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What is Sweep picking?

It is important to note not only WHAT it is but how it came to be, what it is…

Before Frank Gambale, Sweeping was the sleeping giant. The general consensus on Sweep was that it couldn't be played in time or consistently. Whenever attempted, guitarists played one or two small sweep licks but that was it.

Frank not only believed in it, he has developed it diligently since 1975 (prior to this, he used alternate picking for at least 10 years).

Gambale is considered the first guitarist to truly develop “Sweep Picking Technique” to its fullest potential. He exposed it to the world. He Sweeps effortlessly far and above simple minor or a major arpeggios, but right through complex changes, fully utilizing “The Sweep Picking Technique” in mostly (but not limited to) advanced harmony and throughout equally challenging rhythmic variations.

Prior to Frank, no one ever did what he did nor was anyone doing what he was doing at the time. It was never seen or heard of and certainly never mastered!

Part of his huge contribution was Gambale’s development of smaller internal 2,3 and 4 string uses of the Sweep Picking Technique, making it a style. In other words, using it ALL the time as opposed to a lick here or there.

It was Frank Gambale who tested and proved to the world that “Sweep Picking” was a viable and wonderful new approach to playing the guitar - an approach that provided liberty, fluidity and ease of playing to create high speeds and previously impossible arpeggios and so much more versatility on the fretboard.

Gambale was the first to publish a full account of the “Sweep Picking Technique.” This was done in the book "Speed Picking," (Hal Leonard publications) written in 1983 while he was still a student at GIT. It was first published in 1985. Gambale wanted to call the book "Sweep Picking" but the publisher refused because they thought that no one would know what it meant. There was no known precedent.

Gambale soon followed that book with the Video/DVD "Monster Licks and Speed Picking", now published by Alfred Publishing. Again, in the late '80s, the original publishers (DCI) didn't want to use "Sweep Picking" in the title for the same reasons - they thought no one would know what it meant.

The fact remains however, that the subject matter was and has always been and still IS “Sweep Picking Technique." Gambale outlined the basic principles that he had thoroughly developed which are used in every instruction of the subject in all other publications to date. Great guitarists such as George Benson and Pat Metheny, Alan Holdsworth and Jerry Garcia (to name a few) have all openly credited Frank Gambale as being the "grand master" of Sweep Picking.

“Gambale’s Sweep Picking Technique” is now part of the guitar's historic development and his enormous contribution to today's guitar lexicon. The floodgates have been opened!

Guitar players all over the world are incorporating Sweep Picking as defined by Frank Gambale whether they are conscious of his contribution or not. Today, Sweep Picking is being incorporated into most guitar player’s arsenals as well as being combined with other techniques such as tapping for example resulting in vast new directions.

Yeah but what is it? Basically, most guitarists learn alternate picking ( picking up and down all the time regardless of what you’re playing ). While this a good and standard technique, it is certainly not the most practical or efficient in all circumstances. HERE IT IS: Sweeping means using a single picking stroke up or down across two or more strings. It means that when playing, one must make sure that the last note on a string, the pick is poised in the direction of the next string containing the next notes. Sweeping is a combination of alternate and sweeping techniques. The reason is simple. It is impossible to sweep on one string!!! So, on a single string, one still needs to alternate pick.

The above explanation is accurate for when one picks every note. Of course guitarists nowadays are combining sweeping, tapping, hammer-ons and pull-offs all at the same time. Sweeping is incredibly efficient and doesn’t waste any picking-hand motion. It enables different kinds of phrases to be played on the guitar. Two-octave arpeggios are a breeze once sweeping is mastered.

What guitars do you use?

I am using mostly my new FG1 guitars from CARVIN. Beautiful instruments. Check it out on my gear page. I have one set up with flat wound strings and the other with light stainless steel D'Addarios. The one with flat wounds is perfect for jazz.

I have bought some vintage guitars. One is a 1968 Johnny Smith with 2 pickups. It is absolutely mint. Even the case is in mint condition due to the fact that the previous owner had a zip-up case cover. I used this guitar on 2 songs on the Soulmine CD, Saved Me From Myself and Open Your Mind I am also using a very cool 1968 Trini Lopez Deluxe thats black and probably the only one. They're usually cherry sunburst. It's a wonderful instrument.

For acoustic stuff live I am using the MARTIN GPCPA4 which is quite beautiful, even response guitar with a wonderful neck and cool electronic features too.

What amps do you use?

