If Frank Gambale were a DC Comics hero, he would surely have a big S on his chest. But that S would not stand for Superman. (That's taken, after all.) If you’re at all familiar with Gambale’s inimitable playing style—which you can hear on Chick Corea Elektric Band and Vital Information albums, as well as on the debut by Gambale’s new group, Soulmine—then, you guessed it: The S would stand for sweep.
Not to overstate matters, but when you sit down and jam with Gambale—as I do on episode 16 of my podcast, No Guitar Is Safe—you may find that the Grammy-winning guitarist’s uncanny ability to fire off fast, perfectly-in-time fusillades of notes via smooth pick sweeps across the strings does, at times, almost seem like a superpower.
The thing about Gambale’s “superpower,” though, is that some version of it is actually theoretically attainable by us mortals, because it was in no way a result of a Krypton birth, a gamma ray overdose, a radioactive spider bite, or any other sort of supernatural event such as might be a comic book superhero’s backstory.
Gambale’s singular style was born of a rare combination of three positive but utterly human traits: pronounced musical talent, unshakeable concentration, and a natural sense of entrepreneurship.
“I was pretty enterprising, even when I was young,” the Aussie guitar hero says in our interview. “At age 16, I had 40 guitar students.”
Two years before establishing that full teaching practice, Gambale also had the vision for his pioneering sweep picking style. Just 14 at the time, he could already see the possibilities of what sweep technique could offer, but needed to put his ideas into practice (literally). And through years of metronome work and highly focused ’shedding, he was able to develop the style to a degree that boggled the minds of even the most accomplished guitarists.
When Gambale arrived at GIT (now known as Musicians Institute) at age 21 or 22, instructors and students there were dumbfounded by the incongruity of what they were hearing vs. what they were seeing—they heard insanely fast flurries of notes, but saw a picking hand that barely seemed to move.
In fact, Gambale’s pick was barely moving. “No one had seen sweep picking back then,” says Gambale. “I had to write out the moves for them to understand what I was doing.”
This collection writings grew and ultimately became Gambale’s first technique book, Speed Picking. “The publisher wouldn’t let me call it ‘Sweep Picking,’ because nobody knew what sweep picking was yet, so we came up with ‘Speed Picking,’ a title they thought would work better. And they were probably right—it probably did work better [sales-wise], back then.”
Gambale not only became an instructor at Musicians Institute after graduating, he soon landed gigs touring with Jean Luc Ponty, and his hero, Chick Corea.
These days, Gambale is working on his sophomore album with Frank Gambale Soulmine (which features his wife, Boca, on lead vocals), and has launched a Web-based guitar school called Frank Gambale Online Guitar School (frankgambaleonlineguitarschool.com).
Gambale also has a line of signature model electric guitars from Kiesel (formerly Carvin) and signature amplifiers form DV Mark, as well as a signature model steel-string acoustic that will be unveiled at the Winter NAMM convention in January, 2016.
To hear Gambale’s techniques in action (including a demonstration of his clever “Gambale tuning,” which allows him to fret close-voiced piano-style clusters of notes and chords that aren’t achievable in standard tuning), as well as his guitars and amps, open your favorite Podcasts app and search for “No Guitar Is Safe,” or simply click any of the links below.