The KISS guitars, and my life in music


Many of you have read about my time on the road with KISS and other bands.  I've done a number of interviews, and of course there are the chapters in Look Me in the Eye and Be Different.

I realized there is no archive of photos to go with the stories and I've decided to set that straight.

Here they are, in no particular order.  Perhaps I'll come back one day and rearrange them . . .

This is me, circa 1979:



















And here I am today:





















Kinda different, huh?

This is Ace Frehley, playing our original light guitar on stage with KISS





















That guitar was a modified Gibson Les Paul TV.  We routed out the face of it, and embedded a circuit board with almost 1,000 incandescent lights.  We set it up to do stripes (you can sort of see that in the photo) and them flash the whole border at the end.

The lights were powered by a Ni-Cad battery pack and the music was transmitted via a Shaeffer Vega wireless rig so the whole thing was cable free.   There was a special XLR-type plug in back to connect a battery charger between sets.

Ace played this guitar on a number of songs over the years but the one it's most famous for is New York Groove.  He'd start the guitar while facing back in the corner of the stage.  The audience could see something flashing but could not tell what.  He'd walk out backward, turn round, and they would just go wild.

I describe that scene in the opening passage of my book BE DIFFERENT.  I was in my early 20s when we made these guitars.  I am a self-educated audio and electrical engineer.  I met the guys from KISS in New York, while I was working as the American engineer for Pink Floyd's sound company, Brittania Row Audio.

We built all KISS's custom guitars in Massachusetts but I had to go on the road to fine tune their development.  I was on the road for all the KISS tours of 78-82 and then the shows with Ace as Frehley's Comet after that.  Here I am working on another of the light guitars, on the road in some hotel:
















If you look close you'll see we added a layer of baltic birch plywood to the back of that guitar to thicken it.  That was to allow even more lights (for big halls) and microprocessor control.  Here I am in the Russell Hotel, New York, when that guitar was new. 

















Here I am, in my back yard, with the same guitar a few years later when it came back for service
























I designed all the special effects guitars KISS played in those years.  I also created a fair bit of the electronics they played through.  That included the light guitars below, the smoking guitars, the rocket guitars and the laser guitar for 1979, among many.

Long Island luthier Steve Carr did the fretwork and tuning to make our creations play.  He also did the metallic body finishes and the custom inlays.

I designed the electronics.  My then-girlfriend, later-wife, and current ex-wife Mary Robison did the assembly. My friend Jim Boughton did the mechanical engineering and fabrication.  

Today Mary and I have a son, Jack.  We're not married anymore (I'm remarried) but we remain close.  Here they are at our house with one of their projects and Oigy, the Imperial War Pug.

















Here I am this spring, with master luthier Jim Cara, who has followed in the custom guitar tradition.  Check out his story here.






















Finally, here's my son with the original light guitar this spring.  Ace has sent is back to us for refurbishing.





















People still ask if we can make more of these instruments.  Actually, we can.  Check out my son's web site here, with a video of me and a brand-new light guitar using today's LED technology

Robison Industries

If you'd like to read more, start at page 112 of my book Look Me in the Eye

Then you can continue with the intro to Be Different

Next, read about my son and the light guitars today in RAISING CUBBY.


I'll stop back soon with more pictures from my time in music.

Woof

5 comments:

Betty Mulligan said...

What an exciting life you've lead and are still!

I have been out of the field (Speech-language Pathologist) and not working with persons with autism for about 8 years.

I'm ashamed to say I had not heard of you or your books.

I am enjoying your website and intend to share the KISS story and photos with some of my local musician friends, as well as some die-hard KISS and guitar fans!

Thank you for sharing yourself with all of us!

Betty M

Betty Mulligan said...

What an exciting life you've lead and are still!

I have been out of the field (Speech-language Pathologist) and not working with persons with autism for about 8 years.

I'm ashamed to say I had not heard of you or your books.

I am enjoying your website and intend to share the KISS story and photos with some of my local musician friends, as well as some die-hard KISS and guitar fans!

Thank you for sharing yourself with all of us!

Betty M

Allison said...

Dear Mr. Robinson, Thank you for sharing your experiences with the world. I read Be Different two years ago when our son was diagnosed, and I read Look Me in the Eye last month. I was simultaneously reading Neil Young's autobiography Waging Heavy Peace. I am curious if you and Mr. Young have ever had contact since you have many overlapping interests - audio technology, automobiles, walking in the woods, children with challenges. Are you aware of each other? If not , I think you should read each others' works. See where that takes you. Best wishes. Allison

Allison said...

Dear Mr. Robinson,
Thanks for responding to my comment. Neil Young and his wife established the Bridge School for children who can't communicate, but it isn't aimed at children w/autism. Their son has cerebral palsy. I was just struck by the number of similarities in your mutual interests. He is a very creative fellow, like you, and perhaps on spectrum without knowing it himself. I will send a letter to his publisher to tell him about your books. No way of knowing if he will ever get my communication, but if you have the time to read his autobiography, I think you will find it interesting. The energy you are putting into assisting the autism community is amazing. I thank you very much for it! Our son is at Auburn School in Baltimore and they are building a wonderful curriculum for kids with social challenges. Allison

francis plaut said...

Hey I love your story I am going to share it with my brother who is also on the spectrum he injoys rock music and plays the electric guitar I was reading you book at the library but its a must have so I am going to by it