Kirk Hammett: The Guitarist Who Shreds and Inspires

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  May 3, 2022

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Kirk Lee Hammett (born November 18, 1962) is the lead guitarist and a songwriter in the heavy metal band Metallica and has been a member of the band since 1983. Before joining Metallica he formed and named the band Exodus. In 2003, Hammett was ranked 11th on Rolling Stone’s list of The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. In 2009, Hammett was ranked number 5 in Joel McIver’s book The 100 Greatest Metal Guitarists.

Let’s find out more about this legendary musician and his life and career.

Unleashing the Guitar God: Kirk Hammett

Kirk Hammett is a legendary American guitarist, best known as the lead guitarist of the heavy metal band Metallica. He was born on November 18, 1962, in San Francisco, California. Hammett started playing guitar at the age of 15 and was heavily influenced by the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Jimmy Page.

The Guitarist and his Style

Hammett’s playing style is heavily influenced by the blues and rock music, which he blends with his signature heavy metal sound. He is known for his fast and precise playing, as well as his use of power chords and intricate solos. Hammett’s playing is often characterized by his use of the wah-wah pedal, which he uses to create a distinctive tone.

The Instruments He Uses

Hammett is a big fan of guitars and has a vast collection of them. He is known for his love of the Gibson Les Paul and has a signature model with the company. He also uses guitars from ESP, LTD, and other manufacturers. Hammett’s guitars are often customized to his specifications, with lightweight materials and advanced preamp systems to bring out the best tone.

Recording and Live Performances

Hammett’s guitar work can be heard on all of Metallica’s albums, and he has also released a solo album titled “Hammett’s Licks” in 1997. He is known for his high-energy performances on stage, often jumping and running around while playing. Hammett’s guitar solos are some of the most iconic in rock and metal music history.

Influence and Legacy

Hammett is considered one of the most influential guitarists of all time, and his work with Metallica has inspired countless guitarists around the world. He has been named one of the greatest guitarists of all time by Rolling Stone magazine and has won numerous awards for his playing. Hammett continues to be an active musician and is always looking for new ways to push the boundaries of his playing.

The Early Days of Kirk Hammett: From Shoebox Speakers to the Greatest Guitarists List

Kirk Hammett was born on November 18, 1962, in San Francisco, California. His mother, Teofila, was of Filipino descent, and his father, Dennis, was of Irish and Scottish descent. Kirk attended De Anza High School in Richmond, California, where he met future Metallica bandmate, Les Claypool of the experimental funk band Primus.

The Beginning of a Guitarist

Kirk’s interest in music began at a young age, and he started picking up the guitar when he was just a little kid. His father was a merchant marine, and he would bring home guitars from his travels. Kirk’s first guitar was a Montgomery Ward catalog guitar that he found in a shoebox. He attempted to customize it by adding a speaker from a radio, but it eventually ended up in the trash.

The Rolling Stones and the Sound of Metal

Kirk’s love for rock and roll began with the Rolling Stones, and he was drawn to the sound of metal when he heard Black Sabbath’s debut album. He was also influenced by guitarists like Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen, and Randy Rhoads.

The High School Band Days

Kirk played in several bands during his high school days, including an extensive list of cover bands. He played both guitar and bass, and he was quoted as saying that he “learned how to play guitar by playing bass.” He also played in a band with future Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine.

The Actual Beginning of His Career

Kirk’s career as a guitarist began when he formed the band Exodus in 1980. He played on their first album, “Bonded by Blood,” before leaving the band to join Metallica in 1983.

Ranking Among the Greatest Guitarists of All Time

Kirk’s high-speed soloing and unique sound have earned him a spot on many “greatest guitarists” lists. He ranks number 11 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.

The Metallica Days

Kirk’s firing guitar solos and close collaboration with Metallica’s lead singer, James Hetfield, helped to form the band’s signature sound. He has played on every Metallica album since “Kill ‘Em All” in 1983 and has become an integral part of the band’s success.

The Special Method of Playing

Kirk’s playing style is characterized by his use of the wah-wah pedal and his high-speed soloing. He has also developed a special method of playing that involves using his mind to flow with the music, rather than relying on a set list or pre-planned solos.

