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Kirk Hammett: Mr. WahWah, the guitars & the jazz

by Matthias Mineur,


Kirk Hammett's rock star is just as unnoticed as the physical strain: the curly hair is a real man of conviction. A guitar freak who could talk forever about equipment, talk quickly and a lot, laugh even more, address his counterpart with "Bro" (ie brother) and with shining eyes from his ESP signature models, his constantly growing collection of rare Vintage parts, his musical influences and heroes as well as his play on the new Metallica album reported. He raves about producer Rick Rubin, the return to extensive solos and the way of working of the early 80s. But before we go into too much detail - this is the artist himself speaking!



Kirk: (with shining eyes) Man, that's a super mic ... And with that you record everything? How, is it already going?

G&B: Isn't that crazy? One of those new flash mics. I carried a suitcase full of equipment with me for years ...

Kirk: Brother, when I went on tour earlier, I had a pocket for CDs, a pocket for video cassettes and one for all my equipment. And today? All I have with me is a laptop. What is amazing: I can even connect my guitar to it, import things directly and then edit them with Pro-Tools or Garage Band. Crazy, right?

G&B: And don't you also have the feeling that analog simply sounds different, and maybe even better?

Kirk: Oh yes, definitely! Digital has a certain hardship. It is sanded and polished until it sounds really hard. In contrast, analog is much warmer. It's just more pleasant to hear. And if you look at the whole thing on a spectrum analyzer, the waves would run horizontally in the upper area with digital, while with analog they form correct curves - i.e. real movements. That actually says it all. And anyway, it's all about the sound of tubes and analog tape. That's all I'm interested in.

G&B: But you used Pro Tools for the new album, didn't you?

Kirk: But that's something else again. I mean, if you digitize analog signals or tracks later, that's OK. At least if you're using one of those analog machines that record so well that it works. But it is particularly important to me to start with analog technology and only then switch to the digital level instead of doing everything digitally right away. Because in terms of sound there is a huge difference.

G&B: You have been with Metallica for 25 years - over half of your life.

Kirk: I know. (laughs)

G&B: A satisfying or frightening thought?

Kirk: I'm still thinking about that - and I'm not quite sure yet. Because on the one hand it is like this: “Shit, you've never done anything else.” And there are also a lot of people who say: “25 years in the same job? Never! ”But when I brood over it, I also have to say:“ 25 years in the best job in the world? Nothing better than that! ”(Laughs) Because you know what? I can't do anything else! I can't change a tire or fix a toilet.

G&B: But you could record solo albums and soundtracks ...

Kirk: (laughs) Right, I really could ...

G&B: What you haven't done so far.

Kirk: Simply because Metallica is my home. And I feel comfortable there. That's why I'm very passionate and devoted to Metallica. And all the music I write is created with the intention of giving it to the band so that it becomes a Metallica song.

G&B: And there is nothing you want to do on the side? What you can't live out within this band?

Kirk: Of course there is something, and I have a lot of things that I put aside - because they're so wacky that they could never end up on a Metallica album. It all comes in an extra box. And when it's full, I'll think about whether I might do something on my own - in whatever form. Otherwise, I fully support Metallica. And everything I write is primarily intended for the band. I am not two-pronged.

G&B: That sounds like a life's work. Is that your mission Metallica?

Kirk: Exactly. (laughs) That's what gets me up in the morning. Or no, let me correct that: it's my son who makes me get up in the morning.

G&B: Which is now a year and a half?

Kirk: Almost two. He just wakes up at five in the morning and then makes a real fuss. He is 21 months old. And my wife is in the hospital again - with son number two. So I was very productive after all. (laughs)

G&B: To come back to your dream job, as you called it yourself: The US music magazine Rolling Stone voted you 11th among the “best guitarists of all time”.

Kirk: Which is totally crazy.

G&B: The question arises: what more do you want?

Kirk: Exactly. And Rolling Stone even put me on the back of its latest issue. I'm not on the cover, but on the back - next to Carlos Santana, Buddy Guy and John Mayer.

G&B: I didn't realize that Carlos's headquarters are right next to yours. I only noticed that when I was standing in front of his door and the area seemed familiar to me ...

Kirk: (laughs) He's just up the street. And I've been there a few times and jammed a little with Carlos. He's been with us too - just to see it. After that he didn't want to go home, he liked it so much. (laughs) He's a real gentleman. Just great.

