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KIRK HAMMETT - Real Guitar Hero - Guide to The World's Best Guitarists

Updated on January 26, 2012

How To Sound Like Kirk Hammett

In the early 80's, a generation waited for its own sound. Disco and the 70's were dead; Ronald Reagan was President; and Kirk Hammett began playing with a little known band named Metallica—and heavy metal was ushered into the mainstream culture.

Burger King and an Amplifier

At least, that's how some tell it. Metallica is one band that everyone seems to have their own story about, and they were all there when it happened—sort of like Grandpa's fish stories. Regardless of who tells the story, though, it's a fact that Metallica and Hammett released their first album Kill 'em All in 1983, and have been recording albums more or less since then.

Kirk Hammett

(c)Florian Reischauer —
(c)Florian Reischauer —

According to his bio page on the band's official website, Hammett grew up in San Francisco, first becoming interested in playing guitar after listening to Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and Black Sabbath. After starting with a 1978 Fender Stratocaster, he eventually settled on a 1974 Gibson Flying V as his preferred axe. The story goes that he then took a job at Burger King to raise money to buy his first Marshall amplifier.

Mission Metallica - Kill Em All 25 Years Later Part 1

Metallica Nothing Else Matters Woodstock 1999 from the Black Album

Metallica: The Black Album

Metallica fans everywhere have their own take on the story from there. Some say that Metallica "sold out" after their first album, "Kill 'em All"; others continue to insist that the band is every bit as good today as they were in 1983. Certainly, the band continued to produce albums every few years, with "Ride the Lightning" in 1984; "Master of Puppets" in '86; and …And "Justice for All" in '88. Then came the album that pretty much changed everything: "Metallica" (or "The Black Album").

Although the album disappointed some with less speed and musical complexity than the band's earlier albums, it also made the group more accessible to a majority of people.  A more radio-friendly, lyrical Metallica meant that it connected more with people than previous albums.  It debuted at # 1 on the Billboard music charts and has since been certified as platinum 15 times over in the U.S.  Today, if there's a Metallica song most people want to play, chances are it's on this album.

Enter Sandman - Metallica from the Black Album

Around the same time, he began playing in a bay area thrash metal band, Exodus. After taking lessons from guitar great Joe Satriani (also little-known at the time), he was invited to become part of Metallica in 1983 when the band booted Dave Mustaine.

Kirk's Studio Setup

Although he has become famous for his use of a "Flying V" guitar during stage performances, Kirk's main guitars during this time were ESP's. An M-II model which was dubbed "Zorlac," and another M-II model nicknamed "Skully," for its skull & crossbones inlay, both with EMG humbucker pickups in them, were his main guitars at this time according to a September 1991 interview with Guitar Player. "Skully" may have also had the original Floyd Rose tremolo on it, and he was also quoted as having used a '71 Gibson Les Paul for the solo on "Sad But True." Of course, a live show is a different animal than a studio recording, and Hammett may have used any of a number of other guitars, including his trademark Flying V for stage effect on the "Wherever We May Roam" tour.

Metallica - Sad But True

Similarly, Kirk's amplifiers on stage and in the studio can be quite different. An October 1991 interview with Hammett quotes him as saying,

" I used a Bradshaw because the mids were clean and the low end sounded real percussive. The harmonic distortion also sounded nice and dirty. For the highs we used two Marshalls. We combined all the sounds and put the Bradshaw preamp through a VHT poweramp. We put it all through Marshall cabinets with 30 watt speakers and blended all the room mikes. My sound is a lot thicker and punchier than before, and I think it's better than ever. "

The Bradshaw he refers to is presumably a Bradshaw preamp pedal, a company which is now known as Custom Audio Electronics. The fansite lists some other equipment used: a Mesa Boogie Mark IV and a Bogner preamp. The Marshalls would be 1960b cabinets seen on just about any metal band's stage nowadays, and the VHT poweramp is listed as a 2150 on the same website. Throw in a Vox wah pedal—not a Dunlop Crybaby, surprisingly, but one that rumor has it once belonged to Jimi Hendrix himself—and you've got just about everything Kirk had in the studio for Metallica.

Present Signature Equipment

In 2007, two equipment manufacturers announced plans to produce Kirk Hammett Signature Series: ESP guitars and Randall amplifiers.

Though he started out playing Gibsons, Kirk eventually switched to ESPs, and today has more than a dozen that are used on a more or less regular basis. The Signature Series line featuring his name includes the KH-2, KH-2 Vintage, KH-2 NTB, KH-602, KH-202, and KH-JR. All of the models except the JR have 24 frets to allow for true Hammett-esque hammer-ons at the 22nd fret.

Randall amplifiers introduced the RM100KH to encompass all the various sounds of Kirk Hammett's career, with a cabinet that includes various modules to emulate his sound. It seems the one who started out railing against the establishment has come full circle to become the establishment—at least, if you consider equipment manufacturers to be "the Man."

Real Guitar Heros don't come more gritty than Hammett, but does he belong with the Best guitarists in the world? You decide!

If you're interested in Music Talent, check out Got Music for the latest up and coming YouTube music stars!

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    • profile image

      Learn Acoustic Guitar 7 years ago


      You don't look like a Metallica Fan!

      Where did you get all these info?

      Good Work Girl

    • profile image

      Drum Lessons Beginners 8 years ago

      First tim I heard Enter Sandman was during a long hot summer. It was early evening and a thunderstorm was just hitting Kirk's guitar line was so atmospheric, with the weather it felt like I was in a movie and then the heavy part kick in just as fork lighting struck about 500m ahaed of me. Safe to say I have been a fan ever since!

    • Junkster profile image

      Junkster 8 years ago from Liverpool, UK

      Excellent, I'll have to get round to reading them!

    • Julie-Ann Amos profile image

      Julie-Ann Amos 8 years ago from Gloucestershire, UK

      No problem. More hubs on guitarists coming very soon!

    • Junkster profile image

      Junkster 8 years ago from Liverpool, UK

      Wow, that's a load of information! Hammett is one of my favourite guitarists, and his guitars are awesome too, the OuiJa board one and the mummy one! I liked the one used on their Cunning Stunts DVD: The Am I evil guitar, it's like a lava lamp with illuminous blue liquid floating around the body...trippy!