Amongst all the old and hard-won analog gear is a relatively new (and inexpensive) piece of guitar processing gear, the Yamaha DG-1000 digital guitar preamp. "I love it,” says Holdsworth without hesitation. "To me, it comes the closest to capturing the sound the way I used to construct it, which was taking a speaker output from a head and converting it to a line level." Holdsworth is referring to the process of allowing the guitar signal to go through an amp’s preamp and power amp section and then tapping it at the speaker output. The signal is then converted into line level so that it can run back through a signal processor, and ultimately into a power amp and speaker. "I discovered the DG-1000’s when I was touring in Japan, and the sound is just wonderful. The DG-1000 has that preamp-to-power amp character that I’m used to working with."
MRJ: You were getting a fantastic clean sound from those Lab Series amps back in the early eighties. Did you use them for quite a while?
AH: I used to play through a Marshall 50W with two 4x12 cabs, but when I would play a chord it was always a ‘crunch’ sound, so I didn’t play a lot of chords back then. When I decided to start my own thing I had an endorsement deal with Lab Series. I really love the clean sound-soft and wide. It was my first stereo set up and the beginning of what I use nowadays. I used to use three amps-a Hartley-Thompson and two Lab Series. It was a very fat sound. (Then) I used a Dual Rectifier. That was probably one of my favourite all time guitar (amp) heads. I used Mesa Boogie amps for years. when I went to Japan a few years ago (someone from Yamaha) brought me the first DG series amp. It blew me away. I now use two of the new DG *0s. I used on the whole of the (new) record.
"This could be the beginning of a whole new thing, something that amplifiers might be able to do in the future that they’ve never been able to do in the past." Non-tube amps have claimed to replicate tube tone for 30 years or more. What makes the DG technology different? The DG1000 preamp is the only thing I’ve ever heard that truly seems to do it. One of the first things that amazed me about it was the interaction of the preamp and master volume controls -- it’s exactly how it is on a real tube head. I’ve always looked for amps that have a certain feel, like that spongy thing you get from certain heads. Here, it’s all in the preamp. How do you use it in your setup? I just run the DG1000 into a power amp and speaker cabinet, mike it up, and record it. That’s great, because I used to have to make my own load boxes to get a line-level signal from an amp head so I could get more control over it, EQ it, and so forth. I would have to play very loud to get the sound I wanted. But now when I run the DG1000 into the power amp, it doesn’t matter if it’s soft. In fact, I record at a volume you could probably talk over. I use the same setup in live situations, but with a couple of processors between the DG1000 and the power amp. Are there any modifications you’d recommend for future models? No. Some of the stock sounds are extremely close to what I was looking for, so I liked the DG1000 right out of the box. But when I saw the potential of the technology, I realized it could go a lot of different places. Since the possibilities are infinite, one of the hardest design decisions to make would have been to choose the DG’s eight basic amp profiles. Have you used the DG1000 on any albums yet? I used it for everything on The 16 Men of Tain. I simply didn’t need to use anything else. I realized that this could be the beginning of a whole new thing, something that amplifiers might be able to do in the future that they’ve never been able to do in the past.
He also plays headless Steinberger guitars, custom made headless guitars by Bill DeLap and makes sparing use of his SynthAxe synthesizer controller. He uses Stella guitar strings and is very pleased with his setup of two Yamaha DG-80 amplifiers with extension speaker cabinets in combination with a DG-1000 pre-amp. "Right out of the box these amps were very, very close to what I wanted so it was very easy for me to manipulate it a little further and squeeze a little more out of them. It was just a coincidence that the designer sort of liked the same sound that I do." He adds that he has scaled down his refrigerator size rack of effects to just two Rocktron Intellifex processors.
Holdsworth also turned to modeling amps to reproduce his unmistakable tone - employing a Yamaha DG8O 1x12 and a 1x12 cabinet. While the lead tones hammered out by his chambered Carvin signature guitar were miked, he used a Simon Systems D.I. to record his clean rhythm sounds direct. "I’ve never liked distortion," he admits, "but I need it to get sustain. Some amps sound so hairy that I want to give them a shave."
And what about your amps?
"For years I’ve been using Boogies but about two years ago I was in Japan and was introduced the this Japanese guy who designed the digital amp for Yamaha, which became the DC series. And I absolutely loved it. They sent me one to play with for a while and the thing was just amazing. So I have a DG-1000 which is just a preamp; then they came out with the DG-100 which is a 2x12 combo, then the DG-80 which is just a single 12 combo. I’ve been using the DC-80 combo with a really cool DC-80 extension cabinet. It’s still very compact and it’s a really cool sound. I basically used those amps on the whole of this record and I was thrilled with it. A lot of the modelling amps have all these buttons that say ‘AC30’ or ‘Dual Rectifier’ and to me that’s just a joke. The Yamaha design took some balls because this guy said, ‘I’m going to build a digital amplifier but I’m going to decide what it sounds like’.
So he took the whole thing out of that copy-cat mode. With these amps it’s very easy for me to get the sounds I like, just by modifying the presets."
The Yamaha amps are waiting for you here when you travel to Europe?
Yeah, but according to Patrizzio who’s our agent, he said they don’t make those anymore so he’s gonna try to hang on to them.So keep em for..so when we come on the road again next year I can just use the same stuff that I got this time. When we go to Athens (they would fly there the same evening without the equipment..RH) we don’t know what we’re gonna get. I take my little boxes and cables and wires and stuff but I don’t know what we’re gonna get. I think I get two Twin Reverbs and Two marshall cabinets (laughs)