If you pick up Frank Gambale’s latest record,
Soulmine [Wombat], expecting to hear a batch of interesting tunes with
fiery electric guitar featured throughout, you won’t be let down. Gambale—
known for his improvisatory prowess and impeccable technique—
stretches out on nearly every tune here, and even takes a couple of
guitar-synth solos. What may surprise you, however, is that this is just
as much a vocal record as it is a blowing record. Gambale collaborated
with singer Boca to co-write all ten of the new album’s tracks, which
range from Santana-esque (“Forbidden Kiss”) to uptown funk (“Keep
Leadin’ Me On”) to sophisticated balladry (“Enchanted Love”).
This isn’t the first time Gambale has collaborated
with singers. “From when I first
started playing guitar in Australia right up until
the time I moved to America in 1982, all the
groups I was in were vocal groups,” says the
guitarist. It’s a part of my history that most
people don’t know, I guess. I cut my teeth on
vocal music.” Gambale originally came to the
States to study guitar at Musicians Institute.
Before he knew it, he was playing in Jean-Luc
Ponty’s group and then Chick Corea’s Elektric
Band. These high-profile gigs cemented
his reputation as a player’s player, even while
his interest in songwriting and vocal music
remained keen. There are, in fact, vocal tunes
tucked in amongst the instrumentals on many
of Gambale’s albums. In particular, his 1991
release Note Worker features vocals on nearly
half of the tracks.
If you’ve been following Gambale’s career
long enough, an unexpected turn such as Soulmine
will probably not come as much of a surprise.
At any given time, he always has a couple
of different projects going—both electric and
acoustic bands—and he uses each record as an
opportunity to explore different areas of his artistic
interest. “It’s a risky thing to do,” he says,
“but it keeps it interesting for me. Plus, this is
one I’ve been thinking about for many years. It
was a question of whether I should be the singer
or I should get a great singer-songwriter to collaborate
with. And that’s how it ended up.”
How did you and Boca write the songs for Soulmine?
Boca is a gifted songwriter on her own.
When she writes, she usually writes the music
and melody at the same time. That’s generally
how I write, too, putting the words in later. I
was mostly giving her music and melody for
these songs. There were a couple of exceptions
where we wrote stuff together—like “Forbidden
Kiss.” She had a melody that she’d written
a long time before. It was a bit rambling, so we
tightened it up together and I reharmonized it.
You’ve got some rich tones here, and interesting
combinations of tones. “Keep Leadin’ Me
On” has a gritty rhythm guitar track as well as
dirty lead guitar on top. How did you keep those
distinct in the mix?
That was the last tune we mixed and absolutely
the hardest one. When you’re mixing
and mixing, after a while it gets difficult to tell
if you’re doing the right thing. I always bring
the mixes out and listen to them on different
systems to get perspective—even though we
mix with these beautiful Tannoy reference
speakers, which are about as flat as you can get.
One of the best ways to get definition on different
parts is panning. Moving something from
the middle to 2 o’clock, or back to 10 o’clock
in the stereo field, can give it more of a wide
view. That’s what we did with “Keep Leadin’ Me
On. The piano and the rhythm guitar track are
opposing, rhythmically. I panned them pretty
hard left and right. Lead vocals are center, and
my lead guitar is slightly off center.
So you rely on panning as much as, say, EQ?
Hopefully, things don’t need a lot of EQ if
they’re recorded well. But sometimes when
you put instruments together, you don’t
know how they’re going to respond to one
another. There might be a chorus effect in
a keyboard patch that clouds things on the
guitar. Or there can be conflicting frequencies.
EQ, separation, and compression can help
to try and make it all come alive.
Are you using pedals, plug-ins, or pure amp
sound for your overdriven tones?
I recorded my amp for most of the lead
tones. I’m a little old-school like that. I usually
use a close mic, like a Shure SM58. Then
I’ll put some sort of nice mic about 20 feet
away, up in the air, to get a very slight delay—
maybe ten milliseconds. When I mix those
two together, it’s a sound I haven’t been able
to recreate any other way. It’s slightly fat. You
get the ambience of the room as well as all
the detail of what’s going on at the speaker.
