KISS Guitars and Guitarists
A small selection of many KISS signature series guitars
Whether you love KISS or loathe them, you have to admire the fact they've been around for a long long time now. They've always put on a big big show, and provided quite a nice spectacle for everyone. I've certainly found some good rebellious vibes in their tunes, and I've damned sure played it loud, I love it.
Well, let us be frank for a moment. The band has gone through a lot of changes in personnel over the years. Apparently the band was all about Gene and Paul, and the other two, whoever they may be, had best recognize they aren't so important. Well, that is how it is, and has always been, isn't it?
Gene Simmons is a man who is a caricature of a rock star, while also being sincere about being that caricature. He is obviously in the business for fun and for money, and they are probably one and the same with him. He does love what he does, and there is virtue in that. He was certainly one badass of an icon, and still is, I reckon.
Paul Stanley is a pretty cool dude. He's got an instantly recognizable singing voice. That is something which I am absolutely certain is essential for a band's success.
While the music of KISS is all about fun and show, there have been some good musicians as part of the band. One must first be a showman to be a part of KISS though. So this is how money is made in the music business. It is all well and good should it inspire someone to take up a musical instrument. That's my thinking. The band KISS has inspired a lot of musical instrument creations. We'll lay some of those out for you here.
The Gibson Les Paul Ace Frehley "Budokan" signature series guitar.
Ace Frehley and one of his Gibson Les Paul
Posing with The Frehley Burst during the promotional tour for the 'Kiss/Ace Frehley' solo album release ... the guitar that recorded it all
Ace Frehley has a lot of Gibson Les Paul guitars
Ace Frehley is the original KISS lead guitarist. Space Ace always played a Gibson Les Paul. There's nothing too original about playing a Les Paul, but then again, we're talking about Ace Frehley here. He most often has been photographed playing a custom Les Paul with 3 hum-bucking pickups on it, and a smoke machine for special effects.
Now in my personal opinion, which is only an opinion, 3 humbuckers on a Les Paul is overkill, redundancy, and altogether unnecessary, and likely doesn't sound as good as the standard two humbucker models do. The smoke machine is certainly not particularly useful insofar as making music goes, but hey, neither is mime makeup.
Ace Frehley was the first guitarist to learn how important he was to Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. In other words, he learned he was about as useful to them as a 3rd hum-bucker on a Les Paul would be to most the rest of us. In order to make an attempt at fairness to Gene and Paul here, Ace probably wasn't the most level headed and even keeled fella either. But for more on that, you can search Youtube for info about Gene's relationship with Ace.
Now the reader should keep in mind here Gibson has put out several different Ace Frehley Les Paul guitars. Some of them are the standard two pickup designs, and those are typically classified as '1959' models. They also don't have the face of Ace on the head-stock. Not all thehave the Space Ace mime makeup face head-stock inlay either. 3 hum-bucker designed Ace Frehley "Budokan" Les Paul's
The fact of the matter here is - when you are famous for being famous, and you also play the guitar, you tend to have a lot of them. Ace has even more Les Paul guitars with his name on them than KISS has had replacement guitar players for Ace Frehley. Can you imagine it all? I'm having a hard time with it myself.
Some of these guitars are going to be very very expensive. The '1959' Gibson Les Paul guitars are forever treasures to own. This does not mean the instrument was made in 1959, ones made in that year cost more than a decent mansion. But almost every year Gibson does '1959 Les Paul re-issues' and these guitars run at around 9 thousand bucks.
Ace Frehley "Budokan" Les Paul Custom with Ace Frehley from Kiss
Gene Simmons, Tommy Thayer, and Paul Stanley
Tommy Thayer, KISS, and Epiphone 'Spaceman' Les Paul guitars
Tommy Thayer has been associated with KISS for far longer than he's been an official member of the band. Thayer was writing songs with Gene Simmons way back in the late 80s, believe it or not. By 1994 Gene and Paul had hired Tommy on a part-time basis to work with and for the band. Tommy has more talents than merely playing lead in the role of guitarist, he's done some various and sundry sorts of work which will leave you guessing as I am as to what it all was, or not.
