Q&A with Guitarist Frank Gambale: ‘Anything with Strings’

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Frank Gambale onstage at the 2017 Uppsala International Guitar Festival in Sweden

(Photo: Bob Rose, Official Uppsala International Guitar Festival Photographer)

“Play the melody like a great singer.” That’s guitarist Frank Gambale talking about the importance of putting your heart and soul into performance during his late-afternoon workshop on Oct. 12, at this year’s Uppsala International Guitar Festival in Sweden.

That evening, Gambale and his band—featuring the vocalist Boca (who is his wife)—played the Big Hall during an impressive concert with strong solos and lots of singing all around. Indeed, the guitarist embodied his “play the melody” idea onstage in memorable fashion.

Born in Canberra, Australia, the 58-year-old Grammy-winner has been based in Los Angeles for the past 37 years. Having released 20 albums under his own name, Gambale’s work with others includes Chick Corea’s Elektric Band and Return to Forever IV, and Steve Smith’s Vital Information.

A graduate with honors from the Guitar Institute of Technology, he’s been head of the guitar department at the Los Angeles Music Academy, and has produced his own instructional videos and books.

DownBeat sat down with Gambale in the festival’s Konsert & Kongress building just prior to his workshop.

Tell us about the new album that’s in the works.

It’s a different project for me. We’re taking it even further this time. I love to sing. My wife, Boca, sings, and we write music together. She writes the lyrics mostly and I write the music.

Have you two recorded together before?

Yes, on our previous album, Soulmine [Wombat Records, 2011]. On this second album, I think we’re going to call it Salve. And it’s different than the band on Soulmine. The thing about this band is we were really keen to find players who could sing. So, five out of the six guys in this band sing, and we have really solid vocal harmonies. It’s set for a January release [on Alfi Records]. Next year will be all based on following this record.

As a clinician and educator for many years, what’s important to you?

I created a way to play the guitar that’s become part of the lexicon of guitar techniques called sweep picking. It’s not for strumming; it’s for single, melodic lines. It’s a technique that evolved from the desire to play a lot of horn and keyboard lines on the guitar. Some of the things those instruments do are virtually impossible with a standard, alternate kind of picking on the guitar.

So, it’s mainly about single lines?

Yes. It’s like minimalistic picking but the notes are still flowing. A part of my seminar will be telling people about this technique. I have an online school at frankgambaleonlineguitarschool.com. I wrote my first book, Sweep Picking, when I was a student at GIT. And I’ve just released a 10-hour course called The Definitive Sweep Picking Course, which addresses all the developments that I’ve made since the ’80s.

But it can be applied to all kinds of guitars?

Anything with strings, I always say [chuckles]. As long as you’re picking. It’s magical when you have three adjacent strings. Why would you have one note on each string where you’d have to make an alternate movement? You make one movement that separates the notes. And that’s the essence of the technique.

It looks like the right hand is just floating, but it isn’t. It’s like having a sixth gear in a nice new BMW; it’s going really fast down the motorway but it’s completely relaxed. I’ve found a way to make an arpeggio easy to play. Because arpeggios are really hard on the guitar. But I’ve found a way to play at any velocity. Not that it has to be fast. When you play it slower, you don’t really have to use the technique at all.

But when you want that velocity and stay calm … like with horn players, when Coltrane was doing sheets of sound, you can’t do that on a guitar without something else.

My next online course is an 18-hour harmony and theory course. I’ve been a piano player since I was 17. I love the piano, I love the close voicings. I write on the piano a lot. I was frustrated with that on the guitar: A close interval you can do in two notes next to each other on the piano is obviously simple; but on the guitar, it requires a big step to play that semi-tone interval, a half-step. And if you do most chords, like typical keyboard voicings that are so simple on the keyboard, are almost note-to-note impossible on the guitar. But now I can play chords that a piano player can play, within reason. DB



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