Kirk Hammet Style!

learn to play like Kirk Hammett from Metallica
MetallicA! This month I’ve been looking guitarist “Kirk Hammett” of Metallica’s approach to creating a guitar solo. Kirk’s style is heavily influenced by a mix of angular, more modern metal, and classic rock style blues licks– which is what I’ve tried to show here.

Getting the Right Sound

For the backing track, I’ve used amp modelling software- which is more a matter of practicality. than personal taste. Although I have tried to model the equipment that Kirk would have used.

Kirk, himself, would probably be using his ESP LTD KH602 Kirk Hammett Signature Guitar through a 120 Watt Randall Stack. Copious use of his signature Wah almost goes without saying.

Although, as I explain in the video, I’ve had to use a Les Paul through a Marshall amp, due to certain circumstances.

The EQ on the amp should be set to cut the mids down to around 2, and both the bass and treble go up around 7. This is the classic thrash metal sound, although (since the black album) both guitarists from Metallica have been known to use more midrange.

If you’re on a bit more of a budget, you can get a similar sound from the 15 Watt Version of Kirk’s signature amp. There is also a more budget-range version of his guitar. So you can get his tone without hurting your pockets too much!

The Tab

You can download this tab as a .pdf file, along with the backing track and chord chart here. The backing track repeats four times, so that should give you plenty of time to solo!

a solo in the style of Metallica's Kirk Hammett

How to Play the Solo

You Will Need:

  • The minor pentatonic scale
  • The natural minor scale
  • The Dorian mode
  • Lots of Hammer-ons and Pull-offs

Tapping for Speed

The solo starts off with a quick, tapped lick that was inspired by the fast solo on the song ‘One’.

tapping lick in the style of Kirk Hammett's playing on the song One

For the first part, your fretting hand is playing notes from the first shape of the E minor pentatonic, at the 12th fret. I would suggest using your first finger on fret 12, and your little finger on fret 15.

Your picking hand is tapping first an F#, and then a G. For this, I’m thinking of the third shape of the E natural minor scale (or first shape of G major). Theory aside, both of these scales fit the underlying E5 chord in the backing track.

You can get very interesting licks by combining scales in this way. Playing hammer-ons, or pull-offs, in your fretting hand, while your picking hand taps another scale shape, further up the neck.

Although creating your own licks this way may take some getting used to!

Shifting the Pattern

Then, I shift the pattern down two frets so that my fretting hand is on frets 13 and 10. My tapping hand also moves down to start on fret 17, and moves up to fret 18.

In theory terms, we’re now playing the D Dorian mode– which still fits the E5 chord. However, it’s much easier to think of it as the same lick as before, moved down by two frets.

Many heavy metal guitarists use this technique. Sometimes the easiest way to come up with fast, interesting sounds is to take a shape on the neck, and move it around.

This is one of the advantages of playing over powerchords! There are less notes in the chord to get in the way, and clash with our soloing!

The Blues Scale

Then, we move onto the A minor pentatonic scale. Kirk often separates out faster sections in solos, with more melodic, or bluesier sounding licks.

bluesy metal lick

These types of licks can be heard all over the black album! They’re also found in later songs, such as ‘The Memory Remains’.

Remember: we’re still playing over a powerchord, which gives us freedoms. The A minor pentatonic scale works over the G5 chord. We could also use many other minor pentatonics, including: B, C, E or G.

Experiment with different choices over the first part of the backing track. Some will sound better than others. The only criteria is that the scale contains a G note (B natural minor has a G!).

Legato

Following on the theme of fusing angular, tapped metal licks, with bluesier phrases, we have the next two licks. Make sure you’ve been practising your legato!

Kirk (especially in earlier solos) is very fond of playing hammer-ons or pull-offs (legato) along a single string. With these licks we first travel up the E natural minor scale on the high E string, with pull-offs.

ascending the E natural minor scale using pull-offs on just one string

Then we use a slightly different pull-off (and slide) idea to come back down the same scale.

Descending the E minor scale using legato slides and pull-offs

The important thing with these licks is to treat each position as a separate thing. Take the first shape as an example:

Focusing on on position shifts while playing legato

Here, I suggest using your little finger on the 14th fret, either your second or third on the 12th, and your first finger on the 10th fret. Then, practise pulling your fingers off the fretboard without twisting your whole hand.

