1973 Tobacco Burst Les Paul Deluxe

    Shortly after I began this site, one of the most common questions I was frequently asked was ...
"What happened to Ace's original Tobacco-burst Les Paul"? "Do you know where it is"?
  For many years, the answer to that question was 'No'. I had no idea whatsoever. Those questions made me realize, however, the significance of that guitar in the context of the site. So, after years of research (which continues to this day) the answer is now a resounding ... Yes !!!
    For the better part of the last 20 years, I have researched and studied Ace's 1973 Tobacco-burst Deluxe, at great length. There's been countless e-mails, pictures, threads on guitar forums, chasing leads and stories ... some were amazingly helpful and others weren't worth the paper they were written on. Here is what those 20 years have provided me and everything I know about this legendary guitar ...

    I'll start this section with a piece of information that may seem better suited for the end of it. But, I think it always helps to be able to see where you're going. So, this is a small editorial note found in Ace's interview with Guitar Player Magazine, from January of 1979 ... "Strings And Things (1492 Union Ave., Memphis, TN. 38104) rebuilt and customized one of Ace's guitars, a Les Paul Deluxe that was later ruled to be a fire hazard. Ace had installed rocket launchers that had accidentally torched the instrument. Strings and Things converted the Les Paul to a double-cutaway and contoured the back"That visit to Strings And Things would have been in early December, 1976 ... probably the 1st or the 2nd. Remember this date, as you read on ...

    Now, from the beginning ... In late 1973, Ace acquired his first Gibson Les Paul. The guitar is/was a 1973, Gibson Les Paul Deluxe in the Tobacco Sunburst finish. Ace stated in his Guitar World Magazine interview, in 1997 ... "Once we got signed, I bought a Gibson Les Paul and a 100 watt Marshall amp". Further to that, in his "Behind The Player" DVD release of January 2010, Ace stated that he bought the gear with some of the advance money Kiss received for their first record; confirming my original speculation ... Or maybe he read my website to help jog his memory, before the interview??? He bought the gear from Manny's Music, on 48th Street, in Manhattan and I am 99% positive that he bought the guitar used and not new because of a couple of non-stock modifications on the guitar, which were there from the first days Ace had the guitar ...

1.) the installation of standard sized humbucker pickups
2.) the addition of a single-ply binding, around the headstock veneer

    The additional binding is clearly visible in some pictures and totally missing in others. It leads me to speculate that it either continually fell out during performances or that Ace would possibly color it, with a black marker, to conceal it. Both of these modifications are clearly visible from the very first time Ace was photographed using the guitar for a live show (Coventry, 21Dec73, Queens, NY).
    Given their limited budget, at the time, I highly doubt that Ace was responsible for these modifications. I believe they were performed by a/the previous owner. The changing of the mini-humbucker pickups to full sized humbuckers was actually a very common practice in the early '70's; prior to the official re-introduction of the Les Paul Standard (initially in 1974 and then 'officially' in 1976), with stock, standard sized humbuckers. The reason for changing the pickups was pretty simple ... most guitar players of that time were heavily influenced by the wave of British, blues-based players like Jimmy Page, Paul Kossof, Peter Green and Eric Clapton. These guys were typically using '58, '59 or '60 Les Pauls and the North American guys wanted "that" sound, which you couldn't get from the mini-humbuckers that Gibson was using. The easiest way to spot one of these Deluxe to Standard Les Pauls is the placement of the neck pickup and more specifically, the neck pickup ring. Ace's guitar clearly shows that same visual clue. His pickup ring had been cut out, on the edge closest to the fingerboard and actually sat, screwed to the body of the guitar, on either side of the fingerboard and not butted up against the base of the fingerboard as is normally seen. The reason this was done is simply because it was cheaper and far less destructive than rerouting the neck pickup cavity, back towards the bridge pickup. The original, full sized humbuckers in Ace's guitar had the typical chrome covers with creme colored pickup rings and a creme colored pickguard. Double-Bar, Double-Ring, Kluson tuning machine heads, a nickel plated stopbar and ABR-1 bridge. Contradicting the Guitar Player magazine note from 1979 above ... all the photographic evidence I've found, to this point, shows that the heel of the guitar was contoured long before Strings And Things converted it into the double-cut.

