Metallica’s “…Bell Tolls”: 3 Awesome Facts

by Alec Plowman, Apr 5, 2019 . 3 min read

Metallica’s “…Bell Tolls”: 3 Awesome Facts

What’s the best bass riff of all time? Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls ” is certainly a contender. Cliff Burton’s chromatic intro riff is a heavy metal masterclass. And, if you’re serious about learning metal bass, it’s a must-have riff in your arsenal.

With the song turning 35 this year, we thought it’d be fun to look back on the “Ride the Lightning” classic, with some lesser-known facts about the signature Metallica track.

Explorers, Flying Vs, Marshall Stacks and Aria Basses at the ready headbangers, it’s about to get heavy!

 It’s in a Very Strange Tuning

Ever tried to play along to the studio version of “For Whom the Bell Tolls”? You’ve probably had some guitar tuning issues. That’s because the song is a quarter step above standard tuning.

Why? The verdict is out on that one. But, as the Metallica Wiki notes, there are two theories. First is that the band intentionally sped up the recording, pitch shifting it in the process. Second is that the guitars are actually tuned up a quarter step so that they match the pitch of the tolling bells.

(Of course, if you want to play along to the studio version, Roadie’s tuning presets makes it a breeze. You’ll be up a quarter step in seconds and ready for crushing metal).

Speaking of tolling bells…

The Tolling Bell Isn’t a Bell At All…

 Y’know that iconic bell sound at the beginning? It isn’t actually a bell. That’s drummer Lars Ulrich thwacking an anvil at Sweet Silence Studios in Copenhagen. As producer Flemming Rasmussen recalled:

“We had an anvil in the studio, and Lars had to bang that; it could’ve been that or from a record of sound effects. But there was a really heavy, cast-iron anvil and a metal hammer, and we stuck them in an all-concrete room. He’d just go wang.” 

Turns out that tolling bell is quite literally heavy metal!

Cliff Burton’s Crushing Bass Riff Didn’t Start Off Heavy…

 The iconic “…Bell Tolls” intro bass riff dates back way before Metallica. In fact, Cliff Burton originated it during a 12-minute jam at a battle of the bands with his first group, Agents of Misfortune. But, as Kirk Hammett recalled, the version he initially heard was a decidedly un-heavy classical guitar part:

“He would play that riff a lot in the hotel room when him and I were hanging out. He used to carry around an acoustic classical guitar that he detuned so that he could bend the strings. Anyway, when he would play that riff, I would think, “That’s such a weird, atonal riff that isn’t really heavy at all.” I remember him playing it for James, and James adding that accent to it and all of a sudden, it changed. It’s such a crazy riff. To this day, I think, “How did he write that?” Whenever I hear nowadays, it’s like, “OK, Cliff’s in the house.”

What’s your favorite Metallica song? And do you think “For Whom the Bell Tolls ” is the best riff ever? Let us know in the comments!

Main photo credit: Kreepin Deth



Get our free Alternate Tunings Guide!
Submit

Check out some other similar articles

Take advantage of our biggest backer-exclusive discounts and get your hands on this next-generation automatic tuner. Back the Kickstarter campaign today and be the first to receive the Roadie 3.

The top 5 young guitar players today seem to defy the odds. You need a lot of time to get really good at something like playing an instrument.

Rodrigo Sanchez
May 10, 2021 . 3 min read

Today we’re going to learn how to play Patience by Guns N’ Roses on guitar. This beautiful ballad is a popular choice for many acoustic guitar players around the world.

Rodrigo Sanchez
May 7, 2021 . 4 min read

These 5 interesting facts about Diane Warren reveal her incredible work ethic and persistence.

Rodrigo Sanchez
Apr 16, 2021 . 4 min read

This list of 5 famous guitarists that are great songwriters is a whos-who of modern music. They have penned some of the most beloved songs in pop and rock, while also shredding on their guitars.

Rodrigo Sanchez
Apr 12, 2021 . 4 min read

The term guitar tunings may refer to pitch sets other than standard tuning, also called nonstandard, alternative, or alternate.

Alain Abou Atmeh
Apr 9, 2021 . 5 min read

The top 5 underrated guitarists of all time list features some of the most incredible musicians to ever live. However, fame is a sneaky little thing that is not bestowed upon many deserving individuals.

Rodrigo Sanchez
Apr 2, 2021 . 4 min read

We can all learn from the 5 habits of world-class musicians. Although everybody is unique and we should all find a schedule and workflow that works for us, it’s good to at least know how the greats did it.

Rodrigo Sanchez
Mar 15, 2021 . 4 min read

Some of these 5 facts about Paul McCartney will come as a surprise to some. They might help shed some light on what made him one of the greatest artists of all time, able to connect with millions through his music.

Rodrigo Sanchez
Mar 12, 2021 . 4 min read

Hank Williams was an American singer-songwriter that became a legend especially in the Country genre. These 5 facts about Hank Williams further illustrate the scope of his legend.

Rodrigo Sanchez
Feb 12, 2021 . 3 min read

What is a Neapolitan Chord? A Neapolitan chord is a major chord built on the flat second of a major scale. That is the simplest way to define it, but let’s expand on it.

Rodrigo Sanchez
Feb 8, 2021 . 4 min read
We'll be bringing you recommended tabs and plenty of interesting quotes from guitar legends along the way!