Cliff Burton: Legendary Bass Player of Metallica

Who was Cliff Burton?

Cliff Burton was the legendary bass player for heavy metal / hard rock band Metallica. Cliff was the second bass player that joined the band after Ron McGovney and was integral to the band’s direction on their first three albums Kill ‘Em All, Ride The Lightening and Master of Puppets.

Cliff Burton’s Bass Rig Rundown

Here’s a brilliant rundown of the gear used by Cliff Burton from one of our favourite YouTube channels Which Bass. In the first part, Alfie breaks down the bass guitars, amps and cabs used by Cliff…

A few main things to note:

From 1979 Cliff played a burgundy Rickenbacker 4001.

This bass was modified at least twice, once in 1982

Cliff Burton’s Effects and Pedalboards

In this second part we get a breakdown of the effects that Cliff used …

Cliff Burton’s Guitar(s)

Cliff used a couple of different basses over the years.

Rickenbacker 4001

More details coming soon.

Cliff Burton Signature Bass: Aria Pro II

In January 2013, the guitar manufacturer Aria revealed through Metallica’s official website that it would be releasing a replica of Burton’s bass, called the Aria Pro II Cliff Burton Signature Bass. The company had received permission from Burton’s family and from ‍Metallica ‍to produce the instrument. The bass ‍was officially unveiled at Winter ‍NAMM in Anaheim, California. On January 25, 2013, Burton’s father Ray ‍attended the press conference where he signed autographs and talked about Burton’s life and the instrument. Current Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo was also present and was the first to try out the bass, playing parts of “(Anesthesia) – Pulling Teeth”. Ray Burton said, “What a beautiful instrument and a wonderful tribute to Cliff.”


  • Headstock: Original SB Design
  • Neck Shape: Standard, Medium
  • Neck: 7 Ply Maple/Walnut
  • Neck Joint: Neck-through, Heel-less Cutaway
  • Tuners: Handmade Solid Brass Tuner Buttons, 24 K Gold Plated
  • Nut: 40mm Width Solid Brass
  • Truss rod Cover: Solid Brass
  • Headstock Front Inlays: Patent Statement
  • Headstock Back Inlay: Cliff Burton Authorized Signature
  • Fretboard Scale: 34″ or 864mm
  • Frets: 24 Frets
  • Fretboard: Rosewood
  • Fretboard Inlays: Cat Eye, Mother of Pearl Inlays
  • Body Shape: Original SB Shape, Super Balanced Body
  • Body Material: Alder
  • Pickup: Aria MB-V Passive Pickup
  • Controls: 1xVolume, 1xTone, 1-Dual Sound Mini-Toggle Switch
  • Knobs: Black SB Knobs
  • Tailpiece: Solid Brass With 24K Gold Plated Saddles and Black Plated Body
  • Strap Pins: 18K Gold Plated Solid Brass
  • Strings: Rotosound RS66LB (35, 55, 70, 90)
  • Certificate: Certificate of Authenticity Signed by Ray Burton and Toshi Matsumura
  • Case: Deluxe Ostrich Hardshell Case With Gold Hardware

Cliff Burtons Bass Strings

Most online sources seem to conclude that Cliff used Rotosound strings.

Rotosound themselves actually list Cliff Burton as a famous player that used their strings. Whatbass state that the string gauge was .35 .55 .70 .90 which, because they were lighter allowed Cliff to bend them more easily.

Generally speaking, lighter strings are easier for fast tempo songs. This would make sense given the furious pace of early Metallica material.

Technique: How to Play like Cliff Burton

If you’re aiming to sound like the legend that is Cliff Burton, there’s a few things you can try.

Check out Paul Del Bello’s amazing breakdown below…

Cliff acts as a third guitar on other songs, creating great support for the melody. He also creates harmonizations of his own. Like in “Damaged Inc” where an intro with distorted bass and volume swells turns into string section almost like classical music from Metallica! Another common element found is contrary motion which means that two independent melodic lines move opposite directions bluntly put-the bass goes up while the guitars go down.

A gallop is a rhythm typically used in traditional heavy metal songs, it’s made of an eighth note followed by two sixteenth notes. The most popular guitar riffs for this type of music are 16th notes which makes the song sound more precise but wilder compared to other types of rock and pop pieces with 4/4 time signature.