Kirk Hammett – Biography
Guitarist Kirk Hammett first crossed paths with Metallica in the early 1980s with a little band he co-founded known as Exodus. Opening up for Metallica a few times no doubt put Hammett on the band's radar. In 1983, on the heels of the firing of original guitarist Dave Mustaine, Metallica asked Hammett to audition for his spot. After scrounging up some cash to fly from California to New York City—the first time Hammett left his home state in his life—it didn't take long for Hammett to become an official member of the rock band.
Hammett was born on Nov. 18, 1962, in San Francisco, making him a true Bay Area man. Growing up in El Sobrante, he was influenced musically by his brother Rick's huge record collection that included Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and UFO.
Building His Chops
The first time he picked up a guitar to explore his newfound interest was when he was 15 years old. According to Metallica.com, his first guitar was a Montgomery Ward catalog special, and he jammed out through a shoe box with a four-inch speaker in it. Soon after that experience, Hammett found himself strumming on a '78 Fender Stratocaster. It was on that guitar that he worked every single day on honing his craft and creating his own signature sound.
Eventually, he added a '74 Gibson Flying V to his small collection.
As a teen, Hammett knew that he needed the proper amplifier to rock out with, so he picked up a gig at a local Burger King to earn some extra money. Thanks to that job, he was able to purchase his first Marshall amp.
Now armed with a killer guitar and amp, Hammett took his love for music to the next level and co-founded the legendary thrash metal band Exodus. He played on the band's first demo disc, 1982 Demo.
In 1983, Hammett left Exodus to join Metallica—and the rest is thrash history.
Never Stop Learning
After recording the band's first album Kill 'Em All and hitting the road for a tour, Hammett began to expand his guitar skills. Not only did he take lessons from the virtuoso Joe Satriani, but he also taught himself several different styles, including jazz and blues. There's no question that Hammett is a sucker for education; after touring the world in support of their self-titled album in the early '90s, he took classes and continued to expand his skills at the City College of San Francisco.
While he was always influenced by the likes of Hendrix, Steve Ray Vaughn and Gary Moore, Hammett worked nonstop to continue growing as a guitarist and create a sound of his own. Many critics believe that his unique sound stood out most on Load and Reload.
His dedication to his craft—according to the band's official website, Hammett plays the guitar at least 361 days a year!—is only second to his dedication to Metallica. Being an incredibly loyal man, Hammett once said in a Rolling Stone interview that it is "really important" for him to be a part of Metallica.
"I've been in the band longer than I haven't been," he said. "I joined the band when I was 20 years old ... For as long as we want to do it, and feel like it's the right thing to do it, I will always be there for those guys."
That loyalty no doubt stems from his friendship with the late Cliff Burton. Several sources say that Hammett was actually supposed to be where Burton was on the tour bus when it crashed and led to the bassist's death. In a foreword written for a book about the life of Burton, Hammett said, "It took a long time—over a decade—to get complete closure on Cliff's death."
The Horror, the Horror
When he's not jamming with his family of thrash brothers, Hammett is a huge collector of old Hollywood memorabilia, focusing specifically on horror memorabilia. If anyone questioned his passion prior to the band's Orion Music + More festival in 2012, those doubts were quickly killed. Hammett took his renowned collection on the road and displayed several items of memorabilia at the festival's Kirk's Crypt. Fans got a glimpse of comics, toys, posters, props and more and even had the chance to hang out with Hammett himself at the Crypt.
If fans need further proof that Hammett is crazy about the world of horror, make sure to check out his book, Too Much Horror Business. In addition to this huge hobby, Hammett is an avid surfer.
For over 20 years, Hammett has been a part of the ESP Guitar Company family. A few beautiful axes stand out when he's playing live, including the "Bride of Frankenstein," "Ouija" and "Mummy" guitars. He's been known to jam on Gibson Les Pauls and Flying Vs as well. Strumming on Ernie Ball strings with Dunlop picks, Hammett's signature sound is usually heard blasting through his signature Randall speaker cabinets.
And if you want to totally imitate the one and only Hammett, make sure you remember to wrap tape around your pick hand. Why does he do it? In a 2006 interview, he explained that the tape is there to protect his hand.
"Because of my playing style, I'm constantly hitting the strings and palm muting ... Over the course of a tour, those wrinkles [on my hand] start busting open and bleeding," he said. "Plus, it lets me play faster since it reduces drag between my hand and strings."
In 2022, Hammett released his first-ever solo album, Portals. The four-track EP featured all instrumental tracks and was a special Record Store Day release.
Between tours, Hammett lives in San Francisco (we told you he's a true Bay area man) with his wife Lani, their two sons Angel and Vincenzo and his two dogs Darla and Hoku.