Gibson.com salutes a player ongoing music and playing is just as alive as ever...
Who is he?
Veteran English rocker, though he’s been a U.S. resident for so long you’d be forgiven for thinking he’s American. When growing up in Beckenham South London, he went the same Bexley school as David Bowie – his dad, Owen Frampton, was actually one of Bowie’s art teachers – and first learned to play the banjolele, the family instrument due to his grandmother’s fandom of English Vaudeville singer George Formby. He was soon listening to jazz masters like Django Reinhardt and Wes Montgomery, as well as soaking up the song craft of the Beatles, and all manner of blues guitar influences too. Frampton and a guitar have been inseparable since the beginning.
Frampton was a star at 16, fronting psych-lite outfit The Herd (in ‘67 they supported Jimi Hendrix) and was part of London’s coterie of rising guitar stars: “I used to go into Selmers in Charing Cross Road and Paul Kossoff would sell me my strings,” he remembered. Frampton moved on to form supergroup Humble Pie with The Small Faces’ Steve Marriott.
Peter played on George Harrison’s solo opus All Things Must Pass, Harry Nilsson’s Son of Schmilsson, and David Bowie’s Never Let Me Down. He’s guested on records by Jerry Lee Lewis, John Entwistle, and he organized the Peter Frampton Guitar Circus shows of 2013, during which he shared the stage with B.B. King, Don Felder, Robert Cray, Mike McCready, Sonny Landreth and more. He’s a Grammy winner, for 2006’s instrumental album Fingerprints.
But over those 50 years of being teen hearthrob, blues rocker, guitar sideman, instrumental Grammy winner, guitar gear entrepreneur, Hollywood Walk of Fame-r, and composer for ballet, Frampton’s playing has been uniformly superb.
Frampton’s breadth of talent has ensured his longevity: he’s both a guitar virtuoso and a great songwriter, and there aren’t too many of those around. Guitar-wise, he adds a good amount of jazz phrasing to his soloing, which might otherwise be fall under “blues rock”. He’s also an adept fingerstylist, again with jazz-influenced chord patterns and an innate sense of melody.
“Anybody whose passion is a specific instrument will try to listen to as many different styles as possible,” he says of his learning and favorite players. “From Segovia to Chet Atkins, Django Reinhardt to all the Kings – B.B., Albert, Freddie, Buddy Guy, Robert Johnson, Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, Joe Pass. George Benson when he was very young, when he played with Jack McDuff… All these different players influenced me.”
Frampton’s recently been playing acoustic shows, in support of 2016’s Acoustic Classics album, but also dates with a full band (to include a summer 2017 tour with Steve Miller).
“I’ve moved on as a player,” he reflects, on recent years. “More years ‘under the belt,’ many more influences. It’s just experience and experimentation. I still play and write at home, when no-one else is listening, and I make a lot of mistakes. But sometimes I hit on a great riff. And I’m still stealing from the best!
“The guitar is an extension of me. It always has been. I always want to be playing something tomorrow that I can’t play today. That’s my motto.”
If you think he’s “just” a player of decades ago, listen to Thank You Mr Churchill (2010) which shows off his panoply of skills, from jazz to hard grunge-y riffing. And he actively encourages trying to ape other players’ licks, just like he has: “You never sound like them because you’re not them. You can play it your way… Your vocabulary gets to a certain point and listening to all these people gives you a more varied vocabulary when you’re coming to write or when you’re coming to solo.”
Peter Frampton and Gibson
Frampton’s played numerous Gibson over the years. His favorites are Les Pauls, including sunburst Customs, a Les Paul Classic 1960 reissue (with Tom Holmes pickups), a Les Paul Jnr, and he also own a beautiful original 1960 ‘burst Les Paul Standard that used to belong to JJ Cale (appearing notably on Cale’s 5 album). When it comes to Standards, Frampton prefers ‘60-style spec for the slimmer necks. He also regularly plays a ‘64 ES-335.
But the Les Paul he’s best known for – and, indeed one of the most famous Gibson Les Pauls in rock – is his 1954 Les Paul Custom “Black Beauty” aka the “Phenix” (yes, he prefers the Mediæval spelling). Frampton jokes of his Les Paul, “it’s more famous than I am!”
He bought it in 1970, cranked it loud in Humble Pie, and relied upon it throughout his ‘70s glory years. It then went down in a ball of flames in a 1980 cargo plane crash, and was thought lost forever. You’ll no doubt know the story of how – 31 years later – the Phenix found its way back to Frampton, where it was carefully restored to playable condition. It soon replaced the signature Peter Frampton Les Paul Gibson Custom had earlier built in its image.
“The first day I brought it to rehearsals, I changed guitars a bit,” Frampton told Gibson.com of being reunited with the Phenix. “Mostly, it was the Gibson Custom Peter Frampton Les Paul made for me by Gibson, but when I played the original, everybody would just smile! It just has the sound! I think it’s unique. It’s not necessarily the best Les Paul in the world, I’ve never said that. It just has something.
“It doesn’t have a maple top, like most Les Pauls do, it’s solid mahogany but very light mahogany… unusual. It doesn’t have the very deep sound of a normal Les Paul with a maple top. It has a mid-to-high register sound that cuts through. I have another Les Paul that I call the Buzz Saw – it’s got that ZZ Top-ish full range and can bite your head off. This one is more lyrical sounding. And when I pick it up, you hear the difference – it’s amazing.”
Here’s Frampton talking briefly about the Gibson Custom build of the Phenix in 2015, the incredible replica of his 1954 Les Paul Custom. If you can still find a Phenix (only 36 were made, PF has #1), it will be crazily expensive but this is one of the most intricate “reproduction” guitar projects ever undertaken.