History - 1973 to 1975
"Once we got signed (in mid-1973), I picked up a Tobacco Sunburst Les Paul and a 100-watt Marshall stack."
- Ace Frehley (Guitar World , May 1997)
The legend goes that Ace had auditioned for Kiss, using a late '60's or early '70's Gibson Firebird ... although I've never come across any pictures of Ace and a Firebird, to prove that story. There is however, photographic evidence that clearly shows Ace had recorded most of the band's very first record, "Kiss", (recorded during October & November, 1973 / released February 18, 1974), with an Ovation Breadwinner. But, by the time Kiss began performing shows, in support of their 1st release, Ace was primarily using a Gibson Les Paul Deluxe through a 100-watt Marshall, as he mentioned in the quote above. That first Les Paul was a beautiful 1973 Gibson Les Paul Deluxe in a Tobacco Sunburst finish, which Ace used almost exclusively (with a couple of other guitars), right up until September of 1976.
As with any Les Paul Deluxe of the period, this particular guitar would have originally had mini-Humbucker pickups and creme plastics. By the time Ace acquired it from Manny's Music, in late 1973, it already had it's mini-Humbuckers swapped out for a set of full sized Humbuckers. This was a very common practise of guitars players in the early 1970s, who wanted their guitars to look and sound like those of their heros, from the UK, who were typically using the much revered 1959 Les Pauls.
Ace's Les Paul Deluxe started it's life with him, with creme colored plastics and 'normal-sized' humbucking pickups with chrome covers. The guitar would have also featured the Kluson Double-Bar, Double-Ring tuning machines, a "pancake" body (the LP deluxe featured a "pancake" body which was a 4-ply, Maple/Mahogany body), a 3-piece Maple neck and a Rosewood fingerboard. The guitar also appeared to have had the front of it's head routed around the outer edges and a binding, of some sort, installed (this is the one point I haven't been able to nail down ... although I'm 100% positive the guitar had been routed to accomodate binding on the headstock ... see the picture below). Ace's guitar also had a carved/contoured heel which more recently, (in late 2015) he has stated "that he did himself, with a screwdriver".
*Note - In the 1970s, Gibson's Les Paul Deluxe models were produced with both 'standard-sized' and the more common, 'mini-sized' humbucker pickups. We know that Ace's guitar was a Les Paul Deluxe and not a Les Paul Standard (as it may have appeared) in a few different ways....
1.) The Les Paul Standard wasn't officially introduced until 1976, although there was a version introduced in 1974
2.) The Deluxe came with plastic buttons on the tuning machines
3.) The truss rod cover had Deluxe scribed on it
To further assist with dating Ace's guitar as a 1973, the Tobacco-burst finish on the Les Paul Deluxe guitars of the era, was produced for 6 years, between 1973 and 1979, inclusive. Since there are pictures of Ace with his guitar dating back to mid-1973, it's safe to assume it was a 1973 model.
Prior to the '73 Les Paul Deluxe becoming his guitar of choice, Ace would also work with an early 1960's Epiphone Coronet in a Cherry finish and the white, Ovation Breadwinner. Seemingly, neither guitar could compete with the Les Paul and subsequently, neither one lasted too long.
Shortly after acquiring his 1973 Les Paul Deluxe, Ace would begin to modify the guitar to his liking by adopting a small 'star-shaped' decal which he placed on the head of the guitar, between the "Gibson" and "Les Paul" tags. Kiss recorded their second album "Hotter Than Hell", (recorded in August, 1974 / released October 22, 1974) and Ace opted to modify his Les Paul Deluxe further and more drastically by removing the pick guard and replacing the Gibson humbuckers with DiMarzio pickups (PAFs, Dual Sound and/or Super Distortions) ... ALL of which can be found in his Signature Series Les Paul guitars of 1997. Also on the road with Ace, during the "Hotter Than Hell" tour, was a different early 1960's Epiphone Coronet, this one with a white finish and loaded with a single, dual creme DiMarzio pickup.
**Note - Gene Simmons had attended college, in upstate New York, in the '60's with Larry DiMarzio; founder of DiMarzio Pickups. Both Larry DiMarzio and Steve Blucher (the #2 man, at DiMarzio) worked at LoBue guitars, in Manhattan. This is the company that built Gene's main bass that he used right up until mid-1977 and Paul's original black Flying V-type guitar that he used until mid-1974. So, I'm not sure which of these two events established the relationship between Kiss and DiMarzio ... or possibly it was both.
