Frank Gambale is a Grammy winning guitarist, composer, guitar technique innovator, and author of several instructional books and dvds. His career spans over 30 years and in guitar circles he is best known for the creation of the “Gambale Sweep Picking Technique”, which allows him to maximize his picking efficiency and play two octave arpeggio’s almost effortlessly.
I recently checked out his “Learn the Blues” video which we’ll talk about later in this post, but in the video he talks about putting feeling into the notes and then he demonstrates playing through a “less is more” sort of concept. Great insight for beginners and beyond.
Frank is currently on a world tour with the critically acclaimed Return to Forever IV with other music legends including Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Lenny White, and Jean-luc Ponty.
Frank was kind enough to take some time from his busy schedule to answer some questions about his latest tour and his amazing sweep picking technique among other subjects that I think you’ll find interesting.
Interview with Frank Gambale
1. Your RTF IV 2011 tours kicks off in the states before you head off to Japan and South Korea. What is it about playing outside the US that you really enjoy and are there any drawbacks?
FG: One of the greatest experiences you can have in life is to travel to other countries and get an understanding of how other people live, eat, react and behave. It’s mind-expanding. I have been fortunate to have been just about everywhere on the planet and played in front of audiences all over. I think there is a high level of appreciation and respect for the arts, especially in Japan and Korea. They listen intently and afterward applaud wildly. The only drawback in my mind is the journey “to” foreign countries is often long and the jet lag very real. Although once you’re there, it’s a wonderful experience.
2. How did you get involved with Carvin Guitars? What is it about their guitars that led you to endorse them?
FG: I was introduced to Carvin by my bass player friend Bunny Brunel. He has had a signature bass model with them for many years. He told me they were nice people. He was right. They are nice, and also talented and enthusiastic too!
Some years back Carvin and I got together to design a preamp which I named the “Tone Navigator”. It’s an incredible sounding preamp. They made a limited run of them and they sold very well. I was not able to do a guitar with them at that time because I was still under contract with Yamaha. When that expired I went straight to Mark Kiesel at Carvin with the desire to design a new model. He was very excited to create one also. The result, after about 18 months of work and 6 prototypes, is my dream guitar, the FG1.
Carvin makes superb instruments with the highest quality woods and state-of-the-art machinery and engineering. The FG1 is the most beautiful guitar I have ever had the privilege to help design. I have really been playing the heck out of it on this world tour with Return To Forever IV and people are constantly asking me after the show with great enthusiasm…”What is that guitar you’re playing? It sounds amazing.”…and I proudly chime in…”my new model, the FG1 with Carvin.”
They are a wonderful, family-run, company and I am delighted to work with them. The latest version of the guitar I received only a few days ago is a version with a Wilkinson tremolo. This innovative instrument will be added to the FG1 lineup, which will total three versions of the guitar. One is standard with stop tailpiece. The second has the hex pickup and is Roland midi-ready. Now the third is the tremolo option version.
3. When and where did you first meet Chick and how did the idea for “Return to Forever” come to be?
FG: I met Chick for the first time in an audition for the Elektric band. It was October 1986. There were many guitar players who wanted the gig but only 4 guys were physically auditioned. I was the second to play. I played that audition like it was my last performance on Earth. Chick jumped up off his keyboard after one tune and said…”your amp will face across stage pointing in my direction…” and I’m thinking…’this wonderful man understands my playing…he gets it!’
We have played together and been friends ever since. It has truly been a pleasure and an honor to play with him all these years. Chick called me to play in RTF IV. I am delighted to play with these amazing men, all of them outstanding icons and stylists on their instruments.
4. What drove you to develop your sweep picking technique and take it to another level? Was it a sound you were after or ability to play specific piece, or something else?
FG: I started developing the Sweep Picking Technique when I was about 13. I was listening mostly to piano and sax players. The lines played on those instruments are often very hard or impossible on guitar with standard alternate picking. I wanted to play all those cool lines, plus the musical concepts I was hearing in my head on guitar.
I believed there had to be a way to do it. Led by my desire to play the notes I was hearing in my head, I realized that it was far more logical to play three notes on three adjacent strings for example, with one picking stroke following through like a brush stroke…or Sweep. It made no sense to me to play up down up for such a phrase.
This was a breakthrough. I continued to develop this concept and I learned to do it on all strings everywhere, and at anytime. When people first heard me on a larger scale in the mid 80s, nobody could understand what I was doing. To the viewing audience, the right hand picking seemed magical and didn’t seem to correlate with all the notes they were hearing. Some folks call it economy picking, for obvious reasons…it’s a lot less motion in the right hand and is the absolute minimum number of picking strokes for the maximum number of notes. In clinics and in my book and video on the subject I share a Cmaj7 arpeggio over two octaves. With regular alternate picking it would take 17 alternate picking strokes to play the 17 notes. With the sweep picking technique it takes only seven! Seven picking strokes to pick ALL 17 notes!
