Cliff Burton

Clifford “Cliff” Lee Burton was an American bassist, best known for being a member of the famous metal band Metallica. He merged classical music with heavy metal and strengthened Metallica’s musicality with his creative and innovative basslines.

Life

Born on 10 February 1962 in Castro Valley, California to Ray and Jan Burton. As a child he took piano lessons and had a great interest in classical music. In his adolescence he discovered rock and heavy metal and began playing bass when he was 13. He became obsessed with bass and practiced for at least four hours every day. Cliff studied music at Chabot College in California. His major influences were Geddy Lee, Phil Lynott, Stanley Clarke and Lemmy.

His first band was EZ-Street and included his childhood friend Mike Bordin on drums. Cliff and Mike then formed another band Agents of Misfortune. Afterwards he joined a moderately successful band Trauma. James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich were at a Trauma gig and were so amazed by Cliff’s playing that they invited him to join their band Metallica. Cliff recorded three studio albums in his 4 years with them.

In 1983 they released their debut album Kill ‘em All which catapulted them to the top of the heavy metal scene. It featured Cliff playing his solo piece (Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth.
The success of their second album, Ride the Lightning compelled Elektra Records to sign them. Master of Puppets was released in 1986 and is considered one of the best Metallica albums and brought them mainstream success.

On September 1986, while touring in Europe, Metallica’s tour bus skidded and flipped, tragically killing Cliff at the young age of just 24.
On April 4th, 2009, Cliff along with other members of Metallica was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His father Ray Burton accepted it on his behalf. Cliff has left a lasting influence on Metallica by showing them theory and melody.

Gear

  • Rickenbacker 4001
  • Aria pro II SB-1000
  • Aria pro II SB Black N’Gold
  • Alembic Spoiler
  • Sunn Colliseum Lead head
  • Randall amplifier
  • Road Electric cab
  • Mesa Boogie D-180
  • Mesa Boogie Bass 400 head
  • Morley Power Wah Fuzz
  • Morley Power Wah Boost
  • Electro Harmonix Bass Balls
  • Ibanez HD-1500
  • Electro Harmonix Big Muff
  • Ibanez Tube Screamer 9
  • Boss CS-1/CS-2
  • MXR Limiter
  • Boss Digital Delay
  • Boss Chorus

Basses

At the start of his career, he used a burgundy Rickenbacker 4001 with Seymour Duncan Single coil pickup in the bridge Gibson EB Humbucker and a Dimarzio Jazz Bass Pickup. After he retired his Rickenbacker he used a couple of Aria basses. His 1983 Alembic Spoiler was stolen from his car.

Amps

Early in his career, he used a Sunn Colliseum Lead head with a Randall amplifier, 18” cabinet and road Electric cab. His Mesa setup was two Mesa Boogie D-180 with 4×12 and 1X15 cabinets, Mesa Boogie Bass 400 head.

Strings

He used light Roundwound SS Swing bass Rotosound 66s.

Effects

He used a Morley Power Wah Fuzz and the switched to Power Wah Boost. Ibanez HD-1500  for delay and harmonies and Electro Harmonix Big Muff for distortion.

Techniques

Cliff played with his fingers and never used a pick, which was rare for a heavy metal bassist. He rested his palm on top of the bass and mainly used two fingers. He utilized string bending and tapping in his solos.
Classical music had a massive influence on his bass compositions. His basslines were made up of chordal piano like tones and harmonies.

Notable Tracks

Orion
Master of Puppets, 1986
(Anesthesia) – Pulling Teeth
Kill ‘Em All, 1983
The Call of the Ktulu
Ride the Lightning, 1984

Find more of your favorite bassists


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