15 of Kiss's best guitar songs that don’t feature Ace Frehley

(Image credit: Mick Hutson/Redferns)

From a guitar standpoint, Kiss may be forever defined by the original Spaceman, Ace Frehley. Dig deeper, though, and there's a buffet of guitar licks offered up by other helping hands over the years.

Frehley may be a founding member, and yes, he did develop a polarizing archetype. Still, there's no denying the likes of Vinnie Vincent, Mark St. John, Bruce Kulick, and Tommy Thayer have all done their part to expand on that initial vision.

These singular voices proved pivotal to Kiss in their time of need during an era where the band was floundering and looking for its lost identity.

Massive as they may be, Kiss guitar heroics aren't defined solely by the frenetic fingers of our favorite Bronx-born six-stringer. Below are 15 of the finest instances of guitar wizardry laid to tape by Kiss guitarists outside the initial Ace Frehley era.

15. Say Yeah

Guitarist: Tommy Thayer
Album: Sonic Boom

As a standout from Sonic Boom, Say Yeah has become a concert staple. Unlike many contemporaries who err toward shredding, Thayer perpetually harkens back to his roots. His restrained and technically sound approach allows him to remain smooth as butter. 

The solo Thayer unleashed for Say Yeah is memorable, but not for the reasons one might think. Thayer opts for tone and sing-along musicality instead of virtuoso displays of speed shredding.

14. Creatures of the Night

Guitarist: Steve Farris
Album: Creatures of the Night (1982)

In the wake of Frehley's departure, KISS began recording Creatures of the Night. With no permanent replacement, multiple session players were used, including Mr. Mister axe-slinger Steve Farris. Farris was not known as a metal player, but the searing, lightning bolt he threw down for the album's title track is easily one of the record's most memorable, and indeed, most metal moments.

13. Exciter

Guitarist: Rick Derringer
Album: Lick It Up (1983)

By the time the sessions for Lick It Up rolled around, the enigmatic, Jackson-wielding Vinnie Vincent had come onboard for Kiss. While Vincent's efforts would prove salient in Kiss's return to commercial success, in the case of Exciter, he didn't play a lick. 

Stanley and Simmons reportedly were at odds with Vincent due to over-playing; as such, they brought in veteran guitarist Rick Derringer to fulfill their vision. The result? One of the best and most tasteful solos on the record.

12. King of the Mountain

Guitarist: Bruce Kulick
Album: Asylum (1985)

Kiss's guitar carousel continued to spin with the release of Asylum, this time with Meat Loaf and Billy Squier alum Bruce Kulick taking a turn. Asylum may not be Kiss's finest hour, but it's a vital record as it began what would amount to a 12-year tenure for Kulick, ending years of instability. While Kulick may have been reliable, he was far from boring, and King of the Mountain served as Kulick's feverish official "Hello" to Kiss's weary fans.

11. Modern Day Delilah

Guitarist: Tommy Thayer
Sonic Boom (2009)

Mocked by many and loved by few, Tommy Thayer deserves his due. Thayer's meat and potatoes approach has been just what the doctor ordered for Kiss. Thayer holds an innate ability to create a vibe with his blues-inspired riffs and clear-toned solos. And he did just that on Modern Day Delilah, the opening track of Kiss's Sonic Boom. It's an important track, as it showed the world that Kiss could still rock and that as Kiss's lead guitarist, Thayer meant business.

10. In the Mirror

Guitarist: Bruce Kulick
Carnival of Souls (1997)

Unfairly relegated, Carnival of Souls is brimming with immense guitar stylings bookended by fiery leads and exceptional songwriting. With Simmons and Stanley mostly absent, Kulick played a large hand in getting this record done. 

Buried by the reunion at the time, Carnival of Souls is not the half-baked, derivative affair it's made out to be. On the album's penultimate track, In the Mirror, Kulick unleashes a tour de force of fuzz-driven vibrato. Carnival of Souls proved to be Kulick's swan song to Kiss fans, and while not universally loved, it's significant, nonetheless.

9. Get All You Can Take

Guitarist: Mark St. John
Animalize (1984)

The Animalize sessions brought more changes for Kiss: the polarizing Vinnie Vincent was out, and shredding virtuoso Mark St. John was in. Given Stanley and Simmons's opinion that Vincent showed little restraint as a soloist, it was an odd choice to hire St. John – a player who reportedly couldn't be bothered to play the same note twice. 

St. John was not a fit for Kiss, but Animalize is not without its moments, and Get All You Can Take is undoubtedly one of them. Easily one of the catchier tracks on the record, its mind-bending solo, if only for a moment, pulls back the curtain on the mystery known as Mark St. John.

8. Unholy

Guitarist: Bruce Kulick
Album: Revenge (1992)

KISS may have sent the '80s packing via the glam metal express, but the '90s came roaring in like a ten-pound sledgehammer to the skull. Deliciously sinister, Unholy signaled the return of Gene Simmons as a creative force. 