The Extensive Equipment List

Kirk’s extensive equipment list includes guitars from Gibson, Rickenbacker, and Fender, as well as a number of custom guitars. He is also known for his use of the wah-wah pedal and his signature sound.

The Short Series of Hours

Kirk’s time with Metallica has been marked by a series of highs and lows. He has been with the band for over 30 years, but he has also struggled with addiction and has had to take breaks from touring to focus on his health.

Overall, Kirk Hammett’s early life was marked by his love for music and his dedication to becoming a great guitarist. His unique sound and high-speed soloing have earned him a place among the greatest guitarists of all time, and his contributions to Metallica have helped to shape the sound of metal music.

The Thrash Metal Guitar Master: Kirk Hammett’s Career

  • Kirk Hammett began his career as a guitarist in the Bay Area thrash metal band, Exodus.
  • He was named the second greatest guitarist of all time by Rolling Stone magazine.
  • Hammett played a significant role in the formation of Metallica, going on to become the lead guitarist for the band.
  • He replaced Dave Mustaine in 1983, who later went on to form Megadeth.
  • Hammett’s skills as a guitarist were thought to be a better fit for Metallica’s sound.

The Rise of Metallica

  • Hammett’s first recording with Metallica was the 1983 single, “Whiplash”.
  • He later went on to record multiple albums with the band, including the critically acclaimed “Master of Puppets” and “…And Justice for All”.
  • Hammett’s fast picking and heavy riffs became a signature sound for the band.
  • He is known for his ability to bridge the gap between heavy metal and blues, pulling from both genres to create a unique sound.
  • Hammett’s solos and performances on songs like “One” and “Enter Sandman” are considered some of the best in metal music history.

Awards and Recognition

  • Hammett has won numerous awards for his musical contributions, including multiple Grammy Awards with Metallica.
  • He is considered one of the greatest guitarists of all time and has been included in multiple “best of” lists.
  • Hammett’s influence on the world of metal music is undeniable, with many guitarists citing him as a significant influence on their own playing.

Dispute with Exodus

  • Hammett’s departure from Exodus was not without dispute.
  • He was accused of stealing riffs and musical ideas from the band for use in Metallica songs.
  • Hammett has denied these claims, stating that any similarities were coincidental.
  • The dispute eventually led to a falling out between Hammett and the members of Exodus.

Life on Tour

  • Hammett has spent a significant portion of his career on tour with Metallica, playing to sold-out crowds around the world.
  • He is known for his energetic and engaging performances on stage.
  • Hammett’s availability for touring has been a significant factor in the band’s continued success.
  • He has also been known to collaborate with other musicians and bands, including a stint with the popular rock band, The Sleeping.

Later Career and Musical Ventures

  • Hammett has tried his hand at other musical ventures outside of Metallica, including a jazz project called “EXHIBIT B”.
  • He has also released a number of instructional videos and books on guitar playing.
  • Hammett is known for his love of horror movies and has even released his line of horror-themed guitars.
  • He continues to be an active member of Metallica, recording and touring with the band to this day.

Behind the Riffs: Kirk Hammett’s Personal Life

  • Kirk Hammett married his wife Lani in 1998.
  • The couple has two sons, Angel and Vincenzo.
  • They celebrated their 23rd wedding anniversary in June 2021.

Leaving Exodus and Joining Metallica

  • Kirk Hammett was the second guitarist to join Metallica in 1983, replacing Dave Mustaine.
  • Before joining Metallica, Hammett was a member of the thrash metal band Exodus.
  • He left Exodus to join Metallica just before the recording of their second album, “Ride the Lightning.”

Turning 60 and Reflecting on Career

  • Kirk Hammett turned 60 years old in November 2022.
  • He has worked with Metallica for over 30 years and has become one of the greatest guitarists in rock and metal music.
  • In 2021, Hammett announced that he was writing a book with Joel McIver, which will detail his career and personal life.

