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Peter Frampton and the Gibson Les Paul

Wesman Todd Shaw started playing the guitar when he was 12 years old. He loves nothing more than to pick one up and pluck some strings.

Peter Frampton

Peter Frampton

The Great Peter Frampton

When one thinks of the princes of '70s pop music, Peter Frampton has to be one of the first people that comes to mind. As for myself, I was but an itty bitty baby at the time. However, I grew up spending a lot of time listening to classic rock radio stations during the 1980s and '90s, on which the good time music of Peter Frampton was played often.

Peter is a man of wealth and taste. He's been to the top, he has been to the bottom. Google says Peter is worth thirty million dollars. We shouldn't think of humans in terms of the money they have, for that is not their value. Their value is something we don't have the authority to quantify in such ways.

The idea of a Teen Idol had been around for a while. In 1976, Peter Frampton was not just a teen idol, but he was practically the musical entertainer of the year for the entire western world. His Frampton Comes Alive was one of the most successful live albums ever produced.

There's no question Peter Frampton has become a legacy star of music and pop culture. A singer, songwriter, producer, and guitarist, he's crossed over into television cameos, and is going strong today. Then, of course, there is that thing about the lost and found Les Paul.

A Very Young Peter Frampton

A Very Young Peter Frampton

Early Life

Peter Kenneth Frampton was born in the United Kingdom in April of 1950. His father was not just a teacher, but the head of the art department at Bromley Technical High School, and that is where Peter would attend school. Peter would become interested in music many years before that, however, as at the age of seven he discovered banjolele at his grandmother's house.

What is a banjolele? It is quite the nice combination of a banjo and a ukulele. Peter managed to teach himself a lot on the instrument, and then he'd move on into learning piano, and guitar. Peter's father, Owen Frampton, would introduce his son to great music, and most especially the mind bending Gypsy Jazz of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli.

Rock and Roll music was in its infant stages when Peter was young, and there were many exciting developments in the genre. Guitar playing was always a part of it, and Peter's earliest influences were groups like Buddy Holly, The Ventures, The Beatles, and later on, Jimi Hendrix.

Going to school Peter would become acquainted with another person the world would get to know well, David Bowie. Bowie was three years Peter's senior, but there is no doubt they knew one another, as both Peter and David were in bands, and their respective bands would perform on the same stage in the course of the same evenings.

Peter's first band was something he was a part of at the age of twelve, but in two years time he'd be in a band with management, and the management would be Bill Wyman of The Rolling Stones. That's having some serious class behind you at a young age. Frampton would become a child star in the United Kingdom. He'd sing and play guitar for The Herd, and in 1968, a major teen magazine would name him 'The Face of 1968.'

Frampton and Marriott in Humble Pie.

Frampton and Marriott in Humble Pie.

Big Success and Bad Luck

Besides being named 'The Face of 1968,' that year Peter would join up with Steve Marriott of Small Faces in the band Humble Pie. While Humble Pie may not be as well remembered today as it probably should be, at the time the band was considered a massive success, and people thought of it as the first British supergroup.

Peter would mostly play the guitar for Humble Pie, as singer and guitarist Steve Marriott was not just any singer, but a man who could belt out tremendous vocals from his small frame. Peter Frampton would record four studio albums, and one live album with Humble Pie. His skills would improve immensely, and he'd become someone sought after for studio sessions work as well.

Peter would record three solo albums, and have little success with them. One night in 1975, in San Francisco, California, he'd have a live concert recorded, and he'd release it as Frampton Comes Alive, and his fortunes would change very significantly. The album would be the biggest seller of 1976, and one of the top twenty of 1977. It's a very enthusiastic performance, and today, brings me, and most everyone, a lot of positive nostalgia.

Peter would become so famous he'd be invited to the White House. President Gerald Ford's son was a huge fan. Of course Peter was working on another album, and it would see some success, but he couldn't seem to follow up his mega smash live album with something as potent. For whatever reasons, Peter seemed to have much magic as a live act, but the magic was somehow less potent in the studio.

Driving in the Bahamas in 1978, Frampton had a nearly fatal car crash. Injured badly, Peter's career would take a major setback. His most productive years seemed to be over.

Peter Frampton in 1975.

Peter Frampton in 1975.

A 1954 Gibson Les Paul Custom as a Gift!

