Dear Guitar Hero: Peter Frampton Answers Readers' Questions About Gear, Django Reinhardt, the Bowie Tour and More
Here's our Dear Guitar Hero feature with Peter Frampton, who answers questions about gear, particularly his long-lost (and since-recovered) 1954 Gibson Les Paul.
He also discusses touring, his past, influences, roots and more.
What’s the status of your long-lost 1954 Gibson Les Paul that went down in a plane crash and was recovered and returned to you a year ago? — David Wilcox
It’s doing great. I’m thinking of just touring the guitar, sending it out there on its own, because it’s more famous than I am. [laughs] There’s a segment about that guitar on my new DVD [FCA! 35 Tour: An Evening with Peter Frampton].
As soon as I heard we were getting it back, I got my friend to film its arrival in Nashville, just before Christmas 2011. You see me take the guitar out of the awful little case it was brought back in. You also see me taking it to be refretted and going over to Gibson to get it verified and have the NOS parts put in to replace the things that weren’t working anymore.
I also tell the story of how I was given the guitar in the first place by Mark Mariano, who’s from the Bay Area. I got a hold of him in San Francisco when we were playing there recently and filmed that as well. And the look on his face when I hand him the guitar—I’m getting chills as I’m saying it. It’s priceless, because he hadn’t seen this guitar for as long as I hadn’t, or longer. As for the status of it—it’s never more than 50 feet from me, and it doesn’t travel on planes.
When you’re about to take a solo, do improvise or stick to a script? — Christopher Thumann
As often as possible, I like to play something completely different from what I played the night before. I’d say 98 percent of the solos are completely ad libbed. The only solo I play the same way every night is in an instrumental called “Double Nickels,” from Fingerprints [Frampton’s 2006 instrumental album].
It was ad libbed when I recorded it for the album, but I liked it so much that I figured out what I’d played—which is difficult, because I don’t normally do that. I might play it with a different inflection each time, but it’s basically the same solo. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. That’s what I like, though: it’s hit or miss.
What guitarist has had the biggest impact on your playing? — Gary Owen
Django Reinhardt. My parents listened to Hot Club de France, with Stéphane Grapelli and Django, before, during and after the war. When I came along in 1950, they got their first record player, and the first thing I remember hearing was Django. I thought it was “old people’s” music and would much prefer to be listening to Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, the Shadows or Cliff Richard. Dad would put on Django, and I couldn’t get up the stairs quickly enough.
What happened was, I’d start listening to it on my way up the stairs. And then one day I stopped halfway up, turned, came back and sat down in the room. I said, “Holy crap, this guy’s good!” I heard Django before I heard blues artists, so I was always more drawn to the jazz side in my rock playing than I was to blues.
That all changed once I started going up to London to see Eric Clapton play with John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers. Then there was a whole other influence that came from listening to the people Eric listened to, like Freddie, Albert and B.B. King, and everyone before them. I became more well rounded in my influences.
Excluding Frampton Comes Alive!, which of your solo albums are you most proud of? — Ted James
It has to be Fingerprints. Doing that album made me realize that to be scared of something is sort of good. I knew I wanted to do an instrumental record, and I guess I was always scared of failure. Every session was pretty scary. The thought of working with John Jorgenson, Bill Wyman, Charlie Watts and Pearl Jam, plus Brian Bennett and Hank Marvin from the Shadows!
If Django was the first guitarist I listened to, Hank was the first guitar player I chose to really study, because the Shadows were so huge. They were our homegrown Ventures. Cliff Richard would be Number One and Three on the charts, and the Shadows would be Number Two, Four and Five. They dominated the airwaves and were so influential to so many of my contemporaries. So to work with the Shadows—that was probably one of the best days of my life.
What was the inspiration for your arrangement of “Jumping Jack Flash”? — Kevin Brennan
That was one of the last tracks we recorded for Wind of Change, my first solo record. I was sitting around my kitchen with Andy Bown, who I’d played with in the Herd, and we were trying to come up with a cover song to record. We obviously all loved the Stones, and I said, “Well, I’ve always loved ‘Jumping Jack Flash.’ ”
He said, “Why don’t you do it, but play it as if Wes Montgomery were playing the lick, in octaves?” So we messed around with it, and it sounded good. I think we recorded it the same day that we talked about it. It was just an experiment, but it turned out pretty good. Then I got Jim Price to do the wonderful horn arrangement on the studio version, and it became a staple as one of the encores of our live set.
