Buffalo Trace

Buffalo Trace
From a few years ago, me mugging with the bronze buffalo sculpture at Buffalo Trace Distillery in Kentucky.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Frampton's Lost Guitar: How It Made Its Way Back to Its Legendary Owner


Gather 'round, children and hear the tale of the long-lost guitar....



I was at dinner in Curacao a few nights ago and sat across the table from the CEO of the Curacao tourist board Ghatim Kabbara as he recounted the tale of Peter Frampton's lost guitar and how he came about returning it to him.

Although I'm sure a few of my musician friends are undoubtedly familiar with the story, I had never heard it before. That it was told to me by the guy who actually rescued the guitar and then gave it back to Frampton was a real treat.

Here's the 411:

In 1970, Frampton was playing a concert at the Fillmore West with Humble Pie when he began experiencing some problems with his guitar. Another musician at the concert had his Gibson Les Paul guitar with him and offered to let Frampton play it for the balance of the concert.

Evidently Frampton wasn't a fan of the Les Paul, but decided to give it a go.

It was a customized version of the 1954 Les Paul. It had a third pickup rather than just the two typically found on Les Pauls. In those days the Les Pauls were still being made of a sturdy, but light Honduran mahogany wood.

Frampton played the guitar for the rest of the concert and fell so in love with it, that he asked to buy it. The owner refused to sell it to Frampton, but instead gave it to him.



It wound up being the guitar Frampton played almost exclusively during his very successful run in the 1970s. It's the guitar you mostly hear on his watershed album "Frampton Comes Alive." It's on the cover of that album.

In 1980, after playing a concert in Caracas, Venezuela, Frampton packed up the Les Paul and it was loaded on a cargo plane heading to Panama for the next tour date. Just after takeoff the plane crashed killing the entire crew and destroying nearly everything on board in the fire that followed.

Apparently one of the Venezuelan national guardsmen tasked with securing the crash site found the guitar and made off with it. It circulated around Caracas, Venezuela for a while and then found its way to nearby Curacao. It finally landed in the hands of a Curacao customs agent Donald Balentina, who was known around the island as a guitar repairman of sorts.

Convinced that this was indeed the missing Frampton guitar, he then approached his friend Kabbara, who had recently been made CEO of the Curacao tourist board and was also a guitar player to help him buy the guitar.

Kabbara agreed to underwrite the acquisition of the guitar, but only if the ultimate goal was to return it to Frampton.

Once Kabbara had the Gibson, he contacted Frampton, inviting him to Curacao for a reunion with the guitar. A bit skeptical, Frampton declined the invitation to Curacao, but asked Kabbara to meet him in Nashville instead.


(In the photo above are Kabbara, Balentina and, of course, Frampton.)
Kabbara wasn't clear on why Frampton wanted to meet in Nashville until he arrived for the meeting and found several officials from Gibson Guitar also on hand. Nashville is the guitar maker's home.

Before even opening the case, Frampton asked Kabbara to recount how the guitar found its way into his possession. Hearing the story, Frampton finally opened the case and gazed at the scorched guitar.

Lifting it out of the case, he confirmed that it was indeed the guitar he believed lost in the plane crash more than three decades before.

One of the Gibson people began removing some of the screws -- according to Kabbara, all four screws were mismatched -- to look at the wiring. It was obvious that someone along the line had made some changes, but nothing too severe.

Frampton handed over the guitar to the Gibson reps asking that the instrument be made playable, but not restored. He wanted to the guitar to retain all the scars of the fire.

Kabbara refused any payment, returning the Les Paul to Frampton in the name of Curacao. But he did request that Frampton make a trip to Curacao for some event to be named in the future.



And every one lived happily ever after....

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