Peter Frampton’s Custom Les Paul


The captivating tale of Peter Frampton’s custom Les Paul guitar intertwines with the narrative of the rock and roll legend’s musical journey. A beloved fixture in Frampton’s collection, this custom Les Paul boasts a unique backstory and technical specifications contributing to its iconic status.

From the nuances that crafted its distinctive sound to the story of its perceived loss and remarkable recovery, the allure of this piece transcends beyond its status as a mere instrument. Furthermore, understanding Frampton’s particular style and technique when wielding this musical marvel offers profound insight into its impact on shaping his legendary music repertoire.

History of Peter Frampton’s Custom Les Paul

Origins of the Custom Les Paul

A pivotal moment in Peter Frampton’s musical journey was when he acquired his beloved 1954 Gibson Les Paul Custom. This unique guitar was initially owned by a musician named Mark Mariana, who’d heavily modified it. It had three humbucker pickups instead of the standard two and a toggle switch, giving him different tonal options. Once Mariana had decided to let go of it, it ultimately grabbed the attention of Frampton – first as a rental for Humble Pie’s 1970 performance at the Fillmore West and later as a purchase.

Iconic Performances

The 1954 Les Paul played a profound role in shaping Frampton’s sound and image. It was his companion for some of his most iconic performances and recordings. On the cover of his most successful album, “Frampton Comes Alive!” (1976), he’s seen with this black beauty, and the album was mostly recorded using this guitar. The distinctive, full-bodied sound resonating from its three-pickup configuration significantly propelled the live album to multi-platinum status.

Special Traits

Much of the mystique of Peter Frampton’s Custom Les Paul comes from its unique modifications. Apart from the third humbucker pickup, the guitar features a push-pull knob on its rear. Once pulled, the knob connects the middle and bridge pickups, creating a rare tone that lies between the middle pickup’s warmth and the bridge pickup’s sharpness.

This modification resulted in the iconic “woman tone” that Frampton is famous for. Moreover, the guitar has a Phoenix sticker added by Frampton, which stands as a reminder of the guitar’s improbable journey of disappearance and rediscovery.

The Lost and Found Saga

In 1980, during Frampton’s tour, the guitar was believed to have been destroyed when a cargo plane crashed in Venezuela. However, in 2011, Frampton was notified that his guitar had been located, still intact after three decades. It had eventually ended up in Curaçao, having been repaired by a local musician. After further restorations by Gibson’s Custom Shop, Peter was finally reunited with his cherished 1954 Gibson Les Paul Custom in 2012, a moment that Frampton described as a “dream come true.”

Peter Frampton’s Custom Les Paul: An Iconic Legacy

Renowned as a testament to its pivotal role in shaping Peter Frampton’s iconic musical journey, the Custom Les Paul guitar stirs reverence among music enthusiasts worldwide. To pay homage to this remarkable instrument, Frampton collaborated with Gibson to recreate a replica named ‘The Phenix.’ This signature model, meticulous in its details, provides an opportunity for dedicated fans and fellow musicians to relish the unique tonal qualities that have remained Frampton’s identifying feature for decades.

Peter Frampton's Custom Les Paul
Peter Frampton's Custom Les Paul 7

Technical Specifications of the Custom Les Paul

Distinctive Sonic Attributes of the Custom Les Paul

Known famously as the “Phenix,” the Peter Frampton Custom Les Paul distinguishes itself by producing an exceptional and unforgettable sound. The defining feature of its extensive tonal quality lies in integrating three humbucking pickups, which are known to amplify output while providing a deep and rich tone. The middle pickup, in particular, delivers a ‘nasal’ note, diverging from the classic Les Paul sound. The guitar’s design splendidly encapsulates the quintessential Peter Frampton tone – a high-frequency, sharp edge cast within this exceptional instrument.

