You're Kirk Hammett. You play lead guitar for Metallica, the band that has sold more than 110 million albums. And won eight Grammies. And just performed the first rock concert held at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, after selling out all 66,000-plus seats in ten minutes.
Oh yeah. You're ranked No. 11 on Rolling Stone magazine's 100 Greatest Guitarists list.
But clearly you're not satisfied with all that, so you and David Karon decide to launch KHDK Electronics, a company that designs and manufactures guitar pedals. You find a genius engineer to help bring your ideas to life and a family-run factory in Kentucky to hand-build and hand-test each unit before it ships.
And if that's not enough, you're nice enough to talk to me and share how, like many entrepreneurs, you've gotten a lot more out of starting a company than "just" building a thriving business.
One of my favorite lines about innovators is, "People don't know what they want, but they recognize it instantly." You're creating something that clearly makes people think, Wow, that is the coolest sound... but that also means you're creating something people may not known they want. That's a big challenge.
When we're coming up with new pedals, it's like our company motto is, "Let's do something no one else has done." Maybe that means different knobs, different compression, unusual tones... it's really opened up our thinking and opened up the paths for us to create what Dave and I want to see in pedals.
Of course I realize there's a whole army of pedal companies already out there. That's great. I'm totally into that. What we want to do is try to provide something none of the other pedal companies do.
Our approach to making pedals is different, but our approach to building a business isn't. Doing things differently is what everyone who starts a business and hopes to offer something new does.
We want to have fun and make pedals that not only create the sounds we want to hear, but hopefully also offer almost endless possibilities for the people that use them.
So if you're thinking in terms of endless possibilities, how did you decide where to start?
And we like to call our Ghoul Screamer the Swiss army knife of overdrive pedals -- aside from differences in sound, we've added five switches to go with the three standard controls so it's even more versatile.
Once we get through the first wave of pedals, that's when things will get crazy. We want to really establish the company and then start twisting things around.
It might be that we create a pedal that is so weird no one wants it... but that's okay. We figure we're here to come up with things other guitarists can take to places we never imagined.
How do you decide when you're done with a pedal? How did you know that, say, the Ghoul Screamer was "finished"?
We do a ton of prototyping. We go back and forth, tweaking and refining, working to get something exactly how we want it... and then suddenly you just know it's ready. You plug it in and you get instant satisfaction: all the switches and knobs respond the way you want them to respond, there's equal balance between settings, accessibility and usability is perfect...
Our pedals have to sound great, but simplicity and ease of use is really important, too.
All our pedals are fairly traditional in design. What's always been important to me is to be able to look at the face of a pedal and know right away what it will do. There are a lot of pedals with two or three or four knobs, and those have almost always been my favorite pedals.
Whether you're playing live or recording in a studio, you need to be able to produce a sound quickly, so ease of use is very important.
It's easy to get hung up on the technical side and forget that players actually have to not only be able to get the sound they want from a pedal, they should have fun using it.
You've released four pedals. Are you patient with the pace? Or do you wish you had already released 20?
The pace we're going is intentional. We don't want to flood the market. We don't want to do too much too soon. We want every pedal we release to get time to settle in and have its own life.
Then we'll release something new and let that pedal have its own life.
You're about to play for 55,000 people in Minneapolis, so I'm guessing you don't have to do this. What's fun about it for you?
I get a huge kick out of it. It's really fun to invent a pedal that sounds great, is easy to use, and hopefully inspires a few people.
But the other reason I'm so into this is that it's a great creative outlet. Building this company lets me experiment and dream up things no one else would ever let me try.
Still, I'm not just coming up with crazy stuff. I have a pretty good feel for what other guitar players like and need because I have similar needs.
Your whole life you've been doing what every entrepreneur does: Create something and put it out there and in effect say, "I hope you like this." Where does the confidence to do that come from?
I have a level of access to my peers, to other guitar players, and to other musicians that I knew I could take advantage of. That works on a number of levels: creatively, from seeing our pedals in certain players' hands, from an endorsement angle... talking hard, technical facts with other players, finding out about their goals, what they want and need -- that's been incredibly fun.
And it works on yet another level. We've been collaborating with a lot of talented people, and in the future we'll put out pedals that are personally designed by other musicians. We're really excited about that.
That goes back to the thinking that if I need something, there's a strong possibility other players will need it too -- and the same is true for all my peers. If they have a need, other guitar players out there might have the same need.
We're jumping on all sorts of input from well-known, established players. And what's cool is all that input means we're not just building pedals for rock and metal. Country, blues, pop, jazz... our pedals can add a different dimension to any genre of music.
Bottom line, we're trying to increase the sonic possibilities for all guitar players.
KHDK Electronics is doing well, but clearly what you get out of this extends beyond business.
Oh, absolutely. For one thing, I've totally become obsessed with pedals again.
What I would love to do is to create a pedal that's like the Wah pedal or the Whammy pedal; something that becomes a go-to for a certain sound. That's what I want to find, and I believe we can do that.
Beyond that, the main motivation for me in starting this company was creative. It's kind of like owning a record company, but instead of putting out records we're putting out pedals. The creative side, design, production, marketing, positioning... it's all really fun. It's actually a lot more fun than I expected and more gratifying creatively than I ever imagined.
The creative inspiration I get from it totally caught me by surprise.
I saw you on That Metal Show, and I was struck by how genuinely delighted you were to play with Michael Schenker. There's an inherent vulnerability in showing open appreciation, which means people at the top of any field rarely do it. I thought that was really generous of you.
I owe Michael Schenker a lot. I've learned so much from him. I can just go on and on and on about how much of an influence he is.
To appear on that show with him, and actually jam with him, was fantastic. And then a few weeks later I got to play three or four songs with him at a show in the Bay area.
It's really something when you get to make music with a person who has been such a huge influence. And for me, I have to give him all the credit and all the props he deserves and then some.
He's just phenomenal.
What I liked about it -- and what I feel sure was extremely gratifying for him -- was that you're you and yet you were happy to show you're a fan.
I'm still a fan. I'm the guy staying up late at night on YouTube looking for old videos from the early '70s. If I find a rare UFO live recording, I'm the guy who has to call his friends and tell them.
I'm still that guy. I won't ever stop being that guy. And I will definitely be that guy when I'm around people who are such an inspiration to me. I feel so fortunate to be in a position where I can have access to those people, and have conversations, and connect with them on a personal as well as a musical level.
Another example is Jeff Beck. He's also a major influence. I saw him play last night. He blew me away like he always does. I'm probably going to be playing a show with him in Tokyo.
I just feel so fortunate that I'm in a position where I can connect with some of those people as a musician and as a person. I feel so fortunate and lucky and blessed.
I'm sure you would never put it this way but I will. That's what you seem to be doing with KHDK: you're hoping to build things that will inspire other guitarists... and maybe someday they'll come up to you and tell you what a difference you made for them.
You're right, I wouldn't say that, but that would be amazing.
I want people to be able to see a pedal and say, "Whoa, this is really working for me. I can do cool stuff with this."
If the sound people can make with one of our pedals inspires them to create something new, or become a better player, or just have more fun... what could be better than that?