Ace Frehley

Groupology

  • KISS
  • Frehley's Comet
  • Ace Frehley

 

Jurassic

Watch Ace Frehley in Action at the bottom of this page!

 

Famous /Infamous for

Famous for: His smoke emitting, three pickup Les Paul Sunburst, platform shoes, and makeup. These things are as much a part of KISS as the songs themselves. Ace is famous for being a guitar player most people pretty much either love, or hate.

Infamous for: Drinking, volatility, and unreliability. After the very successful Kiss reunion of the late 90s, Ace once again left the band, griping because he wasn't getting the same money Simmons and Stanley make. Ace also has a long running feud with producer Bob Ezrin. During the Destroyer sessions, Ace became increasingly frustrated and blew off the studio to "play cards." Ezrin's response: have Ace's parts recorded by session guys. Ace has never forgiven him for this. Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley love working with Ezrin; every time they force it on Ace, problems ensue.

Defying death. Ace was almost being electrocuted at a show in Lakeland, FL on the Destroyer Tour. The official cause was given as "faulty stage grounding." After this, the band started using wireless units onstage. Ace also wrapped his DeLorean around a telephone pole in the early 80s, and lived to write a song about it. (Rock Soldiers, from Frehley's Comet).

Influences

Obvious: Ace gives his primary influences as the Stones, the Who's Pete Townshend, and Jimi Hendrix - all strong rhythm players. Ace attacks the guitar very hard when playing rhythm. In his lead work I hear an awful lot of Jimmy Page, and a little Clapton.

Not-so-obvious: Free. KISS stole a lot of ideas about how to arrange rhythm guitars from Paul Kossoff and Free — specifically the idea of using two guitars playing different chord inversions to create one big guitar.

Strengths

Attitude: Ace's solos are loaded with balls and an in-your-face attitude. When the guitar solo hits in a KISS tune, it's somewhat akin to a baseball bat upside the head. Ace never creeps in. He is confident, aggressive, and knows what he's trying to do.

Tone: Prior to Van Halen, Ace's thick, ballsy Les Paul tone on the early KISS records was a standard that many young guitarists aspired to. It's thick and full of sustain, but has a bit more treble than your typical Les Paul through a Marshall tone. This is probably due to his preference for DiMarzio Super Distortion pickups in his Les Pauls.

Hooks: Although his vocabulary is limited by modern standards, Ace's leads all have logical progressions from start, middle, to end, and build excitement as they go. Every solo has a melodic or rhythmic hook that's often repeated or restated to reinforce the theme. KISS was big on having each element stand alone and be memorable in its own right. Ace accomplishes this with the majority of his solos.

Showmanship: Ace understood that his performances were about entertainment — not fretboard wizardry. He once said "the main reason KISS are involved in the group is entertainment, and we seem to be giving a lot of people enjoyment, and a lot of people get off on the show. That's our job, and it's a give and take sometimes, you know, you have to take the good with the bad. I'm sure I could play better if I didn't move around, just stood still like most guitar players do. I'd definitely be much more proficient, but you've got to give and take a little."

Image and influence: Love him or hate him, you have to give Ace his due. He inspired a whole generation of guitar players to pick up the electric guitar and kick ass. I'm not the only guy who loves KISS — other fans include guys like Dimebag Darrell (Pantera), Ty Tabor (King's X), and Sebastian Bach (ex-Skid Row). In the context of the mid to late 70's, when KISS was at their creative peak, there was nothing in the world like them, and there really hasn't been since. Their music was deliberately simple, catchy, and aimed squarely at the early teenage male demographic. Their idea was loosely based on the Beatles: four guys, each with strong individual identities, each contributing songs and lead vocals within the band. Combined with the makeup and outrageous live shows, it couldn't miss.

I was twelve years old when KISS and Ace Frehley rocked my world. Until that time, I had been playing guitar for about four months on my Mom's old Gibson archtop acoustic — mostly bluegrass and acoustic stuff my guitar teacher was forcing on me. My life changed on October 31, 1976, when I witnessed the most amazing thing I had ever seen in my life: KISS performing Detroit Rock City on the Paul Lynde Halloween Special. My reaction was: WHAT THE HELL IS THIS? It definitely wasn't horrid Southern Rock that dominated the Central Florida airwaves at the time. No, this was four guys making the most hellacious noise I had ever heard, and looking like — God knows what — but it was the coolest thing I had ever seen! It was like nothing I'd ever seen or heard before. As I said, my life changed. I became a KISS freak. I wore out several copies of KISS Alive! trying to learn the licks and riffs. I can still play those songs note for note today, and I still feel the same way I did about them when I was a kid.

