According to the New York Times, the story goes that the black Gibson Les Paul was on board a November 1980 cargo plane that crashed on takeoff in Caracas, Venezuela, on its way to Panama, where Frampton was to perform.
Although it was supposedly destroyed in the crash the guitar was pulled from the wreckage and later sold to a musician on the Dutch Caribbean island of Curaçao.
The guitar was returned to Frampton in Nashville last month after a two-year negotiation involving the local musician who had the guitar, a customs agent who repairs guitars in his spare time, a diehard Frampton fan in the Netherlands and the head of the island’s tourist board.
"For 30 years, it didn’t exist – it went up in a puff of smoke as far as I was concerned,” Frampton said in a telephone interview.
Frampton originally borrowed the guitar to play the Fillmore in San Francisco with Humble Pie when his own guitar kept feeding back during solos. "I used it for both sets and my feet didn’t touch the ground,” he recalled, saying he thought, "This is the best guitar I have ever played.” He offered to buy the guitar off the fan, who instead insisted on giving it to him.
He played it on the Humble Pie albums "Rock On” and "Rocking the Fillmore,” and on all his solo records. He also used it in sessions with George Harrison, Harry Nilsson and John Entwistle.
Most significantly though, it was the guitar he played on the 1976 solo album "Frampton Comes Alive!” one of the best-selling live albums of all time. "It’s all I ever used for 10 years,” he said. "That was it. That was part of me.”
The guitar surfaced after the unnamed guitar player who had bought the battered guitar and used it for the past few decades took it to Donald Valentina, a Curaçao customs agent who collects and repairs old guitars in his spare time, to get fixed. Valentina noticed the unusual triple pick-up set up and the various burn marks and, suspecting that this might be the guitar that Frampton had played on Comes Alive, he contacted a die hard Frampton fan friend in Holland who concurred that it might be the guitar.
For two years Mr. Valentina tried to persuade the local guitarist to sell the instrument, and finally, in November, facing a financial problem, he finally agreed. But Mr. Valentina did not have money and, afraid another buyer might scoop up the guitar, he approached Ghatim Kabbara at the tourist board.
Mr. Kabbara, an amateur guitarist himself, agreed to put up the board’s funds - about $5,000 - to purchase the guitar. He and Mr. Valentina then took the guitar to Frampton themselves. "I thought the right thing to do was to give him back his guitar,” he said. "This guitar was him. The whole 1970s was this guitar.”
Frampton was reunited with his favourite guitar last month and he hopes to play it at next months shows at the Beacon Theater in New York. It is currently receiving a few repairs at the Gibson Custom Shop, although he will be leaving the burn marks and scrapes intact "I want it to have its battle scars," he said.