G&B: No wonder: your HQ in St. Rafael is a real Metallica museum and a big boys' playground ...

Kirk: I'm glad you enjoyed it there. Because sometimes I look at the journalists who visit us and wonder what they think. They're so busy soaking up everything and taking notes that I can never tell whether they're having a good time or not.

G&B: Well, that's also the complete overstimulation ...

Kirk: Right. Although we don't feel that way at all. I mean, we're always there. And it all accumulates very slowly, so little by little. But if you've never been there, and you're stepping in for the very first time, that's utter overkill. I'm sure.




G&B: What equipment did you use when recording the new album? ESP guitars and Randall amps again?

Kirk: Yes man. Although I have to say that I've used all kinds of guitars and amplifiers on the last few albums. But for this we just wanted a very specific sound. So I relied on my ESP, the mummy guitar, and an amplifier setup made up of Marshall, Mesa / Boogie and Randall. I used that for pretty much all of the pieces.

G&B: Is that it?

Kirk: Well, a bit of Ampeg here and there. And then a clean Fender amp somewhere in between. I also played my ‘'58 Les Paul Standard. Not that I want to show off now, but I have one. (laughs) And without paying a million dollars for it - or whatever they cost nowadays. I know man, I was really lucky. There's also a 1959 Telecaster, and that's it. These are the only guitars that have been used.

G&B: The ESP models have been your main guitars for almost 20 years ...

Kirk: Correct.

G&B: Even though your model is just a modification of the Jackson - with the neck almost upside down ...

Kirk: Right. That is based on ...

G&B: Then why didn't you choose Jackson right away?

Kirk: Because they didn't want me.

G&B: I beg your pardon?

Kirk: Yes man. Do you know the Jackson Randy Rhoads V?

G&B: Sure, a classic.

Kirk: Exactly. And I called her and said: “Hey, I would like to have an endorsement.” Then she: “OK, we can give you a discount of 25 percent.” Which is of course not a real endorsement. So I declined with thanks and said: “I can see where this is going. So: I'll buy the guitar. Just build it for me the way I want it and then send me the invoice. "

It's just that one guitar that I play all the time, the Randy Rhoads. But they never offered me any kind of endorsement deal. Not even later. So I went to ESP and they immediately and without hesitation built the first KH guitar for me, which sounds just amazing. It is incredibly good - with a lot of craftsmanship and attention to detail. It's sturdy and solid. And that goes for almost every guitar they've made for me since then. Which is pretty impressive.

G&B: How many Kirk Hammett Signature models are there now? That should be ten, right?

Kirk: I think there are eleven or twelve different models. But do you know what else is great about ESP? When we go on tour, we sometimes have two identical stages that we set up at the same time in different places - because otherwise the logistics cannot be managed. Just so that we can go from gig to gig without having to wait longer because of the dismantling and assembly. And that's why these two stages have to be identical - with exactly the same equipment, which we have twice. In other words: twice the same arsenal of guitars, twice the same amp setup I'm touring with, and so on and immediately.


When it was clear to us that we had to do it this way this time too, I asked ESP if they could just build me 17 new guitars. What they did - in just five months. That would be unthinkable with Fender or Gibson. And imagine: a few years ago I tried to get an endorsement from Gibson. They said straight to my face: “We're not interested in that.” That must be because I have such a close relationship with ESP that they simply don't care. And then James (Hetfield) tried to get an endorsement and they treated him pretty badly. So we stay with ESP. Simply because they build us what we want. And that's just one of the reasons I think it's so great.

G&B: How do the individual Signature models in the KH series differ?

Kirk: Mostly only in design. This is mostly the standard KH-2, which just has a different paint job and graphics. But then I also have a V and a Les Paul Junior model. They are based on the same "specs" as the KH-2.

G&B: Whereby your most famous model is "The Mummy", the mummy ...

Kirk: Man, my absolute favorite guitar! Just like "The Skully". By the way, I recently got a Dracula guitar.

G&B: Let me guess: are you a fan of classic horror films?

Kirk: (laughs) You saw through me ...

G&B: Are you a collector Do you have entire warehouses full of guitars?

