History - 1976 to 1977
Kiss' astronomical success with their Alive! album (recorded between March & June, 1975 / released September 10, 1975) brought some real perks in the form of endorsements from some of the major musical instrument makers around the world. However, in late 1975 and early 1976, Ace and the band were very busy touring North America to support the Alive! release and after trying several different guitars during their previous tours, Ace had clearly committed to the Gibson Les Paul as his 'Go-To', model of guitar and specifically his #1, 1973 Tobacco Burst Les Paul Deluxe. This guitar and his Smoker, which was also a Les Paul Deluxe, of roughly the same era, were there for every show.
It was also around this time frame that Ace's relationship with Gibson's Les Paul Custom series was kicking into gear. The first guitar was a 1975, 2 pickup Black Les Paul Custom with chrome plated hardware and 'Ace' scribed into the truss rod cover ... although this could have been something Ace or his tech added after the fact. As he had done with his Deluxe models, Ace removed the pick guard and replaced the standard pickups with DiMarzios. The arrival of this Les Paul Custom could have signaled the retirement of the Black Les Paul Deluxe used in the "Alive" photo shoots and videos. After mid-May, of 1975, there was never again, any sign of that guitar in Ace's live arsenal.
During the spring of 1976, Paul Stanley acquired a 1976, Ibanez Model 2459. This model very closely resembles the Gibson Explorer, but would later become known as the Ibanez Destroyer following the well documented "lawsuit" era. It was a natural, Korina-looking finish, with a white pick guard. Sometime in the spring or early-summer of 1976, Paul gave this guitar to Ace (Check out the 'Ace Without A Les Paul' page of the site for more information about Ace's Explorers.) Although Ace used it fairly regularly, we all know how easy it is to become attached to the familiar feel of our favorite guitar's and Ace was no different; preferring to stick to his tried and true, Tobacco-burst Deluxe models the majority of the time. For the band's 4th studio release, "Destroyer", (recorded January to February 1976 / released March 15, 1976) and subsequent tour in 1976 (July 3, 1976 to September 12, 1976), Ace would work with his 2 Deluxes, the Black Custom and the Ibanez 2459/Explorer/Destroyer.
It was immediately following this tour that Ace would acquire the 3 pickup Cherry-burst Custom that would become as much a visual symbol of Ace, as his makeup. This guitar was the 'loose' inspiration for Ace's Signature Series model in the late 1990s and the hands-on inspiration for the Budokan model of 2011. Ace has recalled that he "got the guitar from Manny's Music, in Manhattan, in the summer of 1976. It was originally a 2 pickup and I added the middle pickup because I liked the look of the three pickup Les Paul Custom". In making this modofication, Ace's Cherry Burst Custom would become as unique and identifiable as he was, since Gibson didn't offer a 3 pickup Les Paul Custom, in Heritage Cherry Burst.
Returning home in mid-September, following the "Destroyer" tour, Kiss immediately set up shop at The Star Theatre, in Nanuet, NY and recorded their next studio album, "Rock and Roll Over" (recorded late-September 1976 / released November 1, 1976). Shortly after the record was completed, the band would be featured on the Paul Lynde Show's Halloween special, filming on October 19 & 20, 1976, in Los Angeles, CA and airing on October 31, 1976. In this appearance, Ace was seen without either of his trusty Deluxes. Instead, he appeared with his Black Custom (with a small piece of black gaff tape covering his name on the truss rod cover) and a Gibson Explorer, with a black pick guard. As one of their major endorsees, I'm sure that Gibson would have wanted the TV exposure that would come with Kiss' appearance and Ace was made to use the Gibson Explorer instead of the Ibanez 2459/Explorer/Destroyer he used on tour. This is a prime example of the politics involved in a lucrative, endorsement contract between a major instrument manufacturer and one of the world's biggest bands.
"Rock and Roll Over" was released in late fall of 1976 (November 1, 1976) and the supporting tour followed (November 24, 1976 to April 4, 1977). Ace hit the road with a slightly revised arsenal of guitars on the U.S. and Canadian legs. Ace's long-time partner, the 'star-decaled' 1973 Tobacco-burst Deluxe was nowhere to be found on this tour.
