In my past few columns I have written about rare and expensive guitars that were separated from their owners and miraculously returned.

This might be the strangest lost guitar story.

English guitar player Peter Frampton had enjoyed an unparalleled rise to super-stardom in the late ’70s. His album “Frampton Comes Alive” is among the best-selling live albums of all time. He owned many guitars, but his most famous and prized axe was a highly customized 1954 Gibson Black Beauty.

In 1980, he was touring with his band in Central and South America. They had just played Caracas, Venezuela, and were about to enjoy a much needed day off. They would fly to Panama while their crew would pack the gear and send it by cargo plane to catch up a day later. Aboard the plane was Frampton’s Black Beauty guitar. Unfortunately, the cargo plane, fully loaded with fuel, crashed immediately after takeoff. The crash and ensuing fire killed all aboard and destroyed the band’s gear.

That would seem to be the end of my story except that 31 years later, Peter Frampton received a strange email from a luthier on the island of Curaçao, about 40 air miles from Caracas. The luthier said a young man brought in a badly neglected old Gibson guitar he said belonged to his father. The young man wanted to learn how to play and needed the guitar fixed. The dusty old relic happened to be a customized 1954 Gibson Black Beauty. The luthier had a strong suspicion that this might be the axe that was lost in the plane crash.

The luthier disassembled the guitar and took photos of all the parts. He sent this photographic evidence in his email to Frampton. The rock star replied to the email. It was without a doubt his missing 1954 Black Beauty.

After finding the missing guitar, Frampton was able to get more answers about the plane crash and the “destroyed” gear. He found out that three of his other guitars also survived the crash. An unknown person had stolen them from the crash site. The Black Beauty was sold to the father of the young man who had brought it to the luthier. The other guitars are lost to history.

Finding the guitar was only the first step toward Frampton’s being reunited with his instrument. The young man who brought it to the luthier did not want to part with the guitar. However, eventually he did the right thing. Next, the luthier was worried he might get into trouble being involved with stolen property.

The luthier personally knew the Curaçao Minister of Tourism and asked that he be the go-between in returning the guitar. So, the Government of Curaçao purchased the guitar and delivered it to Peter Frampton.

Frampton took his treasured axe to the Custom Shop at Gibson Guitar Corporation and they restored it to its former glory. The Custom Shop also took detailed measurements and photos of Frampton’s guitar and now markets an exact replica of the famous axe. Frampton’s guitar has been dubbed “The Phenix” because of its miraculous rise from the ashes.

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