Kirk: I don’t really like to talk about it - because I’m almost a little embarrassed. But yeah man, I'm a collector. I'm actually obsessed with guitars. I really look up what is out on eBay every day.

G&B: In earnest?

Kirk: Oh yeah, I'm looking for guitars!

G&B: Vintage stuff?

Kirk: Vintage stuff, new stuff, whatever. Right now I'm mostly looking for a 70s BC Rich; and I collect Flying Vs from the early 70's. I also really want a 1976 Explorer. And when it comes to new guitars, I'm mainly interested in the smaller models, for example from manufacturers such as Klein-Guitars or Moonstone. Such things.

G&B: That sounds like an addiction!

Kirk: That is one too! I mean, have you checked out the equipment room at our headquarters? These are all my things! (laughs)

G&B: Who are you lending to James too?

Kirk: No, he only claims that because he is embarrassed that he has so much stuff himself. This is pure embarrassment.



G&B: How would you describe your style anyway, and how has it changed over the years?

Kirk: Well, about five years ago I announced that I would combine my bluesier game with my metal game. Or at least to try ... (laughs) And now I'm really starting to go in that direction: into bluesy heavy metal. I can't really explain it now, but I would say that I'm getting a little closer to that goal on the new album. Because some things have this bluesy phrasing, but I actually don't play blues, but metal licks.

So Schenker links or my own. And I'm developing more and more crazy sounds with my guitar. That's what fascinates me most at the moment. Crazy things - whatever I can get out of my guitar. That’s why I’m not using standard licks, but rather wacky bends. Or I rely a little more on my whammy bar. More than on previous albums. There's definitely a lot of whammy bar action on this one - I can tell you that man!

G&B: How then, less wah-wah pedal and more manual lever work?

Kirk: (laughs) No! Of course a lot of WahWah too! I would never do without my wah pedal. No way!

G&B: Because that has become your trademark?

Kirk: I just love it! That's my thing: I step on it and I have the biggest grin on my face - just like that. A lot of people say, "He's just using the wah pedal to cover up his shitty game." But that's bullshit - I can't take it seriously. If anything, it emphasizes my game. And I use it very specifically to accentuate it. So it's my choice. And sometimes - I openly admit this - I may use it a little too much. But guess what: I don't care! I'm going to do it anyway. Simply because it makes me feel good. (laughs) And if it has that effect on me, it has to be good and right.

G&B: Although there should be a lot of guitar solos on the upcoming album. Is that correct?

Kirk: Ha! There are so many guitar solos that it would be enough for a couple of albums. (laughs) For example, we have a song where the solo lasts over a minute. I kind of circulate with the band, and we all encourage each other.

G&B: So did you miss the guitar solos too? Not just your fans.

Kirk: Honestly? Actually not at all. Because every time I pick up the guitar, I basically play one. So it didn't really make that big a difference to me. But the audience missed her - very much. Which surprised me a lot and was also incredibly flattering. Just that people miss me so much. Because they just take it for granted that Metallica songs have guitar solos. And when we took them out, everyone was totally horrified. You don't believe how many times I've been asked: "Kirk, where are the solos?" And then I: "Well, there are none this time." It was a real shock for many! (laughs)

G&B: And why did you open up, St. Anger ‘waived it? Was that conscious or did they just not fit the songs?

Kirk: It was like we wanted to make an album that sounds more like a band. And nobody should outdo the other or stand out in any way. Including things like guitar solos or other production stories that might put anyone in the spotlight. The individual shouldn't be emphasized, we wanted to present ourselves as a band. We wanted to get closer and create music together.

G&B: Part of that therapy story that you went through back then?

Kirk: Yes, that had to do with this whole thing. And that's why we agreed that guitar solos belong in the back seat - that they take a lunch break first. Which in turn leads to the fact that we tend to do the exact opposite on this album and don't get enough solos at all.

G&B: Some are strongly influenced by Iron Maiden, while others are more reminiscent of Thin Lizzy's double guitars?

Kirk: There really is a lot of harmony stuff from James and me. A lot. But I also break out every now and then and do my own things.

G&B: What's actually up with the remains of, St. Got excited - the songs that didn't make it on the album back then? That must have been a lot, right?

