Gibson Custom Shop Ace Frehley Signature Les Paul
The Story of The 300
The information contained below comes to me directly from T.C. Harrison, who was working in Gibson's Custom & Historic Division in late-1996 (now known simply as The Gibson Custom Shop), when the proposal for the Ace Frehley Signature Les Paul was first introduced. As you'll see, T.C. was entirely instrumental and unequaled in his involvement and contributions to the design and creation of these guitars, from day one. This is the story of how
The 300, Ace Frehley Signature Les Paul guitars came to be right from the mouth of the man who built them ...
*It's important to note that there were two sets of prototype guitars built, for Ace's model ... the ones discussed below, relate to The 300, which are the Custom Shop model and then there was prototypes ACE 1 and ACE 2, which I'll talk about later on this page and were specific to the Gibson USA Production model built between 1997 and 2001.
T.C. Harrison :
"I’m the designer/luthier/inlay artist who was tasked by Gibson Custom Shop management with developing the Ace project. I built the first ‘Ace’ ever made, along with the team at the Custom Shop. I designed the graphics (with Ace) and other attributes that make the Ace guitar different from any other pre-signature model Les Paul. I also did all of the hand done inlay work. I still have all of my original sketches, full-size drawings, photos of the first guitars being built (with detailed pics of me doing inlay, etc.). I even saved shipping labels from Maxcake, faxes from Kiss tour manager, DiMarzio, and hand written correspondence with Ace".
"I own the first Ace Signature Model ever made. It was the first prototype and is stamped ACE 001. It was built in October 1996, and was the first prototype of what would ultimately become The 300. It left Gibson for Ace to check out in Albuquerque, NM on 25Oct96. Ace returned the guitar with hand-written notes and suggestions for changes, improvements and/or modifications. I accommodated everything he had requested/suggested and then he had it again before the changes were finalized. Prototype ACE 001 can be distinguished from every other guitar that came after it, by its headstock inlay - the visage of Ace has only one eye. Ultimately, it was given to me by Gibson management as a token of appreciation for my work on the project".
October 1996 -
A young T.C. Harrison with the completed headstock overlay that would end up
on the first prototype Gibson LP Ace Signature model ever made, ACE 001.
"Next up I built prototype ACE 002 in late-December 1996 and early-January 1997. That guitar was the one everyone saw in Guitar World magazine, with Ace and Billy Gibbons on the cover, in May of 1997. After I made
ACE 001, I could just tell that it needed the other eye. It needed more balance. I really wanted to capture the Solo album silhouette artwork feel, so I went to work (at home) making another headstock overlay. For this one, I would make the hair and shadowed right side of the face out of green abalone shell and added the second eye. The shell inlay had lots of blue in it, and really looked cool. Ace however, preferred the simple look of the blue epoxy that I used for ACE 001. He did like having the second eye, and added the idea of having blue over the eyes later (I have that in a hand-written note, from Ace). After that, I made two more headstock overlays, by hand. Both with two eyes, and blue epoxy. One would be used on ACE 002, and I still have the other. So, overall, I hand made four headstock overlays and two were used on guitars ... specifically ACE 001 and ACE 002. After Ace gave his final sign-off on ACE 002, I helped digitize the artwork for production of The 300. Until this point, there were no guitars with artwork that I developed other than these Ace models".
ACE 002 (above) ... the second prototype T.C. built. It is the guitar that Ace would finally sign off on and use extensively. Ultimately, he would receive a total of 14 guitars. The 300 were based on this prototype. In this picture, the guitar still has gold hardware ... Ace rejected the gold and had it replaced with nickel, on his final sign off.
The picture to the above clearly shows the difference between T.C.'s
headstock overlay (left) and the ones made by the CNC machine (right).
All of The 300, numbered ACE 004 or higher, got the one on the right.
T.C. also noted ...
