Peter Frampton’s story of The Phoenix, his guitar returned after 30 years

“Let’s start at the beginning,” Peter Frampton says with his British accent over the phone from his home in Nashville, Tennessee, his “main hang.”

In 1968, the British musician was forming the band Humble Pie, but he is best known for his hit album in 1976, “Frampton Comes Alive!” — which sold more than 10 million copies and held the distinction of best-selling live rock album in history until 1998.

In between that time, in 1970, a custom Gibson Les Paul was given to Frampton from a “dear” friend in San Francisco — “The Phoenix”. It’s black with white surrounds on the pickups and it’s on the cover of “Frampton Comes Alive!” — along with his flowing blonde locks.

“Everything from 1970 to 1980, that guitar was basically the only guitar I ever played,” Frampton said.

In 1980, Frampton and the rest of his bandmates were performing in South America — from Argentina to Brazil, up to Venezuela and then a stop at Caracas before a day off in Panama. On their way to Panama, their equipment flew separately from them for the “first time.”

It crashed on takeoff, killing those on board.

After a week hitting stages with rented gear, Frampton sent his technician to the site of the crash to see what was left, seeing as there were three guitars on there that were “pretty special” — The Phoenix being one of them.

“He said there’s nothing left. It’s just gone,” Frampton said.

No guitar is the same

The Phoenix, the guitar the rock icon used nonstop for 10 years, was gone.

“I’m a creature of habit, and I have an addictive personality,” he said laughing, “so not only was it just my favorite guitar, but I was addicted to it. I had to have it.”

But it was gone, so he thought.

Frampton got together with Gibson in the early 2000s to design the Peter Frampton Les Paul custom, made as close to The Phoenix from Frampton’s memory of it.

“Nothing felt right because no piece of wood is the same anyways,” Frampton said of anything meant to replace the guitar that made him famous. “Even if there was the guitar made the same day as the one I lost, it wouldn’t be the same. They’re so individual.”

In 2008 or 2009, Frampton received an email that was sent to his website — about a dozen pictures of the guitar that was “lost” in the plane crash in Panama in 1980.

“It looks a little rough,” he says with a laugh. “But it’s my guitar. I know it’s my guitar.”

It gets complicated for Frampton because he says he’s dealing with a stolen guitar, as someone must have pilfered the wreckage in Panama before his guy could get back.

“I went berserk,” he said. “Can you imagine finding out after 30 years that this guitar, this famous guitar, exists?”

Two years later, someone from Curacao finally returned The Phoenix to him. Gibson verified it (even though Frampton knew it was the guitar). It wasn’t playable and needed some “love and care,” but Frampton brought it back to life.

“I play it every night now,” Frampton said.

He also surprised his band with it in rehearsals.

“Their heads snapped around because it was that sound. It was the exact sound,” he said after getting his guitar back up and strumming. “I’d had an approximate sound, but now it was the original sound.”

The Phoenix will be with Frampton at the Vilar Performing Arts Center on Tuesday in Beaver Creek.

“It’s been through hell. I’m not going to stop taking it with me now,” he said.

Entertainment & Outdoors editor Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2915 and rleonhart@vaildaily.com. Follow him on Instagram at colorado_livin_on_the_hill.

If you go …

What: Peter Frampton performs.

Where: Vilar Performing Arts Center, Beaver Creek.

When: Tuesday, Aug. 1.

Cost: Tickets start at $105.

More information: Visit http://www.vilarpac.org.


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