Revitalized Unmasked_Bruce Kulick

January 1, 2010
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BRUCE KULICK CHARTED THE LONGEST tenure of any Kiss guitarist except Ace Frehley (1984-1996), never had to go Kabuki (he rocked during the band’s “unmasked” era), and even managed to bill himself under his own actual name (a rarity in the Kiss Kamp). After leaving the group when the original four members got back together in 1996, Kulick started Union, released solo albums and an instructional DVD (Kiss Forever, with his brother, Bob), and joined Grand Funk Railroad. He is currently finishing his third solo album, BK3.

What were some of the challenges in maintaining the legacy of Ace’s parts, while simultaneously bringing your own feel and style to the band?

When I joined Kiss in 1984, Paul was very specific that my playing be completely modern— which, at the time, meant Floyd Rose whammy things and finger tapping—as well as being completely respectful of the classic Kiss stuff. I didn’t believe he wanted me to copy the Ace solos note-for-note, but my approach was to be loyal to the signature riffs, while adding my own vibe to the solos. I feel like I accomplished that perfectly. Alive III is a testament of my work for all the eras of the band

What gear were you using during the Kiss days?

Marshall heads. At first, modified ones that had some nice extra gain, and then the 900 series. I was very happy with those early 900 series amps. Guitar wise, I was playing stock and custom ESP guitars—some with Floyd Roses, and some without—and various B.C. Richs and Gibsons. After breaking my collarbone in 1989, it was important for me to play lighter guitars, so I found some Korina Gibson models—the Moderne, Flying V, and Explorer—and a beat-up Les Paul Junior. Pedals were kept to a minimum, and I would use the Chandler Tone-X preamp in place of the tone control to simulate a wah pedal. No place to run to a wah with Gene and Paul commanding the stage! My tech would sometimes add some gain on my amp to get extra juice for the solos. In the studio, many pedals both vintage and modern would help color the sound. I’d also use some different amps, such as a Vox AC30 or a vintage Fender tweed. The studio guitars were more traditional. My vintage 1953 conversion Les Paul Standard was on every Kiss record.

How did your time in Kiss inform and evolve your personal approach to the guitar today?

Creatively, Paul and Gene are very different in how they approach writing a song, or producing a guitar solo. That made my job harder, but it was also more rewarding learning how to make them both happy with my contributions. The challenge in 1984 was that Van Halen had “supercharged” guitar styles. That was cool, but making that style work naturally in Kiss was difficult. I think I did a good job, though. By the time we recorded Hot in the Shade in 1989, we were in the “back to the basics” mode, and the tricks where left behind. It was almost full circle. By Revenge in 1992, it was a grab bag of the best things I could deliver for [producer] Bob Ezrin—who was brilliant to work with. And how can I not mention my contribution to the hit ballad “Forever” [from Hot in the Shade]. The acoustic solo gave me a chance to play like Jimmy Page in a band that loved Led Zeppelin

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