The story of Peter Frampton’s fabled Gibson “Phenix” Les Paul is perhaps the most well-known tale of lost-and-found electric guitars in the whole of guitar lore. Given to him by his friend Marc Mariana during a four-show stint at Fillmore West in 1970, the beloved ‘50s Black Beauty was separated from the Humble Pie icon following a deadly plane crash a decade later.
Then, over 30 years after the incident, Frampton was miraculously reunited with the triple-humbucker six-string, which was promptly restored prior to the Frampton Comes Alive! shows in 2012.
Now, the mythical model’s story in its entirety has been retold in a comprehensive new 23-minute video posted to Frampton’s YouTube channel, which is pieced together from interviews new and old, archive material, and live video footage.
“I don’t think I stopped smiling from ear to ear the entire night,” Frampton said of the first time he played the “Phenix”. “When I got off stage, I said to Marc [Mariana], ‘I don’t know how to ask this: you’d never think about selling it, would you?’ He said, ‘No. I’m going to give it to you.’”
From that point on, it became Frampton’s number one guitar. Not only did he play it religiously for 10 years, the “Phenix” also featured heavily on Frampton Comes Alive! in ‘76, and made its way on “just about every track [Frampton] recorded between 1970 and 1980”.
However, the "Phenix" was almost lost forever in 1980 after it went down with a cargo aircraft, along with the rest of Humble Pie’s gear, which crashed while taking off from Curaçao. The damage was immense, and Frampton believed his beloved Les Paul Black Beauty to be gone for good.
Unknown to him at the time, though, the “Phenix” had actually survived the crash, and was taken by someone at the scene. Years later, pictures of an eerily similar Black Beauty began to circulate – and with them, reports that it had been used extensively by a local musician.
As chance would have it, the guitar eventually crossed paths with Donald Balentina – a local luthier and immigration officer – who immediately knew its origins, and sought to return it to its rightful owner.
“It will still be a mystery to me as far as I’m concerned,” Frampton notes in the video. “How it left the plane, and why it wasn’t returned to me at the time. But, 31 years later, I got it back. It’s a long wait, but I got it back.”
After he was reunited with his Les Paul, Frampton – with the help of the Gibson team – then had the small task of restoring it to its former glory. No mean feat, as you can tell from the documentary above.
“It’s got to be played. People have to see it. I want to show it off,” Frampton comments, before the video diverts its attention to the guitarist’s Comes Alive! anniversary shows in 2011/2012 – a historic occasion that featured the “Phenix” in all its glory for the first time in three decades.
In 2021, Frampton's lost-and-found Les Paul was reimagined as the Gibson "Phenix" Custom VOS guitar.