Ace Frehley

by Paul Guy

Interview for FUZZ magazine
© Paul Guy 1997

This interview took place about two weeks into the 1997 Kiss Reunion Tour.

This is a pretty major tour - how many road crew are you carrying?

We've got about 60 or 70 people - about 12 or 13 tractor/trailers, about 6 or 7 buses...

How's the tour going so far? Have there been any amusing incidents?

Amusing incidents? Every day there's an amusing incident, we're the rock'n'roll clowns, you know, of the world... No, nothing really out of the ordinary. The only major stumbling block that we've encountered during the tour so far was the truck strike, unfortunately we had to cancel two shows in Spain. But other than that, everything's been running pretty smoothly. Last night's show went over great, here in Paris.

I know we're tight on time, so if you don't mind I'd like to ask you mostly about guitars and music.

Great! You kind of get tired of all the bullshit questions...

You started playing when you were 13, is that correct?

Yeah. I'm 45 now, I've been playing - 32 years?

I read that one of your first electric guitars was a Swedish guitar, a Hagström do you remember anything about it?

It was white it had a very, very thin neck the action was good, but once I played a guitar with humbuckers, I preferred that. The humbucking pickups had a bit more output and sustain than the Hagström. But I used it for a couple of years. I traded it in for a Gibson.

Who were your earliest influences on guitar?

The Beatles and the Rolling Stones. As I got to my mid-teens, you know, it was the invasion with Led Zeppelin, and Jimi Hendrix, The Who, obviously Eric Clapton, with Cream I mean also, that album he did with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, there's some great lead work on that Who else? Jeff Beck he's still playing incredibly. I didn't get a chance to see him, but at a concert about a year ago, my bass player from my band went to see him, and he said he cried he said he's that good! He's gotten better over the years. I think he's one of the few guitar players who doesn't get as much recognition as he deserves. He's much better than people now. I saw him play at the Fillmore, with the Rod Stewart group - that was a fucking great band. Rory Gallagher he was a great player. I've seen him perform several times he just used to use a little Fender amp and that beat-up old Strat, but boy, he could make that guitar talk... He was another guitar player who never got the credit he deserved, it's incredible. He either had a bad publicist, or I don't know.

Maybe he should have put on makeup and platform shoes I don't think it would really have suited him, though!

You know, when I think back when I saw him in Central Park when I was about twenty, he did a concert there and he had the original grunge look! He used to come out with fucking ripped jeans and a fucking flannel shirt! That's where the kids got the idea!
One thing that a lot of people don't know about me, I can really play some good blues. I've never really done it on record, but I can get up on stage with the best of them and play blues forever. I mean I just love playing the blues. But it really has nothing to do with Kiss! I can get together with my own group, or with friends, you know, and we'll just go into a basement and jam for hours and play blues.

Have you been influenced by any of the newer/younger players since then?

No. They've been influenced by me! I don't mean to be egotistic, but that's what they tell me!

Who are your current favourite bands?

As far as the newer groups in the past few years I like Pearl Jam I like Rage Against The Machine, I think that guitar player is one of the few new guitar players that has some innovative style with his playing. This group Verb Pipe that we've brought over with us, they're a good band, I think they could go places.

How did you come by the name "Ace"?

I got nicknamed Ace in high school my drummer in my band when I was about 16, cause he was shy, you know, and we used to play gigs on the weekends, and I always used to set him up with girls. And one day he just came up to me, I'd set him up with a beautiful girl, I was with her friend, and they were both really cute and he said to me, wow, you're such a fucking ace, I really appreciate it, you know? And it kind of stuck and eventually everybody started calling me Ace. Then when I went to audition for Kiss, and I joined the group, my real name is Paul, and every time Peter and Gene would say Paul, both me and Paul would turn around So I said, this isn't going to work, call me by my nickname.

Kind of like when Hendrix had two Randys in the band, so one got called Randy California, and the other one got called Randy Texas ...

