Metallica's James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett Talk Guitar Solos and Gear in 1991 Guitar World Interview
Kirk, "The Unforgiven" features an unusual solo. How did it evolve?
HAMMETT: That was probably the most challenging solo on the album. I had something worked out before I got into the studio, but Bob felt it wasn't quite appropriate. He asked if I could try something dirtier and more sustaining -- something more in the vein of Jeff Beck. At first I was kind of hurt, but then I realized he was right. I started finger-picking a chordal thing, and Bob liked the way it sounded. He said, "Why don't you play that entire guitar solo with your fingers, and really pull on the strings and slap them against the frets?" It was a cool idea. I did it and it sounded really percussive. That was the first time I fingerpicked a guitar solo on an album.
That's a great example of a song that was a challenge, feel-wise. Did any challenge your harmonic capabilities?
HAMMETT: "Of Wolf And Man." It reminded me of some of the more progressive music on Justice. The rhythm parts jumped from a I chord to a bV chord-you know, that E to Bb thing-which always presents a problem. I was stumped at first, but after a while I just started singing various lines and adapting my vocal melodies for the guitar. I discovered that singing shakes down a lot of imaginary boundaries, and disrupts that tendency to gravitate towards familiar scales and finger patterns on the guitar.
Does the band offer much input regarding your guitar solos?
HAMMETT: When you're that close to a performance, you sometimes need an objective opinion, and it's good to ask the guys. But you know, I'll only change so much. [laughs] They'll make suggestions, but they never tell me what to play. It's more like, ''I'm going to play what I think feels good, and if you don't like it, you tell me, and maybe I'll change it." We had a really big argument about a certain guitar solo. I thought one way and the guys thought another way. I said, "No, this is the way I want it to tum out." And that's the way we kept it. But it's good to have an objective opinion around, because it can lead to other areas and directions you didn't consider in the first place.
HAMMETT: The solo that really comes to mind is the one in "The God That Failed." I had this whole thing worked out, and Bob said, "I don't know if that's going to make it -- try something like this." And he half snag, half mumbled something. The only things really audible were the first three out of the eight or nine notes he was trying to sing. So I took those three notes and came up with a phrase that actually worked very, very well. Between his singing and my interpretation, we mapped out a solo that was a lot different than my original idea.
James, why is it that you don't play any solos?
HETFIELD: I can't play leads. I can do really cool harmony shit, and on slow songs I can do bendy, feely-type shit, but my strength is in writing riffs. I just have a better feel for rhythm. I'll never be able to play fast like Kirk. I don't even try, 'cause he's the man. Some of his solo stuff on this new album is really good. He's using a lot of wah-wah lately, which everyone in the band really loves.
Kirk, your use of the wah-wah pedal has almost become your signature.
HAMMETT: There's something about a wah pedal that really gets my gut going! People will probably say, "He's just hiding behind the wah." But that isn't the case. It's just that those frequencies really bring out a lot of aggression in my approach. Much of my playing is rhythmic and choppy; I use a lot of double stops. The wah just accents all those stops and chops and brings out the rhythmic aspect that much more.
The only problem I've had with my Vox wah is its tendency to move around on the floor. So now it sits on a rubber mat that says in big letters, "Kirk's Wah-Wah Rug." [laughs]
Your solos on this album seem much more fluid than those of the past. What's your secret?
HAMMETT: We toured for a year-and-a-half before we recorded this album, and that really helped my playing a lot. I also started listening to different kinds of music, which helped broaden my perspective. For example, I've been experimenting with slide guitar.
Additionally, I discovered a new recording process that really works for me. On Metallica I recorded six or seven different guitar solos for almost every song, took the best aspects of each solo, mapped out a master solo and made a composite. Then I learned how to play the composite solo, tightened it up and replayed it for the final version. The only bad thing about that process is that it led to a lot of arguments.
Didn't being in the studio for so long drive you crazy?
HETFIELD: Yes, it did! [laughs] Very much so. I don't remember doing anything else; I don't remember not living in the studio. I'm itching for people to hear this album because I'm sick of hearing it myself. That's the ultimate feeling -- when someone hears your shit and says, "That's good!" And I go, "I know, but it's good to hear you say it!'