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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

What happened to your black '74 Gibson Flying V?

HAMMETT: I used that V on every album prior to this one, but the ESP just sounded a bit rounder. Also, I felt it was time for a change. I bought that V while working at a Burger King. I worked three months, just long enough to be able to afford it. As soon as I made $400 -- enough money to buy the V -- I quit. I don't even know how much it costs to buy a guitar these days -- I haven't set foot in a guitar store in ages.

The songs on the new album are shorter than usual.

HETFIELD: Metallica shorter -- six minutes instead of ten.

It should be easier to get some radio airplay.

HETFIELD: That was always a problem. We'd record a song that people liked and wanted to hear on the radio, and the radio bastards wouldn't play it because it was too long. Or they would want to edit it, which we wouldn't allow.
But radio airplay wasn't the whole idea behind our writing shorter songs. It just seemed to us that we had pretty much done the longer song format to death. We were only able to fit about 12 songs in a two-and-a-half hour show. These shorter songs are going to help a bit -- we're going to be able to play more of 'em. [laughs] We have one song that has just two riffs in it, which is pretty amazing. It only takes two minutes to get the point across!

Shorter songs mean shorter guitar solos.

HAMMETT: In some instances.

Also, the new album is less complex harmonically.

HAMMETT: That's true. There are fewer key changes. There aren't many flatted fourth progressions, or anything like that -- just straight-ahead major and minor keys. The most complex song is probably "Anywhere I Roam," which suggests a Phrygian dominant scale.

Metallica has acquired a reputation for being meticulous. How often do you return to and repair something you think could be improved?

HAMMETT: I fix things all the time. Every time I do a solo, I re-check it and correct things that don't hit the mark.

In doing so, do you ever get the feeling that your behavior is less musical than it is... anal retentive?

HAMMETT: [laughs] It's like this -- you have to live with it. When you know you're going to be listening to a performance over 500 times, it's important to be happy with it. Believe me, there are mistakes on our other albums and I can't bring myself to listen to them. It's torture.

Which cuts?

HAMMETT: I'm not going to say! [laughs] You have to pick them out yourself.

What really stands out about Metallica is its feel.

HETFIELD: That's what we wanted -- a live feel. In the past, Lars and I constructed the rhythm parts without Kirk and Jason, or Lars played to a click by himself. This time I wanted to try playing as a band unit in the studio. It lightens things up and you get more of a vibe. Everyone was in the same room and we were able to watch each other. That helped a lot, especially with some of the bass and lead stuff. It also helped that we'd played most of the songs for two months, even before we entered the studio. Unfortunately, Lars kind of pussied out at the end -- he didn't want everyone there. I guess it's kind of difficult to work in the studio when you're not used to a new song, and there are all these people around.

Lars is always very involved in the Metallica production process. What is his input with regards to the guitar sound?

HETFIELD: He doesn't mess with the guitar sound -- just the bass guitar. [laughs]! He can say whatever he wants, but I think he's pretty confident in my ability to know what's right as far as the guitar goes.

While the songs on Metallica are less complex, the orchestration on this album is more sophisticated than your previous efforts.

HAMMETT: That's right. I think the degree of subtlety may shock people. Bob's really good with sound, and we took advantage of it by using different guitars and more vocal harmonies.

There are fewer guitar overdubs on this record, though. I used to layer 80 guitars in my attempt to create a heavy sound. But for one part of the composite, and Bob would like another. Then I'd ask Lars and James one part of the composite, and Bob would like another. Then I'd ask Lars and James for their opinions, which only complicated things. [laughs]. I usually ended up walking out of the room while everyone else fought it out

Were there any songs that didn't make it to the album?

HETFIELD: No. We went in and recorded 12. There are no other half-written songs sitting around anywhere. Whatever we wrote is there. It only takes one day of trying to write something to tell if it's going to end up in the dumper. [laughs] I've discovered that sheer quantity doesn't necessarily make for a heavier sound; if anything, overdubs make guitars sound mushier. As far as rhythms go, there are either two or three tracks, and they're split pretty evenly. There is a lot more separation on this album, which also makes it sound punchier. With a pair of headphones, you can tell who's doing what.

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