of them myself while just listening to their music, but never bothered to try to find them myself. You did a great job breaking them down for anyone who is learning one of their songs!🤘

    1. Hey Chris!

      Thanks so much for the kind words! Sometimes it feels like we’re blogging into the void so any positive feedback helps!

  4. Good, accurate list. Just one addition: “Dream No More” from Hardwired is in D Standard. Oh, and I believe “Devil’s Dance” is also D Standard, but I don’t remember for sure off-hand.

    1. Hey Brett,

      Thanks for the additions! I’ll see about getting them added!

  5. CIID Metal Mike says:

    Here, they used the D standard for The Thing That Should Not Be.
    There are some theories flying around that it’s actually drop D.
    However, it’s D standard.

    No… It’s C#, and I’m only saying this beause Kirk says so himself in an interview with Rick Beato yesterday.

    who told you otherwise?

    1. I believe they recorded the track in c# and pitched it up in post

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