The Peter Frampton story is not over, and hopefully will not be for a long time to come. He's faded away and then made a bit of a comeback, and then done that all again, and again. He's recorded with old pal David Bowie, got a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame, and continues to write songs, record and perform today.

When it comes to guitars, Peter Frampton prefers Gibson family instruments. His electric guitar playing is nearly always done on one of his Les Paul instruments, or an ES-335. For acoustics he plays Epiphone, Tacoma, and Martin. For this article, however, we shall focus on Peter's relationship with the Gibson Les Paul.

Peter owns and often plays a Gibson 1960 Reissue Les Paul, and it is certainly a beautiful instrument, and one of the more coveted of the Les Paul production line, but lets be serious here. Peter is linked very very specifically to one specific guitar, and its tale must be told. The guitar is a heavily modified 1954 Les Paul Custom.

What happened was when Peter was playing for Humble Pie, he switched from a Gibson SG to a Gibson ES-335, but during one show the semi hollow body ES-335 was giving him absolute fits with feedback. It was affecting his performance, and the fan's enjoyment of the show they'd paid to see. A change had to be made.

A friend and fan of Peter's named Mark Mariana had this 1954 black Les Paul Custom. It had been modified to have three humbucking pickups. Peter used it during a show, fell in love with it, and offered to buy it. His friend, amazingly, simply gave it to him as a gift. For the next ten years Peter would rarely be seen playing anything but this guitar.

Lost and Found

Ten years of playing that 1954 Les Paul Custom as his primary musical instrument, and it appeared as though the guitar was tragically destroyed. Peter had ended a tour of South America, and his equipment was on a cargo plane. The plane took off in Venezuela, and crashed. Every person on board the aircraft perished, and so it seemed pretty safe to assume the guitar was destroyed. In fact, considering the loss of lives, Peter may have well felt even inquiring after surviving gear to be a thoughtless thing.

The guitar was not destroyed. Someone had looked through the wreckage, and well, they pilfered the instrument. Maybe they assumed it had belonged to someone on the plane, and well, the dead don't play guitar. It's possible they recognized the thing as the famous guitar Peter Frampton always played, or maybe they just knew it wasn't trash, and they felt they were rescuing it.

A person who's name isn't publicly known brought the guitar to a man named Donald Valentina to have some work done on it. Mr. Valentina was sure he recognized the guitar, and knew who it should belong to. In 2011 the man had some financial problems, and agreed to sell the guitar to Mr. Valentina and a local guitarist named Ghatim Kabbara, and the two men arranged to meet with Peter to return to him his prized guitar.

Gibson Custom Peter Frampton Les Paul

Call it a love story. Guitarists often have a deep and enduring affection for their guitars. Some more than others, of course, as some guitarist have countless instruments, and others like Peter, clearly have one they love more than the others.

To commemorate this specific guitar played, loved, lost, and then found, Gibson has produced not just one, but two distinct versions of the Peter Frampton Les Paul Custom. If you wish to own a Peter Frampton Les Paul by Gibson, then you simply must want this one.

No, this guitar is nothing like affordable. It's a Les Paul Custom, and then besides that, and the additional inlay and prestige implied, it's even more of a cork sniffer piece, but this is the guitar you want. You certainly do not want the other version, despite the Peter Frampton signature.

One of the most interesting things about this Gibson Custom Shop Frampton Lester is the pickups. There are three humbuckers, and each one is a different model of Gibson premium humbucker. I'm unsure why they did it this way, but you can be sure they had a reason.

The thing is, Frampton himself will tell you that on his guitar, the neck and the bridge are both original PAF humbuckers, and then he'll say he doesn't know for certain what sort of humbucker is used in the middle. Be certain you realize that there was lots of routing done on Peter's guitar to accommodate this, as the 1954 LPs were not fitted for even two humbuckers.

To make the pickups and switching situation more interesting on the Frampton model, the middle humbucker is always on. You can not isolate the neck pickup, or the bridge pickup. This is how Peter's guitar is wired too. On the Gibson Custom Shop Frampton, the pups are as follows: 57' Classic neck, 57' Classic Plus middle, and 500 T at the bridge.

Now you should be wondering what is going to be going on with the two tone and two volume controls, seeing as how they simply can't be left the way a normal Les Paul would be wired. You're right, of course, you were never anyone's fool. You've got a shared volume and shared tone control for the bridge and neck, and an independent tone and volume for the middle.

