Ace's original contract with Gibson had specified that there would be three variants of his signature model guitar; Gibson Custom Shop, Gibson USA and Epiphone. At the time, this was a deal, the scope of which Gibson had never extended previously. Other artists signature model guitars, of the mid to late '90's, had only ever been produced in typically one or sometimes two shops, but never all three. In 2009, this is much more common place for Gibson's most popular artist endorsees. The 'Slash' and 'Zakk Wylde' guitars being the best examples of this.
The Gibson USA variant of Ace's signature guitars began production towards the end of mid-1997, with the lowest serial numbered guitar, that I am currently aware of, having a date code of 92317388. This number indicates that the guitar was stamped on August 19 (the 231st day) of 1997. Typically, the process of building and assembling the guitar would have begun a few weeks prior to the guitar actually being stamped.
Structurally, there are very few, noticable differences between "The 300" Custom Shop models and the Gibson USA production models, of Ace's signature guitars. The Gibson USA models were advertised as having the following ...
1.) A bookmatched AA Figured Maple Top
2.) Mahogany Back & Neck
3.) 22 Fret Ebony Fingerboard with Lightning Bolt inlays and Ace's Signature, for the inlay at the 12th fret
4.) Scale length is 24.75"/62.865 cm and Nut width is 1.710"/4.3434 cm
5.) 3 DiMarzio Super Distortion (DP100) pickups
The part that interests me the most with the Gibson USA models is that they were sold with DiMarzio Super Distortion pickups, in all three positions. It interests me because they (Gibson and DiMarzio) were able to maintain consistency with the pickups installed in the 'lower-valued', production model guitars; where they hadn't been able to maintain that same consistency with the much 'higher-valued', Custom Shop run ... "The 300".
The Gibson USA guitars featured chrome hardware rather than the nickel hardware that had been used on the Custom Shop models and the physical differences included ...
1.) Grover Rotomatic (102C) machine heads
2.) Gibson Nashville Tune-O-Matic (PBBR-030) bridge
The Gibson USA model utilized a black plastic truss rod cover with a custom Ace Frehley engraving and standard, black plastic cavity covers, with no engravings, on the back of the guitars. Unlike the Custom Shop model, the Gibson USA model came with no pickguard, whatsoever. The Gibson USA models came with a black, tolex-covered case, with Gibson USA screen printed on the outside. The interior was done in a lush, royal blue color with a matching, silk shroud. The shroud would also feature Ace signature, screen printed on it. The first year of production, 1997, would also include a limited edition Gibson / Ace Frehley Les Paul t-shirt.
As Kiss concluded their Reunion tour in 1998, Gibson prepared a 15 second advertisment video to be released with their forthcoming record, Psycho Circus. The video features Ace, playing one of his prototype versions of the guitar, with the pickguard installed. This was a little misleading for people, when purchasing the guitar, but it's a pretty cool ad, none-the-less. The 2nd year of production, 1998, would include the Gibson / Ace Frehley power pack. The power pack included 6 packs of Gibson / Ace Frehley signature guitar strings, a black, Gibson guitar strap with a white lightning bolt on it, 2 Gibson USA guitar picks with Ace's likeness on one side, the 1998 Gibson catalogue and a copy of Kiss' Psycho Circus CD. To the best of my knowldge, the Gibson USA models produced between 1999 and 2001 never came with any other special accessories or add-on's.
The Gibson USA/Ace Frehley Production Model
1998 - The Gibson Ace Frehley Les Paul Television Commercial
1997 - Promotional t-shirt, included with each Gibson USA / Ace Frehley Production Model guitar
1997 - Gibson / Ace Frehley Master Pack featuring the first run of Ace's re-packaged signature guitar strings
1997 - The above, left picture was the first (and most likely the only) shot taken of Ace, for any/all promotional items that would follow, in 1997 and into 1998. Notice how the guitar is a 3 pickup Custom, which he used prior to receiving his signature model guitars ... block inlays and a regular Custom headstock veneer. The image was later altered, adding a signature model guitar and/or pickguard.
1997 - Guitar World Magazine promotional ad
1997 - Gibson retailers promo poster and the back-side of the Japanese edition of the same poster, on the right
1998 - Gibson Power Pack included with all Ace Frehley Production Model guitars purchased.
* Notice the original promo picture, with the Les Paul Custom on the string packs
1998 - This ad has always made me scratch my head ... notice the point about the "Three custom-wound DiMarzio double-cream humbucking pickups". In fact the guitars built in 1998 had stock, DiMarzio Super Distortion pickups. There was nothing custom about them.
1997 - I had to throw this one on here. The face doesn't even remotely resemble Ace !?!?!? I have no idea where it came from or why !
s/n 93367333 - One of my former Ace Frehley models