There are all kinds of electric guitars in this world and many are designed for a certain purpose. When Kirk Hammett collaborated with ESP for his signature guitar line, he had a specific sound and performance in mind.
Guitars such as the KH-WZ were for the muscular, bruising sounds of Metallica. They, and the others in the ESP/LTD Hammett range are metal guitars. But are they just metal guitars? We’re yet to hear a good argument for them as a jazz guitar, perhaps that thin U neck profile might add some spritz to your arpeggio game?
What Trey Hensley, the bluegrass phenomenon from Tennessee, just proved however was that the KH-WZ makes a damn fine country guitar, posting a video to his TikTok and Instagram accounts to prove it.
Okay, he didn’t use the bar. The whammy bar stayed in the guitar case (presumably the tombstone style case that makes the KH-WZ a home run for metal/horror fans). But he did park himself on that bridge pickup for some twang that would make Duane Eddie proud and some typically audacious single-note lines.
Now, if we were given the choice between a blackguard Telecaster – or maybe even a Nashville Telecaster if we’re getting all specific – and this ESP/LTD Superstrat, adorned with the poster art for the 1932 Bela Lugosi horror vehicle White Zombie, bat inlays on the 24-fret rosewood ‘board, we’d go with the Tele. That’s just common sense.
But watching Hensley rattle off the notes and get that elastic pluck and twang out of an EMG BoneBreaker active humbucker, maybe we’re guilty of judging the book by the cover, by profiling guitars and making assumptions about what kind of sounds we can get out of them.
Henley’s discography is essential listening for anyone interested in how today’s players are taking bluegrass forward while hewing close to the art form's traditions, delivering virtuosity for the people. His 2019 debut long-player, World Full of Blues, on which he played off his doubles partner Rob Ickes, is a masterwork, tracked mostly live in the studio.
While it might have been his introduction on record, the fact that he had the convening powers to get legends such as Taj Mahal and Vince Gill into the studio for guest spots speaks to the profile he has built up over the years since making his debut onstage at the Grand Ole Opry at the tender age of 11.
If Henley’s discography offers an essential document of bluegrass’s august condition, his social media feed is essential for any player with aspirations of flat-picking dexterity on the acoustic guitar.
Give him two minutes and you’ll be in the woodshed for two days. And as though to complete the circle, having just proved you can play country on a ‘metal guitar’, he turned it on its head today by turning KISS’s high-volume hard-rock anthem Rock And Roll All Nite into an audacious acoustic fiddle-tune instrumental and it sounds awesome.