Weaknesses

Chops: Ace is basically a 70s style blues player in makeup and spandex. His vocabulary is limited to the Minor Pentatonic scale, with an occasional foray into the "Memphis" scale or Major Pentatonic scale. He's similar to Ted Nugent, Angus Young, or Jimmy Page (in his hard rock mode) in his choice of notes and scales.

Focus: The knock on Ace from within the KISS camp is that he was lazy, unmotivated, and didn't like to push himself. Ace's response to this is that his opinions were being ignored and he was simply reacting out of frustration and anger. In any case, he has a history of blowing off sessions, missing gigs, and not taking things as seriously as the other guys in the band. His solo career with Frehley's Comet never seemed to really get on track.

Tone

Though he dabbled with some odd looking Washburn guitars in the 80s, Ace is strongly associated with Les Pauls — and he always played Les Pauls with KISS. He started with a sunburst Standard and later switched to his more famous three pickup Custom. The classic Frehley tone comes from the three pickup Les Paul Custom with DiMarzio Super Distortion humbuckers. Ace rarely uses anything other than the treble pickup — in fact — the neck pickup is a fake and hides a smoke bomb that he uses during his solo spot. Gibson issued an Ace Frehley model Les Paul in the 90s.

Ace runs the guitar straight into a 100 watt Marshall head. "There's nothing like a Les Paul through a Marshall for that hard rock sound. I've tried every setting and for me, you take a 100 watt head and put every knob on 5. Sounds pretty cool." Ace is not into effects. He's used an old Vox wah on a couple of tracks, and aside from some delay added at mixdown on a few tracks, that's it.

Ace and Paul Stanley normally play distinctly different parts and have totally different sounds. Ace's tone is thicker and more overdriven; Paul is more midrangey and biting. Paul frequently used a Gibson Firebird or an Ibanez Destroyer with DiMarzio Super II pickups to compliment Ace's sound. In the studio, Ace likes to use vintage Pauls, Strats, and Teles. He'll often double his primary rhythm part with a Strat or Tele through a Fender Harvard combo, or an acoustic guitar.

Guitar Style

Influenced by strong rhythm players such as Townshend, Hendrix, and Richard, Ace himself is a serious rhythm player. With KISS, Ace and Paul Stanley would strive to create one giant guitar through the use of different chord voicings, ala Free's All Right Now.

Often overlooked in the spectacle that was KISS, is the fact that there was some pretty damn solid lead guitar playing on just about every KISS song. Ace's solos are always succinct, purposeful, and filled with hooks. He never overplays. His tone is righteous, ballsy, and full of attitude. While seemingly simple by today's standards, in the mid 70s Ace was not a bad lead player compared to some of his US contemporaries: Ted Nugent or Joe Perry, for example.

Ace is straight from the Jimmy Page/Eric Clapton, British rock blues school of lead guitar. Relying almost entirely on the Minor Pentatonic scale in the first position, he blasts out combinations of bent strings, hammer-ons and pull-offs, double stops, and unison bends. He will often resolve the minor third to a major third at the end of a phrase. He tried incorporating a little two handed tapping into his playing in the late 70s but was never really that serious about it. You can hear this in his guitar solo in Shock Me from the Alive II album. Ace rarely alternate picks. He relies primarily on downstrokes, hammer-ons, and pull-offs to get where he's going. He attacks the strings very hard and uses a lot of staccato "stutter picking".

Ace was the first guy I ever heard use the toggle switch as an effect. By turning one of the pickup volume controls all the way off, and then flicking the pickup toggle switch back and forth, a "stuttering" sound is produced. Ace only uses this when holding notes or chords; he never uses it while playing a lick, the way Dave Meniketti does.

String gages were either a standard .009 set (.009, .011, .016, .024, .032, .042), or a light top/heavy bottom set (.009, .011, .016, .026, .036, .046). Ace uses standard medium picks,

Vibrato:

Slow to medium speed, wide.

Ace Frehley in Action

Recommended listening

KISS

Ace Frehley

Profile By John Walker. Copyright ©2002 All rights reserved.