Your first finger should be holding the string still, while the other fingers do their thing.

Then, shift your whole hand up to the 12th position to play the 12th, 14th and 15th frets. It’s really important that you move your whole hand before playing the next group of notes. If your hand is somewhere half and half between these two positions, it makes the lick much harder to play. So, practise with each set of notes: play the notes, shift, play the next set of notes, shift etc.

It might feel very robotic at first, but when you learn to speed it up, this way is much cleaner sounding!

Back to the Pentatonic

The next lick takes us back to the E minor pentatonic scale. Are you starting to notice a pattern here?

In many of his solos- even the earlier stuff- Kirk uses the first shape of the E minor pentatonic scale a lot. This is mostly done to provide some bluesy contrast with the more traditional metal licks.

Well, it also helps that most Metallica songs are in the key of E minor!

pentatonic lick using sequences of three and legato to descend the scale

The pattern for the above lick is fairly easy once you get the hang of it. It essentially descends the scale in groups of three. Starting on the 15th fret of the E string, it goes down two notes, then back up one, then down two, etc.

The only difference here is that the lick starts off with a quick hammer-on from 12 to 15.

Kirk very often uses hammer-ons, or pull-offs to add speed to a lick. This is a technique called ‘economy picking’, where any notes that are on the same string are pulled off, or hammered on.

Lick 5 is a good example of this technique, as the notes that appear on the same string are played with pull-offs. Then, the notes that cross strings use a single downstroke.

If you were going from a thinner string to a thicker string with this technique, you would use an upstroke, instead. To play faster, always go in the direction of the string-change.

Time for some Melodic Phrasing

In the next part of the solo, I’m using the D Dorian mode. This is where we’re adding something a bit slower and more melodic to provide contrast.

Examples of this can be found in the solos to ‘Creeping Death’, ‘Fade to Black’, ‘Leper Messiah’ (first part). Kirk seems to really like using triplets to create melodies! These are where you have three notes in a beat, instead of two.

melodic licks that use the D Dorian mode over powerchords

If you really want to explore Kirk Hammett’s sound, the Dorian mode is definitely something to check out. Using it alongside the natural minor scale is one of the easiest ways to get the Metallica feel.

Back to Rock

In the next licks, I’m bringing up the energy levels again. These two licks will probably be familiar to you already if you’ve used the minor pentatonic scale to play classic rock licks!

Classic rock style licks like Kirk Hammett would use on the black album solos and earlier

For these licks, I actually prefer to use my third finger for the 15th fret. This is against what I would usually preach, but it makes the string-bends that much easier!

Building Tension

Following similar logic to the first lick in this solo, I move the whole pattern of lick 8 up two frets. This is because I want to build up the tension before the end of the solo.

Either way, this lick uses the F# minor pentatonic scale over a D5 chord (which kinda implies D major…). Then, I descend this scale using a repeating pattern into the 16th fret bend in the next bar.

Using the F# minor pentatonic over a D5 chord to increase tension

When playing very fast solos, repeating patterns are your friend!

Ending on a High

Everyone knows that it’s practically the law to end a heavy metal solo on a high pitched bend, right?

Here, I’m targeting the note on the 22nd fret of the high E string. Then bending it up to an E (same pitch as the 24th fret would be).

Very tricky legato run on the smaller frets, leading up to a bend on the 22nd fret- a great way to end a metal solo!

learn to play lead guitar now!

To get there, we’re using a similar single-string idea as before, but this time it’s with hammer-ons. This might be the trickiest part of the whole solo to get accurate, as the frets here are much closer together!

Also, I’m using the E natural minor scale again. It seemed like a logical choice, as this song is in E minor.

I hope this helps you if you’re trying to understand a bit of the Metallica lead guitar sound and playing style. If you really want to get into playing lead guitar, my new book ‘Awesome Lead Guitar’ is out now. In it you’ll learn the most common scales and techniques that lead guitarists use with full scale diagrams and tabs!

Then, you can practise along with the 17 included full solo examples and backing tracks! Click here now for more.

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