There is one more thing which I feel must be pointed out here about this guitar, and that is the fingerboard is Richlite and not ebony. Gibson seems determined to not use ebony for reasons which aren't exactly clear. I am confident Richlite is a great material for the purpose, and that it is a sustainable material.

Gibson Custom Peter Frampton Les Paul

Gibson Custom Peter Frampton Les Paul

  • Gibson Custom Peter Frampton Les Paul
  • Carved maple top
  • Weight-relieved mahogany back
  • Multi-ply white/black binding on top and back
  • 1-piece mahogany neck
  • 22-fret Richlite fingerboard
  • Pearl block inlays
  • Single-ply white binding
  • Peter Frampton custom slim neck profile
  • '57 Classic (neck), '57 Classic Plus (middle), and 500T (bridge), humbuckers
  • 3-way pickup selector (middle pickup always on)
  • Shared Volume and Tone controls for the outer pickups
  • Independent Volume and Tone for the middle pickup
  • 24-3/4" scale
  • 1-11/16" nut width
  • Kidney bean tuners
  • Ebony finish
  • Gold hardware
  • Nashville tune-o-matic bridge/stopbar tailpiece
  • Includes case

Peter Frampton "Phenix" 1954 Les Paul Custom

Now the Gibson Custom Peter Frampton Les Paul is beautiful, and while it is way out of my league in price, it is at least in the range of what I consider acceptability. Maybe not for me, but maybe for you. It is over five thousand dollars, but lots of great guitars are these days. It's really not especially different from a lot of other fine Les Paul Custom guitars with three pickups.

I've seen this guitar. I took one off a rack and plugged it into something, and played it a bit. I'm certain that you can also do just that if and when you happen into one. That's what makes the thing different from the second Frampton LP, well that, about fifteen thousand additional dollars, and a lot of scuffs and scratches.

The Phenix guitar, and yes, I did spell it the way Gibson is spelling it, is the exact guitar as the Custom shop recreation except this guitar is like Peter's after it rose from the ashes of the Venezuelan plane crash, and returned to him after all those many years.

Dear readers, I'm going to just cut to it here. I'm not here to throw shade. I'd never do that at Peter Frampton, who is a great artist, and seems to be a nice guy, and despite Gibson being something of an evil empire in financial trouble, I love those guys too because of all the greatness and history.

But lets be serious. The Phenix Les Paul is twenty thousand dollars of scratches, dents, and scuffs. All that placed to microscopic perfection to appear to be exactly like, in every way, Peter's guitar. I'm just of the mind that if you want a Frampton guitar, get the one without the scratches and such, and go and make your own music history with that one.

Oh, and the Phenix also includes Peter's actual signature, and a medallion. Thanks for reading.

Peter Frampton "Phenix" 1954 Les Paul Custom

Peter Frampton "Phenix" 1954 Les Paul Custom

Gibson Custom Peter Frampton 'Phenix' 1954 Les Paul Custom Features

  • Gibson Custom Peter Frampton "Phenix" 1954 Les Paul Custom
  • Body shape: Single cutaway
  • Body type: Solid body
  • Body material: Solid wood
  • Top wood: Maple
  • Body wood: Mahogany
  • Body finish: Gloss Nitrocellulose
  • Orientation: Right handed
  • Neck shape: C traditional
  • Neck wood: Mahogany
  • Joint: Set-in
  • Scale length: 24.75"
  • Truss rod: Standard
  • Neck finish: Gloss Nitrocellulose
  • Fretboard Material: Ebony
  • Radius: 12"
  • Fret size: Medium jumbo
  • Number of frets: 22
  • Inlays: Block
  • Nut width: 1.725" (43.8mm)
  • Pickup Configuration: HHH
  • Active or passive: Passive
  • Series or parallel: Series
  • Control layout: Volume 1, volume 2, tone 1, tone 2
  • Pickup switch: 3-way
  • Fixed Bridge design: Tune-o-matic
  • Tailpiece: Stopbar
  • Gold Color Tuning machines: Grover kidney
  • Case: Hardshell case
  • Accessories: Frampton "Phenix" COA, 2015 Custom Medallion
  • Country of origin: United States

© 2018 Wesman Todd Shaw


Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on May 25, 2018:

Thanks very much, Louise! I really appreciate it :)

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on May 21, 2018:

A wonderful and very in-depth article on a brilliant musician.