He managed KISS insofar as their 1995 world-wide convention tour is concerned. He also played a big part in the KISS MTV Unplugged concert. Multi-faceted and multi-talented, Thayer was literally responsible for teaching Ace Frehley how to play the guitar parts he was supposed to know how to play, or had known how to play way back when during the glory days of the original KISS band. Many musicians are multi-instrumentalists, and apparently, so is the talented Mr. Tommy Thayer, as he was also responsible for helping Peter Criss re-learn his drum parts
Tommy apparently did well helping Ace and Peter re-learn their long forgotten musical material. But down the line of the original lineup reunion tour, it became apparent Ace Frehley and the rest of the band couldn't continue working together, and so Tommy stood in for Ace on guitar one night in 2002. So Tommy became the Spaceman. The Space Ace, I mean, Tommy.
The part of The Spaceman is a part which requires a Les Paul guitar. This is not just for the sound, but also for the authentic visual aesthetic. Tommy fits right in, and there is an Epiphone 'Spaceman' model Les Paul. It's the Tommy Thayer guitar. The initial run was of one thousand guitars. They sold out quickly. I know for certain there have been more of these Epiphone Tommy Thayer 'Spaceman' Les Paul guitars produced. There have been adverts in Guitar Player, and Guitar World in the past year or so.
These Epiphone Les Paul guitars are nothing to sneeze at. Some of them will be the best dollar for dollar solid body guitars you can possibly get in the price range. These go for about four hundred dollars used, twice that new or in mint condition and with the case. Sometimes an Epiphone may be a lot better guitar than its Gibson counterpart. A lot depends on the years the instruments were made in, and such. Gibson has changed parent company more than once.
These Tommy Thayer Epiphone Les Paul guitars may be called either a 'Spaceman,' or 'White Lighting.' They are always done in solid white If you can play one half as well as Tommy, well, you are on your way.
You listen to Tommy Thayer talk, and you realize you are listening to a man who is very respectful, and so, very respectable. Mr. Thayer is no rock n' roll wastrel. He's an artist, and has an artist's sensibility. He's also the guitarist who's lasted the longest with KISS. There is likely a very very good reason for that, and I think I already explained it.
Tommy Thayer - Ltd. Ed. White Lightning Signature Guitar 2015
Vinnie Vincent replaced Ace Frehley in KISS the first go round
Vinnie Vincent and one of his very weird Jackson V guitars
Vinnie Vincent in KISS
This article isn't about me at all, but I'm too young to have been around or to have been familiar with the music of KISS as it was happening in the 1970s. But in the 1980s, man, I was all about that rebellious rock n' roll music. So the music of KISS, as I first became familiar with it, featured Vinnie Vincent on guitar. I loved the Lick It UP album. Truly, I did.
Without Vinnie Vincent, KISS would not have survived the 1980s. Vinnie had the type of technique and melodic sense KISS needed to compete in that time. The 1980s was the time when Eddie Van Halen was practically a god of music, and then there was Randy Rhoads playing in Ozzy's band. Kiss needed a pyrotechnical shred guitarist to keep them in the cool with the fans. Vinnie provided just that for them. Or did he? Well, as time has passed, it has come out Vinnie didn't play guitar on all of the Lick It Up album, Rick Derringer did some of it, as Vinnie was trying to fit with the band, and vice versa.
Also, the makeup thing was getting old with the fans and the world, and likely the band too at this point. KISS ditched the makeup for the Lick It Up album. But let us not forget, Vinnie was once "The Ankh Warrior," with a unique costume and makeup configuration. He was the last to have one in the band.
As I already stated, and is likely obvious, Gene and Paul are two money grubbing ego tripping sons of mothers. They view anyone in their band who isn't Gene or Paul as a commodity, or a sort of employee, not an equal in any fashion. So they tried to get Vinnie Vincent to sign some something making him an employee paid a salary. Vinnie, of course, wanted a percentage of the gross for tours and album sales. Gene and Paul are not especially nice or fair persons.
So during Vinnie Vincent's short tenure as the lead guitarist for Gene and Paul, and afterwards too, he played a Jackson flying V somewhat like the one Randy Rhoads used when he wasn't using his creme Les Paul. Vinnie V owns or owned several different of the Jackson Vs, and if you watch the KISS vids or the Vinnie V invasion vids, you will see several. Some of these instruments have something rather odd about them. I find I can't come up with a good way to describe what I'm seeing, but they are very strange guitars.