"Serial number ACE 003 was actually never built. It was going to be the third prototype and I was planning to use my other hand-made headstock overlay on it (above, left picture). ACE 003 would ultimately have been for me. But, since Ace had already signed-off on the second prototype, ACE 002, there was no need for me to build the third one. I never imagined I would be given the original prototype ... but I was !! The Custom Shop team thought there would be 3 prototypes and The 300 was already slated to start with ACE 004. When the third prototype didn't get built, they just skipped right over 003 and started with 004, as originally planned".
"The 300" were officially made available to music retailers at the 1997 Winter NAMM show which ran from
15-19Jan97. Prototype ACE 002 was the display model they featured in the Gibson Custom Shop booth. Although Ace had attended the NAMM show and performed in the Gibson hospitality room, with ACE 002 and Slash, he had to leave the guitar behind and travel to Japan for the next leg of the Kiss tour. Gibson Custom needed the guitar at the NAMM show until it ended on the 19Jan97 … Kiss toured Japan (5 cities) from 18-25Jan97, then New Zealand on 31Jan97 and finally Australia (5 cities) from 03-15Feb97.
On the 5th or 6th of February, 1997, Ace was interviewed for Guitar World Magazine, from his hotel room in Sydney, Australia. Ace did not have any of his new signature guitars on this leg of the tour, even though he talked about them in the interview. This tour leg was followed by a 3 week break at home in the US, until early-March of '97 and is most likely when Ace took possession of the guitar and when the photoshoot for Guitar World took place. Ultimately, ACE 002 made its 1st official live appearance with Ace in Mexico City, on 07Mar97.
January 15th, 1997 - The NAMM Show, Anaheim, CA
Ace, ACE 002 & Slash having some fun in The Gibson Hospitality Room
The Guitar World interview was published in the May, 1997 issue and this was the first time Ace spoke about his new Signature Series guitars. "Have you seen my new Gibson model" ? "They debuted it at the winter NAMM show and it sold out in an hour" !!! In reality, the guitars were actually sold before they were built ! Based on the Pre-Pack and Final Pack check lists included with the guitars, "The 300" were actually built between early March and late June of 1997 ... thus selling out before they were built.
Below is what Gibson's press release/feature sheet said about the guitar .... but DON'T always believe everything you read !!!!!
Original MSRP - $6,400 US
AAA Flamed Maple top
Les Paul "Custom" style binding
Cherry Sunburst Finish
Custom Ace Frehley headstock veneer
Ebony fingerboard with lightning bolt inlays
12th fret "Ace Frehley" pearl inlay
Custom Ace Frehley serial number ... inked on as ACE 001 through ACE 300
Grover tuners with pearloid buttons
Gibson ABR-1 Bridge
Sterling Silver Engraved trussrod cover, switch plate and back plate
Pick guards were sold with the guitars but were not installed
Hardshell, Gibson Custom & Historic Shop case
Screenprint of Ace's signature outside the case
Red interior with no silk flap, typically found in the Custom Shop cases
Two DiMarzio, Double Creme, Super Distortion pickups ... (DP100)
One DiMarzio, Double Creme, Dual Sound pickup ... (DP101)
There were two small differences between the guitars and what the spec sheets advertised.
1.) The "Sterling Silver" truss rod cover and back plates
2.) The pickups installed in "The 300" guitars.
Due to the high cost of the Sterling Silver, which would ultimately have to be passed along to the end purchaser, a decision was made to use 'nickel plated brass' for the various covers, instead. Disappointing, but true.
What first got me onto the "pickup discrepancy" thing was when a friend, Dave Varilek, noticed that ACE 139 had different pickups than his guitar, at the time, ACE 004. So, I visually checked the pictures of the guitars I have in my gallery and discovered that many of them don't have the allen screw pole pieces typically associated with DiMarzio Super Distortion (DP100) and Dual Sound (DP101) pickups. They have the flathead screw pole pieces usually found in the DiMarzio PAF (DP103) pickups.
I began asking some more owners exactly which pickups were in their guitars. Guess what ? Many of them found they had DP103s (DiMarzio PAFs), with flathead pole pieces and not the advertised DP100 / DP101 combination. In fact, some guitars have all DP103s ... some have all DP100s ... some have all DP101s. Some have a combination of all three pickup types and far fewer actually have the pickup combination that Gibson advertised !!!