During the fall of 1974, Ace also had two other Les Pauls that were very seldom seen. Although I admit that I can't confirm anything, I believe they were one-in-the-same guitar. Beginning in mid-October, Ace was seen performing with a very poorly finished, black Les Paul. By early-November, this black Les Paul was gone and seemed to be replaced by a plain-top, natural finish, Les Paul with black pickups and black plastics. Further to this ... It is my thinking that this natural finished guitar was later painted black ... along with one of Paul's Gibson Firebirds ... had a middle pickup added and became the guitar Ace is holding in the "ALIVE" (released September 10, 1975) photo and video shoots.
It was also very early in Kiss' career that Ace came up with his trademark 'Smoking' guitar. The effect was very crude at first and later became highly technical. I'll go into Ace's 'Smokers' and his solos that went with them on the 'Smokers, Shooters & Solos' page of this site. However, since the key to this site is focusing on how Ace's Signature Series Les Paul came to be, I do have to mention that as a result of the early smoke effect ... and the fact that Ace only used one guitar all night and the smoke ended up causing damage to the guitar's electronics ... Ace ended up securing a second Tobacco-burst Les Paul Deluxe. His family of Les Pauls and his affiliation with that model of guitar was growing more and more solid every day. After picking up this second guitar, the only way to tell them apart was by the 'star-shaped' decal on the head of the 'non-smoker' guitar.
Early 1975 saw the release of "Dressed To Kill", (recorded in February, 1975 / released March 19, 1975), Kiss' third studio effort; and the difference in sound between the new DiMarzios and the stock humbuckers was even more evident on this recording than it had been on the "Hotter Than Hell" release. During this tour and seemingly only on one night (11May75, in Boston), Ace also used a Les Paul Junior. Despite the two Tobacco-burst Deluxe guitars being the mainstay of Ace's sound and look for Kiss' early tours, he opted to use a different guitar for the photo shoot and promo videos for the "Alive" album. What appears to be a 3 pickup 'Black Beauty' Les Paul Custom is in fact a modified Les Paul Deluxe. And, as I mentioned previously, I believe this guitar was previously, the plain, natural finished Les Paul and the black Les Paul, seen during the "Hotter Than Hell" tour. Ace mentioned this guitar during his interview with Metal Edge Magazine in the "Guitars That Rule The World" article and said "The guitar on the cover of Alive!, I painted black. I bought it used. I can't remember what color it was before, but I painted it black, put creme DiMarzios on it and added the center pickup." However, there is photographic evidence to show that Ace was definitely performing with the 3-pickup Black Deluxe as early as the beginning of the "Dressed To Kill" tour, in March of 1975 ... long before the photoshoot for Alive!.
***Note - 15May75, Detoirt, MI - The "ALIVE" Photo & Video shoot pictures below, clearly show Ace's guitar is not a Les Paul Custom by the absence of the white trim on the headstock and on the front side of the body as well as the trapezoid shaped fret inlays which are not found on Customs of any vintage. Custom's have rectangular fret inlays. Also , if you own a copy of KISSTORY, take a close look at the picture of this guitar on page 127 & 128; the truss-rod cover clearly says Deluxe. The one thing I haven't been able to determine regarding this modified, black guitar ... whether or not the middle pickup was actually 'wired' or a glued on plate (I'll get into the 'glued in plate' concept later). I did find a couple of pictures of Ace using it during a few live shows. So, it must have been part of his arsenal, albeit for a short period of time.
Mid to late 1975 saw a couple of other guitars in Ace's hands. One was the all aluminum, Veleno guitar which was built in very limited numbers between 1973 and 1976 another was a Travis Bean TB-1000 Standard, also featuring aluminum as a building material and a white, Epiphone Coronet, that both Ace & Paul would use.. The Travis Bean guitars were only produced between 1974 and 1979. An interesting footnote to Travis Bean Guitars is that one of their first employees was Gary Kramer, who left the company in 1976 and founded Kramer guitars.
The last guitar to enter Ace's collection in 1975 was a 2 pickup, Black Les Paul Custom. Although there are pictures of Ace with this guitar that indicate they were taken in January of 1975 ... I'm not totally convinced the early-1975 dates are accurate. This guitar seems to come on the scene in December of 1975, which is also around the time that Paul was seen playing a Black Les Paul Custom. Ace can be seen playing his Black Custom in the AMAZING 8mm footage captured at the December 18th show, at The Palace Theater, in Waterbury, CT.. Possibly the guitars were part of Kiss' endorsement deal, with Gibson ?
****Note - Ace's Black Les Paul Custom had his name engraved into the truss rod cover and Paul's Black Les Paul Custom had his name engreved into it's truss rod cover.