Exclusive: Guitar Talk with Metallica’s Kirk Hammett
When it comes to getting a great guitar tone, Metallica’s Kirk Hammett takes a no-frills approach: “It’s really very simple,” he tells Gibson.com. “I don’t have a bunch of parametric equalizers or anything like that. I’m just very simple.”
It’s a method that’s golden. At this point in his career trajectory, Hammett is a true guitar icon. There isn’t a “Best of” list he hasn’t topped, and fans and critics alike recognize his talent and skillful approach to the art of guitar.
With Metallica’s Orion Music + More festival set for Belle Isle in Detroit this weekend, we thought it would be a choice time to catch up with Hammett and talk about his Gibson Custom Flying V.
For more information on Orion Music + More – which features Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rise Against, Deftones, BASSNECTAR, Dropkick Murphys, Gogol Bordello, Infectious Grooves, Silversun Pickups, Foals, the Joy Formidable, the Dillinger Escape Plan and many more – visit www.orionmusicandmore.com.
Gibson: Tell me about the idea behind the Kirk Hammett Flying V and how its design is based on your 1979 model.
Hammett: Gibson noticed that on the first three or four albums, I played a Gibson Flying V. So, they approached me and asked if wanted to do a signature Kurt Hammett Flying V model based on the Flying V that I played during my first 10 years in Metallica. For me, three are only a few guitar makers that have really been able to hold my attention for long periods of time… So, if any of those guys ask me to do anything, I’m going to say “yes,” because they’ve had such a profound influence on me and have helped with my own playing over the years. In other words, when Gibson comes calling, I come running.
Gibson: What was your reaction when Gibson asked you to collaborate on the Flying V?
Hammett: When they asked me if I was interested in them doing a reproduction of my very first Flying V, of course, I said “yes.” It’s a real honor for them to do that for me. It’s also a great opportunity for all the fans out there who know that guitar and have seen pictures of me playing it through the years to actually own a guitar that’s similar to that with the same sort of specs: the same pickups, same sort of bridge, same knobs, same neck feel, same color and basically the same vibe. I just got them recently. They’ve been working on them for about two years, and just recently, the last few months or so, the first couple of models started coming in. They made 500 of them, of which I got the first 5. I have to say, they’re great. I love them. I’ve been playing my own model guitars for a long time now, but it’s great to have my own Gibson model come out, and it’s definitely a different sort of feeling for me and a different vibe for me to have a Gibson model, and I’m just loving it. I hope that all the other people who purchased it are enjoying it as much as I do, because I think it’s a great instrument.
Gibson: What’s your amp setup like, and how do you get your signature guitar tone?
Hammett: I have a couple of different amps that I use live. I have a Randall amp that’s been custom made for me by Randall. More specifically, this amp maker that Randall has been employing right now is so great. He really knows how to make really, really fine, high-quality amps. So, I have these Randall amps, and I blend them with my Mesa/Boogie amp, and that’s how I get my rhythm sound. I use the same sort of blend to get my lead guitar sound. It’s really very simple. (Laughs) I don’t have a bunch of EQs or parametric equalizers or anything like that. I’m just very simple.
Gibson: What about effects?
Hammett: I play very dry, which means I don’t have a delay on my guitar playing when I play rhythm or leads, which is something that my peers are always surprised by, because I guess when a lot of other guitar players go into leads, the delay kicks in, and it helps the sound a little bit and helps the feel and makes it a little bit easier. But, I’m so used to just playing with my amps plugged into my guitar, both rhythms and leads: no echo, no delay, no chorus, maybe a little bit of wah pedal. When I play a clean sound on stage or in the studio, I’ll put a little bit of chorus on there. When I think a song really calls for it, I’ll put some delay on it, and it will be very exaggerated and very obvious. But, for the most part, I’m very simple. As long as I can blend those two amps, I can get my sound, and that’s how I get it.
Gibson: How much midrange do you have in your sound?
Hammett: I like to EQ out a lot of the midrange, but you have to leave some midrange in there, or else you kind of get lost in the mix. You need some midrange EQ in there just to stand out and give the sound its own stage, so it can stand out in the mix. If you have too many mids EQed out and you’re super scooped, you can have trouble standing out in the mix, especially if you have two guitar players. So, midrange is essential.
Read Part 1 of Gibson.com’s interview with Kirk Hammett here!
Photo: Anton Corbijn