Paul Stanley and Ace Frehley

Flying Vs, Les Pauls, Laneys and Marshalls
Flying Vs, Les Pauls, Laneys and Marshalls

Paul Stanley
Paul Stanley shakes his groomed mane, peering into the sea of smiling facing as he rises from the smoke and shadows to strike an A chord. The arena shakes. This is the Paul Stanley we’ve come to know. Rock and roll’s glittering Adonis a monument to the fading tradition of larger-than-life musicians. Offstage, Stanley is a softspoken, articulate New Yorker whose love affair with the electric guitar has never cooled. Recently, Stanley gave Vintage Guitar a rare and candid history behind his arsenal of equipment that rocked the nighttime world in the 1970s. Here’s what went down.

Vintage Guitar: You’ve used several interesting stage guitars. Since your association with the Ibanez PS-10 is well-documented, let’s discuss some of the other guitars, starting with your rhinestone-covered Flying V that you used most notably on the 1977 Japanese tour.
Paul Stanley: It was one of my stock Vs from the tour. I imagine it was around a ’73. I would take off the [stock] pickguard and change it to a single-pickup, one volume, one tone, usually. It was usually one of Larry [DiMarzio’s] pickups. What happened was I got bored, and every night after the show I would glue rhinestones on this guitar. I just thought it would be cool to have a rhinestone guitar! That rhinestone guitar was me and a bunch of Dukko’s cement!

You also used a Flying V with a white pickguard, correct?
That was a custom guitar that somebody in New Jersey made. I wanted a black V guitar at that point and couldn’t find one, so I took the V.

Tell me about the genesis of your relationship with Hamer and some of the guitars they made for you.
Paul Hamer was trying to revive either the quality or the spirit of the Gibson stuff at a time when Gibson was not exactly at their peak. I met him in Chicago, and he wanted to make something for me. He made me a couple guitars, one of them being a doubleneck, and a couple of Explorer-types.

You also had a relationship with B.C. Rich, which seemed odd concerning you’re not a wirehead! After all, you practically needed a pilot’s license to operate those suckers!
Yeah, at one point B.C. Rich was making guitars with, like, 50 switches on them! I remember sitting down with those guys and going, ‘What the hell is this crap?! Your guitar looks like a coffee table and it’s got too many switches!’ A good guitar needs a volume and a tone and if you can’t get what you’re looking for out of that, you need a new guitar.

Ace mentioned that Larry DiMarzio hand-wound pickups for him before the first Kiss album. Was he hotrodding PAFs for you, as well?
Interestingly enough, Gene went to school with Larry. I met Larry because he was in college with Gene. The first time I met him, he was working in the back room of a guitar store around the corner from Manny’s. Gene brought me over to see this guy who wound pickups. I couldn’t think of a sillier way to be spending your time! Why would anybody be winding pickups? But Larry had really made a science of this. I had never seen it approached like that, you know, the idea that this kind of wire or this amount of windings gives you this, that or the other thing.

Is it a good bet that your guitar tone in the studio was shaped by a DiMarzio pickup, even Kiss’ first album?
I would almost bet that the first pickups in my Guitar Lab guitar, which Charlie LoBoue made, were DiMarzio pickups.

When did you switch your allegiance to EMG pickups?
That happened late in the game. I was always willing to try anything. I’ve never been one of those guys who says, ‘Give me free gear and I’ll endorse you.’ My attitude’s always been, ‘I don’t need your free gear, you need me.’ So, let’s not have the cart leading the horse!

When I tried some EMGs out, they really sounded good in the guitars I was using at that point, so I switched. I think the time I started using EMGs were in some Hamer guitars I had made, I’d say in the early ’80s.

There’s a lot of mixed feelings about active electronics. What did you like about the EMG actives?
Well, the technical end means nothing to me! Initially, the idea of a pickup with a 9-volt battery attached to it was something I had an aversion to, but it sounded good!

Were you that interested in personally searching for the ‘holy grail of tone’ by learning the technical aspects of sound?
I’ve never been a ‘wirehead,’ somebody who’s into all sorts of gadgetry. Usually, I’d let my guitar tech put something in that he thought might be good and I would either comment that it was good or not good.

Your stage tone has a lot of top end. Did that change when you were in the studio?
In the beginning, the greatest challenge was to try and capture the live sound on record. We didn’t have a lot of success with it. It was like we had a dual personality, we had the recorded sound and the sound, live. I’ve always been partial to jangly-sounding guitars, like Rickenbackers. I’ve always thought Townsend’s sound had a nice top end to it.

