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Metallica's fierce frontman James Hetfield has long been an endorser of ESP guitars, so it's no surprise to find he has his very own range of signature models – which all rock in their own individual way. And his super premium Signature Snakebyte takes the best parts of other models and merges them into one super metal guitar. Heavy rockers and metalheads, pay attention – this could be the guitar for you!
The body, neck, and headstock of the Snakebyte were all designed by Hetfield himself, so every part of it embodies his supercharged style. The guitarfeatures a 24.75” scale length, Explorer-influenced solid mahogany body, in either pristine Snow White or a menacing Black Satin. It's surprisingly light to hold which make it an excellent performance guitar. This is also true of the one-piece mahogany set neck, featuring a thin U profile, which is very fast and comfortable. There are 22 extra jumbo frets – all of which are easily accessible thanks to the body shape – sitting on an ebony fretboard, while an awesome snake inlay mark the 12th fret. The hook-ended headstock completes the look, and just screams metal.
For such an expensive guitar you'd expect premium hardware that doesn't compromise – and this Snakebyte certainly delivers. With heavy playing tuning stability is an important factor, so the inclusion of a TonePros locking tune-o-matic bridge and stopbar tailpiece, along with Sperzel locking tuners on the headstock is a great combination, while Schaller security strap lock buttons are a welcome addition for stage players. Every component feels well thought out and durable – capable of taking a beating. Finally, the Snakebyte also comes with a secure hardshell case, which is excellent for storage and transporting this bad boy around.
Great looks,great hardware… so how do the electronics measure up? Very well indeed. Hetfield has had input in the sound as well as style of this Signature Snakebyte, and selects two excellent active EMG 60 and 81 humbuckers – the custom JH ‘Het Set'– at the neck and bridge positions. Both have thei own individual qualities, and guarantee power and tone aplenty. The humbuckers are complemented by simple but solid controls: an individual volume control for each of the pickups, and a three-way selector switch to choose between them. The only thing we do miss is atone control knob – not a huge deal, but it means playing with the amp a little more than you may want to.
The sound is where the Signature Snakebyte really shines – if you are looking for something to produce the heavy chugging riffs and shredding leads Metallica are renown for, you won't be disappointed as the pickups are based on the set Hetfield has used for 30 years. The active electronics provide huge output, with tons of tone and aggression. Deep low-ends are well balanced by screaming trebles, and there's no place to hide – every note is captured. It copes well with clean melodic playing, but can overdrive an amp to the point of exploding. Awesome.
With the ESP James Hetfield Signature Snakebyte you're paying a premium, but this truly is a premium guitar – flawless in its heavy rock sound, whether youȍre a fan of Metallica or not. It's built for speed and aggression, and is very comfortable to play, with solid hardware and a sound James Hetfield himself approves of.