Interview: Kiss Guitarist Tommy Thayer Discusses His Signature Epiphone "Spaceman" Les Paul

by John Katic
Posted Jan 7, 2013 at 8:39am

It's hard to imagine that 10 years have gone by since Tommy Thayer officially took over as the “Spaceman” in Kiss.

It seemed only fitting that the Spaceman should don the Les Paul. However, as fate would have it, Thayer has been a longtime Les Paul player, even back in his days in Black and Blue.

Thayer's 10th year in Kiss — and the band's 40th year in business — is commemorated by Epiphone's release of its Tommy Thayer Signature Edition "Spaceman" Les Paul. Featuring an eye-catching silver-sparkle top and top-of-the-line components, and made as a limited edition of 1,000 guitars, this model is sure to become a must-have for Kiss fans around the globe.

We recently caught up with Thayer to discuss the new model in detail.

GUITAR WORLD: You've announced there will be a limited-edition Tommy Thayer “Spaceman” Les Paul from Epiphone. Will it be present at the 2013 Winter NAMM Show in Anaheim, California, later this month?

Yes, it'll be at the NAMM Show. And I believe it's already available through American Music Supply.

Can you talk about exactly what you did with the guitar and what makes it “Tommy Thayer” specific?

It's essentially an exact version of one of the Gibson Custom Shop Standards I've played on stage for several years. It is a silver-sparkle top, and the sides, back and neck are black. It has a cream binding. For an affordable guitar, it is a nice package. It’s using really good parts. We are using Gibson 498 pickups, which are the ones I use. The tuners are Grover Deluxe tuners. It's really well put together with good components and parts.

I've actually taken to playing the guitar on stage for the last bit of the South American tour for six or eight shows. I played it every night for part of the set. The guitar was great. I have one that I’m playing on stage, and you really can’t notice the difference between the Gibson and the Epiphone. The sound, the playability and the feel really pleased me. Comparing it to my Gibson Custom Shop guitar, it's right there. That made me really happy. The techs were saying they couldn’t tell the difference between the guitars. It's surprising in a good way.

The reason I decided to do the guitar this way was that the silver-sparkle top gave it a bit of a “Kiss” feel. But I didn’t want to introduce a guitar that was too stylized. I wanted a guitar that had some flash to it, but at the same time I wanted to offer a guitar that any pro musicians or guitar player that walks into the guitar shop will think looks cool. It’s not something that is so stylized that it will scare people away. I didn’t want it to have too much of a Kiss look to it.

Some guitarists’ signature-edition guitars are so specifically tailored that, as a consumer, you might hesitate. You might get up on stage and have to worry that people think you're a clone of someone. That has to be a double-edged sword with Kiss fans because some fans might want to get the guitar just because of Kiss.

That's true too, and that's why on the back of the headstock there is the Tommy Thayer Spaceman logo. But it's discreet; it isn’t too over the top. It has a look that doesn’t automatically make it look like Tommy Thayer or Kiss. Then again, for collectors, it's great because it's the guitar I play, and people can take pride in that.

As far as the paint, is it fairly similar to the Gibson Explorer you've played for years now?

I have a couple of Explorers that have the silver sparkle on them as well. We decided, though, that the flake of the sparkle would be less than the flake on my Gibsons. I didn’t want to make the size of the flake too pronounced. I worked a lot with Jim Rosenberg (president of Epiphone) and we went back and forth to find that perfect medium-sized flake. I didn’t want it to be too heavy. That could be the difference between someone loving or hating it.

That’s mahogany underneath?

Yes, that's mahogany and a rosewood fretboard like a standard Les Paul. It has trapezoid inlays. We have a nice package that it comes with too. We have an all silver hard-shell case. You don’t’ see that too often. That’s very Kiss! It comes with a studded guitar strap that is exactly like what I use on stage. It is a cool little memento. It also comes with a certificate-of-authenticity booklet with a signature and all that good stuff. It is a great value at the prize point.

Actually, I didn’t even talk to Gibson about doing a guitar and called Epiphone because I felt that doing a guitar like this that is high quality but still affordable was more appealing to me. Especially for people who don’t have $5,000 or $6,000 to buy a guitar. You get this great package, and it is really affordable and that was an important thing to me.

I think every guitar player remembers back to when they were young selling newspapers or whatever it was to get their first guitar.

My very first electric was a Fender Mustang and it was $135. My mom helped me buy it. This was back when I lived in Portland. We went across the river to Vancouver Music. For some reason, they had a great selection of guitars over there. This was back in 1973 or 1974. I was so overwhelmed. I couldn’t believe I actually had a professional guitar. Back in those days, it was either a Gibson or a Fender. I hadn’t established yet that I was more of Gibson player.

I think everyone remembers looking down at that headstock and seeing the brand of one of their guitar heroes.

Yeah, it was like a dream. It was a great blue Fender Mustang with the light blue racing stripes.

Epiphone's Limited Edition Tommy Thayer “Spaceman” Les Paul Standard Outfit is available for order now at tommythayerguitar.com with several autographed and stage-used options. The guitar also is available at American Music Supply for the $699 street price. The guitar includes the case, custom strap and certificate of authenticity.

For more about the guitar, head to epiphone.com.

Kiss will return to the road with their Monster tour in 2013 with shows in Australia and Europe already announced. For more info about the band, follow them on Facebook.


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