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Kirk Hammett Guitar Tone: Settings, Tuning, and More

Updated: Jun 4

Kirk Hammett's guitar tone, the legendary guitar sound of Metallica, has left an indelible mark on the world of heavy metal with his distinctive guitar playing. From his iconic riffs to his blistering solos, Hammett's sound is instantly recognizable and revered by guitarists worldwide. In this comprehensive guide, we'll delve into the secrets behind Kirk Hammett's guitar tone, explore his signature settings, and uncover the nuances of his preferred guitar tuning.

kirk hammett playing guitar solo on a concert using his esp guitar.

Kirk Hammett: A Brief History Before we dive into the intricacies of his tone

let's take a moment to appreciate Kirk Hammett's illustrious career. Born on November 18, 1962, in San Francisco, California, Hammett's passion for music began at an early age. Influenced by the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Black Sabbath, and Led Zeppelin, he honed his skills on the guitar and eventually joined Metallica in 1983, replacing the band's original lead guitarist, Dave Mustaine.

Since then, Hammett has played a pivotal role in shaping Metallica's sound, contributing to iconic albums like "Master of Puppets," "Ride the Lightning," and "...And Justice for All." His virtuosic playing, combined with his innovative approach to tone and technique, has solidified his status as one of the greatest guitarists of all time.

Kirk Hammett's Guitar Tone:

Hammett's guitar tone is characterized by its thick, heavy distortion, soaring sustain, and razor-sharp clarity. Achieving this signature sound requires a careful balance of equipment, settings, and playing techniques. By carefully dialing in the gain on his amplifiers and using high-output pickups like the EMG 81 and EMG 60, Hammett is able to push his signal into overdrive without sacrificing clarity.

Kirk Hammett Tone Settings

To replicate Kirk Hammett's tone, it's essential to start with the right gear. Hammett has long been associated with using ESP guitars, particularly his custom signature models. Paired with high-output pickups, such as EMG 81 and EMG 60, these guitars deliver the sharp, aggressive tone synonymous with Hammett's playing.

In terms of amplification, Hammett favors a combination of Marshall and Mesa/Boogie amps. His go-to amp settings typically involve cranking up the gain while scooping the mids for maximum heaviness. A typical starting point for his amp settings would be:

  • Gain: 7-8

  • Bass: 6-7

  • Mid: 4-5

  • Treble: 7-8

  • Presence: 6-7

Effects also play a crucial role in shaping Hammett's tone. He's known for using a variety of pedals, including the MXR Phase 90, Dunlop Cry Baby Wah, and Boss NS-2 Noise Suppressor. These pedals add depth, texture, and sustain to his sound, allowing him to cut through the mix with ease.

Kirk Hammett Guitar Tuning:

Another key aspect of Kirk Hammett's tone is his preferred guitar tuning. While Metallica has used various tunings throughout their career, Hammett's go-to tuning for many of their songs is E standard (EADGBE). However, he's also known to experiment with alternate tunings, such as drop D (DADGBE) and even down-tuned setups for added heaviness.

Hammett's tuning choices are often dictated by the song's musical requirements, with lower tunings lending themselves to heavier, more aggressive riffs, while standard tuning allows for greater versatility and melodic expression.

Kirk Hammett Guitar Pick: Finalization of the Legend's Sound

Hammett prefers picks made from durable materials like Tortex or Delrin. He tends to use picks in the medium to heavy range, typically around 0.73mm to 1.0mm in thickness, with a slightly rounded tip for a smooth attack and grip. By selecting the right pick, Hammett maintains control over his playing dynamics, enabling him to execute lightning-fast runs and intricate solos with precision

Final thought

Mastering the Kirk Hammett guitar tone requires more than just the right equipment – it demands an understanding of his playing style, gear preferences, and the nuances of his tone settings and tuning choices. By following the guidelines outlined in this guide, you'll be well on your way to capturing the essence of Kirk Hammett's legendary sound and infusing it into your own playing. Whether you're shredding through Metallica classics or forging your path in the world of heavy metal, harnessing the power of Kirk Hammett's tone will undoubtedly take your playing to new heights.

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