2015 Update 

    After almost 40 years apart, Ace was reunited with this guitar, backstage in Buffalo, NY, in September 2015. Here's what transpired, directly from the owner, at that time ... "The guitar was placed in his hands, and he immediately and proudly described how he hand carved the neck heel himself with a screw driver" ... Ace also stated how he "could never forget the feel of the neck and the weight distribution of the guitar" as it was of course, played night after night for many years". He was insightful and rather emotional while strumming the guitar backstage  while reminiscing about days long gone and his "first Les Paul".
    So, perhaps my initial speculation about who had carved/contoured the heel was incorrect. This is one of the reasons why I've always said that I'd love to have the chance to sit down and talk to Ace about this stuff. 

    Here's a timeline of the various changes and/or modifications Ace made to the guitar using published photographs ...

1.) Between December 1, 1973 and December 21, 1973 - Ace acquired the Gibson Les Paul Deluxe in Tobacco Sunburst finish. These dates are assumed ... I've yet to find a picture from Kiss' first recording sessions (Oct. - Nov, 1973) where Ace is using or even holding this guitar. The earliest dated pictures of Ace with the guitar are from December 21, 1973. I can only assume that he began carving the neck-heel very shortly after getting the guitar. But, the pictures I've posted below, definitely indicate that the process continued for several months, into 1974.
** My deepest thanks to Emil, from Axeology.com for his input on the heel carving process, amongst other things. **

2.) Between February 21, 1974 and March 22, 1974 - The famous 'star-shaped' decal was added. This was a short period where Kiss wasn't touring or playing any shows, anywhere.

3.) Between July 17, 1974 and September 28, 1974 - The stock pickguard was removed altogether and the stock Gibson pickups were removed in favor of a DiMarzio Super Distortion DP100 pickup in the bridge position and a DiMarzio PAF DP103 in the neck position; both with creme colored bobbins.

4.) Between November 2, 1974 and November 7, 1974 - The strap button was relocated from the factory position above the neck, on the side of the guitar, to the rear of the guitar, just above the neck joint and routed heel.

5.) Between November 23, 1974 and December 10, 1974 - Ace's guitar strap was dressed-up to include small circular, metal studs in a circular pattern with a single stud in the middle of each circle.

6.) Between November 27, 1975 and December 31, 1975 - The original Kluson tuners were replaced with Gibson Deluxe metal-button tuners.