Kiss - All Hell's Breakin' Loose
Mark St. John with KISS on the 'Animalize' album and tour
Mark St.John and his short stay with KISS
Mark St. John took over for Vinnie Vincent as Vinnie didn't particularly want to be ripped off by Gene and Paul. So instead, Gene and Paul ripped off Mark St. John. I'm sure getting to play for KISS is a terrific opportunity. But it's got to be rough knowing those two flamers running the band will never ever think of you as their equals, or treat you as equals either.
Mark's comments about the stress of it all, and how he was treated as just a hired hand can be found elsewhere, but in quotations here is what he said about it.
"I woke up one morning in California with the inflammation in my hand. It started all there. I don't know what it was. I think it was the stress, I really do. I never had arthritis in anywhere in my family. I was playing violin concertos on the guitar before KISS, you know? I think it was just the stress of the whole thing. And people only see the tip of the iceberg. "Oh he's in the band, he's the fourth member. They all get the same, everything is equal." There was nothing equal about it at all. I was a hired hand. Period. Think everybody got a piece of the pie? I got maybe some crumbs off a piece! That's all bull. My work is all over that album, but I don't get credit or paid for it. No type of royalties at all."
The Animalize album was very successful for KISS. Amazing how Gene and Paul hold their cohorts in so little regard. Anyway, Mark didn't last long at all. He was swiftly replaced by Bruce Kulick. Mark died of a methamphetamine overdose in 2007. Rest in Peace.
KISS 'Heaven's On Fire' with Mark St. John
Bruce Kulick with his employers, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley
The Bruce Kulick signature series guitar by Rebel Guitar
Bruce Kulick has a better opinion of Gene and Paul than some of the others. Stockholm syndrom, I reckon. But Gene and Paul didn't have a high enough opinion of Bruce, who served as their lead guitarist for many years, to keep him once Tommy Thayer showed he was even more talented. Hired Guns. That's what Gene and Paul do, they hire guns, pay them some wages.
Well, what's to do about it. You want a job, or what? Just don't start thinking you matter or anything, not in this organization of two. Bruce is a talented guitarist, and he's not the only one in his family to have the guitar talent. He's got a brother who, believe it or not, has also appeared on some KISS material, but was never an actual part of the band. But do you even call it a 'band' when there are two monarchs and two employees? I'm not sure.
I've always liked Bruce Kulick, and he's the second longest lasting KISS guitarist behind Tommy Thayer. Bruce says he likes his playing on the Asylum album the best. He's also fond of some work he did on Hot In The Shade, and Revenge.
Like most guitarist, Bruce plays a lot of different guitars, but he does have a signature guitar, and it is based on an old Les Paul Jr. he owns. The signature guitar is a relic guitar, which means the guitars are new but fashioned to look rather old and beat up.
Gene Simmons on the KISS 'Alive 35' tour
Kramer Gene Simmons Axe
Gene Simmons is a pop culture icon. Notice I didn't say he was a musical icon. The reason I didn't say he was a musical icon is because he isn't one. He is a pop culture icon, and that is what he is.
Born as Chaim Witz, Gene is very Jewish. But not in the good way. The good way would be being a nice person, or some sort of scholar. Instead, Gene is a pop culture icon and a business man. He's very successful. No doubt about that.
Gene Simmons is the kind of musician who is mostly known for dressing up as a demon and for having a very large tongue. In other words, he's not much of a musician, he's a freak with a big tongue and a never ending desire to make more and more money. But maybe an even larger appetite of Chaim's is his desire to have everyone look at him. So long as they are paying, or someone is paying, for him to be seen.
He's the kind of man who supports war against all of Arabia, because he's probably heavily invested in the military industrial complex. Gene doesn't care about petty matters of right or wrong, he cares about Gene, and maybe, his family. He probably cares about Paul too though, because Paul and Gene make money together.
Hey, on the upside, he does seem to love the USA. At least if you read his words, things he's said, then he seems to love the nation of the USA. Whether he does or not, who knows? In any event, he has good reason to love the USA. His mother was rescued from a Nazi concentration camp. We're glad of that. Gene is vocal politically. While the never ending wars are seemingly mindless, Israel is a much better place than any of the nations which surround it and are even far away, and swear they will destroy it. At least the god of money doesn't have worshipers referring to America as the great Satan.
