Kiss is one of the biggest rock acts of all time, well known for their crazy live performances that incorporate everything from crazy pyrotechnics, levitating drum sets, and even some blood spitting.
Guitarists Paul Stanley and Ace Frehley are masters of showmanship who perfectly marry great guitar playing with entertaining performances.
They have made a significant mark on the hard rock and metal space, influencing and inspiring generations of teens to pick up and start playing the guitar.
So in celebration of these glam-rock legends, I’m taking a deep dive into the guitars, pedals, and amp settings guitarist Ace Frehley used to achieve such iconic guitar tones.
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Ace is a devout Gibson user and has played a ton of their models including the Gibson Flying V and Explorer. But he is most prominently known for his use of the Gibson Les Paul.
Gibson Ace Frehley Signature Les Paul
Ace was one of the lucky few to be afforded the opportunity to design a signature Gibson guitar using the best-selling model of all time, the Les Paul.
It doesn’t stray too far from the original Les Paul style and was fundamentally based on his own 1970s cherry sunburst model. But there are a few key design elements that make it unique to Ace.
Most notable is the triple humbucking pickup configuration that features 3 in-line Dimarzio Super Distortion pickups.
Aside from that, most of the design choices are cosmetic. It has unique lightning bolt inlays, his signature on the 12th fret and even a custom picture of Ace inlaid onto the headstock.
This instrument was only produced from 1997-2001 and is extremely rare (and expensive) nowadays.
While there are other 3 humbucking pickup Les Pauls around such as the Peter Frampton signature Les Paul. If you’re on a budget I’d recommend a nice and straightforward Epiphone 1959 Les Paul standard.
Trust me, you’ll be just fine without 3 humbucking pickups.
Kiss tunes their guitars one-half step down to Eb tuning (Eb Ab Db Gb Bb Eb) for the majority of their songs. They have stated that this gives their sound a unique tonal quality, which makes sense as it sits in a different frequency range than E standard.
Although in recent years they have taken to tuning a little bit lower to D standard (D G C F A D) which helps to make the vocal parts a bit easier to sing.
In the studio, Kiss uses those classic old-school amplifiers from the likes of Marshall, Fender, and Vox. But when performing live Ace would mainly stick to Marshall amplifiers.
Marshall JCM 900
One of the most popular Marshall amplifiers ever made, it’s an iconic model that produces that monstrous British-style distortion that defined the heavy rock guitar tone of that era.
The Marshall JCM 900 was considered an upgrade over the older Marshall Super lead and is favored by players of heavier musical styles.
As this is a high-gain amp and has its own built-in reverb there was very little need for extra pedals and modulation effects.
He would run this into a Marshall 1960v cabinet fitted with G12 Vintage speakers.
Ace Frehley Amp Settings
Kiss’s production always sounds rich and full. As he was also not too into using external distortion pedals, you’ll be relying on the amplifier exclusively for the gain.
Most of the settings are set pretty neutral as his guitar sound was designed to fulfill its role and not draw too much attention away from the overall sound of the band.
Gain: 10 – As mentioned, Ace relies on the amplifier for much of his distortion so you’ll need to be pretty generous with the gain.
Depending on how your amp responds you should increase the gain until you start to lose pick clarity and then back it off slightly.
Bass/Mid/Treble: 5 – Ace kept all 3 of his EQ settings at 5’clock, this provided a nice balanced frequency output and allowed the guitars to sound thick and rich, while still being able to sit nicely alongside the other instruments.
I Was Made For Lovin’ You
The guitar parts on this song are fairly low gain, but you need to balance getting that definition and attack while still providing enough sustain for the chords to ring out.
So a slight treble boost is needed to bring out the top end. Then you should lower the bass slightly and dial back the gain a bit to get things extra tight and present.
Love It Loud
Love It Loud is, as the name might suggest, a loud song. It uses big bombastic sounding drums and heavily saturated guitar chords that ring out for long periods of time.
You’ll need to dime the gain and cut back the mids a bit to create that massive ’80s wall of sound style tone.
Heaven’s On Fire
My favorite Kiss tone ever. The guitars sound thick and rich while still having clear and audible string definition. A masterclass in achieving the best of both worlds.
You can use a fair bass boost here to thicken up the sound while bringing back the gain ever so slightly helps a bit with pick attack definition.
Ace was a big believer in relying on the amplifier for the majority of his tone, and as such didn’t use a lot of pedals. However, there were a few key pieces that made their way onto his pedal board which helped add a little extra flavor at key moments.
Electro Harmonix Big Muff Pi
Anyone who is a fan of Kiss’s older material may be wondering how he was able to achieve that smooth, almost synth-like lead guitar tone.
It was actually by re-amping his guitar sound through the Bigg Muff Pi after it was recorded.
This processing order helped as he was able to play the lead section naturally directly through the amp, which means his phrasing and dynamics wouldn’t be influenced by the hyper-squashed sound of the big muff.
Then sending that recorded guitar sound back through the Big Muff Pi after tracking would achieve a unique tonality that couldn’t be achieved had he recorded straight through the pedal in a single pass.
Vox Clyde McCoy Wah Pedal
Despite the Dunlop Crybaby being so popular at this time, Ace enjoyed using the Vox Clyde McCoy for its unique tonality in comparison to the Dunlop.
You can hear this use in specific solos including Genghis Khan from Ace’s solo album release and older Kiss songs such as Rocket Ride.
This pedal can be challenging to source nowadays, but the more accessible (and affordable) Vox V847 makes a great alternative.
Simple Yet Effective
One of the best things about Ace’s guitar tone is the core philosophy of simplicity behind it. Rather than dealing with a plethora of pedals and rack units you can just get a Les Paul, plug it straight into a Marshall JCM and you’re basically good to go.
From there on, it all comes down to your own playing.