Construction Materials

The body of the Peter Frampton Custom Les Paul is crafted from solid mahogany, known for its exceptional sustain and depth. A carved maple top provides a tonal balance with its high-end bite while adding to the overall aesthetic appeal with its flamed wood finish. The guitar’s neck, constructed from solid mahogany, further contributes to the tonal depth and resonance of the instrument. Furthermore, the 22-fret rosewood fingerboard extends the range of the guitar and enhances its playability.


Equipped with three pickups, the Custom Frampton Les Paul allows for complex tonal variations. It features a ’57 Classic in the neck, a ’57 Classic Plus in the middle, and a 500T Super Ceramic Humbucker in the bridge. This combination allows for various sound possibilities, from warm and smooth tones at the neck to hotter and crunchier tones at the bridge.

Design and Other Features

This Custom Les Paul carries the signature design elements of a Gibson Les Paul, in addition to unique specifications. It features a slim taper neck profile, based on the standards of the 1960s, boosting the playability for faster playing styles. The Tune-O-Matic bridge, paired with the stopbar tailpiece, provides ease of string changing and contributes to the guitar’s sustain and tuning stability.

Another noteworthy feature of the Peter Frampton Custom Les Paul is the 3-way pickup switch, which allows the user to select which pickups are active and includes a host of tone and volume knobs for in-depth tonal control. This setup allows players to blend and shape their sound in significant ways.

The uniqueness of the Custom Frampton Les Paul

The Peter Frampton Custom Les Paul brings more than the standard features you’d expect from a Les Paul. It boasts a unique layout of three pickups, a one-of-a-kind neck profile, and personalized controls that collaborate to present an exceptional tonality that gifts its user with detailed and intricate tones. In addition, the guitar’s deep ebony black design, coupled with Peter Frampton’s signature on the pickguard, further sets it aside from its Les Paul counterparts in terms of appearance.

The Peter Frampton Custom Les Paul, known as the Phenix, with a black ebony finish and a signature pickguard.

The Journey of the ‘Phenix’ Les Paul

Peter Frampton "Phenix" Inspired Les Paul Custom
Peter Frampton’s “Phenix” Inspired Les Paul Custom

The Origin of the ‘Phenix’ Les Paul

The ‘Phenix’ Les Paul from Gibson, a treasured possession of Peter Frampton, became iconic due to its unique triple-pickup design. Frampton referred to this guitar as the “Phenix.” Owning special circuitry and a slightly thinner neck than usual, this particular instrument played a significant role in shaping the unique sound Frampton featured on his popular solo album, “Frampton Comes Alive.” The ‘Phoenix’ symbolized Frampton’s musical persona, but tragically, it was severely damaged in a cargo plane crash in Venezuela in 1980 during Frampton’s tour.

The Disappearance and Believed Destruction

All the equipment on board was reported as destroyed, including Frampton’s ‘Phenix’ Les Paul. The guitar was presumed lost forever, burned in the tragic plane crash. For over three decades, its absence persisted like an open wound for Frampton, who still greens the loss of his iconic instrument.

An Incredible Discovery Thirty-one Years Later

However, in an astonishing twist of fate, it was reported in 2011 that the supposedly destroyed ‘Phenix’ Les Paul had been found. Two carpenters had recovered it from the crash site nearly thirty years prior and had kept it, unknowing of its famous past. They sold it to a musician on the Caribbean island of Curaçao who, over time, began to suspect he might have Frampton’s long-lost guitar due to its unique modifications. After several back-and-forth negotiations, verification processes, and a trip to Nashville, the truth was finally revealed – this was the ‘Phenix’ Les Paul.

The Restoration of the ‘Phenix’

The guitar was worse for wear, having been through a plane crash and an arduous journey during its recovery. However, under the expert care of Gibson’s Custom Shop in Nashville, the ‘Phenix’ underwent a meticulous restoration process, which restored this iconic instrument. Frampton’s specifications were kept in mind, and the restoration team even consulted old photographs to get details like the worn finish on the guitar’s back just right.