7.) Between July 13, 1976 and July 31, 1976 - The Gibson Deluxe metal-button tuners were replaced with Grover tuners that featured the 'banjo-style' pearloid buttons.
December 21, 1973 -
Coventry, Queens, NY
One of the earliest dated pictures of Ace with his Tobacco-burst Deluxe
December 22, 1973 -
Coventry, Queens, NY
Another very early picture of Ace with his Tobacco-burst Deluxe
December 31, 1973 -
Academy of Music, New York City, NY
Full sized humbuckers, pickguard &
Double-Bar, Double-Ring Kluson tuners
December 31, 1973 -
The Academy of Music, New York City, NY
Full sized humbuckers, pickguard & Double-Bar, Double-Ring Kluson tuners
This picture also allows you to see the "Deluxe" model name engraved into the truss rod cover
January 08, 1974 -
The Fillmore East, New York City, NY
No 'Star-Shaped' decal on the headstock & a very clear shot of what looks to be binding, around the headstock veneer
January 26, 1974 -
The Academy of Music, New York City, NY
No 'Star-Shaped' decal on the headstock
March 31, 1974 -
Forest Park, St. Louis, MO
Strap button still in the normal position
April 07, 1974 -
Michigan Palace, Detroit, MI
A perfect shot showing the Double-Bar, Double-Ring Kluson tuners
May 03, 1974 -
Ambassador Theater, St. Louis, MO
The final months of the Tobacco Burst Deluxe, in it's original form
May 31, 1974 -
Long Beach Civic Arena, Long Beach, CA
The final months of the Tobacco Burst Deluxe, in it's original form
October 04, 1974 -
Music Hall, Houston, TX
The new look coming together. Pickguard removed
DiMarzio Super Distortion (Bridge) &
DiMarzio PAF (Neck)
October 18, 1974 -
The Parthenon Theater, Hammond, IN
The new look - Pickguard gone, DiMarzio Super Distortion (Bridge) & DiMarzio PAF (Neck)
October 21, 1974 -
Brewery, East Lansing, MI
Although it's not great; this is still one of the best pictures showing the routed/contoured heel of Ace's 
Tobacco Burst Deluxe
November 02, 1974 - 
Maine West H.S.,
Des Plaines, IL
Most likely the 2nd to last show before the strap button was repositioned
November 07, 1974 -
Kiel Auditorium, St. Louis, MO
After a couple of days off
(November 4, 5 & 6, 1974), returning to the stage with the relocated strap button
November 23, 1974 -
Alexander Memorial Coliseum,
Atlanta, GA
One of the last shows before the studs were added to Ace's strap
December 20, 1974 -
Michigan Palace, Detroit, MI
Strap now dressed up with the metal studs in the circular pattern Forward strap button clearly repositioned behind the guitar
DiMarzio pickups, no pickguard, 'Star-Shaped' decal on the headstock and Kluson Double-Ring, Double-Bar tuners
November 18, 1975 -
McMorran Arena, Port Huron, MI
Another good shot showing the countoured heel of Ace's guitar
November 27, 1975 -
Cumberland County Crown Coliseum, Fayetteville, NC
Still showing the Double-Ring, Double-Bar Kluson tuners
November 12, 1975 - Toledo Sports Arena, Toledo, OH
Strap now dressed up with the metal studs in the circular pattern
Forward strap button clearly repositioned behind the guitar, DiMarzio pickups, no pickguard, 'Star-Shaped' decal on the headstock, Kluson Double-Ring, Double-Bar tuners and the appearance of binding around the headstock
December 31, 1975 - Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, NY
This amazing picture shows Ace's guitar now featuring the replaced Gibson Deluxe, 
metal button tuners. Note that the strings are loaded forwards and under the stopbar.
(see the next gallery below for a short-lived, interesting twist on this)
31Dec74 Evansville, IN
21Feb75 Chicago, IL
21Mar75 New York City, NY
01Apr75 Los Angeles, CA
13Apr75 Kansas City, MO - this very RARE shot shows the Black 3-pickup Les Paul Deluxe waiting in the wings. Ace is posing with this guitar on the cover of Alive!
03May75 Philadelphia, PA
Notice how the 'A' string tuner is showing it's age and turning brown
11May75 Boston, MA - One of the last shows with the Hotter Than Hell costume
16May75 Detroit, MI - 5 days later with the new Alive! costume
23Aug75 Hempstead, NY
09Oct75 Cadillac, MI
22Oct75 Birmingham, AL
01Nov75 St. Louis, MO
09Nov75 Houston, TX
15Nov75 Rockford, IL
26Jan76 Detroit, MI
11Feb76 Portland, OR
23Feb76 Inglewood, CA
15May76 London, England
23May76 Amsterdam, Holland - This picture clearly shows the apparent 'ridge' around the front of the headstock of Ace's guitar
29May76 Copenhagen, Denmark
24Jun76 - New York City, NY This shot also shows the funky 'ridge' around the front of the headstock
13Jul76 Baltimore, MD
28Jul76 St. Louis, MO
31Jul76 Toledo, OH
13Aug76 - Houston, TX
20Aug76 Anaheim, CA
06Sep76 Toronto, ON
08Sep76 Louisville, KY - This is the last, confirmed date, picture I have found of Ace with his 1973 Tobacco Burst Les Paul Deluxe before the Double-Cut conversion
01  or  02 December, 1976 - Strings & Things, Memphis, TN
The Tobacco Burst Les Paul Deluxe becomes
The Black Double-Cut Les Paul  