Tell me about the guitars you’ve used in the studio, starting with the first Kiss album.
On the first album, I was using a custom-made guitar by Charlie LoBue, who at one point worked for Dan Armstrong in New York. Then, he started his own place called Guitar Lab. He made my first custom guitar. It was really based on Gibson principals. It was kind of like a double-cutaway with binding on the front and two humbucker pickups. That was stolen before we went on tour after the first album was done. At that point, he made me a short-wing Flying V. I really liked the V Albert King used, the one with the binding on it. I told Charlie to make the upper wing shorter than the bottom one. We took the template of the body and I drew where I wanted the wing to be and he made it.

Was that your main guitar for awhile?
Yeah, that was my mainstay until Hotter Than Hell. During the recording of Hotter Than Hell in L.A., somebody walked into the studio and walked out with my guitar. I guess we were still in the Summer Of Love or something in L A., because it just took somebody going into the recording studio and going, ‘I’m here to pick up Kiss’ guitars.’ And they let ’em in!

So, what guitar did you switch to at this point?
A couple of different guitars, but primarily, I was using Gibson Vs.

Then what guitar were you using for Dressed To Kill?
I really don’t remember, but Gibson was giving me a whole lot of guitars at that point. Actually, I think I was probably using one of those Gibson Midnight Specials, which looked like a bolt-on version of those small L5Ss.

Your endorsement of the Gibson Marauder seemed a little farfetched. After all, the tone on those guitars is not, uh, legendary…
Truly, the Marauder was the guitar that I broke on stage every night, I never played one live! They were horrible. I don’t know what they were thinking, but everyone has their moment of folly!

When was your faith restored in Gibson?
I went through a period in the late ’80s and early ’90s of playing Gibsons again. I started playing Les Pauls onstage. They are amazing guitars, out of the custom shop. It was as though they revived the craftsmanship and suddenly remembered what it meant to be Gibson. They gave me a V that I’ll also use on this tour. It’s black, mirror pickguard, one pickup and a volume. It’s a replica of my old V.

The guitars you used in the studio during the ’70s were often precious vintage models, correct?
At that point, I amassed quite a collection of vintage guitars. In the studio, I cut loose with the guitars I wouldn’t take on tour.

What guitars were you using by Destroyer?
By Destroyer, I had a really great collection of vintage guitars. At that point, I had a ’58 V, a couple of sunburst Les Paul Standards, a couple of Goldtops and a fabulous ’67 Sunburst doubleneck which I used a lot on Destroyer. I used that guitar on “Detroit Rock City” and “King Of The Nighttime World,” for example. Particularly, on “King Of The Nighttime World,” I left the 12-string neck turned on, so part of what you may be hearing sonically, is overtones.

You have a Hamer doubleneck as well, correct?
I had Hamer make me a doubleneck, which I really like. I played it in the early ’80s. There’s EMGs in there. The body is much smaller and the necks are about five inches apart. It has two 6-string necks, one I used for open tunings and one I used for regular tunings. Most of the time, the open tuning I used was open G. “Heaven’s On Fire” is in Open G.

You never seem to be an avid outboard fan, correct?
No. I’d like to think of myself as a guitar-and-Marshall man! There’s been times I’ve gone through a rack-mounted Rockman in addition to the Marshall, and they may have blended it.

So Marshall has always been your main amp?
The soul of my sound is Marshall. It always has been. Other companies have given me loads of amplifiers, and the first thing most of them will tell you is how much it sounds like a Marshall. Well, if it sounds so much like a Marshall, why shouldn’t I keep playing a Marshall? Marshall is the all-around workhorse that gives you that classic sound.

So, were you using Marshalls without the master volume?
Yes. The more dials they added to the Marshalls, the less I liked it. In the beginning, it was a simpler amp, and now you have your preamp and your gain and all that stuff. In the early days, we purchased the Marshalls we used in the studio in ’73. We might use a Fender or two, but for the most part it was Marshalls.

The other album you get a real unique guitar from is the studio side of Alive II.
We recorded that onstage at the Capitol Theater in New Jersey. We were seeking the holy grail, we kept striving to be able to replicate in the studio what we did live and this was an attempt at doing that. Even if we all didn’t play at the same time, there was all kinds of weird ambience just jumping around the room.

Did you use the E-bow on your solo album as an effect or a writing tool?
I was a huge fan of the E-bow. I would write parts with it. “On Move On” and “Tonight You Belong To Me,” there’s E-bows. In fact, we used E-bows on the Love Gun demos.

Certainly, on your solo album, you really get into rhythm textures a lot more.
I had the luxury of having a band of me. I could do as many parts as I wanted. Texture has always been a big thing for me, I like the textures you can create with multiple guitars. I got a chance to play a lot of parts and counter parts and basically squash them together, so you might get something really cool without having the sense that there’s five guitars on it.

