Frank Marino

Groupology

  • Frank Marino
  • Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush

Jurassic

Watch Frank Marino in Action at the bottom of this page!

Famous / Infamous for

Famous for: Speed, speed and more speed. A totally blistering cover of Johnny B. Goode at the California Jam, as well as covers of Roadhouse Blues and All Along the Watchtower. Uncompromising dedication to his artistic vision.

Infamous for: At age 13, Frank was hospitalized as a result of a bad acid trip and took up the guitar to give himself something to do while he recovered. He made phenomenal progress on the instrument in a very short time by being very motivated to keep his mind off his recovery. This was later twisted around by a Montreal writer who wrote a joke bio stating that Frank believed he had been visited by the spirit of Jimi Hendrix in the hospital, and that he channeled Jimi as he played. Nobody ever bothered to ask Frank — who has always denied it in interviews — and it didn't matter that Frank was hospitalized before Jimi's death! As Frank himself says, "a kid that was too young, took too much drugs, learned to play an instrument so that he didn't have to think about the drugs. Loved Hendrix and played his tunes and then everything got twisted into something else. That's basically the long and short of it." Frank is also infamous, rightly or wrongly, for being a covers guy. Of the three songs of Marino's you're likely to have heard, two of them, Roadhouse Blues and All Along the Watchtower, are covers. This was more the record company's doing than any desire of Marino's. Johnny B. Goode broke him in the US, and record label execs are not likely to release a 15 minute guitar opus as a single when they can score with something that's already proven.

Influences

Obvious: Jimi Hendrix, Alvin Lee, Johnny Winter, the Doors

Not so obvious: John Chipolena from Quicksilver Messenger Service, Duane Allman and Carlos Santana. You don't hear Chipolena in Marino's playing as much as see it — the leather fringed jackets and SGs were trademarks of Chipolena.

Strengths

Speed. Marino was the late 70's equivalent of Yngwie Malmsteen — right down to the goofy stage clothes. He took the pentatonic scale and blues based style of Johnny Winter and Alvin Lee and ran it at warp ten. When Marino wants to haul ass, nobody can keep up with him. And he never misses anything. He's incredibly precise and in control.

Artistic vision. Marino has a very good idea of what he is and what he does as a musician and guitarist. He has remained true to this vision, though doing so probably cost him in terms of his success.

Weaknesses

Tone. Marino is one of the few Dinos who does not rely heavily on power amp distortion to get his signature tone. It's more of a hi-fi approach: take a base tone, use pedals to alter it, and then reproduce it as cleanly as possible. As a result, his tone lacks the characteristic warmth that comes from an overdriven set of EL34 power tubes.

The Hendrix thing. Three guys were really dogged by the notion that they were Hendrix retreads: Robin Trower, Frank Marino, and to a lesser extent, Uli Roth. And of the three, Marino was dogged the worst by it. The constant regurgitation of the visited-by-Jimi story certainly didn't help, but Frank played right into it by covering tunes like Purple Haze, and All Along the Watchtower and doing a virtual recreation of Jimi's Star Spangled Banner pyrotechnics in Electric Reflections of War. So while the comparison isn't entirely accurate, you don't shake the tag by covering Jimi's material. Which leads us to . . .

Material. As mentioned previously, two of Marino's best known songs are covers. His own songs tend to be very derivative of his influences. For example, Poppy sounds like the Doors with monster chops, Talkin' Bout a Feelin' is very similar to Spanish Castle Magic (by you-know-who).

Accessibility. With the possible exception of Strange Dreams, Frank Marino does not write short, catchy songs (which is kind of odd, 'cause Hendrix did). Instead, Frank frequently takes the listener on 10 to 15 minute journeys that his fans absolutely love, and non-fans find pretty aimless and repetitive. There's not a lot of gray area with Marino. Either you get it, or you don't.

Tone

Marino's philosophy on amplification and tone is different from just about every other heavy guitarist out there. Like his music, you'll either love or hate his tone. In the 70s and 80s, he relied primarily on solid state amps for live work: an Acoustic 270 head with dual 15 inch speakers. For the non-guitarist reader, this is just a whacky choice for heavy guitar — like using oranges to make apple pie. Solid state Acoustic amps and 15 inch speakers are more typical of a bass rig than a guitar rig — John Paul Jones used them in Zeppelin. Frank claims to have used Marshalls in the studio beginning with Mahogany Rush IV and thereafter, but it's really difficult to tell from listening. Recently he's switched to using a homebuilt preamp of his own design, Crown solid state power amps, and dual 15" Fane speakers.

