Metallica – Don’t Tread On Me Bass The Right Way

Metallica - Don't Tread on Me

So, I’ve been transcribing the Black Album (aka Metallica) and I got to Don’t Tread On Me and a couple of things struck me.

There’s a riff that I’ve always heard one way (turns out I was right) but when I went searching on Ultimate-Guitar and looked at their “official” tab, it was written differently.

Then there’s the intro…

The Intro

Before we even get to a single note the tempo marking and tempo are both wrong.

This song is in 12/8 so we’re dealing with dotted quarter notes. The UG tab is not using dotted quarter notes and has set the tempo at 162bpm.

In fact it’s dotted quarter notes at 110bpm.

Now to the notes

Jason is playing a 5 string bass on this track, simply to play 2 REALLY heavy low Bs, but UG has it tabbed for a 4 string.

Sadly, their 4 string tab is wrong and has probably led many a player to learn it, perform it and perhaps even teach it wrong…

It’s an “official” tab so it must be as close to right as possible.


Well, no. Both these riffs I’m looking at here are written out wrong in UG land.

The opening rhythmic figure

The rhythmic figure that the UG tab uses in the intro is a simple triplet group followed by a rest.

This is wrong…

Yes, Newsted is playing a triplet group but the last 8th note is tied to a dotted quarter note, sustaining the note out to match the guitars above it.

He does this all through the intro until we get past the 6/8 bar and into the stabs.

UG v The record

Now to the actual notes they’ve transcribed versus what’s actually being played. This is the UG tab:

They do get the 1st two bars right… but in bar 3 they go up to D from the start and in bar 4 they go down to F!

Both of these bars are wrong. Here’s what Jason actually plays (5 string version):

Here’s how the 5 string version sounds with the melody over the top.

And here’s the same riff written out correctly for a 4 string bass:

And here’s how the 4 string bass version sounds with the melody over the top:

For reference, below is the UG version.

I think you’ll agree it clearly sounds wrong; staying on the D in the 3rd bar does works but it isn’t what Jason’s playing and that the F in the 6/8 bar just sounds utterly hideous!

Also the staccato-ness of the triplet without the tied dotted quarter note leaves things sounding empty and weightless.

The "Don't Tread On Me!" Riff...

Now to the riff that I’ve always heard the right way but they’ve tabbed out the wrong way… (and it’s very wrong indeed…)

Here’s the UG transcription:

And here’s how the UG version sounds:

Now, I’m not sure how you can hear something this badly wrong and the pass it off as your “official” version.

Benefit of the doubt? There are a bunch of assumptions in there and maybe some memories of notation from previous published “official” tab books that informed it.

Metallica do use the flattened 5th (the old Devil’s tritone interval) A LOT; and there are plenty of examples of the flattened 2nd in the key of Em which, again, Metallica use so much that the scale E, F, G, A, Bb, C, D, E is loosely known as the Metallica Scale.

However, that’s NOT happening here.

The riff is altogether brighter and, dare I say it, bouncier, than the way UG has it tabbed out.

Here’s what’s actually happening.

And here’s how it sounds:

It’s NOT the flattened 5th (B♭) down to the flattened 2nd (F♮), it’s a perfect 5th (B♮) down to the 3rd (G).

Play them both and see what sounds and feels right.

I’m sure you’ll agree that the JTR version is right and the UG version is wrong after listening to them in isolation.

To further support the JTR version, all you have to do is look on YouTube for video of Hetfield playing this riff and you can clearly see him slide up from the B♭ to the B♮ and play the G before looping back around.

I really don’t know how UG’s “official” tab has gotten these two riffs so completely wrong and never bothered to correct them.

For many musicians, beginners and seasoned pro’s, they’re the go to source for this stuff and there it sits, all proud and completely wrong.

Anyway, I hope that my work here has helped you hear it and play it right.

Until the next one, may the riff be with, always.