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More Open-String Lick Ideas from Metallica's Kirk Hammett

(Image credit: Christopher Polk/Getty Images)

This classic "The Sound and The Fury" column by Metallica's Kirk Hammett is from the July 2000 issue of Guitar World magazine.

Last month, we took a class look at the opening four bars of my solo in "Of Wolf and Man" (Metallica).

As you may remember, I broke down the lead section into two two-bar phrases, both of which relied heavily on open-string notes. I also told you about something I read in a Jeff Beck interview when I first started playing.

It really struck me, but took a few years for me to understand what he was talking about. He said he liked to play things that are easy but sound really hard.

As we learned from the beginning of my "Of Wolf and Man" solo, using open notes is a very easy way to achieve this—as long as it's done with a bit of thought, of course. So, as promised at the end of last month's column, this time we're gonna explore more lead ideas that use open-string notes. As you'll see, using open notes can add extra life, dimension and character to your leads.

The ironic thing about open strings is that we all use them like there's no tomorrow when we're riffing, but most of us tend to forget about them when it comes time to solo. That's a crying shame as far as I'm concerned, because, as we discovered last month, using open strings during a solo can be very effective.

In addition to being east to play, open-string notes have some very useful advantages: They're instantly accessible, regardless of where your fretboard hand is on the neck. They work well in a bunch of different keys (think about it), and they have a naturally bright and twangy sound that can't be matched by any of their fretted counterparts. Compare the open high E string with the exact same note at the fifth fret on the B string, and you'll hear exactly what I mean.

To illustrate just how effective open-string notes can be during a solo, I'm going to give you a few examples. FIGURE 1 is an ascending E natural minor (E F# G A B C D) run that uses the open G-string note as a pedal point while the left hand climbs the neck using a series of rapid hammer-on and pull-off combinations. In addition ti satisfying Jeff Beck's "easy to play but sounds hard" criterion, FIGURE 1 allows me to move seamlessly up the neck without missing a beat.

FIGURE 2 is another slurred, ascending lick in E minor, but this time the open string being used as the pedal point is B. As you can see, all I'm doing is moving a simple two-note, pull-off pattern chromatically up the neck. Due to the chromatic nature of the run, I hit quite a few "outside" notes (notes outside the prevailing key of E minor). This line still makes sense, though, because of the continually repeated B note (the fifth of the E minor scale) and the fact that I resolve it by coming back into key at the end.

Using open-string notes can provide you with a very simple and effective way of playing arpeggios: FIGURE 3 is a good example of this approach in action. The arpeggios being played (B Em E Am) are indicated above the tablature. You can hear me making good use of the B and E minor arpeggios on the B string during the intro to "Am I Evil?" (Kill 'em All).

FIGURE 4 is the minor line I play in the third and fourth bars of my solo in "The God That Failed" (Metallica). Here, I play an E harmonic minor (E F# G A B C D#) pattern on the B string while using the open high E-string note as a drone. I got the idea from the Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black." In both songs, the droning string adds a distinctly Eastern, sitar-like vibe. Just so you know, I use strict alternate picking on this run: downstrokes on all the B-string notes and upstokes on all the open E's.