*Note - I read an interview from this time period, in Chip Rock Dayton's book 'Outtakes', where Ace, after seeing a picture of his original Deluxe, stated " ... that guitar was stolen"! (although, I've since proven that guitar had been converted into the Black Double Cut and returned to Ace, long before it may have been stolen). For more details about Ace's original Tobacco-burst Deluxe, check out the dedicated chapter, further into the site. His new guitar of choice was his 3 pickup Cherry-burst Custom (although he never used either the middle or neck pickups). The Deluxe he had converted into his smoker still made the journey, along with the new Black Custom and the Ibanez 2459/Explorer/Destroyer. Ace obviously liked the look of the 3 pickup Les Paul Custom and I speculate that it was this look that would later prompt Ace to first use the 'piece of plastic' shaped like a pickup, on a guitar. Here's what I'm talking about ...
Rather than severely modifying his guitars by drilling into the bodies and installing a real pickup that he never used anyway, Ace would have a cream coloured piece of plastic cut into the shape and size of a normal pickup and then glue it into place, between the two existing pickups. This made his 2 pickup Black Custom look more like his new 3 pickup Cherry-burst Custom. Here's my thought process on this topic ...
1.) In October of 1976 on the Paul Lynde show and earlier in the year, Ace's Black Custom had 2 pickups and no pick guard .
2.) By filming time for the "Love 'Em, Leave 'Em" video, in early November of 1976, the pick guard was restored and would remain throughout the balance of the "Rock 'N' Roll Over" tour, including Kiss' first trip to Japan in the Spring of 1977.
3.) At some point betwen January and July of 1977, Ace would modify his 2 pickup Black Custom, yet again. The pick guard was removed and the middle pickup (piece of plastic) was glued into place.
April of 1977 took Kiss and the "Rock And Roll Over" tour to Japan for the first time. A new guitar would join Ace's line-up in the form of an introduction (and possibly an endorsement offer) to Greco guitars and he and Paul both played one of their MR-1000 models during a show (or possibly multiple shows, in Japan). Despite the look of the MR-1000 being similar to a Les Paul, it obviously didn't feel like one and Ace never brought the guitar to the stage anywhere outside of Japan. During this tour, the audio from Kiss' shows at Budokan would be recorded with the intention of releasing them for a Japan-only live album. Although this album never saw the light of day, the bulk of those recordings were used as the 'bed tracks' for the Alive II release, (recorded April 1977 & August 1977 / released November 28, 1977) along with some of the shows at the L.A. Forum, in August of 1977.
In mid-1977, Kiss returned home to begin recording their next record "Love Gun" (recorded May 1977 / released June 30, 1977). In addition to Ace's usual guitar parts, this album would feature Ace's voice on lead vocals for the very first time. 'Shock Me' would become Ace's signature song for the next few years with Kiss and through much of his solo years. The song's idea came out of the "electrifying" experience he had the previous year, in Lakeland, Florida. On the live circuit, 'Shock Me' would also take over as the foundation for Ace's live guitar solos.
Guitar wise, Ace had no reason to grab for something new or something different on the "Love Gun" sessions, although there are reportedly some rhythm parts that Ace played with a Strat. In spite of what went on in the studio; at the pinacle of their success, virtually every live picture of Ace from this era, featured his 3 pickup Cherry-burst Les Paul Custom.
The short-lived "Love Gun" tour (July 8, 1977 to September 5, 1977) saw the role of Ace's Smoker taken over by a new, modified Les Paul Standard and the original Les Paul Deluxe Smoker was never seen again. In addition to his 3 pickup Cherry-burst Les Paul Custom, Ace brought along his, now, 3 pickup Black Les Paul Custom, with pick guard, but typically only used it at the end of each night, for the song 'Black Diamond'. However, as you'll read in the next chapter, the 3 pickup Black Customs would become Ace's primary guitars, for the remainder of the '70's and into the early '80's.