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January 3, 2012, 4:51 pm
Peter Frampton Reunited With ‘Best Guitar’ After 31 Years
By JAMES C. MCKINLEY JR.
has been reunited with the Gibson electric guitar he played on “Frampton Comes Alive,” three decades years after it was presumed destroyed in a plane crash.
Peter Frampton’s favorite guitar, presumed destroyed in 1980, was returned to him last month.
It turns out the guitar did not burn up in November 1980 when a cargo plane crashed on takeoff in Caracas, Venezuela, on its way to Panama, where Mr. Frampton was to perform. Instead someone plucked it from the burning wreckage and later sold it to a musician on the Dutch Caribbean island of Curaçao.
The guitar was returned to Mr. Frampton in Nashville last month after a two-year negotiation involving the local musician who had the guitar, a customs agent who repairs guitars in his spare time, a diehard Frampton fan in the Netherlands and the head of the island’s tourist board.
Last month, the tourist board official, Ghatim Kabbara, bought the guitar with public funds and traveled to Nashville to hand it to Mr. Frampton in a tattered gig bag. Mr. Frampton said he knew as soon as he picked the instrument up that it was the same 1954 Gibson Les Paul
with customized pickups that he had played for a decade. It was an emotional moment, he said.
“For 30 years, it didn’t exist – it went up in a puff of smoke as far as I was concerned,” Mr. Frampton said in a telephone interview.
Mr. Frampton said he was given the guitar by a man named Mark Mariana in 1970. Mr. Frampton had been playing with his band Humble Pie at the Fillmore West in San Francisco, and he borrowed the guitar from Mr. Mariana for a show because his own instrument kept feeding back when he soloed. He fell in love with it. Made of Honduran mahagony, it was light in his hands, and the neck was thin, the fretting action light, suiting his small hands.
“I used it for both sets and my feet didn’t touch the ground,” he recalled. saying he thought, “This is the best guitar I have ever played.”
After the show he tried to buy the instrument, but Mr. Mariana insisted on giving it to him. It became his favorite guitar. He played it on the Humble Pie albums “Rock On” and “Rocking the Fillmore,” and on all his solo records. He used it in sessions with George Harrison, Harry Nilsson and John Entwistle.
Perhaps most important, it was the guitar he played on the 1976 solo album “Frampton Comes Alive!” one of the best-selling live albums ever and the recording that established him as one of the great rock guitarists of the 1970s. “It’s all I ever used for 10 years,” he said. “That was it. That was part of me.”
Mr. Kabbara said the guitar surfaced two years ago when the local guitarist, who has not been identified, took the instrument to Donald Valentina, a Curaçao customs agent who collects and repairs old guitars in his spare time. The musician had been using it for decades, playing in hotels and bars on the island, but did not know the instrument’s history, Mr. Kabbara said.
Asked to repair the guitar, Mr. Valentina noticed the unusual third set of pickups and burn marks on the neck, Mr. Kabbara said. The customs agent began to suspect the guitar might be the one Mr. Frampton had played on the “Frampton Comes Alive!” album. He consulted with another Frampton fan in the Netherlands, who confirmed it had all the earmarks of the missing Gibson. Mr. Valentina also sent photos of the inner works of the guitar to Mr. Frampton. Mr. Frampton said he was stunned when he saw the photos; it looked like guitar, he said, but he could not be sure.
For two years Mr. Valentina tried to persuade the local guitarist to sell the instrument, and finally, in November, facing a financial problem, he finally agreed. But Mr. Valentina did not have money and, afraid another buyer might scoop up the guitar, he approached Mr. Kabbara at the tourist board.
Mr. Kabbara, an amateur guitarist who admires Mr. Frampton, agreed to put up the board’s funds – about $5,000 – to purchase the guitar, on one condition. He and Mr. Valentina would take the guitar to Mr. Frampton as a gesture of goodwill. “I thought the right thing to do was to give him back his guitar,” he said. “This guitar was him. The whole 1970s was this guitar.”
Mr. Frampton, who is 61, said he hopes to play the guitar again when he appears at the Beacon Theater in New York in February. For now, he has left the instrument at the Gibson Custom Shop in Nashville to have some minor repairs made. The neck is still straight, he said, but he must replace old pickups with new ones, made to the same specifications as the original coils. But he said he will leave the burn marks and scrapes alone.
“I want it to have its battle scars,” he said.