Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett’s love of the wah-wah pedal is legendary. So it was no act of bravery for him to agree to a wah-wah duel with challenger Mrs. Smith, the beehived comic actress/guitar slinger who called him out on Instagram in January 2019.
“I’m the number-one wah-wah abuser,” Smith said at the time. “I abuse the wah more than Kirk Hammett and I’ve challenged him multiple times to a wah-off. Why are you hiding behind your wah-wah pedal, Kirk Hammett?”
The Metallica guitarist replied, “challenge accepted” shortly thereafter, but the competition didn’t go down until Sunday night when the guitarists met onstage in Columbia, South Carolina.
For decades, the guitar stomp box, which makes the instrument sound like its literally going “wah wah wah,” has been Hammett’s not-so-secret weapon, the defining sound of some of his most defining solos.
He also has a sense of humor about it: “I am a totally dedicated wah-wah freak, and I think I’ll die with one underneath my foot,” he once told Guitar World. “I’ll have one thrown in my coffin, and I’ll have a wah-wah shaped coffin that will say [wah-wah brand] Crybaby on the side of it.”
The musician has long made “wah domination” his quest. The first time he heard the guitar pedal used was on the Thin Lizzy song “Warriors,” and he’s been enamored of it ever since. “I remember that when that sound came out of the speakers, it startled me,” he told Guitar Player. “The one guy that I’ve always thought did not get enough credit was [Thin Lizzy guitarist] Brian Robertson, and his style and feel is something that I aspire to.”
Mrs. Smith, on the other hand, is the alter ego of actor and musician David Hanbury. He described the character, which he developed about a decade ago, in a Rolling Stone interview as “a traumatized person.”
“This was something I based the character in early on — she’s in all these 18-step programs, and has all these therapists and has a staff of people to take care of her because she’s very wealthy,” he explained. In the interview, he joked that Mrs. Smith’s ambition is “world domination.”
At the show, which also featured a performance by Hammett and Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo’s covers group the Wedding Band, the Metallica guitarist showed off a giant Crybaby platform (which supported both him and a regular-sized Crybaby) and faced off against Mrs. Smith in a white suit as the band played Isaac Hayes’ “Theme From Shaft.“
Mrs. Smith, looking her schoolmarm best, kicked things off, dancing on her pedals, and cowering as Hammett played wah licks on his pedestal. “He’s more metal than I ever could have imagined,” she told the crowd. “This will be harder than I thought.” Nevertheless, she tried her best as they traded licks.
But it all ended with a late-round forfeit, when Hammett realized Mrs. Smith had come to the fight with more firepower. At one point, she told the crowd she was playing four wah-wah pedals at once, which put a shocked look on Hammett’s face. “I can’t compete with four wah-wah pedals at once,” Hammett said. “I forfeit.” He put his guitar down, and bowed down to her as she was presented with a golden wah-wah pedal. She held the trophy up triumphantly.