In Kiss’ heyday, if you wanted to put a relatively polished idea down on tape, you had to go into a recording studio. It wasn’t like now, where you stick something on your Porta machine.
The truth of the matter is, I used to book Electric Lady studios to do my demos. Some of them became part of my solo album, I just used them as they were. I was very comfortable at Electric Lady and I would book myself in there and record multitrack demos. From that, I went to a Porta Studio. My problem with doing 16 or 24-track demos was that invariably, it was very hard to beat them when you re-recorded them. Anybody who’s gotten into that vicious circle knows you wind up chasing your tail! What you’re trying to do the second time when you re-record is replicate spontaneity, which is a contradiction in itself! I started doing 4-track demos in my house.

What gear are you using on the current tour?
PS10s and Marshalls. That’s basically it.

Ace mentioned using Marshall JMP-1s. Will you use them?
Our sound guy likes the Marshall JMP 1s a lot for getting a direct sound. As far as I’m concerned, what’s more important than what’s going on at the board is what’s going on onstage. If the amp is rattling my nuts and my teeth, then we’ve got a problem! I don’t see me using it. We’ve had sound guys who’ve said, ‘If you play quieter on stage, we can get a more fidelic monitor mix.’ Screw the monitor mix! If we don’t have a great sound on stage, we’re not going to have anything happening in the house.

Was it tough to remember some of the parts for the tour?
I remembered all the parts. I can sit down with anybody and say ‘…you play this and you play this,’ and you’ll basically get the impression of what was on the album. Even now, when we’re rehearsing, if Ace would forget, for example, I’d say ‘No, No, here’s that part.’ So, we’ve managed to get the essence of everything we did.

In the 1970s, when Kiss’ original lead guitarist sauntered across the concert stage in his silver space suit, wielding those famous triple-pickup Gibson Les Pauls, he was the Harbinger Of Cool, and thousands of kids started playing guitar as a result. When Frehley left the group in 1983 to pursue a humbling solo career, the entire guitar-playing community lost its most effective recruiter since Jimi Hendrix. Thanks to the astronomical success of Kiss’ current reunion tour, Frehley’s regained the muscle necessary to expose a new generation of kids to the world’s coolest musical instrument.

Space Ace was kind enough to share some insight regarding his career with Vintage Guitar readers. Here’s what went down.

Vintage Guitar:Which guitars did you most commonly use in the studio with Kiss and on your 1978 solo album?
Ace Frehley:The first album, I had a Les Paul tobacco sunburst and I probably put a DiMarzio PAF or Super Distortion in it. Then, I started using my three-pickup, cherry sunburst ’74 Les Paul around ’76. When I did my solo album, I cut every track with the ’59 Les Paul Standard flametop. It was stock. I never put a DiMarzio Super Distortion (Frehley’s typical pickup of choice) in an old Les Paul, I always left in the PAFs. I’d never **** with an old Les Paul. I just put DiMarzio’s in my newer Les Pauls.

I prefer the tone of the Dimarzios. The only thing you’ve got to worry about with the Dimarzios is when you’re too close to the amp, they have a tendency to feed back a little. But if you’re playing a big place like Madison Square Garden, you’re never that close to the amp, so that’s not a problem.

Does your three-pickup, cherry sunburst Les Paul still have the wang bar you installed in the ’80s?
That’s when I was affiliated with Washburn, and Washburn was also handling Laney at the time. Everybody was using a wang bar, so I felt there was a couple of effects that I wanted to get. From my fan mail, a lot of kids got pissed off that I bastardized a Les Paul to put that wang bar on. To be honest with you, I actually didn’t have to bastardize it. They make a plate that goes around the bar that holds the strings. You screw the wang onto the plate, so you really don’t have to do any reaming of the wood. The only thing I had to do was put four screws at the top of the neck because there’s a locking system. Those are easy enough to fill in with wood filler.

You had a righteous guitar collection at one time. What happened?
When Eddie Van Halen became real hot, a friend of mine who deals in vintage guitars told me that the market was rapidly dropping. He goes, ‘I would dump your collection now before the market drops anymore.’ Almost like a stock broker! I invested so much money into it. In retrospect, I wouldn’t have done it. Things go full circle, though. Now, people are playing Les Pauls probably more than anything.

I know you’re a pawnshop hound, any cool guitars you’ve picked up recently?
I picked up an old Alembic guitar in a pawnshop for $250. The serial number is like 250! It was one of the first Alembic guitars made, it’s all wood with a one-piece neck-through. It’s got all the brass hardware and everything. I played it, and it sounded like no other guitar I own. You can get a really clean sound, but it doesn’t sound like a Fender clean. You can get a distorted sound, but it doesn’t sound like a Les Paul. I’m looking forward to using that in the studio. I found a ’50 Esquire, which I had refretted with monster frets. The pickup is great, but I found a lap steel somewhere down south, and I put that pickup in the Esquire and it sounded amazing! That pickup was probably older than the one in the Esquire.