Gene is immensely wealthy, but he is also charitable. He donates to more than one charity for children. He was once given an award for philanthropy by Mel Gibson. I bet that was something there. Oh to have been a fly on the wall. That sort of thing.
KISS wouldn't be KISS without Gene Simmons. There's no denying the band lives and dies by him and Paul Stanley. The thing is, as good a show as Gene puts on, it's not nearly so hard a job as these guitarists he and Paul seem to regard so lightly. He plays the bass guitar, but he's not the level of musician all the Ace replacements have been.
Our demon icon of the bass guitar owns and plays many many bass guitars, but the most iconic one of them all is by Kramer, and is known as the Gene Simmons Axe. The bass guitar that looks like a very large ax. Kramer guitars made and sold a lot of these Axe bass guitars, and they sell for around 6 thousand dollars.
Kiss - Calling Dr. Love (Live On Letterman/2012)
The Ibanez Paul Stanley Iceman guitar
Paul Stanley and Ibanez guitars
Stanley Bert Eisen is also from a Jewish family who fled the Nazis and made their way to the USA. Some folks may not know Paul Stanley is also a painter. He was born with a birth defect in one of his ears making it hard for him to discern the direction a sound is coming from. So it is an accomplishment to be a musician at all with such a thing. Stanley learned to sing in harmony with his family. Singing is his true gift, and he has a very distinctive singing voice, and KISS would certainly not be KISS without the distinct and somewhat soulful sound of Paul Stanley's singing voice.
Paul Stanley got his first guitar at just 7 years of age. He's endorsed Washburn guitars and also Silvertone guitars. Currently, he endorses Ibanez.
It would take a very large article indeed to list all the solid body electric guitars Paul Stanley has primped and posed with on stage and in music videos with over the years. But in more recent years he's a very distinct body style of guitar made as a Paul Stanley signature series guitar, and the instruments are made by Ibanez.
There is a price range across several models of these guitars. There are beginner level models all the way up to the top of the line and quality model Paul Stanley actually plays. I'm finding 3 models, one for about 9 hundred dollars. The next level up is a 3 thousand dollar guitar, and then the top of the top is a 6 thousand dollar guitar.
Here are the specifications and features of the Ibanez PS1CM 'Iceman.'
- Body shape: Other
- Body type: Solid body
- Body material: Solid wood
- Top wood: Maple
- Body wood: Mahogany
- Body finish: Gloss
- Orientation: Right handed
- Neck shape: PS1
- Neck wood: Maple
- Joint: Set-in
- Scale length: 24.75"
- Truss rod: Standard
- Neck finish: Gloss
- Material: Ebony
- Radius: 12"
- Fret size: Medium
- Number of frets: 22
- Inlays: Acrylic block
- Nut width: 1.69" (43mm)
- Configuration: HH
- Neck: '59 model SH-1n
- Middle: Not applicable
- Bridge: Custom 5 SH-14
- Brand: Seymour Duncan
- Active or passive: Passive
- Series or parallel: Series
- Piezo: No
- Active EQ: No
- Special electronics: None
- Control layout: Volume 1, volume 2, master tone
- Pickup switch: 3-way
- Coil tap or split: No
- Kill switch: No
- Bridge type: Fixed
- Bridge design: Gilbralter
- Tailpiece: Quick change
- Tuning machines: Die-cast sealed
- Color: Chrome
- Number of strings: 6-string
- Special features: Inlays
- Case: Hardshell case
- Accessories: Certificate of authenticity
- Country of origin: Japan
Review of an Ibanez Iceman
Questions & Answers
Did Kiss have Gibson make them special guitars? Serial numbers?
I'm unsure as to whether or not the Les Paul Ace Frehley made famous, the "Budokan" guitar, was made especially for him, or not. What I do know is both Gibson and Epiphone have reproduced those guitars. They are on the expensive end of either brand. For some years Paul Stanley was playing Gibson Marauders, and he famously smashed a lot of them to bits. I'm not into smashing guitars, especially not Gibson guitars, but I've never been Paul Stanley either. I've not been keeping up with KISS of late, but so far as I know Stanley still rocks the Ibanez Iceman.Helpful 3