Kirk: Actually there weren't that many.Not really, anyway. Because all of the material for, St. We wrote Anger ‘in the studio - so very spontaneously. But you're right ... When I think about it, there are a few things. Namely at least twelve pieces that are not really finished and that are lying around somewhere. And then there are also ten incomplete songs from this new album ...



G&B: In the last interview in San Francisco you said: "The next album will definitely not be that long".

Kirk: In earnest?

G&B: Yes, and that turned into another five years.

Kirk: Oh how embarrassing! I take everything back. (laughs)

G&B: Although you have become a father in the meantime, which must have kept you from songwriting for a while, right?

Kirk: It really took some time. But most of the songs are based on riffs that James and I wrote during the last tour - so whenever there was a bit of time and we had nothing else to do but jam in our dressing room. (laughs)

In this respect, my input is still there - even if my wife and I have had a baby. But what made sure that I was really not responsive for a while. But otherwise we actually wrote this album in exactly the same way as, St. Anger ‘. So the four of us in one room. And that makes a huge difference. Maybe even the decisive difference to what we did in the 90s. Because this album follows a similar approach as in the 80s.

G&B: The so-called “classic Metallica phase” from “Master Of Puppets” to “Black Album”?

Kirk: Exactly. And the big difference is that we wrote it all together instead of relying on James and Lars to work it out in a quiet room somewhere. Often times it wasn't a very good idea.

G&B: So the organic approach of Rick Rubin: The band live in the studio, without any frills? Just like he did with Johnny Cash?

Kirk: Exactly! And we only used Pro Tools for editing - but not for pitching, correcting, tempo corrections or anything like that. We deliberately avoided all the other things that Pro Tools can do, and only did it used for editing. Not more.

G&B: Is it actually true that you take guitar lessons from time to time between albums?

Kirk: Yes man. I find that very important - and refreshing. And this time, too, during the recording, I called my jazz teacher again ...

G&B: Do you have a jazz teacher?

Kirk: Yes, and I said: "I really have to sit down with you a little bit." Then he: "OK, call me when you have a few hours." Which was exactly the problem. Because if I didn't record with the band, then I had to take care of my son. And when I didn't have to, I recorded with the band. So there was no time at all. Especially not for a few hours of class. That's why I couldn't take lessons before or during this record. But of course I listened to a lot of things ... (laughs)

G&B: Jazz?

Kirk: A lot of jazz, definitely. But also classic heavy metal, bossanova, blues. Just as many different things as possible. And that includes country music. Just like an overdose of Lynyrd Skynyrd. And Hawaiian music. Really kitschy South Seas sounds ...

G&B: So you're not a metal head?

Kirk: No way, man! Even though I love metal of course. And properly.

G&B: The Metallica website states, "Kirk Hammett plays guitar 361 days a year."

Kirk: (laughs) At least!

G&B: What four days does he take a break?

Kirk: On Christmas, New Years, my birthday and my wife's birthday - otherwise I'll get in trouble. (laughs) No, that was a joke now. I try to play as much as I can. Even if it's only because I'm afraid that one day I will be that 70-year-old grandpa, who stands in front of the television camera and can't do anything - while at the same time they show material how good I was as a young man. Just how damn brilliant I used to play.

And I don't want to be. I don't want to be the guy who can't get anything right. No, I want to be like Les Paul, who just keeps getting better.

G&B: I saw him at the Iridium Club a few months ago ...

Kirk: (eyes shining) What a great guy - I hope he'll do this for a few more years.

G&B: He's hilarious ...

Kirk: A real comedian. But, you know what? Actually, I'd rather be like Jeff Beck. Because as far as the three legendary Yardbirds guitarists are concerned, Jimmy Page is forever in the shadow of Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton is really only concentrating on the next B.B. To be King while Jeff Beck is clearly at the forefront: His style is always improving - and he is getting better and better.

G&B: Kirk Hammett too?

Kirk: He just wants to be Jeff Beck! (laughs)

G&B: Your class target used to be Jimi Hendrix.

Kirk: Oh right! That wouldn't be bad either, of course.

G&B: Are you at least getting closer to him?

Kirk: No. For some reason, I feel like I'm even further removed from him.

I play in a metal band and that is where I have to orient myself somehow, which is why other things take a back seat.

That's the way it is ...

G&B: Kirk, we have to get to the end. Thank you for the interview.

Kirk: Anytime again, man!



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