Influential Bass Players To Know: Cliff Burton

Cliff Burton is considered to be one of the best metal bassists of all time. Even in his short life, he was able to influence countless musicians worldwide by his playing in Metallica.

He was born February 10th, 1962 in Castro Valley, CA. His interest in music began when his father introduced him to classical music and that’s when he began taking piano lessons. He began playing the bass at the age of 13 after his brother passed away.

He would practice up to 6 hours a day because he wanted to be the best bassist in the world. His musical influences are pretty diverse not just including rock and metal. He had interests in jazz, blues, country, classical, etc.

Some of his favorite bassists were Geddy Lee, Geezer Butler, Lemmy, Stanley Clarke and Phil Lynott as his inspirations.


He uses no pick but rather his pointer and middle finger to pluck the strings. There were times that he would play with one finger (Geddy Lee style).

He had lots of melodic, arpeggio based playing. He would play like a traditional bass player in the sense he would play simple notes that went along with the song and harmonized well with the drums. But then he would play the same notes (arpeggios) that the guitars would play in a rhythm guitar almost role.

When he soloed he soloed hard. He knew the right notes, techniques, rhythm and progressions to create beautiful flowing solos. In Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth), you can tell how he uses triads, chords and fast finger picking to create a dynamically, melodic metal sound.

He is also known for using different effects throughout his playing.

He expertly uses bass techniques in his playing including chords, tapping and strumming. 
In Cliff ‘Em All, he stated that he is influenced by ZZ Top, Black Sabbath and Rush.


The gear that he used throughout his career include:

  • Rickenbacker 4001
  • Aria Pro II SB1000
  • Aria Black N Gold I
  • Alembic Spoiler
  • Road Electronics 2×18″ cabinet
  • Sunn Beta bass head (100 watts)
  • Peavey Mark IV Series 400 head on top (200 watts)
  • Sunn Concert head underneath (200 watts)
  • JBL 4560 Bass bin (15 inch)
  • Sunn Beta Lead 2×12″
  • Randall RB-500
  • Mesa Boogie D-180 power amps (x2)
  • 4×12″ Mesa Boogie Cabinet
  • 1×15″ Mesa Boogie Cabinet (x2)

My favorite Cliff Burton riffs:
Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth)
: This song is full of triads and beautiful classical tones. This song really showcases how Cliff took his beginning musical roots of classical music and tied that in with his metal playing and distortion to create a melodically beautiful piece.

Orion: Cliff loves to make arpeggios with power chords. This is an easy progression to use in any point of a song because of how simple it is.

For Whom The Bell Tolls: Of course another iconic bass intro! This one utilizes both the e minor scale and the chromatic scale.

Cliff Burton is certainly a bass legend and even after all these years he has continued to influence countless musicians. Let me know your favorite Metallica song and/or Cliff riff below!

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