Hey your readers might find this interesting I was a guitar roadie for Jimi Hendrix at his last concert in New York prior to his death I snuck backstage, and they put me to work, and I carried stuff, and I set up Mitch Mitchell's drums. It was real exciting! I think I got backstage because I looked like I was in one of the bands, you know  I always looked like a rock star. To me, image was very important still is, I think. I think a lot of great musicians sometimes miss the boat, and don't get the gig they want, because they're so involved in their guitar playing image is important. If you've got two guitar players standing next to each other, and one is moving around and one standing still, and the one standing still is the better musician nine times out of ten to an untrained ear in the audience, they'll probably say that the guitar player who jumps around and stuff is the better musician. It's pretty ironic, but that's just the way it is.

Doesn't that ever piss you off?

It doesn't piss me off What pisses me off is when we get reviews, and they concentrate more on the show than the music. Three quarters of the review will be about the show, and maybe a quarter of it about the music. I think it should be at least fifty-fifty.

Is it true that you use lots of empty Marshall cabínets?

Well, there are speakers in them, but they aren't real speakers. I'm not gonna bullshit you did you honestly think that all those speakers are working? I think we have 24 cabinets on stage, and then in the lighting truss we have another 16 or 20, so, you know They're basically just backloaded cabinets, without magnets or anything, to reduce the weight. Have you seen the ad that me and Paul have for Marshall? Marshall's been real good to us, they made us all the special amps for this tour, and special cabinets.

I know you play Les Pauls, do you ever use anything else?

For a while I was using Washburn, after I left Kiss Washburn designed a beautiful lightning bolt guitar for me, did you ever see that? Well unfortunately, it looked great, but it sounded like shit So I got up on stage with it, the first time I got it, and I started playing it, and I said to my guitar roadie, please give me my Les Paul back! Nothing comes close to a Les Paul, in my opinion. All you need is a Les Paul and a Marshall turn the Marshall up to ten, and you can do it, if you know what you're doing.

Back in 1980 you said you owned 80 or 85 guitars how many do you own now?

Oh, I've cut back on my collection. I sold a bunch off when the vintage guitar market really dropped in America, because when Van Halen became real popular, everybody was starting to use guitars with Floyd Roses and stuff Les Pauls just weren't in anymore. A lot of my guitars I had them insured for a lot of money, but a lot of people told me the value of them was decreasing rapidly, so I ended up dumping a bunch of guitars. But I still have about fifty.

Aren't you a bit sick about dumping them, with the prices the way they are these days?

Well, I could go out tomorrow and buy another hundred if I wanted to. Water under the bridge.

How do you feel the new Les Pauls compare to the old ones?

Actually, the new ones they're making now are great. I've been to the factory recently, and the quality control and everything, it's all there. And if you have enough money to have one made by the custom shop it's just a little up the hill from the factory they can duplicate an old Les Paul, they can actually make it sound better. They can do everything. But wow, for a while there, I was saying, back in the late 70's early 80's, the quality wasn't as good as it is now. But they changed management, and they started reissuing older models, that's when the quality started coming back. At this point, you know, I think they make the best guitar in the world.

Are your guitars modified? Apart from the smoke bombs and rocket launchers, that is do you change the pickups and things like that?

Not really. Gibson is making a real hot pickup now, it's as good as anything out there on the market. I mean I have Les Pauls with Duncans in them, and DiMarzios, and old PAF's I use them in the studio sometimes to double track, Les Pauls with different pickups in them, to thicken up the rhythm track, or even the solo I double track solos sometimes, if they're not too complicated if you can get close to it, there's no electronic doubler that can make it sound that good. If you attack the solo a little differently, get those different harmonics and stuff, it really broadens the spectrum. Amazingly, a lot of the young bands, when I listen to their albums, I don't hear any of that stuff. Either they're not aware of the techniques, or the engineers aren't, I don't know. I think that musicianship in general has gone down. It's sad, but it just seems like a lot of the musicians that are out there now and playing in top bands, the quality of the musicianship seems to be secondary.

Do you still tune in E flat?

Yes. It gives kind of a darker quality to the sound, plus it helps us to sing, you know helps us hit the high notes!

What gauge strings do you play?

9, 11, 16, 26, 36, 46. I have my own set now that Gibson put out, with my face on the cover, special Ace Frehley edition

What's your favourite acoustic guitar?

