Ex-KISS Guitarist Ace Frehley on the ’70s: ‘I Was Sort of the Whole Package’
It all goes back to 1977, when KISS hit the stage at Nippon Budokan in Japan.
That night, guitarist Ace Frehley played a Cherry Sunburst, three-pickup Les Paul Custom, creating a sound that would inspire an army of musicians to come. "This was the ultimate marriage of pop and heavy rock, driven to meteoric heights by the record industry marketing machine, and ultimately attaining that otherworldly presence that great stadium rock should achieve: unbridled fantasy and party-hard reality rolled into one glorious explosion," said Gibson Guitars about Frehley and KISS at the time.
In celebration of Ace, his axe and that magical era in Kisstory, Gibson Custom recently released the Ace Frehley 'Budokan' Les Paul Custom, produced in a strictly Limited Edition of 50 hand-aged guitars signed by the artist, with a further 100 hand-aged guitars, and 150 guitars treated in Gibson Custom's VOS process.
Ace spoke to Noisecreep about his new guitar, KISS, and what he has in store in 2012.
Congratulations on the gorgeous new guitar. You could have played anything back in 1977- why a Les Paul?
Well, I'd already used it for so many years. It was my #1 guitar for a long time. It just always felt right to me in every way. Physically, the Les Paul neck has a 6% grade, that is to say you lay it flat and the neck is arched with that slight angle. So you get a really unique sustain. Plus, I just always loved the look of a Les Paul. Come on, a Les is like the definition of rock 'n' roll. Gibson did an amazing job with the new ones. Their people there are the best. And the feedback has been incredible – we're almost all sold out of the really limited ones.
Back then, you rigged your Les Paul to do some interesting things – smoke bombs, fire – did anyone ever give you any flack for messing with such a classic model guitar?
Nah, not really, no negative feedback. And what was cool was that in a group like KISS, there were no financial problems; we could pretty much do whatever we dreamed up. So we had some fun.
Watch Ace Frehley's Guitar Solo From Tokyo, Japan, 1977
When you first started the effects, it was different though, right?
Right. Early on, it was more homegrown. First time we were in Canada I got some smoke bombs and stuck them in the cavity that holds the potentiometers. But then it gummed-up the volume and tone controls so eventually the smoke and stuff went into a sealed compartment for the dummy rhythm pickup, which I never used. Then eventually we just modified the guitar so I could put all kinds of crap in there.
You still get a lot of guitarists come to you with stories of how you influenced them?
Slash has always told me I was huge influence. Same with Mike McCready from Pearl Jam. So many guys in the '80s, it seems, grew up on my stuff. I had no idea back then what I was doing to the next generation [laughs].
What do you think made you stand out back in the 1970s?
There were lots of guys like me that grew up on the Beatles and especially the Stones. And plenty of players who were technically better than me. But I think because I had the look, the attitude and the playing, I was sort of the whole package.
Watch Ace Frehley's 'Anomaly' Television Commercial
Your last solo album, 2009's 'Anomaly' was met with a great response, as was your more recent autobiography, 'No Regrets.' Did you ever imagine being a New York Times bestselling author?
No, that sort of caught my agent off guard, too [laughs]. But it was fun to put my story out there. All four of us have different angles on what happened in KISS. Nobody is really right or wrong; it's just how we all saw it. But I was really happy with how the book turned out.
What did the other guys in KISS think?
Well, I sent each of them a copy around Christmas, but I haven't heard anything back yet!
What are the next few months like for you?
A bunch of festivals in Europe over the summer. But before that, hopefully, some tune up shows here in the States.
With your beautiful new guitar.
For more information on the Ace Frehley 'Budokan' Les Paul Custom, head over to Gibson's official website.