It appears that my book and DVD Speed Picking on “Sweeping” has become the standard instructional material on the subject. The interesting thing is that at the time of its release, the publisher wouldn’t go with the title Sweep Picking. They didn’t think that title would sell because no one knew what “sweeping’ was! The technique is widely used today and is part of the guitar lexicon of techniques. I am very proud to have made a major contribution to the instrument I love so much.
5. I thought that your video “Learn the Blues” was great in that it shows how a guitarist can put a lot of feeling into their playing to communicate musically. Do you think it’s important for guitarist to be conscious of developing their own sound? What separates a good and great guitarist in your mind?
FG: I think, more times than not that, on the average, there is a disconnect when it comes to learning about music and theory on the guitar. I truly believe that education is power. Many people think that if they learn too much theory they will loose their feel or end up playing only jazz. I think of theory and harmony in terms of a color palate and not a musical style. I like to know exactly what I’m doing. I like to have choices. I also like to be free to play and express everything and anything on my instrument and not be limited. Music is limitless and I love to fly when I play.
I also think that having a blues base is great. The blues teaches you how to get the emotion ( feel ) out of the instrument and how to make it cry and scream. To me a great guitarist is one who has done their homework and can play with anyone in any style, has an amazing tone and touch, can give people goose bumps when they play, can play melodically and soulfully through any chord changes and shows up to the gig on time, gets along with others and takes regular showers!!
6. Do you still have family in Australia? Do you make it back often? Any must-see’s for those taking a trip there?
FG: RTF IV kicked off the world tour in Australia. Many members of my family were present at the iconic Sydney Opera House show in February. My dear brother Nunzio is as much a fan of RTF as I am. He has been a major support to me through out my life and played an integral role in my coming to America. He was able to see my life come full circle that night and he was very proud. It was one of the most nostalgic nights of my entire career.
Australia is a beautiful country, which has been on a steady growth path for 30 years and is a successful and thriving country. It is very evident that Australia is doing well when we visited on that trip.
I love it and I may even end up there again one day. Must-sees are of course Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. If you have more time, definitely Uluru, the big red rock in the center and far north Queensland starting in Cairns. You have rainforest on the land side, and the Great Barrier Reef on the sea side…it’s an incredible region.
7. Your new recording “SOULMINE”, due out in February 2012, features singer-songwriter BOCA, how did you meet up with her and decide to work together?
FG: Boca is the love of my life, my soul mate. We met about 6 years ago and have been vacuum-sealed ever since. Boca is a fine musician who started piano at 7, and has been singing and playing professionally since she was 13. She’s Canadian and has Italian immigrant parents much like myself. She studied music and graduated from Humber College in Toronto…she knows her stuff. She already had a wonderful album out before I met her. She has a magnificent voice and her writing is amazing with soulful and thought-provoking lyrics.
The Soulmine album reflects all our favorite elements from soul, funk, groove, deep messages, and fiery passion. We wrote all the songs together and the result is the album I have wanted to make for 30 years! I am very excited about it and can’t wait to tour and play the music live.
8. Frank, I read on your website that you’ve been asked …”what kind of pick do you use?” … a ton of times. Are there questions that beginners ask you that you think really shouldn’t be a priority for them?
FG: That’s an interesting question. I think it’s always interesting to find out what your favorite player uses to get their sound but ultimately, the picks and strings and equipment used are only part of the picture. What is being played and the note choices and feel and intuition and musicality and maturity are all important factors that go into making a great musician and artist.
9. Guitar tabs are hugely popular these days. What are your thoughts on them as a learning tool and also … as an artist … do feel that free tablature websites do a disservice to the artist?
FG: Tablature is the only way to display where something is played on the guitar because you can often play the same exact note in 6 different places. So, that’s important but it does not substitute the need to learn to read music. Music, the written standard notation is truly universal, tablature is only for guitar. Reading both and understanding both is ideal.
Like any transcription, it’s important to listen to the actual recording. Often, the transcriptions are not completely accurate. Ideally, using your ear and hearing the phrasing and timing from the artist brings the music off the paper.
Also, as I mentioned earlier, tab is only guitar. I developed a whole new way to play the guitar, and that came about by the desire to play keyboard and saxophone lines on guitar. You don’t see TAB transcriptions of sax and keyboard solos, but you will see tons of musically notated solos from other instrument. So again, learning to read real music notation is preferred.
I have never showed up to a Chick Corea, or other artist’s recording session and been handed tab to read for the tune!