Kill ‘Em All Tone

It’s a controversial album for die hard fans. On one hand, it’s the beginning. The first taste of what would become one of the all time greatest metal bands, steeped in the thrash metal scene of San Francisco. On the other hand, the production suffered from a producer and engineer caught in the sound of the seventies. The mixes lack weight, the guitars are too thin, and the drums don’t push air like they should. But… you can hear the bass.

Still, it’s an album that deserves recognition. If not for being the first from Metallica, then for standing apart from the other thrash metal bands of the scene with tight, meticulously crafted songs. Vocals that rip right through your brain, searing leads, and some chunky rhythm guitar.

Let’s talk about the chunky rhythm guitar. It’s been said many times over that Hetfield used a Marshall and a RAT distortion pedal.1 Though we have been unable to find attribution of this information, we think this is spot on. But running a distortion pedal straight into a Marshall typically sounds terrible. At the time, it would most likely have been a master volume model, and one of the tricks for using distortion pedals with Marshalls–to be discovered time and again by several artists–is to plug into the Low Input. That’s right. Who ever uses the Low Input? Additionally, to our ear, Bass and Treble should be between 5-6, and Middle should be at 0. The first occasion of scooped mids?

Now for the pedal. The RAT distortion was capable of achieving massive levels of gain, but after some experimentation, we think this was dialed back, more like a boost on steroids. Just enough gain to create the chunk that you hear when playing palm muted power chords. And it sounds glorious.

We’ve queued up the VG402C Amplifier, 4x12B ’78 100W Cabinet, and the DS101 Distortion in three distinct flavors.


Tweak the Edge to blend in more bite and recreate the classic left-to-right pan effect heard at the beginning of Metal Militia.


Next up is a tight crunch meant to satisfy fast palm muting. Crank the distortion and let heads fly.


For this preset, we attempted to get more gunk. You can hear every nuance when muting, engulfing you in it’s fiery tone. Great for solos.

Don’t forget to push the distortion as hard as you want. We think this is the perfect launch pad for achieving the tone from one of the most revered thrash metal albums!

  • VG402C Amplifier
  • DS101A Distortion
  • 4x12B ’78 100W Cabinet

1 Let us know if you have a source for this information!

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