“The soul of a human being and the hands of a legend” is how producer Jeremy Rubolino describes guitarist Bruce Kulick, with whom he worked on Kulick’s third and most recent solo album, BK3. The disc is receiving outstanding reviews worldwide and entered Billboard’s Heatseekers chart at No. 12.
With two solo albums to his credit, a wealth of touring and session work, and of course his years with KISS, Bruce Kulick is a guitarist’s guitarist. He has an innate understanding of what to play and when to play it, and can approach any genre of music with the necessary finesse or aggression to complement the song.
Throughout his successful career, Gibson has been an important part of Kulick’s story. He spoke to Gibson.com about what makes these instruments so special and integral to his sound.
What were your goals for BK3 as a singer, songwriter and guitarist?
My attitude was to have a no-compromise approach to getting the job done. I had already put out a couple of solo records, although I did those myself. This time I worked with a producer, Jeremy Rubolino, who had a real vision. Our discussions as we were writing and planning were to bring up the level of sounds, the studio, and everything that goes into making a record. We took the time and the money to do this, and it was worth it. We used my favorite KISS album, Revenge, as a benchmark to help guide us. My belief is that if you really strive for something and know what’s at the top of the mountain, you will keep climbing.
How did working with Jeremy take your playing to the next level?
Jeremy hears music differently from the average person. He hears it as a film composer, and he sees it on the music staff rather than on a guitar. Many guitarists work within the patterns that are comfortable for scales and fingering. Jeremy’s ideas are not where the fingers are on the guitar. He threw things to me that were out of the box and challenging because they weren’t comfortable fingering-wise. They weren’t harmonies or choices of notes that I would naturally have gone to. I had to interpret and make them my own. It was valuable for me. I do sessions every month, and I prefer to bring Jeremy with me to be sure that I give them my best.
You are primarily associated with KISS, although you’ve had a successful career as a studio musician, touring musician and band member. Because of the KISS years, do you ever feel locked into expectations about your playing?
No. If you really look at my work with KISS through the years, I’m known for melodic solos, nasty solos and acoustic solos like the one in “Forever.”
I was able to showcase myself in various ways. My goal as a guitarist is to bring the song to another level whenever I have the spotlight, so I never feel that I’m locked into anyone’s expectations; I feel I’m always doing what’s right for the song. That’s what I strive for. I know when it’s important to give it a Revenge-style nasty solo, if that’s what I’m hired to do and it best complements the song, but I don’t feel tied down to that style in any way.
Let’s talk about the guitars used in making BK3.
One of my biggest go-to guitars is my 1953 conversion Les Paul. People who know the history of the Les Paul Standard know that the first model was a Goldtop and the neck angle was slightly incorrect but was perfected a few years later, and by 1958-59 they had accomplished the ultimate Les Paul.
My brother, Bob, found this guitar in 1974 and it was already stripped of the gold paint. The 1953 Les Paul had a trapeze bridge, which was removed and replaced with both a stop and tune-o-matic bridge, which were on the later designs of the LP Standard. It also had the older P-90 pickups removed and replaced with humbuckers, one of which was a double white PAF [patent applied for] that are highly collectable. Bob had the guitar for six or eight years, and I bought it from him in the 1980s. I kept finding more era-correct parts — a second PAF pickup, era-correct nickel bridge parts — and the biggest thing, in the early ’90s Paul Stanley admired it and used it on his solo record via my brother, but Paul thought that the finish was not well done, so he said, “Why not ask Gibson to repaint it?” Tom Murphy did it and I was thrilled. That guitar has been on so many KISS records, and I bring it to most of my sessions. I judge all Les Pauls by it. I have some Standards and reissues that sound really close, but this one’s got the mojo. It’s not the most valuable guitar in my collection, but I have a sense of what it can do and how it sounds and plays, and it’s by far the best — and I have over a hundred guitars.
The 1950s Gibsons have a certain magic, and over the years their custom shop has manufactured fine instruments that actually get close to that, if not perfect it. On this one, the top isn’t book-matched, but the flame of the maple was quite gorgeous and Tom’s finish made it a very sexy guitar. I was proud to pose with it on the pictures for the BK3 CD.
How long have you been playing Gibsons?
My first electric instrument was an EB-3 bass guitar, which is now called an SG bass. I’m a huge Cream fan, and Jack Bruce was a hero of mine, and he played a cherry ’60’s EB-3; one of the pickups is a humbucker, which provides a unique sound for a bassist. I started out on a used one in the late ’60s, eventually sold it, and years later found another. I own a ’67 EB-3 that’s been on KISS records and other records. I love playing bass, and I played bass on quite a few KISS tracks besides playing on my own stuff.
My first electric guitar was a used ’65 SG Special in cherry red. I learned to play on it, slept with it, and it became such an important part of my life. The SG had a very friendly neck and I loved the sweetness of it. It was my only electric guitar for quite a while; I woodshedded on it, and it’s still a very sexy line from Gibson. Every time I see that shape it reminds me of Santana at Woodstock and Pete Townshend from The Who.
Along with my ’53 Les Paul, another go-to for me is my SG Standard reissue. I have a couple of SGs: a Junior, a Special, a Standard from the mid-’60s and a reissue of an earlier ’60s. They were all used on BK3. There is something about the bite and tone of an SG that can really complement a track. The Les Paul is a favorite, but for textures, the SG is a thinner piece of mahogany. The Les Paul model comes with a maple top, and the SG has no maple on top, so there’s a science behind how some guitars sound. I see them as all living, breathing pieces of art and unique to their origins. EB-3’s and SG’s have always been a part of my career and my life.
Another model that’s important to me is the semi-acoustic line from Gibson. Eric Clapton’s red ES-335 made an impression on me years ago from his Cream fame. The ES-355 is the fancier version, and a friend hooked me up with a gorgeous cherry one from 1960 that I used on Revenge. It’s like a big red Cadillac guitar. I used it on the KISS video for “Every Time I Look At You.”
I also bought a cherry 1961 ES-330 that’s very similar to the Epiphone Casino made by Gibson in the 1960s and became famous because of the Beatles. I recorded some of the demos for BK3 with that guitar and actually kept one of the solos because it was so sweet sounding. I also found a 1965 ES-345 to complement the ES-355, and then I found a 1965 ES-335. I love those guitars so much, and by the way, those numbers meant the prices in the 1960s; those were 5-, 10- and 25-dollar increments! I used them on my record; they’re very musical and different from the Les Paul and SGs. For live, of course, I got some versions from the ’90s and recent years as well, as they are really amazing instruments to perform with. I’m also a fan of the Explorer and Flying V. It’s really hard to sit and play the Flying V, so I don’t use it in the studio much, but I used a V in the “Unholy” KISS video.
What makes a guitar right for you?
There are so many iconic versions of instruments that meant so much to me growing up. As a musician who needs his tools for his craft, I am very aware of which guitar gives me a certain sound; for example, an SG will do the job “here,” while I might not get it from a Les Paul. Some of my collection represents my passion, and in the end, before I make a purchase, I want to be sure that I can play gigs with the instrument. With Grand Funk, I get three backline groupings of guitars that travel to meet us at gigs, and there are always two or three Gibsons along for the ride.
For more about Bruce Kulick, his guitars and the making of BK3, visit www.kulick.net.