Metallica’s Kirk Hammett owns one of the most iconic and revered electric guitars: a 1959 Les Paul Standard that was previously owned by Fleetwood Mac founder Peter Green and, subsequently, by his disciple, Irish rocker Gary Moore. Hammett, a fan of both guitarists, purchased the guitar for a reported $2 million.
In the clip below from VH-1’s That After Show, Hammett talks about the guitar during a roundtable with guitarists Michael Schenker and Damon Johnson, of Thin Lizzy and Black Star Riders.
“It’d been on the market for a few years,” Hammett says, “but the price was just way too high.
“And then I kind of waltzed into a situation where the owner of the guitar needed money. And of course I totally took advantage of the situation, worked out a deal and bought it, all within an hour’s time, because I was so friggin’ blown away by the fact that I was holding a guitar that Peter Green played in Fleetwood Mac and then Gary Moore played for, like, 25 years after.”
As Hammett notes, part of this particular guitar’s mystique is down to its distinctive warm-but-trebly tone.
“It’s a unique guitar in that the pickup is turned around,” he says. “It’s facing the opposite way, so when you play with both pickups on in the middle position, it creates an out-of-phase sound that sounds like a Fender Stratocaster.”
Green attributed the tone to his own tinkering, claiming he’d reversed a magnet in the neck-position humbucker. In another telling of the story, a repairmen accidentally rewound one of the pickups—it’s not certain which—in reverse. This is the version Hammett tells in the video.
In all likelihood, the alteration occurred during the guitar’s manufacture. Noted guitar designer and builder Jol Dantzig had a chance to examine the guitar firsthand in June 1984, while it was owned by Moore, and found that “the magnet was reversed on one pickup,” he wrote. “Because the pickup internals looked undisturbed, I concluded that it must have been a mistake at the factory.” Dantzig adds that Joe Bonamassa owns an original-condition Burst with the same error.
Green bought the Les Paul second-hand for the equivalent of $300 and used it during his time with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers when he took over from Eric Clapton. He continued to play it when he formed Fleetwood Mac in July 1967 with former Bluesbreaker bassist John McVie and drummer Mick Fleetwood, using it to write and record many of the band’s greatest songs, including “Oh Well,” “The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Prong Crown),” “Albatross” and “Black Magic Woman.”
Shortly before he left Fleetwood Mac in 1970, Green loaned the guitar to Moore, who at the time was in his teens and still unknown. The Irish guitarist had been a fan of Green’s and befriended the guitarist. Moore eventually purchased the Les Paul at Green’s request—so that “it would have a good home,” Green said—for about $300, the same price Green paid for it. Moore used the guitar for much of his career, including on his 1973 solo debut, and during his 1974 stint in Thin Lizzy and his tenure with Colosseum II from 1975 to 1978. The guitar can also be heard on “Parisienne Walkways,” Moore’s best-known song, from his 1978 album, Back on the Streets.
Money problems forced Moore to sell the guitar in 2006 for somewhere between $750,000 and $1.2 million, according to various reports online. It was purchased by Phil Winfield at Maverick Music and, reportedly, later put up for sale on the company's website for $2 million. Since then it has been owned by one or more private collectors before Hammett purchased it in 2014 from Richard Henry Guitars.
When a fan asked Hammett via Twitter why he bought it he replied, “The best tribute is that it’s being played again instead of being neglected by people who only bought it for the investment.” Hammett has been seen performing with the guitar to play Metallica’s cover of “Whiskey in the Jar,” the traditional Irish song popularized as a rock song by Thin Lizzy in the early Seventies.
The clip also includes a conversation with Schenker about his choice of the Gibson Flying V, the model most associated with him.
In addition, below this video, you can see the Peter Green Les Paul in action in an earlier video, prior to Hammett purchasing it. It shows Phil Harris talking about the guitar’s history and doing a little performing. Harris says he is the custodian of the guitar for the owner. Take a look.