Memorable Moments and Viral Riffs

  • Kirk Hammett’s guitar riffs on songs like “Enter Sandman” and “Master of Puppets” have become some of the most popular and recognizable in metal music.
  • He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame alongside Metallica in 2009.
  • In 2020, his naming of the greatest guitarists of all time caused a stir online, with some fans disagreeing with his list.
  • Hammett’s thoughts on music and life often trend on social media and music news sites, with fans eager to hear his insights.

Personal Life and Publicity

  • Kirk Hammett has been open about his struggles with addiction and has credited music with helping him overcome it.
  • He is an avid collector of horror memorabilia and has a collection that includes movie props and costumes.
  • In 2021, Hammett worked with Burger King to bring back their “Enter Sandman” commercial from the 1990s.
  • He is active on social media, with an official Twitter account and a Facebook page where he shares updates on his personal life and career.
  • Hammett’s music is available for free downloads on various sites, and he has worked with AI scrobblers and developers to bring his music to a wider audience.

Shredding with Style: Kirk Hammett’s Equipment and Techniques

Kirk Hammett is known for his impressive guitar collection, featuring a mix of custom, standard, and limited edition models. Here are some of the guitars he’s known to play:

  • ESP KH-2: This is Hammett’s signature model, based on the ESP M-II. It features a thin U-shaped neck, EMG pickups, and a green skull graphic on the body.
  • Gibson Flying V: Hammett has been known to play a variety of Flying V models, including a red ’67 reissue and a white ’58 reissue.
  • Jackson Soloist: Hammett has used a number of different Jackson Soloist models over the years, including a black one with a chrome pickguard and a white one with a Karloff graphic on the body.
  • Ibanez RG: Hammett has been known to play Ibanez RG models, including a white one with a rose inlay on the fretboard.
  • ESP KH-4: This is a limited edition version of Hammett’s signature model, featuring a chrome pickguard and a different headstock design.
  • ESP KH-3: This is another limited edition version of Hammett’s signature model, featuring a “v” shaped headstock and a cover of the Misfits song “Green Hell” on the body.

Playing Techniques: Fast Picking and Magnetic Inlays

Hammett is known for his fast picking technique and his use of magnetic inlays on his guitars. Here are some of the techniques and features he’s known for:

  • Fast Picking: Hammett relies heavily on fast picking to play his solos and riffs. He’s said in interviews that he practices his picking technique every day to maintain his speed and accuracy.
  • Magnetic Inlays: Hammett has used guitars with magnetic inlays, which light up when he plays. These inlays are designed by German luthier Ulrich Teuffel and are featured on Hammett’s ESP and Gibson guitars.

Amplifiers and Effects: Relying on ESP and Gaisha Ī Esu

Hammett’s career has seen him rely on a range of amplifiers and effects to achieve his signature sound. Here are some of the products he’s used:

  • ESP Amplifiers: Hammett has used a range of ESP amplifiers over the years, including the KH-2, KH-3, and KH-4 models.
  • Gaisha Ī Esu Effects: Hammett has used a range of Gaisha Ī Esu effects pedals, including the Tube Screamer and the Metal Zone.
  • Magnetic Effects: Hammett has also used magnetic effects, such as the MXR Phase 90 and the Dunlop Cry Baby wah pedal.

Touring and Live Performances: Upside-Down Guitars and Vertical Inlays

Hammett is known for his energetic live performances and his use of unique guitars and inlays. Here are some of the guitars and features he’s used on tour:

  • Upside-Down Guitars: Hammett has been known to play guitars upside-down, with the headstock facing down. He’s said in interviews that this allows him to play more comfortably and with greater speed.
  • Vertical Inlays: Hammett has used guitars with vertical inlays, which run up and down the fretboard. These inlays are featured on his ESP and Gibson guitars.

Studio Recordings: ESP and EMG Pickups

Hammett’s studio recordings have relied heavily on his ESP guitars and EMG pickups. Here are some of the features he’s used in the studio:

  • ESP Guitars: Hammett has used a range of ESP guitars in the studio, including his signature KH-2 and KH-3 models.
  • EMG Pickups: Hammett has used EMG pickups in his guitars to achieve his signature sound. EMG pickups are known for their high output and clarity, making them ideal for heavy metal and hard rock music.

