Some people might think an Ace Frehley instructional DVD is an oxymoron. I can understand that. Ace is not a technician and his style isn’t complex in 32nd-note, finger-gymnastical, “hyperlodian” ways.
But that is precisely what makes Ace’s style unique, and the fact that it’s relatively easy to cop is one big reason he’s influenced many thousands of kids to pick up a guitar.
Plus he freely (Frehley?) admits he can’t read music and doesn’t know a lick of theory – and he’s a rock star – so it’s not like anyone out there can hurt his feelings about this stuff.
Still, for the aforementioned reasons, an Ace instructional DVD was unexpected – and is unexpectedly cool. Well, even as an adult (in age only, people!), I knew it would be cool because it’s Ace…but you know what I mean.
The full title of the DVD is “Behind the Player: Ace Frehley” and was shot and produced by IMV, which stands for Interactive Music Video. Is the DVD interactive? Technically no, but that doesn’t really matter.
The DVD has four sections:
Behind the Player – Basically an interview with Ace about his guitar-playing history and some cool old photos.
Cold Gin – Broken up into three parts: the lesson, jams on the tune with other musicians and video tab.
Shock Me – Ditto.
Special Features – Three: A long Anomaly trailer (the DVD was apparently shot before Anomaly was out); a jam on the Anomaly tune “Pain in the Neck” (no singing); four amateur-shot Ace solos.
More on each below, starting with the lessons.
‘Cold Gin’ and ‘Shock Me’
Yes, just two tunes. For me, “Shock Me” was worth the price alone. But first, “Cold Gin.”
> The best part of this for me was seeing a close-up of how he plays the outro from the bridge back into the main riff. It’s a combination of parts – Ace’s and Paul’s – and Ace shows them both. Also cool were the fill before the solo as well as the solo itself.
> Interestingly, in this segment he says in the early days he often used to work out the structures of solos, which is contrary to his reputation of sort of showing up, blowing through a few leads and having the producer pick which one he liked the best.
> At the end, Ace plays the whole tune while listening to the song on headphones. Maybe I’m 13 again, but it’s pretty cool to jam along with him.
> The first jam on this tune (no singing) is with John 5. The first thing I noticed here is that so many cuts are in this segment that it might give someone a seizure. John 5, a self-described huge Ace fan, mostly lays back and lets Ace do the playing, but adds a few notes that any KISS fan will instinctively recognize – which to me means he’s a true fan.
> Next up is George Lynch, who unfortunately has delay on his guitar (John 5 sounded raw). George throws in a bunch of fills, but once again Ace is the main attraction – as it should be.
How many people wanted to be in the first row of an classic KISS show to see Ace play this tune up-close? I did. Now I’m seeing it.
> He starts out telling the well-known story that the song was inspired by, then a little about the song’s construction: It’s funny to hear that Ace “stole” the staccato chords in the chorus from The Who song “Can’t Explain.”
> I still love this riff and this tune.
> Seeing the solo worked out up-close is too cool.
> Man, Ace has some killer vibrato. Always knew it – guess took it for granted – but this reinforces it.
> He does a lesson on bending – he has one of the best slow bends in rock. He notes, “Developing a good vibrato is crucial for playing lead guitar, especially in rock ‘n roll.” When’s the last time you heard something so simple and yet so true on an instructional DVD?
> No special-guest guitar players jam on the song. Ace just plays it through with a drummer and bass player, no singing (kind of a bummer).
Notes on the Lessons
> Each lesson is 20+ minutes.
> Sure some of the stuff Ace plays is “simple,” but that doesn’t make it any less cool or less good. I’ve been playing for 30 years and still got something out of it – more than just joy/fun, I mean.
> It’s interesting to see Ace-isms like using his pinky to play the fifths of bar chords, and using his second finger (a lot) where some people would use their third and fourth fingers.
> The video tab is kind of cool if you’re into tab (I’m not). It shows the tab notes sort of streaming at you, in real time as Ace is playing them.
