How to Capture Ace Frehley’s KISS Guitar Tone
The next in a series of step-by-step guides to home recording
Is there a greater picture of pure rock and roll than Ace Frehley in late 1977 with his flaming Gibson Les Paul standing in front of a stack of Marshalls? I think you’d be hard pressed to find one, especially during the era when KISS released one of the greatest live albums of all time, Alive II
For a generation of rockers (and probably more), Paul Daniel "Ace" Frehley epitomized what rock and roll was all about. In fact, Ace’s fervent fans still consider him one of the all-time greatest guitarists some 30 years after what many consider to be his high point.
Frehley auditioned for KISS in 1972, and ended up being the final piece of the puzzle that would take four guys from New York and put them at the top of the rock and roll mountain for many years. His best known songwriting contribution to KISS over the years was “Shock Me,” from 1977’s Love Gun, which was also featured on the band’s Alive II album. But it was Frehley’s guitar work that helped set many of KISS’s classic songs apart from everything else on the airwaves. Think about it … songs like “Love Gun,” “Shout It Out Loud,” “Calling Dr. Love” (my personal favorite), “God of Thunder,” “Rock And Roll All Nite” and “Detroit Rock City” still get fans standing and singing at the top of their lungs.
Ace’s guitar tone was certainly as classic as those songs. He had a variety of Gibson Les Paul guitars – including his very own signature model – and still uses them today. He was also known to use Marshall amps throughout his career, although rumors had Frehley plugged into Fender amps under the stage, using the Marshalls as show. Whatever he used, it worked, and the tone in those songs continues to work.
I’ll be using Native Instruments' Guitar Rig 3 to make Frehley’s tone on my computer. I’ll also be using an active pickup guitar, so if you’re using a passive pickup guitar you’ll have to adjust the gain settings a little bit to get the desired tone.
I’m sure that many of you thought I’d use the Marshall amp for this tone. And you’re right – at least partly. I started with the Marshall, but I switched to Native Instruments Ultrasonic amp model, which gave me more grit without having to go overboard on the distortion.
So, with “Calling Dr. Love” in mind, I’m using the Ultrasonic with these settings: Master 8; Volume 10; Gain 9; Bass 5; Middle 6; Treble 7; and Presence 7. I’m also using the matching Ultrasonic 4x12 cabinet with the Mic setting at 71 percent towards Mic A and the Dry/Air setting at 3.98 Air.
Instead of going with a Screamer effect on this tone, I chose a classic distortion with settings of Volume 5; Tone 4; and Distortion 7.
The last effect I added to this tone is the Studio Reverb. The settings are pretty low on the Reverb – I wanted to add some depth, but not overdo it. The Reverb settings are Mix 25 percent; Bright 5.78; and Room Size 2.66.
There you go. Now go grab your Les Paul and have fun playing some classic KISS! Download this preset here.