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Joe Satriani Recalls His Student, Metallica's Kirk Hammett: “He Was Very Eager to Learn”

(Image credit: George De Sota/Getty Images)

As many know, Joe Satriani was a guitar teacher before he found fame with his 1987 album, Surfing with the Alien. He must have been a great instructor, because many of his students went on to achieve fame of their own. Among the best known are Steve Vai, Alex Skolnick, Andy Timmons, Larry LaLonde, Rick Hunolt, Charlie Hunter, Jeff Tyson and Kevin Cadogan.

I a new interview with Classic Rock magazine, Satch sings the praises of one student in particular: Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, who he recalls as a “young kid full of talent and enthusiasm.”

“Kirk was a great student,” Satriani says. “He was very eager to learn. His fingers moved great—and he had great taste in guitar players like Michael Schenker and Uli John Roth. He was completely musical.”

Hammett had been playing in the Bay Area thrash band Exodus, but Satch recalls that he suddenly was asked to join Metallica. “He disappeared for a few months then came back with a copy of Kill ’Em All,” Satriani says. He recalls helping Hammett figure out the key centers for his solos in some of Metallica’s songs.

“Thrash metal songs had brand new chord progressions that had nothing to do with blues, Zeppelin or the Beatles.

“Kirk would come in and say, ‘Check out this new song I have to solo over—what key is this in?’ Often the song wasn’t in just one key. I had to teach him to decipher the song’s tonality, to understand the musical possibilities, and how to make his own decisions on what to play."

Satriani says he could hear Hammett begin to use more exotic scales as Metallica’s career and music advanced. “But every now and again he’ll still play a solo that sits on top of the riff—the one from ‘Sad But True’ echoes the early Kirk Hammett,” he says.

“Even after all these years his finger tone’s still the same. He burst on to the scene with that sound and throughout Metallica’s musical journey his solos come up big, thick and full of energy.”

Visit TeamRock.com for the full interview, along with Satriani’s analysis of Queen guitarist Brian May.

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Christopher Scapelliti is editor-in-chief of Guitar Player (opens in new tab) magazine, the world’s longest-running guitar magazine, founded in 1967. In his extensive career, he has authored in-depth interviews with such guitarists as Pete Townshend, Slash, Billy Corgan, Jack White, Elvis Costello and Todd Rundgren, and audio professionals including Beatles engineers Geoff Emerick and Ken Scott. He is the co-author of Guitar Aficionado: The Collections: The Most Famous, Rare, and Valuable Guitars in the World (opens in new tab), a founding editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine, and a former editor with Guitar WorldGuitar for the Practicing Musician and Maximum Guitar. Apart from guitars, he maintains a collection of more than 30 vintage analog synthesizers.