After this discovery, I e-mailed both Gibson and DiMarzio (as did a couple of the other owners) to see if we could find out what the real story was. None of us were able to get a definitive answer from either source. Gibson said they didn't have records that could verify or disprove anything and DiMarzio basically said the same thing. Although, a 'higher-up' at DiMarzio (No, it wasn't Larry) said to me directly, "If you don't want to stir this pot, then don’t" ? You can take that statement, for what it's worth. At this point, 20+ years into the life of this website, there's no need for me to dig into this topic any further. It's been proven and confirmed.
Do I think either Gibson or DiMarzio deliberately tried to mislead anyone ? No, I don’t.
Here's what I think happened ... Ace would have signed off on the guitars during the first 2 weeks of January, 1997, before Kiss left for Japan. DiMarzio probably got the contract for the pickups around the 3rd week of January, at best … with an expected delivery date, to Gibson, of no later than maybe the last week of February, 1997 ... remember, The 300 were all sold by 19Jan97, at the NAMM show. So, DiMarzio might have had 4 weeks to manufacture 600 Super Ds and 300 Dual Sounds, all with double creme bobbins !!!! That’s a massive undertaking, even for a big company like DiMarzio. In the scramble, they probably just went with what they had, in order to fulfil their obligation … double creme PAFs. As that same ‘higher-up’ at DiMarzio added … “Ace used PAFs too”, which is definitely true.
The good news is that by the time Gibson USA began building the production model Ace Frehley Les Paul Customs; DiMarzio was ready for the demand. Although the advertised specs are slightly different (3 Super Ds only), I have yet to come across a discrepancy with any of the production model guitars.
I could go into detail about which of The 300 have which pickups, but I won't. There's no point. However, I will say that there's no rhyme or reason to the pickup discrepancies. Guitars that were built (in theory) one after the other (i.e. ACE 189 and ACE 190) have different pickup combinations. Anyway, don't be surprised to find that your Ace Frehley Custom Shop may not be loaded with the pickups you think it is or that it was supposed to have !
** Note - All of Gibson's production shops have guitars that never make it to the end of the production line, for one reason or another ... finish flaws, a discoloration on the fretboard, a snapped headstock, a twisted or broken neck, etc.. Some guitars are never even completed and end up on the discard pile even though they may already have a serial number stamped on the back of the headstock.
As I learned when visiting Gibson's Nashville factories in 2007, a discarded guitar with a serial number already on it will not cause the serial number sequence to be re-set nor will they build a replacement guitar and re-stamp it, for each one that is discarded. So, this means that even though we're talking about '300' of Ace's Signature guitars being built in the Custom Shop, all 300 of them may not have passed "quality control" and made it to the shipping desk. At the time, Gibson couldn't tell me the exact numbers for the Ace Frehley run, but they did acknowledge that roughly 5 to 7 percent of guitars are discarded everyday and in every run they produce. So, the math says that approximately 15 to 21 (5 to 7%) of "The 300", never made it to your local guitar shop.
BTW ... It was also really cool to learn that, at that time, guitar bodies on the discard pile would go out to the wood chipper and the chips were then sold to Jack Daniel's Distilery to become the charcoal that they filter their whiskey through ... Yes, this is 100% true !!!!
Here's another little twist in the story ... This is what Maxcake Productions (Ace’s production company) offered on their press release/feature sheet, about the guitar … (I’m typing this exactly as it appeared on these posters)
Each Guitar Personally Inspected & Autographed
Flame Maple Top for Crunch
Mahogany Back for Warmth
Custom DiMarzio Dbl. Cream
Ace Special Humbucking Pickups
One Piece Mahogany Neck
Crafted to ‘59 Specs w/Eboney (yes, spelled with an ‘e’ before the ‘y’)
Fingerboard & Lightning Bolt Inlays
Heritage CherrySunburst Finish
Mother of Pearl Tipped Grover Pegs with Tune-O-Matic Bridge
Lockable Plush Hardshell Case
And Much, Much, More
This poster is truly awefull ...
That doesn't even look like Ace