Shredding Through Discography: Kirk Hammett’s Rocking Career

  • Kill ‘Em All (1983)
  • Ride the Lightning (1984)
  • Master of Puppets (1986)
  • .And Justice for All (1988)
  • Metallica (1991)
  • Load (1996)
  • Reload (1997)
  • St. Anger (2003)
  • Death Magnetic (2008)
  • Hardwired. to Self-Destruct (2016)

Hammett’s main gig has been with Metallica, but he has also released solo albums and EPs. He has poured his heart and soul into his music, and his discography is a testament to his advanced skills and techniques.

Live and Loud: Kirk Hammett’s Tour Dates

  • Monsters of Rock Tour (1988)
  • The Black Album Tour (1991–1993)
  • Load/Reload Tour (1996–1998)
  • Garage Inc. Tour (1998–1999)
  • Summer Sanitarium Tour (2000)
  • Madly in Anger with the World Tour (2003–2004)
  • Metallica Tour (2008–2010)
  • World Magnetic Tour (2008–2010)
  • The Big Four Tour (2010–2011)
  • Escape from the Studio ’06 Tour (2006)
  • Lollapalooza (2015)
  • WorldWired Tour (2016–2019)

Hammett has headbanged his way through stadiums and sheds, helping Metallica become one of the biggest names in metal. He has also toured with his side project, Exodus, and his band, Kirk Hammett and the Les Claypool Frog Brigade.

From Demos to Box Sets: Kirk Hammett’s Releases

  • No Life ’til Leather (1982)
  • Kill ‘Em All (1983)
  • Ride the Lightning (1984)
  • Master of Puppets (1986)
  • .And Justice for All (1988)
  • Metallica (1991)
  • Load (1996)
  • Reload (1997)
  • Garage Inc. (1998)
  • St. Anger (2003)
  • Death Magnetic (2008)
  • Hardwired. to Self-Destruct (2016)
  • The $5.98 E.P.: Garage Days Re-Revisited (1987)
  • Live Shit: Binge & Purge (1993)
  • S&M (1999)
  • Some Kind of Monster (2004)
  • The Videos 1989–2004 (2006)
  • Quebec Magnetic (2012)
  • Through the Never (2013)
  • Cliff ‘Em All (1987)
  • A Year and a Half in the Life of Metallica (1992)
  • Cunning Stunts (1998)
  • Classic Albums: Metallica – The Black Album (2001)
  • The Big Four: Live from Sofia, Bulgaria (2010)
  • Orgullo, Pasión, y Gloria: Tres Noches en la Ciudad de México (2009)
  • Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, Metallica! – Live at Le Bataclan. Paris, France – June 11th, 2003 (2016)
  • Hardwired. to Self-Destruct (Deluxe Edition) (2016)
  • Master of Puppets (Deluxe Box Set) (2017)
  • .And Justice for All (Deluxe Box Set) (2018)
  • The $5.98 E.P.: Garage Days Re-Revisited (Remastered) (2018)
  • The $5.98 E.P.: Garage Days Re-Revisited (Deluxe Box Set) (2018)
  • Helping Hands. Live & Acoustic at the Masonic (2019)
  • Live at the Masonic (2019)
  • Live & Acoustic from HQ: Helping Hands Concert & Auction (2020)

Hammett’s discography is a treasure trove for metal fans, with hits like “Enter Sandman,” “Master of Puppets,” and “One” topping the charts. He has also released acoustic and live albums, box sets, and special editions for die-hard fans to binge and purge.


Who is Kirk Hammett? 

Kirk Hammett is a legendary American guitarist best known for his lead work with the band Metallica. He’s known for his signature use of the wah pedal and his fast and precise playing, and has been named one of the greatest guitarists of all time. 

I hope you’ve learned a lot about Kirk Hammett and his amazing career as a guitarist.

I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Neaera and a content marketer, dad, and love trying out new equipment with guitar at the heart of my passion, and together with my team, I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2020 to help loyal readers with recording and guitar tips.

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