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Metallica's James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett Talk Guitar Solos and Gear in 1991 Guitar World Interview

Metallica's James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett Talk Guitar Solos and Gear in 1991 Guitar World Interview

Did Bob understand the Metallica guitar sound?

HETFIELD: Oh yeah, and he actually added to it. After we recorded some of the new album, we pulled out the actual master tapes from Justice and singled out the guitar sound. I discovered something that I already knew -- that my Justice sound lacked body. As I mentioned earlier, midrange has always been a no-no for me, but Bob showed me that having a touch of it in there really adds to your tone.

I think he was a little intimidated at the start, because he wasn't sure how far he could push us. Bob was trying to be real professional, so we had to loosen him up. He was really polite at first, and would say things like, "It's your album, do whatever you want, and, "it's only my opinion, but how about if we try this?" [laughs] However, seven months in the studio with Metallica tends to change a man. And Bob's been changed. [laughs] He's got a few more gray hairs, a few more wrinkles, he grew a tumor and has some sore knuckles from hitting the studio walls.

HAMMETT: Yeah, he really loosened up! In no time he was screaming and yelling and saying stuff like, "You have to get angry for this part -- play it really mean and dirty!" Then we'd record another part and he'd say, "Be bluesy and bendy." And to illustrate his point, Bob would move his shoulders all around. I'd just stare at him like he was a madman, thinking, "Uh, well, okay." But his approach eventually worked. I really started focusing on what he was trying to say. He encouraged me to think conceptually, and not with my fingers. I thought a lot about what I felt would be the best way to approach the solo from a mental standpoint. As a result, my solos turned out smoother, and more confidently executed.

Were you ever afraid that Bob was going to tum you into a pop band?

HETFIELD: Some people thought Bob would make us sound too commercial. You know, "Oh, Bob works with Bon Jovi, Bob works with Motley Crue." But if [former Metallica producer] Flemming Rasmussen worked on a Bon Jovi record, would Bon Jovi all of a sudden sound like Metallica? We chose Bob because we were really impressed with his crisp, full-sounding production on Cult's Electric album and on Motley Crue's Dr. Feelgood.

HAMMETT: We wanted to create a different record and offer something new to our audience. I hate it when bands stop taking chances. A lot of bands put out the same record three or four times, and we didn't want to fall into that rut.

The truth is, in the past, we may have been guilty of putting out the same running order -- you know, start out with a fast song, then the title track, then a ballad. Other than that, though, we've really tried to create something different everytime we went into the studio. And on Metallica, we made a conscious effort to alter and expand the band's basic elements.

Did you experiment with different amps and cabinets?

HETFIELD: We tried a bunch of amps, but I ended up using the same Mesa/Boogie Simul-class Mark II that I've used on the last three albums. In Los Angeles there are a million amps you can try out, but none of them were up to snuff. Bob also brought in a bunch of crappy-looking vintage amps. We gave everything a shot and ended up with the same old shit. [laughs]

I must admit, though, it was a lot of fun trying out all those little Sixties and Seventies amps -- they really sounded unique. A lot of metal players have forgotten that they can be useful. We used a couple of vintage amps for texture. But I wasn't about to play a rhythm part through a fucking Fender Supro amp, you know? We sure as hell weren't making Led Zeppelin I.

Kirk, what did you use for amplification?

HAMMETT: I used a Bradshaw preamp for the lows and mids, and a couple of Marshalls for the nice clean highs. We EQ'ed it through the board a little bit, and it worked out great. The miking process was pretty simple. Bob had an engineer move a mic around in front of the cabinet until I heard the sound I wanted.

Is your studio setup the same as your live setup?

HETFIELD: My live sound does not work in the studio, which is a completely different animal. Every little thing is detrimental to the sound. And if someone moves a mic, you've lost it. It's pretty much a case of "lock the door and set up a police line."

What do you look for in an amplifier?

HETFIELD: A smooth, solid, round sound. Something that doesn't sound fake. You can always fiddle around with the EQ later. A lot of modern amps and preamps sound great when you're jamming by yourself, but don't hold up in a band situation. The sound isn't dense enough, and the lows and highs tend to get soaked up by the bass and cymbals.

James, you also tried a variety of guitars, which seems a little out of character for you.

HETFIELD: My primary guitar was an ESP Explorer with EMG pickups, but I also used a Telecaster, a Gretsch White Falcon with a Bigsby and a Guild 12-string. I used the other guitars just for bits and pieces.

Kirk, I understand you didn't use your '74 Gibson Flying V on this record. What was your primary axe?

HAMMETT: I used two guitars -- a Strat-style ESP with two EMG's and an '89 Gibson Les Paul Deluxe with two EMG's. The way I settled on those guitars is pretty funny. At the beginning of the recording process, I laid down one of my solos 15 times, using 15 different guitars. Then I listened to each track, and -- without knowing which guitar was which -- selected the tone that sounded the best. I finally narrowed it down to the ESP and the Les Paul.

And you nailed the solo perfectly each time?

HAMMETT: Well, not exactly. [laughs] Good enough to A-B them, though. It was kind of interesting to play all those different guitars. Bob brought in a lot of different guitars, too. He's a guitar player -- or so he says. [laughs]

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