I'll tell you, that one that I used on Unplugged, Gibson just gave that to me, while we were rehearsing, they brought it over and that guitar sounded great. I would probably say my old J-200, it's between that and one of my old Guilds. Big-bodied Guilds, you know, they really have a lot of volume and resonance. I think Martins are overrated.

What about effects? In an interview back in 79 you said "I'm not crazy about special effects", is that still true?

Well I'm not crazy about them, but I do use them. What I think is silly is when I see these guitar players with a rack with about thirty different effects in it to me that's absurd. All I use in the course of the show is a little Zoom module that my guitar tech works I bought it in Canada in a pawn shop for 125 dollars, like a 250 dollar unit but it sounds fucking great for what I use it for, I mean during my guitar solo it has a good digital delay in it I do Beethoven's Fifth in the second part of the solo, and I use a lower octave effect on that. The digital delay and the octave effect, that's all I use.

You got some heavy "natural" effects at times though, like on "Fractured Mirror", with the Gibson doubleneck...

You want to know how I did that? I had a Marshall stack on 10, I stood just close enough to the amp so it wouldn't feed back, and I played the figure on the opposite neck, with the other neck's pickups on. And I had the strings on the other neck tuned to an open whatever key the song was in. What ended up happening is that the resonance of what I was playing was going through the wood and making certain harmonic sounds come out through the Marshall amp. I've never heard it anywhere else. It was just one of those flukes I just said, let me try this fucking idea. And that's the way it happened. I remember, years ago, when I was in Kiss, and it came time, the rhythm tracks were done, the vocals were done, and I had to do my guitar solo I used to sit home and try to figure out a solo, spend hours trying to get the best solo for the song. Nine times out of ten I would walk in the studio thinking I have this great solo, and they'd go "We don't like it!" So I'd have to scrub it and start from scratch And today , basically, I just go in and I don't think about what I'm playing. Figure out what key I'm in and I kind of empty my head, and just go in, and depending on what kind of song it is, go in with that in mind, and what style of solo I want to do, whether I want to do a fast solo or a slow melodic solo. And usually the first take is the one we keep. If there's a couple of clinkers, we just punch 'em in. And for me, you know, I play spontaneously, and that seems to work for me, rather than meticulously figure out a solo.

How would you characterise your style? What's the essence of an Ace Frehley solo?

Well, you know, basically, my style is derived from all the people who influenced me, the names I mentioned earlier and I stole a little from each of those guys, put it together, and came up with my own style. And over the years I came up with a couple of things on my own For me, the best way to learn how to play guitar is not to take lessons, it's to listen to your favourite six, seven, eight, ten guitar players and learn all their solos note for note. And once you can do that, then you've got a good shot. It's real easy for me to tell, you know, the schooled guys, that can read music and everything. You know what it is? I mean, I break the rules all the time. I play chords that I don't know the names of ask me to do some kind of scale, I'll go, "What?" I really think, probably one of the reasons why people set me apart from other musicians is because I didn't take guitar lessons, and I do play unorthodoxly. And I think that's what sets me apart maybe from some of the other musicians who don't go out there and break the rules, you know "You can't play this note against that chord" that's bullshit!

What's your alltime favourite out of all your guitar solos on record?

One of my favourites is the solo in Strangeways.

What's your alltime favourite guitar solo by someone else?

Oh God, there's so many. That's a tough one. I don't have one favourite guitar solo by somebody else, there's just too many good ones out there.

Have you worked with Eddie Kramer again since 1978?

Oh yeah, Eddie produced two or three of my solo albums.

Have you ever had any accidents with the rockets and stuff?

Well I'm shooting them up into the lighting truss and as long as the angle is going upwards, if I miss the truss the rockets are only designed to go about 30 - 35 feet, so even if I did shoot it into the audience, it would probably like die before it got there. There is a safety on there, I don't make it live until a few seconds before I'm going to shoot it off.

Do you have any hobbies outside of music?

My second love is computer animation. At the end of Black Diamond, I designed the morph for the show, I digitised the four album cover faces, and I did a morph from one face to the other, and I just looped them. It looks real cool.

I guess you're a Macintosh man, then?