Do you have one go-to amp that’s always
I used my signature DV Mark 1x12 combo
amp quite a lot on this recording for distortion
sounds. I also used my stage rig. When I get off
the road, I bring the rack into my studio and use
it. It’s got a Carvin Tone Navigator preamp—
which I helped design—a DV Mark power amp,
and a T.C. Electronic G-Force for multi-effects.
That’s pretty much it. I don’t like to use too
much between the guitar and the speakers.
What speaker setup do you use with that
Two of my signature series DV Mark openback
2x12 cabs. DV Mark makes their own speakers,
and they’re very warm sounding to my ear.
What was your primary guitar for this album?
I used my Carvin signature FG1 for pretty
much all the lead guitar tones—although I
think I played “Be the Change” on my Strat.
There’s a very different tone on “Open Your
Mind” and “Saved Me from Myself.” Is that a hollowbody
with flatwound strings?
Oh, yeah. That guitar is a 1968 Gibson
Johnny Smith. I’ll only put flatwounds on
jazz guitars. They give you a different thud
than roundwounds or even half-rounds. And
there’s minimal finger noise, if any. If you’ve
never tried it, you’ll be amazed at how cool
it sounds. With your bridge pickup, you can
get incredible clean sounds. I’ve even used
flats for clean rhythm sounds.
Is there an example of that on the Soulmine?
I used to do it more on the Vital Information
records. There’s an album called Where We
Come From, which was all done with flatwounds
on an Ibanez GB10. I didn’t actually do that
on this record. I used a Strat for some of the
rhythm stuff. There’s a track called “All in the
Game” with a very funky rhythm sound. You
can hear a slight 12-string or octave thing on it.
Right. Where is that coming from?
A Roland VG-99. That was actually a scratch
track. I always make sure I have a good sound
when doing my home pre-production in Pro
Tools—even if I’m thinking it’s going to be
a scratch—because I end up keeping a lot of
stuff. Quite a number of the solos on Soulmine
were first takes. Even the synth-guitar solos.
“All in the Game” was off the cuff. I thought,
“I can’t make it any better than that, so I’ll just
leave it.” Sometimes you get lucky.
Has that been your approach over the years—
to do spontaneous solos in the studio?
It depends. Sometimes I’m terribly nitpicky.
If I’m doing an overdub, I’ll do it over and over
until I get something that I like. I won’t even
proceed unless the first four bars are great,
or at least something that pleases me. The
opening has to be right. Then I’ll keep playing.
What are you using for synth guitar on “All
in the Game”?
One of my Carvin guitars has the Roland
MIDI-compatible pickup built in and the GK
connector. I plugged that into a Roland GI-20
MIDI converter, straight into a Korg Triton
Do you have to play any differently for the
converter to track well?
They track pretty well these days. It’s
gotten better over the years, but they’re a
long way from perfect. Still, I got some interesting
solos. I’ve played “All in the Game”
for keyboard players and they’ll say, “That
definitely wasn’t triggered from a keyboard.”
They could tell because there are some odd
things. There are some higher notes that I
kept repeating because they were doing this
funny thing. I love that kind of grit in the solo.
I have to ask you this. I interviewed Pat
Metheny for GP several years ago, and he said
he sometimes wished he could study technique
with you. Did he ever call you for lessons?
No, he never did—but the invitation is
open [laughs]. I do remember seeing that
quote in Guitar Player.
I have a lot of technique, but technique
has never been the focus of my playing. It has
always been in pursuit of a cool musical idea
that may or may not be difficult to play. What’s
important is the musical concept. As long as
you can get your idea out, it doesn’t really
matter how you play it. I learned that early on
in my career. When I was preparing to audition
for Chick Corea, I listened to a lot of live
recordings of the band with Scott Henderson
on guitar. I listened to Scott playing the parts
and heard it was mostly legato. He was playing
the notes in an entirely different way than the
way I ended up playing them. I realized that
Chick didn’t care how Scott was playing the
notes. All he cared about was that the notes
were being performed with passion and grace.
I guess we’re always striving to better ourselves.
In that sense—great—more power to
you if you want to take lessons, or whatever,
to improve certain aspects of your playing.
That’s an important thing to do. Most people
would say about Pat Metheny, “Boy, I wish I
could play like that.” Pat doesn’t need anybody’s
technique at all. He’s got his own,
and he plays beautifully, and that’s it.