JACK THAMMARAT: ASIAN GUITAR HERO

“I don’t  have good  technique…”

The comment elicited a few gasps of disbelief, even indignation, from the enthusiastic 300plus strong crowd that showed up for Jack Thammarat’s Lyric and Yamaha-sponsored guitar clinic in Robinson’s Magnolia Momento Hall.  Is this guy kidding, modest, or humble-bragging? He then elaborates a bit with a hint of an embarrassed smile: “My fast alternate picking isn’t very good.” He plays a short alternate-picked lick, very well in fact, then stops. The soft-spoken Thai virtuoso then played to his technical strengths.

With his mastery of cascading hybrid picked lines delivered with elegance and clarity, blinding yet fluid speed, and a tuneful no-note-wasted approach, his self-perceived lack of good technique in a specific area is a moot point. He uses Ultex Jazz III picks for punchy single notes, but so developed is his hybrid picking that you can’t tell whether the pick or his fingers are producing the fat arpeggiated tones he easily coaxes from the strings.

Gear-wise, Thammarat flew in with just a Macbook Air for his backing tracks and a small Rockboard pedalboard which housed a mini-volume pedal, a boost pedal, a wireless system, and an HX Stomp multi-fx. He uses the HX Stomp not only for chorusing and stereo delays—the crystalline tones he admits are inspired by Eric Johnson—but also to switch channels for the Yamaha THR100HD amp head. One channel is set up for clean, the other for distortion; he also uses the amp channels’ respective onboard reverbs. For solos, he uses the BB boost pedal he’s had for years (“Just to raise the volume a little, when needed”).  He used four off-the-rack Yamaha electrics: 3 Revstars and a Pacifica. The resulting tones were loud and huge, and never grating or harsh. He also backs off the gain a bit because “too much high gain feels like your fingers are not doing anything.”

Jack warming up with a Yamaha Revstar

The workshop itself featured Jack’s most well-known songs including “Mr Frontman”, “On The Way”, and “Falling In Love Again” plus a dynamic take on Prince’s “Purple Rain.” Asked about technique specifics, Thammarat says, “I hear the melody in my head first: I have to hear it, and then I try to develop the technique to play the melody.” He proceeded to scat while playing lines on the guitar. Does he sing? “Only at home!” Prodded by the audience, he continues, “This is the first time I will do it in a workshop…” What followed was a superb vocal/guitar rendition of Hendrix’s “Little Wing.” While Thammarat’s more well-known version of the Hendrix classic is smoother and city-slick, his impromptu performance was closer to its r&b roots; a revelation indeed.

“You know this, right?” He plays the infamous and challenging “Cliffs of Dover” pedal-point lick; the technique required is the basis for some of his cascading improvisations. Thammarat says that in general, he avoids a step-wise scalar approach and breaks up scales into different intervals. He plays a blazing run all across the fretboard. “That’s just pentatonic.” A few souls “protest” that it isn’t but Jack patiently plays the run again which is based on a series of inter-connected pentatonic shapes. He also says he does not necessarily play off the parent chord right away. “If I’m on a G minor chord, I don’t play the G minor scale. I play maybe the Bb major arpeggio (on top of it), which is an inversion. It is the same notes, the same scale, but from a different angle.” (This approach implies harmonies on top of the parent chord; using a Bb arpeggio on a G minor chord, for example, emphasizes the seventh and ninth on the G minor, producing a Gm9 tonality) In compositions, he adds modulations and shifts in key for both the improvisational challenge and harmonic variety. In a special clinic for Lyric Branch Managers the day before the main workshop, he revealed, “I play rock, and I love jazz, but I don’t want to be a jazz guitarist. But I learn something like this (plays John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”) to improve my playing. Rock musicians only talk to rock musicians, jazz musicians only talk to jazz musicians. But for me, it’s all music.”

Jack also admitted to being a John Petrucci fanatic (“But I forget how to play it now!”) and quoted “Glasgow Kiss” albeit all too briefly. The workshop ended with a three way jam with a fan and Tanya Markova’s Isabel Ole.

Post-dinner, Jack met with friends local guitar warriors Fidel De Jesus—himself a hybrid picking virtuoso—and Fayeed Tan. The conversation went the usual route involving music and guitars.

What was revelatory, and perhaps the best lesson unexpressed during the workshop, was Jack saying, “Life is not just music.” It was not necessarily a music lesson, but it manifests in the romanticism that his fans vibe on. On Jack’s first night in Manila the normal exchange of pleasantries happened of course: would you like to try Filipino food? Have you been to Manila before? Asked if he has a girlfriend or a family, he almost immediately grabs his smartphone and looks for a video. “This is my daughter.” He says proudly. “She is 8 years old. It was her first time to go to a camp, and she’s happy and scared. But happy.  Look, those are her friends (smiles).”

His personal life informs what he plays, and he lives it. A female Lyric employee remarked, “I don’t know anything about guitar. But what he’s playing, it feels so good.” And that is probably the most important lesson of all.

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