So, there was this guitar, a black-on-black 1954 Gibson Les Paul with custom pick-ups belonging to the one and only Peter Frampton. Played for the first time in 1970 with Humble Pie at the Fillmore East in San Francisco, it was the very guitar he played on his epic album “Peter Frampton Comes Alive”.
In 1980, upon take-off in Venezuela en-route to Panama City where Frampton was to perform, the plane that the gear was on (not Frampton) crashed and burned on the tarmac. Assumed burned in the wreckage, Frampton said good-bye to the guitar that defined his sound for the previous 10 years.
This was not the case however, as the guitar was plucked from the fire and sold to an (un-named) Dutch musician living on the Caribbean island of Curaçao. For decades the musician played the guitar with his band in hotels and bars, not knowing the history of the instrument he played. Upon bringing the guitar to a local customs agent/guitar repair-guy named Donald Balentina, the story began to change. Upon seeing the third set of custom pick-ups and burn marks of the guitar, Balentina began to suspect this was the very guitar shown on the cover of Frampton Comes Alive. Having consulted (another) Frampton fan in the Netherlands who also believed it was Frampton’s guitar, Balentina sent photos of the inner workings of the guitar to Frampton himself. Stunned when seeing these images, Frampton could not believe the photos were real.
Balentina tried for two years to buy the guitar from the Dutch musician who refused to sell until coming upon financial woes. Balentina finally convinced the musician to sell but did not have the funds to purchase it himself. Balentina then mentioned the guitar to Ghatim Kabbara, an official with the Curaçao tourism board and huge Frampton fan. Mr. Kabbara agreed to put up the funds to purchase the guitar from the Dutch musician upon one caveat – they had to return the guitar to Peter Frampton.
In December of 2012 in a Motel room in Nashville Tennessee, a customs agent and tourism official from Curaçao met Peter Frampton in person with a 1954 Gibson Les Paul in a beaten up gig bag. Frampton mentioned in (the interview I heard on XM radio) that he was extremely nervous. He said it was like meeting up with an old friend and wondering what it’d be like to see them after so many years past. Frampton had shown up with a small amp and upon initial inspection believed it was “the one.” He plugged in the guitar and began to play – from the interview, both Donald Balentina and Ghatim Kabbara were convinced within the first two riffs Frampton played they had done the right thing and that it was indeed Frampton’s 54 Gibson Les Paul.
Frampton was originally lent the guitar before his show at the Fillmore East in 1970 by Mark Mariana because Frampton’s current guitar kept feeding back on stage. After watching Frampton play that night, Mark Mariana insisted Frampton keep it. The guitar was played on Humble Pie albums “Rock On,” “Rocking the Fillmore” and all of Frampton’s solo albums. The most influential album it was played on was “Frampton Comes Alive” which is one of the best-selling live albums of all time.
The guitar was at the Gibson Custom Shop in Nashville to get new (original) pick-ups put on and be restrung. According to Frampton: “The neck was still straight but needed a bit of TLC. I’ll leave the burn marks though – I want it to keep its battle scars.”