    There's a lot a great guitar players with favorite guitars. Stevie Ray had his very famous "Number One" Strat ... Eric Clapton had his "Brownie" and "Blackie" Strats ... Jimmy Page had his 'Number 1' Les Paul. Where are they now ? Well, Stevie Ray's guitar is now owned by his brother, Jimmie ... Clapton's guitars were bought by Guitar Center to raise money for his Crossroads rehab clinic and Page still owns his. Ace was no different as far as having a "Number 1" guitar; using his Tobacco-burst Deluxe almost exclusively, during Kiss' rise to rock 'n' roll super-stardom between late-1973 and late-1976. This was almost as long as any of his primary guitars were ever used for. However, in the winter of 1976, the story of Ace and his Deluxe took a really unusual turn !!!  

    The last pictures I've been able to find, of Ace using his Deluxe are from Kiss' show at Freedom Hall, in Louisville, KY, during the Destroyer tour, on September 8, 1976 (the guitar doesn't looked "torched" to me). There were 2 more shows, in the US, before the end of that tour (although I've never found any pictures from either of them) and 5 shows at the beginning of the Rock And Roll Over tour (no pictures that I've come across, either), before Kiss reached Memphis, TN., on December 1, 1976  and the Strings & Things guitar shop.
    During the two-and-a-half month break between the end of the Destroyer tour and the beginning of the Rock And Roll Over tour, Ace acquired his 1974 Cherry-burst Custom. This acquisition may have relegated his Deluxe to the role of a back-up guitar and when coupled with the December 1 visit to Strings & Things, in Memphis and a meeting with a young guitar tech named Nik Chatal, these two key events probably spelled the end of Ace's Deluxe, as we knew it.

    So, to finally confirm decades of speculation, here's the definitive word from AceFrehleyLesPaul.com ...

    Ace willingly and knowingly allowed Nik Chatal to convert his 1973 Tobacco Burst Les Paul Deluxe into a
one-of-a-kind, Black Les Paul Double Cut, between December of 1976 and January of 1977.

    This has been the rumor of what happened to Ace's guitar for a long, long time. However, since Nik Chatal passed away many years ago and Ace had never really discussed it, there was never any confirmation of the story. Apparently, when asked about it in the past, Ace would get somewhat annoyed and/or upset and frustratedly claim "That guitar was stolen ..." , as he did in Chip Rock Dayton's book and simply leave it at that. I can't prove or disprove Ace's claim that it was stolen. However, as you'll read in the following paragraph and see in the pictures; there is no doubt that the guitar left Ace's possession, AFTER it was converted into the Double Cut.

**Note - The following information comes from Ace, indirectly to me. Ace and I have not spoken or communicated, directly with each other, about this.

