Frank Gambale, born on December 22, 1958, is an Australian jazz
fusion guitarist who has made many innovations in his field, such as the
techniques known as 'sweep picking' and 'economy picking'. He has released over
20 solo albums, from his influential debut Brave
New Guitar in 1985 to Soulmine in
2012 and Salve (2018), in addition to
having worked with Chick Corea in
his Elektric Band, with Maurizio Colonna and the GHS group. Among his best-known
admirers are people like Jerry Garcia,
Greg Howe and Pat Metheny.
Gambale has a signature model called the Frank Gambale Model (FGM) by Ibanez; another called AES-FG by Yamaha; and is also known for using semi-hollowed models by Kiesel. Guitars Exchange caught up with Frank Gambale during his stay in Madrid for the presentation of his new Signature model, made in collaboration with Cort.
Gambale’s outstanding albums include: Brave New Guitar (1985), Live! (1989), Coming To Your Senses (2000), Chick Corea Elektrik Band: Light Years (1987), and Eye of the Beholder (1988).
GE: Why are you here in Spain?
FG: I am here to do some guitar clinics and support my beautiful Lux Frank Gambale model by Cort. I’m in Madrid and then I’ll be in Barcelona, Budapest, Milan and Paris. We officially released this guitar last year and I’m delighted with it. Cort allowed me a lot of freedom to design it. I wanted a small body cutaway guitar of course as I like to have access to the upper frets. I wanted it to be easy to play and feel like an electric guitar; in fact I would say that it is an acoustic guitar for electric guitarists. One of the sticking points was that I wanted it the way I have always set up my acoustic instrument, with an extra light gauge and a plain third string. Because manufacturers are worried about fret buzz they put heavy strings and make it fairly high action, and for me if I play a guitar like that then after two minutes my hand is dead; I can’t do that kind of gauge of strings even after 51 years of playing. I wanted people to pick up this guitar and instantly fall in love with it. I test a guitar by playing the high strings because if I get a good solid tone on the highest string above the twelfth fret then I know I have got a good guitar. This set up from a factory level is unique; it feels beautiful to play. When it came to the pickup I said to Cort ‘what pick up does James Taylor use?’ Put that one in – and that’s what we did it is an LR Baggs. Cosmetically, the bridge saddle is black and so is the nut, which gives it a flow. I think a guitar should be beautiful as well as sound great. Most bridges are white plastic and that is like a slap in the head! God is in the details, they say. The idea for the inlays was taken from some art deco jewelry that I saw. My daughter suggested some ‘bling’ effect on the guitar – they are not real diamonds unfortunately, but I think it is elegant, and so I thought ‘let’s do that too’. The top is spruce, which is a beautiful wood, and I had to have something Australian so the back and sides are Australian blackwood, which is very similar to Koa, which I really like a lot. The neck is mahogany, the fretboard is ebony and there is an ebony veneer on the headstock too.
GE: Do you find inspiration in the ‘tool’?
FG: Yes I do; you have to have an instrument you love. And that pulls out inspiration for sure. I have a grand piano at home and that always inspires. A beautiful acoustic guitar is important because I sometimes write songs in a park. Where I live in LA there are a lot of parks and I often take my acoustic and sit under a tree with my pad and write there.
GE: How has music changed in the last 50 years?
FG: Music hasn’t changed but the music business has changed a lot. Back in the day albums were an event, they were like milestones in life. They had to smuggle me into clubs because I was too young and they used to say ‘don’t worry he won’t drink’. At that time the music industry was strong; now it is harder for musicians to survive. Since the Internet people have been file sharing, so it has been very difficult to get a return on any investment in an album and this has changed things a lot. People used to buy albums and now they stream.
GE: What is the most important thing to know when learning to play the guitar?
FG: There isn’t one [most] important thing, but I think a lot of guitar players play by ear and I think that has its limitations. It is like going to school and not learning to read your spoken language; you wouldn’t have the same understanding . You get the full understanding when you get to read. Theory is important; I have an online school and we have a course on blues, and sweep picking – to me learning harmony is what inspires me and shows me what is possible. It is a shame more guitarists don’t learn more theory, in a systematic way. Think of music theory in terms of colours and you have a gigantic palette. Once you learn it, the application is infinite.
GE: What about your next step?
FG: We are building a catalogue of great courses online. When I went to [guitar school] in Hollywood it was 3,000 dollars to attend the course; now it is 30,000 per semester. I can’t imagine how young musicians [do it]. So one of my motivations is to offer my knowledge at a fraction of what it would cost to go to a bricks and mortars school. One of the beautiful things about the Internet is it does give us easy access to things.
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