Tommy Thayer of Kiss: The Interview

Tommy Thayer of Kiss Interview

Feature Photo by Keith Leroux

Though Kiss is officially off the road, that doesn’t mean its longest-tenured guitarist, Tommy Thayer, is giving up the ghost. Quite the contrary, as Thayer has been active for various charity gigs and digging in on a myriad of side projects he’s got more time for now with Kiss meeting its end as a live act.

Elsewhere, as per Kiss tradition, Thayer’s rig was ever-evolving. Much like those before him (and who he shared space in the band with), Thayer was known for brandishing a myriad of gorgeous guitars, all of which were plugged into a tidy stack of big-ass amps. But, of course, that’s Kiss tradition, meaning Thayer was merely holding up his end of the bargain with an endgame goal of world domination. Mission accomplished, yeah?

Beyond the hyper lightest stage of the Kiss machine, his exploits as founder and lead guitarist of Black N’ Blue—an underrated ‘80s institution—and his session work with Doro, and Kiss, and with his post-Black N’ Blue band, Harlow, are all worthy entries into a career filled with more highs than you can shake a stick at.

During a break, Kiss’s longest-tenured six-stringer digs in with to shed light on a lifetime of guitar and gear acquisitions.

What was the first serious guitar you bought with your own money?

I guess my first semi-serious guitar was a brand-new 1974 Fender Mustang in Competition Blue. It was the one with the racing stripe. I’d been playing guitar for about six months, and I wanted a decent electric so bad, so my mom said she’d help me buy the guitar. But I had to promise to continue playing my sax in the school band until I graduated high school… deal! She took me over to American Music in Vancouver, Washington, and bought it for $135; I couldn’t believe I had an actual Fender guitar!

What was the last guitar you bought, and why?

The last guitar I walked into a music store and bought was a Martin acoustic at Guitar Center in Las Vegas about five years ago. When we Kiss were on tour in 2019, we went to the Martin factory in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and I got inspired.

What’s your most incredible find or best bargain when shopping for gear?

In 1987, when nobody cared about Gibson guitars, I bought my Wine Red 1973 Les Paul Deluxe at Howie Hubberman’s shop, Guitars R Us [now known as Elite Guitars], in Hollywood for $375.

What’s a piece of gear or a guitar you regret letting go of?

I regret getting rid of my very first pedal, a Mosrite Fuzzrite. I also wish I still had my A/DA Flanger, which I bought because I loved Pat Travers so much. I also had one of those cool Maestro PS-1 Phase Shifters, too.

What were you looking at the last time you shopped online or in person, and why?

It’s funny, but I’m occasionally looking for my Epiphone signature guitars for my stage-played meet/greet experiences!

Would you rather have a bad amp and a great guitar or a great amp and a bad guitar?

I’d rather have a great guitar than a bad amp; I can make that work!

If you had to choose between humbuckers and single coils for the rest of your career, which would you choose, and why?

Humbuckers, for the richer, ballsier sound.

What’s your favorite place to shop for gear?

I like independently owned mom-and-pop-type music stores. Those are the places I grew up going to where you knew the owner, and he’d show you new stuff or trade a guitar or amp to upgrade to something better. The large corporate stores don’t appeal to me. Buying a guitar online, sight unseen, hasn’t ever made sense to me either.

What’s your go-to rig these days?

My setup for recent tours has been my Gibson Les Paul White Lightning (or Electric Blue) Les Paul into three Hughes & Kettner 100-watt Duotone tube amplifiers with three 4x 12 cabinets. I use Shure UR4D wireless units, a Boss Super Chorus pedal for the bridge of Do You Love Me, and The Who “Won’t Get Fooled Again” Medley section of Lick It Up, an Ibanez Tube Screamer [TS9] to beef up a couple of guitar solos, and a Boss Super Octave [OC-3] pedal for the end of my rocket shooting guitar solo. Other than that, for 95% of our Kiss show, I prefer a simple guitar directly into amp approach.

Tommy Thayer of Kiss Interview

Photo courtesy of Tommy Thayer

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