(Unconfirmed guitar.com 2001)
[Note: There seems to be some confusion regarding the naming if this article. I have previously recorded a 1999 article under the same name, but I am not sure which is ultimately correct. Therefore, this stands as unconfirmed. The web archive used as source lists the date September 3, 2001.)
The Outer Limits: Allan Holdsworth's Out of Bounds Existence
Allan Holdsworth specializes in working outside the box. In expanding beyond the accepted idea of what a guitar should sound like, he's become a connoisseur of noise manipulation, using implements old (the virtually extinct SynthAxe) and new (the Yamaha DG-80) to create music that's timeless.
Guitar.com: What kind of amps are you currently using? Allan
Holdsworth: Over the last few years I used a lot of Mesa/Boogie amplifiers in combination with my own devices that I designed, like the power amp to line level interface. But recently I've discovered this digital amplifier made by Yamaha. I got to try one of the prototypes in Japan a few years ago and I really loved it. There's a lot of these digital modeling amplifiers around, but this isn't one of them. The guy who designed this had the balls to say, "I'm going to use the technology but I'm going to make it sound how I want it to sound. It's not going to be a cloning amplifier. It's gonna make it's own sound." That's what I've been using for the last couple of years. It's a Yamaha DG series. They made a DG-1000, which is a pre-amp, which is the first thing they came up with. Then there's a DG-100, which is a two 12" combo. I use both of those but now they came out with a new one called a DG-80, which is a single 12 combo, and they make this really beautiful little extension speaker cabinet. So I use two DG-80s and two of the extension speaker cabinets. It's a really compact setup and I'm really happy with the way it sounds.
Guitar.com: What's the characteristic sound of this amp that appeals to you?
Holdsworth: Right out of the box it was already very close to what I wanted without doing anything to it. So it was very easy for me to squeeze a little more out of it. The fact that it's a digital amplifier [means] the sound is created in a different zone, so the volume aspect of it is not a problem any more -- it can be a whisper or it can be really loud. I don't need to use my power amp to line level gizmos anymore because it does it on its own. It makes a sound and you just put the volume where you need it to be. So it's doing everything I wanted. It was just a coincidence that the designer liked the same sound I do, or close to the sounds I like. They're very flexible. They have a huge amount of tonal control. It's very easy to use, easy to store things in so it's very quick and practical. And most importantly, I really love the way they sound. I actually used it on the whole album -- the only amplifier I used.
Guitar.com: Are there other key components to your sound?
Holdsworth: Not really. I have an old rack I used to use on the road. It's like a giant refrigerator rack. I only use it in the studio now. I've more or less shrunk my set up out of necessity. So I don't use as much stuff as I used to. It's a lot simpler. I still have a couple of old Rocktron Intellifex processors that I use for the clean sound. But for the lead sound I really don't use anything. I just use the reverb that's built into the amplifier.
Guitar.com: I noticed that you're playing the SynthAxe again on two tracks.
Holdsworth: I try to do it sparingly. I still love the thing and I just use it once in a while if there's something I think would be nice to include. And that particular tune, "Eidolon," I had for quite a few years. I played it to Dave and Gary and they liked it enough to want to include it on the record. So I play it on that and on a reprise of "Above And Below."
Guitar.com: I thought you had retired that instrument because you couldn't get it repaired.
Holdsworth: What happened is, the SynthAxe company went out of business at a time that I was totally engrossed in it and I was devastated by the whole thing. I thought, "Here I am putting all of this energy and effort into this instrument that's now a dinosaur because there's no way to fix it. There's nobody around who knows how it works." And I got really scared about it but at the same time I was actually kind of a little pissed off. So in some strange rage I sold everything. I had two Oberheim Expanders and two Oberheim Matrix 12s, and I sold everything. And I really regretted it. Within six months I was having complete, total withdrawal. I later ran across a guy, who since became a good friend of mine, who had one. He bought a SynthAxe and then decided that he really wasn't able to do much with it so I traded a couple of guitars for it. So I got that back but unfortunately I wasn't able to get the Oberheims back because those are pretty rare now. But if I come across them and I have enough money to do it, I'll pick 'em up again. So when I got the SynthAxe back I realized that I was only going to be able to use it in a limited way...not take it out on the road anymore and not have it be a main feature, just have it be something I could use for more subtle things or background stuff.
Guitar.com: What does the SynthAxe offer that other instruments don't?
Holdsworth: Well, I always wanted to play a horn, which is a non-percussive instrument; the guitar is essentially a percussive instrument and I try and make it sound like it's not. One of the things I always wanted to do was to be able to make a note and then change the whole shape of it after it sounded -- make it soft, make it loud, put vibrato on it, take it off, change the timbre of the sound, all after the note was played, which is not a very easy thing to do with a percussive instrument. With the SynthAxe I have that ability because I can hook it up to a breath controller and do exactly that. I can make a note and change it and shape it in a totally different way than I can on the guitar. And because the guitar gave me the chords, which I would've surely missed if I would have played the horn and not the guitar, the SynthAxe gave me the combination of being able to play like a chordal instrument and a horn at the same time, and that was very appealing to me. It gave me a lot of textural possibilities I didn't have with guitar. I kind of got engrossed in it. But I don't feel exactly the same way about it now. I think of it more as something I can use for extra color.
Guitar.com: What guitars did you use on The Sixteen Men of Tain?
Holdsworth: I've been playing a custom guitar that I designed for a company called Carvin. It's a hollow guitar, kind of like a closed semi-acoustic. The top and the back don't touch any part of the wood on the inside except at the bridge. So it feels a lot like an acoustic guitar except that it's closed, there's no holes. You can squeeze a little more dynamics out of that kind of instrument than a solid body. It's what I needed for the direction that I wanted to take. I've also been using Steinbergers, which I still have. I'm very fond of Steinbergers. It's actually hard to go back to a guitar with headstock and tuners on it after you've played a Steinberger. You kind of get spoiled. And I also play the custom-made guitars by Bill DeLap, which look like Steinbergers. They're headless. But they're wood as opposed to plastic, which the real Steinberger is.
-- Bill Milkowski