Oh yeah. I've got two of them sitting right next to me, I've got a 5300 laptop and I just bought a Performa 6400 with the automation video package I'm trying to work out an animation for my guitar solo. I just got a couple of new programs, I got Director 5.0, and this software that comes with the Performa 6400, it has Avid Cinemation, and it has some of the special effects for the transitions one of them's called Explode, and I'm dying to try to explode one of my Les Pauls, see the pixels go flying! I have about 5 Macs - and ask me how much storage I have, I got two four gig drives, two two gig drives, and about ten Zip Jaz cartridges that's 28 gig right there And then I've got the SyQuest, I'm probably up close to around 30 gig of storage. For animation you need big drives and fast access, these drives are around 8 milliseconds. Don't forget to run Norton Utilities once a week to defragment your hard drive, fragmentation'll slow your drives down!

Had your playing changed much in the years away from Kiss? Was it hard to get back into the Kiss style?

No, basically I've always been true to myself, my style is just hard rock, blues based it's the same thing, I've just improved on my technique over the years. Being away from Kiss gave me more flexibility and made me more independent I'm much more confident as a musician and a songwriter now, and as a singer, than I was when I was with Kiss. In my band, when I was touring, you know, I had to take lead vocals on twelve songs a night, be a front man, tell jokes and bullshit in between the songs I miss that a little, you know. Paul's the spokesman for this group.

I hear you guys were working out seven days a week to get back in shape before the tour?

We were rehearsing seven days a week, we were only working out five. I'm not going to lie... We worked out Mondays to Fridays, we took the weekends off. You're really not supposed to work out seven days a week, you have to give your body some chance to recuperate. We didn't want to come out on stage with the makeup on and look like we didn't look years ago, you know I mean I'm thinner now than I was on my last tour in America with Kiss, I'm 165 I was up to 180 on my last tour in 79 with Kiss. One of the reasons I lost weight is that I stopped drinking, that puts it on. Watching your diet, eating the right things and exercise, that's the way to go. Don't it feel nice to remember what you did the night before when you wake up

Do you think you'll stay together now? There's all these rumours that Eric Singer and Bruce Kulick are still on retainer...

Well, just for your information, they've both officially left the group and are pursuing other projects.

Do you think you'll be recording again together as well?

My gut feeling is yes, but that's putting the cart before the horse. We've still got about another year to go on this tour that's a long time, and a lot of things can happen in that period. I think when this world tour is completed, if we're still getting along and having a good time and enjoy working with each other, I think that would probably be the next logical thing to do, but you know, who's to say what's going to happen. I mean we could break up in a year, anything's possible. But I don't think that's going to happen, because we're all getting along better now than we ever have we've all sowed our wild oats, and it's now, and we can relate to each other a lot more. And a lot of the negative stuff, we've buried the hatchet with that shit. We're a lot more mature now, and the chances of us keeping this going for a while are good.

I never could figure out how you could run around with those boots on...

Practise! I mean, I don't know how Paul does what he does he's the one that dances and jumps around the most, I'm the spaceman, so my character allows me to be more fluid and kind of spacey, so I don't really have to do any fast moves or anything. It's the same thing with Gene, he just plods around like a monster, like Godzilla or something. But I don't know how Paul does it, cause his platforms are amazing.

Reading interviews and stuff on the net, it really struck me - Gene, he's quite a thinker, isn't he?

Well he's a college graduate, if that means anything He speaks five languages, he's very well-read. Ironically, off stage, he's the complete opposite of the character he plays, he's really a sweetheart. That's probably why he loves to do it, it gives him the chance to play out his fantasies. I mean he was always was he still is completely enthralled with horror films comic books, monster magazines.
You know, Gene, he collects everything, all the Kiss memorabilia, magazines, toys, everything. Like for instance, last night somebody gave me a miniature Les Paul Sunburst that was hand crafted, it's gorgeous, in a little case with the Kiss logo, and immediately, Gene, he was sitting next to me in the van after the show, and he's going, "hey, if you don't want that, I'll take it you're not gonna put that away, are you?"
It's funny, you know, a lot of people who haven't really seen that side of him, cause the character he portrays, and when he does interviews, he comes on really serious but he can be really funny. When he lets his hair down with the rest of us in the band, he can really come up with some funny shit. He can make me laugh for a half an hour straight!

© Paul Guy 1997