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Kirk Hammett: Hardwired

Issue #54

Kirk now also owns one of the most iconic and revered electric guitars in the history of popular music; the 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard that was previously owned by Fleetwood Mac founder Peter Green and later, guitar legend Gary Moore.
Jonathan Graham

With Metallica's WorldWired Tour reaching the UK shores in support of the metal icon's tenth studio album 'Hardwired... To Self-Destruct,' Kirk Hammett sits down with Guitar Interactive Magazine editor Jonathan Graham to discuss the band's latest release, his love for the Green/Moore Les Paul "Burst", KHDK Electronics and much more.

During the spring of 1983, Kirk Hammett received an offer of an audition from a then, up-and-coming thrash metal outfit that would alter his life forever. The band (who Hammett had previously supported with his band Exodus) was Metallica – whose members included, singer/guitarist James Hetfield, drummer Lars Ulrich, bassist Cliff Burton and lead guitarist Dave Mustaine. Mustaine was about to be kicked out of the band due to numerous accounts of erratic and violent behaviour, and with a new guitarist needed urgently, Kirk scraped the money together to fly out to their new home base of New York for the tryout.

Within an hour of plugging in, Hammett got the gig. However, the offer of becoming a permanent member of the lineup was never actually presented to him.  He assumed it must be the case when the four-piece began work on their debut album, 'Kill 'Em All,' which would be released later that same year.

As Hammett had only just joined the band a short time prior to stepping into the studio, much of Mustaine's groundwork had already been set in his trademark approach to riffs and soloing for the band's debut. However, on Metallica's next two releases, 'Ride the Lightning' (1984) and 1986's 'Master of Puppets', Hammett would begin to showcase his own style on what many consider to be among not only the band's finest, but heavy metal's all-time great albums.

In contrast to the continued success came tragedy when Cliff Burton died mid-tour in September of 1986. The accident almost brought the band to an end but Metallica would soldier on, enlisting former Flotsam & Jetsam bassist Jason Newsted and go on to issue two mega-hit albums, 1988's '...And Justice for All' and 1991's self-titled release.

These albums and the subsequent sold-out tours and hit releases of the '90s and '00s firmly established Metallica as one of rock and metals biggest acts and Hammett a bonafide guitar hero.

Great players need great instruments, and alongside Kirk's string of fantastic custom models from ESP, (famously with some of the most incredible artwork from classic horror movies beloved by Hammett)

Kirk now also owns one of the most iconic and revered electric guitars in the history of popular music; the 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard that was previously owned by Fleetwood Mac founder Peter Green and later, guitar legend Gary Moore.

“It’d been on the market for a few years, but the price was just way too high. Stated Hammett.

“I kind of waltzed into a situation where the owner of the guitar needed money and of course I totally took advantage of the situation, worked out a deal and bought it, all within an hour’s time, because I was so friggin’ blown away by the fact that I was holding a guitar that Peter Green played in Fleetwood Mac and then Gary Moore played for, like, 25 years after.”

As Hammett notes, part of this particular guitar’s mystique is down to its distinctive warm-but-trebly tone.

“It’s a unique guitar in that the pickup is turned around,” Kirk says. “It’s facing the opposite way, so when you play with both pickups on in the middle position, it creates an out-of-phase sound that almost sounds like a Fender Strat.”

Green attributed the tone to his tinkering, claiming he’d reversed a magnet in the neck-position humbucker. However, in another version of the story, a repairman is said to have accidentally rewound the neck pickup in reverse. In all likelihood, the alteration occurred during the guitar’s manufacture, as during a detailed inspection in the 1980s it was noted that the pickups internals looked undisturbed, indicating a mistake at the factory and backed up by the fact that Joe Bonamassa owns a Burst with the same error.

Green had bought the Les Paul second-hand for the equivalent of $300 and used it during his time with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and Fleetwood Mac recording many of the band’s greatest songs, including “The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Prong Crown),” “Oh Well,” “Albatross” and “Black Magic Woman.”

In the early 1970s, Green sold the guitar to Gary Moore who used the guitar for much of his career, including on his solo records, and with Thin Lizzy and Colosseum II. The guitar can also be heard on “Parisienne Walkways,” Moore’s best-known song, from his 1978 album, 'Back on the Streets'.

Moore sold the guitar in 2006 (according to various reports online) for somewhere in the region of $750,000 and $1.2 million. It was purchased by Phil Winfield at Maverick Music and, reportedly, later put up for sale on the company's website for $2 million. Since then it has been owned by one or more private collectors before Hammett purchased it in 2014 from Richard Henry Guitars.

Hammett used "Greeny" extensively during the recording of 'Hardwired... To Self-Destruct,' and the guitar has been seen regularly during the WorldWired Tour. “The best tribute is that it’s being played again instead of being neglected by people who only bought it for the investment.” Stated Hammett.

Back in issue 17 of Guitar Interactive Magazine, we took a closer look at the guitar when the then custodian of the guitar, Phil Harris brought it into our studios and gave us some insight into the guitar’s history, as well as demoing some of the instruments incredible tones.

As if Kirk Hammett hasn't achieved enough with a list as long as your arm of hits, classic riffs and awards, he has now also found critical and commercial success in the boutique guitar pedal market through his company KHDK Electronics.

KHDK is made up of the initials of Hammett and his business partner David Karon, who had previously collaborated with Hammett on the design of his limited edition Randall half stack amp released back in 2008.

With the talents of Antonin Salva (of Salvation Mods) added to the mix as a product designer/engineer in 2015, the birth of Kirk Hammett's signature overdrive: the Ghoul Screamer was realised.

Based on a clone of his slightly modified TS-808, (the exact pedal Hammett has used throughout his whole career, the pedal is designed to create the same tone of Kirk's original model from 1979,

but with five mini toggle switches for bass, highs, and body, plus two variations of compression added.

"I dig having this...it's like creating my own Screamer." Says Kirk.

Hammett decided that every guitarist should have the same privilege as him and to feel like a mad tone scientist blending their specific sound.

Hot on the heels of the Ghoul Screamer is the Ghoul JR, a hyper-powerful overdrive circuit coiled inside a micro-sized box. It's the evil little brother of the Ghoul Screamer, featuring its most used settings in half the size and twice the gain. Yes, it goes past 11.

"Evil things come in small packages," Kirk tells us.

The mini pedal delivers massive overdrive with a wide range of colours from fuzzy vintage treble boost to creamy, liquid tone.

The haunting ghoulish face on the enclosure was hand drawn by tattoo wizard Tim Lehi.

There is also a brand new full-on mode for even more powerful cut-through. Hot enough to be your main overdrive, also works great for boosting an already overdriven amp and even brings out the best of its neighbours on a pedalboard.

Every KHDK pedal is built by the family-owned company in Paducah, Kentucky, which allows KHDK to maintain the high standards of quality control they demand. While Kirk Hammett is always going to be best known for creating some of the catchiest heavy riffs of all time, also being a well-respected pedal manufacturer is by no means a bad sideline in anyone's book.

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