Also in note form:
Behind the Player
> Ace mentions we might be familiar with some of the work he’s done “with the rock group KISS.” Self-deprecating, which is cool, but hell yeah we’re familiar with it and it’s kind of a bummer (but understandable) to hear Ace talk about KISS in a former/distant way.
> He first picked up a guitar when he was 13.
> Matt Sorum, Velvet Revolver drummer and former GnR drummer, calls Ace “one of the rock ‘n roll greats” and a “gunslinger,” which is a great term for Ace in many ways.
> Ace says he used to practice for “hours and hours” because he was so excited by the instrument.
> John 5 says Love Gun literally changed his life. Ace was his favorite guitar player. John also says Anomaly is Ace’s best album since the 1978 album, “and it might be even better.”
> George Lynch says just the visual impact of KISS inspired him and his bands.
> Ace briefly talks about the recording of Psycho Circus and how it was “weird.” He mentions the well-known fact that Gene and Paul only accepted one of his songs (“Into the Void”), and says they wouldn’t let Peter play drums. Ace notes that it took him a while to detox after being in KISS again.
> One of the coolest parts of this was Ace talking about how he triggered the smoke bombs in his guitar with the volume and tone knobs. And it’s very interesting to hear people talk about the smoking guitar and how innovative that was in itself – something we just take for granted.
The Ace solos in the special features are really cool. They’re long, amateur-shot and YouTube quality but with good sound.
The first three are Frehley’s Comet era. In the first he’s playing through Laneys (someone reading this will know the exact year!) and is using a three-pickup cherry sunburst Les Paul. In the next one, which I think is better although the footage isn’t as good, he’s using the three pickup black Les Paul Custom that smokes – literally, of course.
The first vid is almost 5 minutes, the next one is about 4 minutes and the third one is about 2 minutes. The guitar is using for the third is a black Les Paul Custom that has a whammy bar (!).
The last 2 minutes are Ace in his makeup, presumably on the reunion or farewell tours. This one has the most pyrotechnics, but the least guitar-playing.
Ace does talk about his gear a bit, but not in great detail (bummer), presumably because whoever was prompting Ace with topics didn’t know enough to ask. But Ace does say (beyond a Les Paul into a Marshall):
> “I always wanted a Gibson Les Paul because Jimmy Page played them.” And the first Les Paul Ace got was a tobacco sunburst.
> He used to use 9-46 gauge strings, but said in the last couple of years he’s been using heavier strings: 10-52. He feels they stay in tune a little better and they’re a bit ballsier, but wouldn’t recommend them for beginners because they’re harder to bend.
> In the studio he uses “pretty much” all Marshalls and Fenders, and “occasionally” a Peavey 5150. It looks like he’s using JCM 900s on the DVD but I couldn’t be sure.
> In an old Guitar Player magazine interview, Ace famously said that his amp settings were everything on five. But in this DVD he says the bass and mids are about halfway up, and the treble is all the way up.
> Ace plays his blue-sparkle signature prototype Les Paul in the video. The more I see that guitar, the cooler it looks. Over the top for sure, but in a cool way.
If you’re an Ace fan, this DVD is worth getting even though Ace only goes through two songs. The set is good, it’s well-shot, the sound is good and at 124 minutes a lot is on there.
Ace says he can’t read music and doesn’t really know the notes – it doesn’t matter! That’s part of what makes him a Ace, and no doubt has contributed to his unique style.
And to Ace’s credit, he plays his parts raw: just his guitar into a Marshall. No effects, no butt-saving delay, not even any reverb. That’s honest, and takes nuts.
> No word on all the places the DVD is available, but you can get it on amazon for $14 US.
> Here’s a link to DVD clips.
> The DVD contains a few trailers for other IMV instructional DVDs. Most won’t be interesting to WoodyTone readers, except for George Lynch’s, and maybe John 5’s (although neither the Ace nor Lynch DVDs are on the IMV website – doh!). If you know any bass players, Duff McKagan’s and Mike Inez’s DVDs may be interesting for them.