An Icon Rises Like a Phoenix

Now, the formerly lost guitar has reinstated its place on Frampton’s concert stage. The ‘Phenix’ has been reborn, more robust and better than ever before, rising from its ashes just like the mythical bird it’s been named after. The captivating narrative of the ‘Phenix’ Les Paul adds a rich dimension to the instrument’s history, embodying resilience, revival, and the unyielding spirit of music.

Impact on Peter Frampton

The remarkable tale of the guitar’s return has profoundly impacted Peter Frampton. This tale of loss, recovery, and resilience has inspired Frampton’s music and lent a new depth to his performances. The return of the ‘Phenix’ Les Paul has enriched Frampton’s musical journey and added an endearing, legendary chapter to the annals of rock-and-roll history.

The Fame of Peter Frampton’s Phenix Les Paul

Peter Frampton’s ‘Phenix’ Les Paul holds a unique and storied place in the rock world. The distinct sounds it produces have become a staple of Frampton’s performances, creating unforgettable sonic experiences for thousands of fans. More than just a tool for music, the ‘Phenix’ manifests Frampton’s unparalleled talent, unabated determination, and profound passion for his musical artistry.

peter frampton's custom les paul

Peter Frampton’s Style and Technique

The Distinctive Style Mark of Peter Frampton’s Les Paul Technique

Widely celebrated for his innovative approach to music, Peter Frampton has attained much of his acclaim through his expressive use of the Gibson Les Paul. Frampton’s skill with the guitar is distinguished by his lyrical playing, sharp precision, and a deep comprehension of musical theory – all of which are manifested in his Les Paul performances.

The Infamous Les Paul “Phenix”

His custom Les Paul, nicknamed the “Phenix,” is an extension of his musical persona, not just another instrument in his repertoire. The guitar was made in 1954 and was uniquely customized with three pickups instead of the usual two. This feature enriched the scope of sound that could be achieved, allowing Frampton to extract more tonal versatility on stage and in the studio.

The Phenix’s unique sound, which Frampton describes as “more expressive,” enabled him to create some of his most iconic tunes. Most notably, this iconic Gibson Les Paul was used to record his multi-platinum live album ‘Frampton Comes Alive!’.

Using Les Paul to Create Iconic Music

With his meticulous and melodic style, Frampton has used his Les Paul to create an array of iconic songs. Tracks like “Show Me the Way,” “Baby, I Love Your Way,” and “Do You Feel Like We Do” showcase his ability to blend technical prowess with fiery playing. His use of the Les Paul on these recordings goes beyond just playing an instrument — it involves manipulating the tone and sustain of the guitar to serve the song and express his feelings.

Frampton’s playing style on his Les Paul also often incorporates a talk box device. This unit, which Frampton famously utilized on the tracks above, alters the guitar’s sound by directing its tone into the musician’s mouth, which can then be modulated by changing the mouth’s shape and the tongue’s position.

Influence on Other Artists

Frampton’s distinctive style and unique techniques with the custom Les Paul have inspired many aspiring musicians. His signature sound, combined with his innovative use of gear like the talk box and effects like phase shifters and flangers, has been imprinted into the DNA of rock and roll guitar. Many learners and experienced musicians continue to study and emulate Frampton’s musical style, a testament to the lasting impact of his artistry on Les Paul.

Peter Frampton playing his iconic Gibson Les Paul Phenix guitar onstage

Photo by jordanmcdonald on Unsplash

The enduring legacy of Peter Frampton and his custom Les Paul guitar epitomizes the symbiotic relationship that can exist between a musician and his instrument. This intertwining of a masterful artist’s technique and an extraordinary guitar has created some of the most memorable music in rock history.

The journey of the ‘Phoenix’ Les Paul is a testament to the guitar’s irreplaceable value and its deep-rooted connection with Frampton. The allure of this guitar, enhanced by its fascinating history and remarkable specifications, is an inextricable aspect of the narrative of rock music, just as Frampton’s unique style is an integral part of the guitar’s journey.

Peter Frampton’s Les Paul Custom

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