Transistor amps typically have a faster response that favors a machine gun style picking attack like Frank's. Since he doesn't get that characteristic tube amp sag, his articulation is much cleaner. I think it's fair to say that a lot of the Shrapnel shred guys were going for a similar sound that favors high velocity lead playing, but none approached it quite like Marino or took it to the extremes he did. The Shrapnel guys often favor tube Marshalls, yet they still seem to achieve similar characteristics to Marino's sound — great, soaring lead tones and really lousy rhythm tones.

Marino has a huge pedalboard — at one point it was 6 feet by 3 feet and required four guys to lift it out on stage! While this monster contained 22 pedals, they were the same pedals over and over again, to allow for different settings and different effects ordering. Frank's primary effects are wah, fuzz, an octave divider, echo, and reverb, in various combinations. He also used an Eventide flanger on occasion.

For guitars, Frank favors 1961 Gibson SGs, with DiMarzio pickups. His string gauges are: .008, .009, .012, .015, .026, and .038 (that's extremely light), and he uses standard shape extra heavy picks.

Guitar Style

Like Uli Roth and Robin Trower, Marino wears his Hendrix jones on his sleeve, yet he sounds nothing like either guy.

As a rhythm player, Marino likes a lot of clean, funk chords — 9ths, 7ths, etc. You'll hear this on tracks like Dragonfly and Jive Baby. When he plays dirtier stuff, he's more of a riffer, tending to play a lot of single note lines with chordal stabs. His tone does not lend itself to cranking out super heavy riffs ala Iommi or even Trower, so he relies more on playing lines behind the vocals and lets the bass carry the low melody.

Marino has a split personality as a lead player. He'll give you slower, melodic, trippy passages on some tunes, and complete over the top Pentatonic wankfests on others. He's better known for the speed, but it's actually a pretty even 50/50 split throughout his catalog. He favors Minor Pentatonic for the fast stuff, and he also dabbles in the Phrygian mode a fair amount. He sounds a lot like Eric Johnson in the way he phrases, and also the way he bends. One of Marino's trademarks is a pre-bend, where he hits the note with the string already bent up, slowly lowers it, and then raises it back to pitch and then applies vibrato. His very compressed tone makes these notes sound very even and sustained.

When he steps away from the Hendrix inspired trip, Marino can play some really cool stuff. For example, listen to the title track from the Juggernaut album. This is an uptempo, classically-influenced progression along the lines of Deep Purple's Burn. Frank hits us with some two handed tapping in the solo that is really tasty and well done, before returning to a more typical series of pentatonic licks. I'd like to hear more of this aspect in Frank's playing! He obviously knows his stuff and has continued to improve, but he knows more than he chooses to show.

Marino is an all-or-nothing soloist. He's either slow, or fast. He rarely mixes the two. This doesn't give him much opportunity to build any kind of tension and release into his solos. It's either all release, or all tension. Like Malmsteen, Marino is frequently accused of overplaying — and he most certainly does. Whether that's good or bad is in the ear of the beholder, but Frank's not one of those guys who gets in, makes his point, and gets out. Frank's more like the guest who comes for dinner and stays for a week.

Marino is primarily a legato player who uses a lot of hammer on/pull off type licks, but he often sounds like he's alternate picking every note. In fact, I initially assumed that he was alternate picking, but Frank himself set the record straight. On his comeback, Eye of the Storm album, he added a Fernandes Sustainer to his arsenal. This device is used to generate infinite sustain at the fundamental or at a harmonic. Think of it as feedback without having to crank your amp — pretty cool, huh? Using this effect, he can play without picking at all — the ultimate legato!

Marino is very deft with the whammy bar, often using it to simulate a slide (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) as well as for standard garden variety dive bombs.

Vibrato:

Medium fast, extremely narrow, even. Frank's finger vibrato is not very pronounced. Since most of his solos clock in at over 3 million notes per second you'd have a hard time hearing it anyway!

Frank Marino in Action

Recommended Listening

Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush

Frank Marino

Profile By John Walker. Copyright ©2003 All rights reserved.