Do you still have any guitar synthesizers?
I used an Arbor Avatar on my ’78 solo record. It was the first guitar synthesizer. The ****in’ company went bankrupt because of all the money they put into the Avatar, and it flopped. I don’t even know where mine is, but I know I still have the pickup for it.

Are you still using Laney amplifiers?
I’ve been using Laneys for a long time. I like the sound. They’re slightly different from Marshalls. They’re a little more versatile than a Marshall, but in the same token, they’re harder to get a sound. You’ve got to tweak with them more, whereas with a Marshall, if you just turn everything on 10 and plug a Les Paul into it, you know you got the sound right then and there. The preamps on the Laneys are a lot more delicate, as far as how much you move the knobs. If you can tweak ’em right, you can get a real good, biting, lead guitar sound that really cuts through. The new GR-100 is a real hot amp. I tried one out when I was down in Tampa, Florida at Thoroughbred Music. They gave me a lifetime achievement award. The minute I heard it, I said, ‘I gotta get a couple of these!’ I was using the older Laneys.

What kind of outboard gear are you using?
Very little. Right now, I’m using some DDL for the smoking guitar effect in the guitar solo. I used to use a Mutron Octave Divider, but now I find I like the Zoom better. It has reverb, compression, phasing you name it, it does it! I got it in a pawnshop. It’s one of the floor models, but I think I’m going to get the rackmount version for the tour so my roadie can control it. To me, the less effects I can get away with the better. I don’t understand why guitar players have a rack with 20 different things in it. Just plug a Les Paul into a Marshall, put everything on 10 and go for it!

Do you like to have effects running when you’re initially tracking guitar parts?
Most of my effects on Kiss albums were added in the mix. I usually liked a pretty flat sound going into my cans. I don’t need reverb to get off. If the tone is right, that’s what gets me off.

Was it tough to re-learn any of your guitar solos for Kiss’ current reunion tour?
A couple of them were, which was surprising. I’d forgotten how crazy some of those solos really were. On 100,000 Years, I was saying, ‘God, I’d never write a solo like that today!’ It’s got all sorts of weird stuff. I must’ve been in a haze when I did that! It’s fun to play. That solo was probably the craziest and most intricate.

Tell me about your approach to recording solos during Kiss’ recording sessions.
I play my best when I don’t think. I have an idea of what key I’m in, but basically, I go ‘Hit the tape’ and I close my eyes and let my fingers do the talkin’. ‘Firehouse’ was a one-take solo. In the early days, I used to sit home and try to plan solos, but what would happen is I’d get into the studio after working maybe two or three hours on the solo that I thought everybody would fall in love with and they’d say ‘You can do better than that!’ Nine tunes out of 10, I’d just end up throwing out the solo I wrote, and come up with a variation of it, or just go in a completely different direction. Planning solos doesn’t work for me. I’d rather just come in with a couple of licks to throw in and work around them. I have no idea why I do what I do!

Do you still have your home studio in Connecticut, where you recorded your ’78 solo album?
Nah, I got rid of that in the late ’80s. It was too far removed. I picked that area because it was very secluded, but when I realized my daughter really didn’t have any friends and stuff, I said, ‘I think it’s time for her to get in touch with people, with real life.’ Plus, the overhead on the place was ridiculous. When I wasn’t with Kiss, I wasn’t makin’ the same kind of money, so it was time to cut back. It had gates and a moat around it, and fans still used to come there. It wasn’t a complete moat. It was like a creek running through, but you had to cross a bridge to get on my property. There were gates, video cameras and alarms and ****.

Did fans try to get onto your property?
The funny thing is, I remember prom night one year. This kid somehow climbed over the gate and was trying to come up my driveway. Little did he know I had attack dogs outside! All of the sudden, I get woken up at three o’clock in the morning by my dogs barkin’ and barkin’. I go, ‘Somethin’s up.’ So, I grabbed my .357 and my sawed-off shotgun and I go walkin’ out there fearlessly, with a flashlight. All of the sudden, I see my dog barkin’ at a tree. I go, ‘What the **** is wrong with this animal?’

I look up in the tree with the flashlight, and there’s this guy dressed in his prom outfit. He goes, ‘Don’t shoot! I’m sorry! I’m on acid!’ I grabbed my dog by the leash and calmed him down. I said, ‘Look, come on down, I’m not going to shoot.’ The kid was cryin’. He was only 18 years old! I said, ‘Listen, I’m going to let you go, but you’ve got to give me a solemn promise you’ll never come on this property again.’ He goes, ‘Oh, I never will Mr. Frehley.’ I said, ‘O.K., there’s the driveway. Keep walkin’ and I’ll open the gate. Don’t stop walkin.’

You had to be there!’

This article originally appeared in VG‘s March ’97 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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