You used to tour with a Pensa Suhr guitar. What happened to it? — Kurt Jenkins
Unfortunately, it was lost in the Nashville flood a few years back . John Suhr is a dear friend and a wonderful guitar maker. He’s threatening to make me another guitar, so not to worry. I think he’ll do it, eventually. It was a one-piece maple body, which was very special. It was a Strat shape but with humbuckers, and one Strat pickup in the middle. It was a very interesting guitar. I used it on the David Bowie tour. In fact, I think I got it in ’87 for the [Glass Spider] tour.
Did you go on the David Bowie tour as a way of retreating from the spotlight? — William Westhoven
I wouldn’t say I was retreating from the spotlight; I was already out of the spotlight at that point. [laughs] Things weren’t going very well for me. I wasn’t selling very many records and had been dropped by A&M Records, who I’m now back with. David called me up and asked me if I would play on his album Never Let Me Down.
While we were in Switzerland, where he was living at the time, he asked me if I’d join him for the Glass Spider tour. That was a great gift David gave me, because my career had faltered. David was doing extremely well and could command stadium-size audiences. It took me around the world and reintroduced me as Peter Frampton the guitar player, not the pin-up pop guy, which is where the perception had gone, wrongly. I’ve always been very thankful that David chose me to do that.
A lot of players consider the pentatonic scale their “go-to” scale for solos and improvising. What’s yours? — Victor La Squadro
I don’t know. Someone told me what it is, but I can’t remember what he told me. [laughs] My go-to scale is the “searching in the dark” scale. I guess someone else would have to analyze my playing. People have done it, but I couldn’t tell you what they’ve found out.
You recently got a 1960 Les Paul, but do you still have your ’59? — Drew Paradine
I’ve never had a ’59 Les Paul. After the plane crash, when I lost the ’54 Les Paul, I got a 1960 Les Paul “Burst,” which I’ve since sold. It wasn’t my favorite guitar, but if I’d have kept it I could’ve made a fortune. More recently, after the flood, I decided I wanted to get a 1960 Burst again.
I bought one in Nashville—it was the one J.J. Cale used on his album 5, from 1979. J.J. sold it to his producer, Audie Ashworth, who has since died, and the producer’s wife sold it to me after the flood, because I’d lost so many guitars. I was in need of some new ones—well, some new old ones.
But I’m out of the depths of despair from the flood. I’ve picked up quite a few nice pieces since then. Rather than having duplicates of everything, I have one really good one of each style of guitar. I’ve been able to cherry-pick and take my time.
What’s your favorite “guitar moment” out of everything you’ve recorded so far? — Damien Linotte
I’m not sure if I have a favorite moment yet, because I’m never totally happy with what I do. I like what I do, occasionally, but it’s always like, “I’ve got to be better next time.” I do enjoy playing guitar on “All I Wanna Be” [from Wind of Change]. Some nights I like it better than others, but I really enjoy playing over that vibe and that chord progression.
Do you regret your involvement in the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band movie from 1978? — Brian Cancemi
Yes. Next question. [laughs]
How did you come to incorporate Leslie cabinets into your rig? — Michael Ellis
I’d often use a Leslie cabinet on its own in the studio because everyone in the late Sixties and Seventies was experimenting with them. We’d stick anything through a Leslie because it made everything sound so good. No one had a chorus, so the Leslie was the ultimate chorus when it was spinning very slowly.
When my solo career was beginning, we’d open for Poco a lot, and their pedal-steel player, Rusty Young, got a Hammond B3 sound by playing through a Leslie. As soon as I saw that, I decided I’d play through my Marshalls and add a Leslie cabinet. It’s been part of my rig ever since. There have been some great electronic choruses, but there’s nothing quite like playing an instrument or a voice or anything through an actual Leslie.