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Memorable Photoshoots in Nashville, TN part 5 Frampton’s lost guitar

You never know when you might cross paths with a historic moment. Such was the occasion in 2012 when I was called over to the Gibson Custom Shop. Upon arriving I was ushered into the conference room and the door was closed in with  Anthony Bass the company graphic designer where we were greeted by a guitar collector and security. Everyone else was ushered out of the room to our surprise. We were then introduced to “Phenix” Peter Frampton’s beloved guitar that was presumed to be lost over 30 years ago.  I was told I had about 15 minutes to shoot it and then it would have to be restored and then be promptly delivered to the artist.

The saga of this Les Paul guitar has the hallmarks of a Hollywood scrip, however in this case it is true.  While with his band “Humble Pie” in the early 1970s Peter’s guitar kept giving strange feedback while on a gig at the Fillmore West in San Fransisco. He was handed this Les Paul guitar to play. Not being a Gibson fanboy he reluctantly figured it had to be better than his guitar that was acting screwy.  Turns out it was love as soon as his fingers ran down the strings. “I used it that night, and for both sets, I don’t think my feet touched the ground the whole time,” Frampton says. “I mean, I levitated.” He went on to record millions of recordings playing this guitar during the 1970s including his classic 1976 live album “Frampton Comes Alive”.

In 1980 Peter was doing his South American tour. In Venezuela, the band’s gear along with “Phenix” was loaded onto a cargo plane to continue on with the tour. Shortly after take off the plane crashed and the crew was lost. “Basically I’m thinking, ‘It’s gone,’” Frampton recalls. “But the thing is, I’m also sitting in a restaurant where I can see the pilot’s wife. She’s waiting in the hotel for her husband, who, unfortunately, didn’t make it. So we were all overcome because people lost their lives as well as our complete stage of gear.” For over thirty years his favorite Les Paul guitar was presumed to have been lost in the crash. That is until in 2012 an observant guitar collector recognized the guitar in the hands of a Caribbean musician on the island of Curacao. Turns out the gear had mostly survived in the tail section along with his guitar along with some battle scars. One of the security personnel who was to guard the crash site had decided to help himself to “Phenix”. The dealer emailed Frampton a photo of the guitar to see if it was indeed his. He was shocked to see it! After some haggling and negotiations, the guitar was heading for a reunion with Peter.   Upon getting the guitar back he was asked how it felt. He said, ” I just can’t put it into words.”

After such a wild journey the guitar had some bumps and scars such as the singed headstock. “It’s sort of a matte black now — it’s not shiny so much anymore. The binding needs a little bit of work on the neck; the electronics need replacing,” Frampton says. He adds, though, that he’ll limit repairs on the instrument to “whatever needs to be replaced on it to make it just playable. But it must retain its battle scars.” Which means it did not go into storage. Fans were thrilled to know according to Frampton, “Oh, it’s got to go on the road,” he says. “For it to be given back to me … It’s not something I’m going to hide in the closet.”

As far as I know, this was the only time it has been photographed since being reunited with its rightful owner. Can you blame the man for not wanting it to stay close to him at all times?

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