By Richard Bienstock | Photos by Angela Boatwright
Paul Stanley has used an assortment of eye-catching guitars during his 40 years with Kiss. They range from avowed classics like Les Pauls and Flying Vs to more esoteric pieces like the Gibson Midnight Special and Steinberger “Body Glove,” and include custom models like a B.C. Rich leopard-print Eagle and his Ibanez PS-10.
In recent years, Stanley has forged a creative partnership with Washburn, collaborating with the Illinois-based manufacturer on a line of signature instruments that combine time-tested approaches with more distinctive touches. Primary among these models is the well-appointed Washburn Starfire, which has been his main onstage guitar for the past several Kiss tours.
The Starfire design is also at the heart of Stanley and Washburn’s latest venture, the Time Traveler Series, which offers up the Kiss legend’s current main stage ax with an added aesthetic twist: each example in the very limited run is produced in Washburn’s custom shop and aged by expert craftsman Gord Miller of GM Vintage Restorations in Victoria, B.C., to create a one-of-a-kind instrument.
In Stanley’s estimation, the impetus for reliquing these guitars was to alter not only the instrument’s look but also its feel. “The fact is that a guitar that’s been aged properly or treated in a certain way can get more out of you than one that isn’t,” he says. “And when I met Gord and saw some of his work, I really got the sense that if I introduced him to the people at Washburn, and if I could get everybody to commit to this idea, we could come up with something pretty ambitious and special.”
Indeed, the Time Traveler is both. Its features, which for the most part mirror those of the Starfire, include a mahogany body with a carved raised center, a mahogany set neck with a bound ebony fingerboard and 22 jumbo frets, a Tone Pros Tune-o-matic bridge, a reverse headstock, and a pair of Seymour Duncan SM-3 mini humbuckers.
There are also some subtle but rather striking aesthetic touches: bold mother-of-pearl/abalone split-block fretboard inlays, a pickguard and truss-rod cover (the latter shaped to mimic the reverse headstock) stamped with a Stanley-designed Starfire logo, and a custom-aged aluminum tailpiece sporting a belt buckle–like star motif. Then there is the body’s long, luxurious curves—a nod, Stanley freely admits, to the beloved black Gibson Firebird he can be seen holding on the cover of Kiss’s 1975 opus Alive! (and which suffered a fatal headstock injury at the hands of a tech a few years later). But the classic rounded lines are slightly updated and punctuated by a more sharply rendered upper bout.
Additionally, the Time Traveler is currently being offered in four (with more to come) arresting, aged nitrocellulose finishes—Pelham Blue, Polaris White, Golden Mist, and Cardinal Red—that impart a classic sheen. Explains Miller, “They’re vintage-correct colors that would have been seen on Firebirds in the early Sixties. They also happen to be car colors—mostly Cadillac and Buick. Through research, I was able to get the DuPont paint codes and the years and the makes of the cars they were for and collected all the original paint-chip charts from the late Fifties and early Sixties. We replicated them exactly.”
Miller’s attention to detail extends to every facet of the instrument. Throughout his years of performing refinishes, he has built up what amounts to, essentially, a reliquing library. “I’ve studied hundreds of old guitars,” he says. “For a long time, whenever I was in the presence of an original-finish instrument that had a lot of lacquer checking, I’d cover it with clear plastic and trace by hand every single line in the finish. Some guitars have a few hundred lines, others a few thousand. It differs depending on the make and model. I now have templates for every model of Gibson and tons of Strats, Jazzmasters, Teles, and other guitars. From these, I was able to figure out a process whereby I could duplicate the exact original checking patterns onto the finishes after I buff them out.”
Miller used his templates of checking patterns on Sixties-era reverse Firebirds as the basis for his reliquing work on the Time Traveler guitars. “So if the end result looks realistic,” he says, “it’s because it is the real thing, so to speak.”
Miller’s expertise went a long way toward Stanley’s decision to christen these guitars with the name Time Traveler. “I thought that the results were unique enough that just adding the designation aged to the Starfires didn’t do them justice,” Stanley says. “Because Gord’s not taking an X-Acto knife and just carving strips into the bodies. He’s imparting a sense of history on the guitars.” To that end, Stanley opted to extend the vintage theme beyond the instruments themselves. Each Time Traveler comes with an antique-style hang tag and a custom-aged hardshell case that is impressively and authentically road worn in appearance. The end result is an instrument that is something of a blast from the past, but also distinctly new.
Which is the point. “The classics exist for a reason,” Stanley says. “Tradition is tradition because it works. So the Time Traveler has a respect for what came before, but it also has its own edge. You might look at it and go, ‘Did they make this in the Fifties?’ but also know it could only be from today. It’s like an iconic guitar that has never existed. I’ve seen others attempt something like this, but for one reason or another they miss the boat. Now, I’m not humble, and I know that sometimes I fall on my ass. But this time, I got a hit.”
LIST PRICE $8,665.33 (with case)