Sunday, July 6, 2003

Where Frampton comes alive

The resident rock star's new basement is loaded with some of his favorite things - and he gave us an eye-popping tour

By Larry Nager
The Cincinnati Enquirer


Inside Frampton's home studio
Cincinnati's biggest resident rock star can tell you there are certain benefits to having made the best-selling live album of all time (Frampton Comes Alive, 18 million and counting).

We thought it would be better if he showed you instead.

So, as Peter Frampton, 53, readies the release of his first CD of new material in nine years, we visited the British-born singer/guitarist at the Indian Hill home he shares with his Cincinnati-born wife, Tina, and their daughter Mia, 7. Married in 1996, the couple moved to Cincinnati in 2000 and into the Indian Hill home in 2001.

There, in the plush basement studio Frampton built for the recording of his new album, he showed off a few of his favorite things. Here, in no particular order, is a list of Frampton's beloved belongings.

Solid State Logic SSLE Board: That's my biggest toy," he says of the massive, 56-channel mixing board that fills the control room of his basement recording studio. It wasn't easy getting it into the room, he recalls.

"They finished the whole studio except for the window and the window ledge, so that we could get it in here."

But the prospect of seeing the beloved and extremely delicate piece of equipment hoisted through the hole in his house was too nerve-wracking for him.

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"I left. I went out when they did it. I arranged to have an appointment elsewhere. I couldn't handle it; I just didn't want to see that."

Humble Pie guitar: That's what Frampton calls his vintage black solid-body Gretsch. As a true Beatles fan, he prized the twangy Gretsch sound George Harrison got in imitation of his idol, Carl Perkins.

"I bought it in 1968 and played that all through (his years in the band) Humble Pie," Frampton says. "It doesn't have a serial number in it, so please write in and let me know how old it is. But it's gotta be '64, '65, I imagine."

Ampeg amplifiers: He loves the heavier Marshall Amp sound - the blues-rock tone standard set by Eric Clapton in the '60s - and has a couple of classics: a '50s no-frills model and a dead-mint early '60s Echo Twin (as well as a photo taken with company founder Jim Marshall that hangs in his studio kitchen).

But Frampton has a sentimental attachment to the less muscular Ampegs.

"I started off using Ampegs with Humble Pie and it just was a great sound for lead and it was really my sound for Humble Pie. And when I went solo, I started using it onstage but it was too quiet, so we went to Marshalls, and then after a while, I decided I missed the sound of the Ampeg so I had it onstage out back. On Comes Alive, the Ampeg is featured there 50-50 with the Marshalls."

His favorite model was the Ampeg Echo Twin. He recently found one that had been in the closet since its owner bought it new about 40 years ago. Oddly enough, he found it up I-75 at Fretware Vintage Guitars in Franklin. The amp is featured in a recent issue of 20th Century Guitar magazine.

Neumann U-47 microphone: The vintage '50s tube-driven Neumann microphone remains the platinum standard for recording. "That's the one," Frampton says. His is even more rare, as the German-made mike bears the logo of Neumann's parent company, Telefunken. A similar microphone was priced at $8,500 at a vintage dealer site on the Internet.

Autographed baseball: Frampton and former Yankee and Red Paul O'Neill work out in the same Cincinnati gym and, not surprisingly, the rock-loving baseball star and baseball-loving rock star struck up a friendship.

When O'Neill checked out the studio, he brought the ball - autographed by the 2001 Yankees - as a housewarming gift.

"It's my prize possession," he says. "It's got the whole Yankee team on it, the World Series team, which, unfortunately, they lost. I've been a baseball fan since New York, when I first lived there (in the '70s), and of course, the Reds wiped us out in '76 and then '77; '78 we won two years running.

"So that really got me into it, when we were winning. It's about the only sport that I really enjoy. I'm not a big football fan, I don't quite get it. And I never really liked soccer that much either, so I wasn't a big sports fan."

The singer got to live a dream in June when he sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" at Great American Ball Park, as his old home team played his new home team.

"I was hoping to do it Opening Day, but ... this was even better, because it was the Yankees and the Reds. I can't not be a fan of the Yankees, but I live here now, so the Reds are my team."

John Lennon doll: "He was sort of sent to me 'cause they (the doll company) wanted to do a Frampton doll like that. I didn't really want that, but I did like John and he sort of has blessed the sessions ever since."

Frampton model Gibson guitar: "That's No. 3, the prototype. We worked on three guitars; the first two don't really play that well, they were just basically trying different things. And that one is basically the culmination of all the nine months' work."

One of the best things about it, he adds, is that all Frampton model Les Paul Gibson guitars are built by the Gibson Custom shop, the company's boutique division, and are identically made to his personal specs.

"If I go into Portland, Maine, into the local store there, or I go into Los Angeles into Westwood Music, they should feel and sound exactly the same."

One of the unique elements of the guitar is its sound chambers, which make the maple-and-mahogany body lighter, easier to wear around your neck for a long night's show.

The studio window: The window in his recording studio looks out on the trees in his yard.

"Recording studios never have windows, but I wanted to be able to see outside. It makes it easier to spend so much time down here."

Ampex tape recorder: Most of the recording process is digital, but Frampton's final mixes are done the classic analog way, on a vintage Ampex ATR reel-to-reel tape recorder.

"It just is the right machine, the machine of choice for mixing. I swapped my old 28-channel board for the Ampex and now the Ampex is worth more. It's the electronics, you can't get the electronics anymore. The motor on this is like for a lawn mower, a powerful lawn mower."

And while Frampton is equally at home working in the virtual world of his two-screen computer recording deck, he says there's something comforting about working with old-fashioned tape.

"Look at this, the edit block, Q-tips and alcohol (for cleaning the heads), editing tape, demagnetizer."

Skyline Chili clock: "Yeah, that's a great one. Buz (Buse of the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce) gave that to me."

However, Frampton, a former vegetarian who now eats fish and poultry, admits that his favorite local junk food is Graeter's black raspberry chip ice cream.

Framptone gear: Slightly built and energetic, there's a boyish quality to Frampton. But never more than when he's talking gear. Let the tech-head in Frampton come alive and he's 16 again.

A few years ago, when Frampton was unable to find certain pieces of equipment, he formed the Framptone company with bass player John Regan and designer Mark Snyder.

Framptone makes an updated version of the famous "talkbox" that Frampton uses on his classics, "Do You Feel Like We Do?" and "Show Me The Way" (as well as his game-stopping version of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame"). Framptone also makes an amp-switching box, which allows players to move between the distinctive tones of two or three different amplifiers.

"This switcher doesn't degrade the sound at all, which is the reason for doing it in the first place. I still haven't made any money, but that's not the point. It's putting out good gear - at least that's what they tell me (laughs)."


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