Metallica's Kirk Hammett Discusses His New Line of KHDK Effect Pedals

Kirk Hammett has always been, as he puts it, a “pedal junkie.” At the San Rafael, California, building that Metallica calls its headquarters, the guitarist affirms that he has “shelves and shelves full of effects—hundreds of them, for sure,” he says.

Now, rather than merely collecting pedals, Hammett is making his own. The guitarist has paired up with industry vet David Karon, with whom he collaborated on his signature Randall amplifiers some years back, to form a new boutique pedal company, KHDK Electronics. The concept, Karon says, is to build high-quality, USA-made products that are “a little bit special and slightly different from what everyone else is doing.”

To that end, among the first pedals that KHDK has released is the Kirk Hammett Ghoul Screamer, which, the guitarist says, “is like a Tube Screamer on steroids. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for years.” The Ghoul Screamer boasts three control knobs (drive, tone and volume), as well as five extra switches—bass, high, body, and two for compression—that greatly expand the tonal options.

“So you have more ability to shape and mold the sound,” Hammett says. “The most important part for me in that regard is the two compression switches. I like to mess around with compression, and that was always a major thing I felt was missing on a Tube Screamer—to be able to have control over how much compression you want. So that’s one of my favorite components on this pedal.”

Adds Karon, “We wanted to take a circuit that everybody knows and loves, and that Kirk has been using since the beginning of Metallica, and create a pedal that offers a little something different than all the other products that are out there.”

Along with the Ghoul Screamer, KHDK has issued two additional pedals, the No. 1 Overdrive and the No. 2 Clean Boost, both of which, Karon says, “are original circuits that we created with our lead engineer, Antonin Salva [owner of Salvation Mods]. So the line is going to be a mix of pedals that boast completely new circuits, and ones that pay homage to already existing ones.”

Adds Hammett, “We’re going to take ideas and morph them, mutate them, expand on them and see where we wind up.” To that end, the company is currently in the midst of developing roughly 15 new products, including an octave fuzz and a wah. “And you know how I am about wah pedals,” Hammett says. “I’m addicted to them. So we’re going to take the wah pedal, throw it on the ground, break it open and see where we can go with all the individual components to make something new.”

“Kirk’s real strength is his overall tone knowledge,” Karon says. “He comes to us with an idea, then we go and create the rough draft of the idea, and then he comes in and perfects the idea. And from the rough draft to the final version is a huge difference. He just has a great ear for these things.”

As for whether or not Hammett will be using his new pedals with Metallica, the guitarist says, “I’ve been messing around with the Ghoul Screamer a lot at home and in rehearsal, and I’ll definitely have it in my back pocket when I go in to start recording leads in a few weeks.”

When asked if that means a new Metallica album is imminent, Hammett laughs. “All I can say is that if I’m recording leads, then that means all the backing tracks to whatever batch of songs we’re working on are done. So it’s a pretty good indication that we’re pretty deep into things.”

Photo: Jay Blakesburg

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Richard Bienstock

Rich is the co-author of the best-selling Nöthin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion. He is also a recording and performing musician, and a former editor of Guitar World magazine and executive editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine. He has authored several additional books, among them Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the companion to the documentary of the same name.