    When current pictures of "Blackie" were forwarded along with the questions of whether or not this was once his Les Paul Deluxe; Ace's reply was simple and unmistakable ... "Yes, that's it". Ace said he "recalls taking the Tobacco Burst Deluxe to Strings & Things, but doesn't remember taking delivery of the completed Black Double Cut guitar after that". This is interesting, because the very well known and widely publicized "Ace In The Hole" picutres, taken at Ace's home, in the spring of 1978, clearly show the Black Double Cut behind him, in ALL those pictures. So, it was obviously delivered/returned to Ace, whether he recalls it, or not. This is why I'm confident to say it left Ace's possession, AFTER it was converted.
    The big question that remains, is "why". Why would Ace Frehley completely and so drastically alter the look of his Number 1 guitar ? Well, Ace says he had it converted to the double cut because he "really wanted one bad, at the time". So he "took his favorite guitar and best player to be converted; so it would continue to be his Number 1 guitar, but in the new shape of the Double Cut". Ace is "positive that he didn't sell it or trade it" as it was his favorite guitar, again stating "the guitar was stolen from him in the late 70's but wasn't sure exactly when". Ace reiterated that the reason he converted it "was BECAUSE it was his favorite guitar and (at that time) he decided he liked that double cut look and wanted his best player to look like that".
    I don't know whether or not Ace regrets the conversion, in hind sight. But, as an Ace Frehley fan, the webmaster and creator of AceFrehleyLesPaul.com and a Les Paul guitar fanatic; I can honestly say that I regret that the guitar was converted. But, at the same time, I am very glad that we know the truth about what, when, where and even why it happened.

    So ... where is Ace's Les Paul Deluxe/Double Cut now, you ask ? The guitar is currently in a private collection after having been owned by a good friend of Ace's and of this site, Dr. Konstantine Zakzanis. The previous owner, Jeff Donahoe and I had discussed, at great length, the lineage of the guitar, prior to his acquiring it in 2009, and whether or not it could really be Ace's original guitar. I also had discussions with a previous owner, Neal Heaton. The truth, at the time that I spoke with Neal, was that I had no idea whether or not this was Ace's guitar and I told both Jeff and Neal exactly the same thing ... I really didn't know. Prior to Jeff purchasing the guitar in 2009, I can recall at least two other times, that the Double Cut had been listed and sold, on e-Bay.
    There was no contact with Ace or any of the people in his "circle" who could confirm anything. It was only after Jeff bought the guitar and sent me a ton of very detailed pictures of "Blackie" (as the guitar is now known) and subsequently got through to Ace's inner circle, that we could compare pictures of the Les Paul Deluxe against those of "Blackie" and verify our findings, with Ace's confirmations, through his people.

    There were several points that we discussed as possible ways of verifying "Blackie's" lineage. Most of the points we came up with didn't give us conclusive proof, as they could exist on any guitar. For example ...

1.) The routed/rounded heel.
2.) The DiMarzio pickups.
3.) The 'burnt' smell and smoke residue, inside the guitar's cavities.
4.) The serial number.
5.) The current color of the guitar.
6.) The indentation and screw-hole on the back of the headstock where the original firework was mounted.
7.) The indentations of the original machine heads.
8.) The "pancake" body.
9.) The relocated strap button.

    Finally, we focused in on the only part of the guitar that was still "original". The fret board. There are three individual and clearly discernable markers on Ace's Les Paul Deluxe fret board that are also on "Blackie's" fret board.

1.) The darkened/discolored, possibly repaired inlay, at the 7th fret.
2.) The darkened/discolored, possibly repaired inlay, at the 15th fret.
3.) The "birthmark", as we call it, between the low 'E' and the 'A' strings, just beside the 8th fret.
April 1978 - Ace's home studio  -  Ace In The Hole Studios
The converted double-cut Les Paul is clearly visible on the right-hand side of the group of guitars
So, Ace definitely got it back, after the Strings & Things conversion
These are the only documents I've ever come across that give any inforamtion, albeit very inaccurate, about Ace's Black Double Cut
These are the only documents I've ever come across that give any inforamtion, albeit very inaccurate, about Ace's Black Double Cut
An old, original picture of the Black Double Cut
An old, original picture of the Black Double Cut
A 2009 picture of Ace's Black Double Cut
This is a great shot showing the circular 'scar' left by the effects Ace had mounted to the head of the guitar
An amazing shot of the control cavity clearly showing the Guitar Work Shop lable with Nik Chatal's signature on it
An amazing shot of the pickup cavities clearly showing the Guitar Work Shop lable with Nik Chatal's signature on it. Also visible is two cut down pencils, glued into the corner of the neck cavity. This allows the current pickup to be mounted normally (the screws from the pickup ring go in them)
This shot shows the markers we used to verify Blackies lineage
    And there you have it ... a written confirmation from Ace Frehley, himself and the photographic evidence from the '70's and today, which clearly show the "birthmark" at the 8th fret, as well as the "imperfections" of the inlays at the 7th and 15th frets. The only remaining piece of the puzzle that would lend additional proof, eliminating any question at all, of "Blackie's" lineage, would be a copy of a Customs clearance document, from an early Kiss tour, that would show the serial number of the Les Paul Deluxe, as it was in the early to mid '70's which could then be compared to the serial number on "Blackie". I'm positive they would be the same, as are Jeff and Konstantine. But, until such a document is uncovered, we're going to keep "Blackie's" serial number under our hats.
Ace Frehley & Blackie re-united on-stage - September 21, 2015
The University of Buffalo, Buffalo, NY
This video is the property of Jim Symington and is used by permission
Duplication, in whole or in part, is prohibited by law