Having spent the '80s on various movie sets, with Unholy, Simmons made it clear that the Demon was home. In an era of grunge, Kiss managed to hold serve without sounding entirely trite, and with the help of Kulick's fresh, dazzlingly playing, a new and grimier era was ushered in.

7. Outta This World

Guitarist: Tommy Thayer
Album: Monster (2012)

As the band's longest-tenured six-stringer, the Les Paul-wielding Thayer laid it all on the line for Monster. While the record is bursting at the seams with memorable moments, the most notable is Outta This World, a track Thayer also takes a turn on lead vocals for. 

This cut is everything we love about Tommy Thayer: clean tone, blues licks, '70s panache, and if you listen, you can hear traces of his flagship band, Black 'N Blue too. If this song shows us anything, it's that fans need to stop hating on and start appreciating Tommy Thayer.

6. (You Make Me) Rock Hard

Guitarist: Bruce Kulick
Album: Smashes, Thrashes & Hits (1988) 

Kiss fans mostly ignore Smashes, Thrashes & Hits, and with good reason. As a greatest hits album, one can see why some overlooked the inclusion of its two original tracks. Even with the aid of two music videos in rotation on MTV, the new tracks didn't resonate. 

Sure, Let's Put the X in Sex was a touch mundane, but (You Make Me) Rock Hard was another matter entirely. In short, this slick number is primetime '80s Kiss. The star of the show? Bruce Kulick, of course. For this mostly forgotten cut, the guitarist's tasteful, slick, and rapid-fire solo blew the speakers out of tube televisions across the globe.

5. Thrills in the Night

Guitarist: Mark St. John
Album: Animalize (1984)

Like Vincent, St. John had issues with overplaying, and Animalize is in many ways defined as such. Still, it's a product of its era, and when it comes to Thrills in the Night, the track is a prime example of all thing's hair spray, lipstick, and Sunset Strip debauchery. 

If you're looking for the more melodic side of St. John, Thrills in the Night is your ticket. In a shocking twist, St. John showed restraint and incredible musicality here. So much so that you'd almost swear it wasn't him playing.

4. Forever

Guitarist: Bruce Kulick
Album: Hot in the Shade (1989)

Mostly remembered for his amplified exploits, Kulick laid down his banana-yellow ESP and grabbed his jet-black acoustic for the Kiss's AOR hit, Forever. This tearjerking moment found the Starchild on his soapbox, proclaiming eternal love once more. 

Co-written by Michael Bolton, Forever is a classic bit of late '80s sappy power ballad gooeyness, but Kulick sends this one home. His delicate yet robust fretwork is a standout moment in a sometimes-bland era.

3. A Million to One

Guitarist: Vinnie Vincent
Album: Lick It Up (1983)

Rick Derringer may have unseated Vincent for Exciter, but when it comes to A Million to One, a mid-tempo track loaded with riffs that slink along like an indignant python, it was the Flying-V brandishing enigma's time to shine. 

Vincent's full-frontal, abrasive style was parlayed with mastery here via an utterly destructive solo seemingly extracted from the depths of hell. This cut is a prime example of why some love Vincent and some can't bear to listen.

2. I Still Love You

Guitarist: Robben Ford
Album: Creatures of the Night (1982)

No Kiss record would be complete with a classic Paul Stanley ballad, right? If that's true, I Still Love You perfectly serves that purpose. As with Farris, session man Robben Ford was brought in to help bridge the gap for two tracks, the most sublime being I Still Love You. On this signature cut, Ford, a player primarily known as a blues and jazz player, elicited six-string emotion seldom seen on Kiss records before or after.

1. No No No

Guitarist: Bruce Kulick
Album: Crazy Nights (1987)

Crazy Nights is undoubtedly a product of the glam era. With a slicked-down approach, outside songwriters, a big-time producer, and keyboards ooze out of every orifice, emanating excess from all angles. 

Given the space to shine, Kulick's upfront, presto stylings exude enormous sex appeal, and his tone comes off like an angry hornet that has just seen his nest kicked over. If there was ever a debate as to who Kiss's best guitarist was – aside from Ace Frehley – the intro of No, No, No lays it to rest.

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Andrew Daly

Andrew Daly is an iced-coffee-addicted, oddball Telecaster-playing, alfredo pasta-loving journalist from Long Island, NY, who, in addition to being a contributing writer for Guitar World, scribes for Rock Candy, Bass Player, Total Guitar, and Classic Rock History. Andrew has interviewed favorites like Ace Frehley, Johnny Marr, Vito Bratta, Bruce Kulick, Joe Perry, Brad Whitford, Rich Robinson, and Paul Stanley, while his all-time favorite (rhythm player), Keith Richards, continues to elude him.