I have a Frank Gambale signature series amp with DV Mark, The 1x12 combo is out and available at Guitar Center online and Musicians Friend online. There is also an amp head called Ampli-tudein the series which is to be released at NAMM 2013. It's a 300 watt head with a digital front end and analog amp. It has effects built in also. It sounds wonderful to me and I am very excited about it. There is also a signature speaker cab that has 2x12 in a vertical cab with a slant for the top speaker and also a 4x12 slant from speaker cab. The cabs are also out and available at Guitar Center and Musicians Friend online. All these amps and speaker cabs have my signature blue/grey snakeskin print covering. They look as beautiful as they sound!

What kind of picks do you use?

I use 1mm (regular heavy) triangle picks similar to the Fender bass pick. All three sides are the same so you get three picks for the price of one!!! And, because it’s big, you have a better chance of hitting the string!! ( sorry folks, I’ve answered that question too many times!! ).

What are your top 10 favourite and influential albums of all time?

Only 10 eh!! Well here goes. These aren’t in order of preference OK.

1. Spectrum - Billy Cobham.
2. Romantic Warrior - Return to Forever.
3. Aurora - Jean-Luc Ponty.
4. All the Steely Dan albums.
5. One Size Fits All - Frank Zappa.
6. From Me To You - George Duke
7. I Am - Earth,Wind & Fire.
8. Live-Dead - Grateful Dead
9. Crosby, Stills and Nash.
10. Bluesbreaker - John Mayall
11. Blues from Laurel Canyon - John Mayall
12. Dingly Dell - Lindisfarne
13. Aqualung - Jethro Tull
14. Benefit - Jethro Tull
15. Where Have I Known You Before - Return To Forever.
16. Birds Of Fire - John McLaughlin
17. Desperado - The Eagles.
18. Super Session Live - Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper.
19. Are You Experienced - Jimi Hendrix.
20. Ivan Lins- just about everything
21. Songs In The Key Of Life, A Time To Love-Stevie Wonder
22. Hourglass – James Taylor.
23. Songs Without Words – Dudley Moore.
22. Breakin’ Away - Al Jarreau
24. Fog On The Tyne - Lindisfarne.
25. Sgt.Pepper - The Beatles
26. Straphangin’ - The Brecker Bros.
27. Detente - Brecker Bros.
28. Hearts and Numbers - Don Grolnick.
29. Cityscape - Claus Ogerman.
30. The Nightfly - Donald Fagan.
31. Friends - Chick Corea
32. Mecca For Moderns - Manhattan Transfer.
33. JT – James Taylor
34. Debussy
( I never did learn how to count to 10!!! )

What do you think are the most important things to practice?

I’ve met guitarists who tell me they’ve been playing for 20 years, and when I listen to them play, I think they suck. Other players I listen to and they tell me they’ve been playing on 7 years and they sound amazing. This leads me to believe that how well you play has nothing to do with how long you have owned a guitar! It has a lot more to do with what you’ve actually done with it. What is needed is quality time over quantity time.

Nowadays I don’t have a lot of time to practice so if I do have any chunk of time to do so, I will spend at least ten minutes deciding what I need to learn in that block of time. It might be learning to play a new tune, or soloing over some chord sequence from a new song I’ve written. It could also be learning to use a new scale or mode or whatever. The point is focusing in on something that I don’t know. There’s no point learning E minor Dorian if you already know it. Move on! E Dorian will still be there when you get back!! Learn something new every time you sit down to practice.

I remember a time when I couldn’t play in the key of Eb. That’s because it was in-between the dots on the neck!! The way I resolved that was, for one month, every time I picked up the guitar to practice I would only play in Eb. I soon realized it was the same as E, only it was one fret down! Or the same as D but one fret up!!
I think it’s very important to know all you can about Harmony and Theory, and also to have a good reading ability. It’s also critical to have good time. Always practice with a drum machine or a sequencer and feel the pulse and synchronize yourself with it.

What strings do you use?

I’ve been using the same gauge on electric guitar now for about 25 years. The last 20 years or so I’ve been using D’Addario EXLS520 Stainless Steel. The gauges are a standard 9 set ( 9,11,16,24,32,42, ). I love stainless steel strings. They outlast nickel and they retain their brightness for ages.

What do you look for in a drummer?

I prefer drummers that play the music first and think about the chops second. I don't like playing with a drummer whose audience is only sitting there waiting for the next "amazing fill" and aren't listening to the music as a whole. I think Joel Taylor, Tom Brechtlein are good examples of what I'm talking about. Don't get me wrong, both these guys have amazing chops, but they know when to use them, that's the difference.