February 06, 1974 -
Southern Alberta Insitute of Technology (SAIT), Calgary, AB  -  No 'Star-Shaped' decal on the headstock but a clear view of the headstock binding
February 21, 1974 - Aquarius Theater, Los Angeles, CA
ABC's In Concert TV show filming  -  No 'Star-Shaped' decal on the headstock & again, the binding around the headstock veneer is clearly visible along with the "Deluxe" name on the truss rod cover
March 23, 1974 - The Academy of Music, New York City, NY  -  The 'Star-Shaped' decal on the headstock is now clearly visible as are the full sized humbucker pickups and the binding around the headstock veneer
Headstock thumbnail gallery
31Dec73 - The beginnings of the heel carving. Clearly showing exposed wood.
08Jan74 - A little more of the heel carved out and even climbing up, onto the neck a little as well.
26Jan74 - The carved heel now painted over or possible colored with a marker, in the same manner as the headstock binding.
31Mar74 - Probably the best, most clear view of the heel and back of Ace's guitar.
07Apr74 - You can see what looks to be a few 'extra' chunks, Ace took out of the guitar in the lower left-hand section.
21Oct74 - Pretty much the end result of Ace's carving efforts.
The heel of Ace's Tobacco Burst Deluxe, as it looks today.
Carved heel thumbnail gallery
April 07, 1974 -
Michigan Palace, Detroit, MI
A perfect shot showing the Double-Ring on the Kluson tuners,
the star shaped decal, the headstock binding and the 'Deluxe' truss rod cover
April 19, 1974 -
The Aragon Ballroom, Chicago, IL
One of my favorite live shots of Ace
July 17, 1974 -
The Electric Ballroom, Atlanta, GA
The last, confirmed date, picture I've found of the Tobacco Burst Deluxe, only 2 weeks before it's transformations would begin
September 28, 1974 -
Michigan Palace, Detroit, MI
A new album, a new tour, new boots and what was destined to become an iconic guitar
25Jna76 - Cobo Hall, Detroit, MI
25Jan76 - Cobo Hall, Detroit, MI
01Feb76 - Richfield Coliseum, Cleveland, OH
23Feb76 - The Forum, Los Angeles, CA
April 1976 - Unknown venue
January to April, 1976
I stumbled across this little tid-bit of information, in 2016, while studying this guitar ... Ace began wrapping his strings backwards and over the stop-bar tailpiece ... forwards and under, is the normal way ... 
right up until Kiss went to Europe, in May of 1976. 
Some players claim this gives the strings a more "slinky" feel but it sacrifices sustain.
June 22, 1974 -
The Electric Ballroom, Atlanta, GA
Within 3 weeks of this picture, the Tobacco Burst Deluxe would become a true symbol of Rock & Roll guitar
December 22, 1974 -
Cenntennial Hall, London, ON
This is the earliest, confirmed date,
picture I've found, showing the dressed up strap