- 1 Any Key In The U.K. (Unknown publication 1978)
- 2 Allan Holdsworth (Beat Instrumental 1979)
- 3 Allan Holdsworth (Guitar Player 1980)
- 4 Allan Holdsworth (International Musician 1981)
- 5 The Reluctant Virtuoso (Guitar World 1981)
- 6 Allan Holdsworth (Guitar Player 1982)
- 7 No Record Contract, No Big Hoopla, But The Fans Have Kept The Faith For Allan Holdsworth (Guitar World 1982)
- 8 Allan Holdsworth (Music UK 1983)
- 9 The Innocent Abroad (Musician 1984)
What guitar are you using with U.K.?
Basically I’m using a Strat. It’s got DiMarzio PAF pickups now. Before that, I had Gibson pickups. It’s just got a volume and a tone instead of one volume and two tones. I also did away, with the middle pickup. The toggle switch is just an ordinary three-way. It gives you either pickup or both. I like it because it’s really simple. I like to keep the guitar as simple as possible. I chose the DiMarzio PAF’s because they’re supposed to be an authentic reproduction of the original Gibson pickup. I found with the DiMarzio Super Distortion pickups that, although they’re very loud, the sound isn’t as good. I don’t know why, I’m not really up on what you can do with pickups. I know that if you go over the top with the windings, they become self-inductive or something and I know that if the magnets are too powerful, they’ll stop the string vibrating which is your source, really. these pickups are really good. I can’t tell the difference between the PAF’s and the original Gibson ones, but I can tell the differe nce between the PAF’s and the Super Distortion pickups - they’re very different.
Have you any other guitars?
Well, I’m having another one made by Dick Knight. He did a lot of work on my Strat. It has a very wide fingerboard. It’s 1¾ inches which isn’t ridiculously wide but certainly wider than most guitars these days. The fingerboard is very flat because I like the flatter feel. The original Fender fingerboards were cambered. In fact, Dick virtually made the guitar. He’s making another that’s almost ready which is really nice. I’m still going to have two pickups on it instead of three but I’m gonna use the DiMarzio Strat pickups with the adjustable polepieces. I really like Strats though, the design is amazing. I also use the tremelo [sic] arm a lot and the Strat tremelo has got to be the best one ever. The whole thing moves so you don’t get that "sawing" effect which pulls them out of tune. I have an old Gibson Firebird with their vibrola on and, when the strings move back and forth over the bridge, even though the tension’s pulled up to where it should be. If a winding gets caught up on the bridge saddle, t hat string will be flat or sharp according to which way it gets caught. That doesn’t happen on a Strat. I’ve heard people say that they can’t keep Strats in tune with the tremelo arm but mine never goes out of tune.
Not being able to find true hapiness (sic) with current Fender Strats (perhaps not an uncommon syndrome!) Allan resorted to having the basic Fender design principles re-executed for him by Dick Knight.
"I got Dick to make a decent neck for the body that I had and then I cut out a cardboard scratchplate and generally started work on turning it into the guitar that I wanted. Eventually I cut out the tone controls and reduced the Fender system to just one tone and one volume because I find simple guitars that much more effective.
"What I’ve got now is effectively a Strat with two humbuckers fitted and arranged so that I can have either pickup but not both.
"Those original pickups that I fitted were genuine Gibson P.A.F.’s which I’d taken off previous S.G’s that I’d had. The sound really came up to expectations - it was a very bright guitar, just what I’d always hoped it would be."
The first appearance of the newly refurbished Strat was on that Gazeuse album where Allan found himself experimenting with the Strat at the expense of what had previously been his main guitar, a Gibson S.G.
"I’ve got three of these ‘Fenders’ now. The oldest one is the one with the genuine Fender body with a Dick Knight neck and the newer of the two Strats also has a Dick Knight neck but with a Boogie body, a Maple one, which is excellent. They’ve both got Di Marzio’s fitted, P.A.F.’s and I honestly have to say that, having tried them with both Gibson and Di Marzio pickups I really can’t tell the difference.
"There’s a third guitar as well, which I’ve only recently got. That’s a Boogie Telecaster body made out of Ash and fitted with a Jazzmaster neck. That really is a very heavy guitar, almost too heavy to be comfortable on a long gig but the sound it makes is amazing, it really holds on!
All three guitars are fitted with extra fat frets but Allan has more or less decided to stay with genuine Fender bridges, the only deviation from the norm being his use of Might Mite saddles. Another improvement over the original is the replacement of the standard Kluson machine heads with Schallers.
Do you still have the original pickups on your Stratocaster?
I just have two DiMarzio humbuckers on it - one in the front and one in the back. And I just have one volume and one tone control because I like simple guitars. The selector switch allows me to choose which pickup I want.
Do you ever use both pickups together?
No. I’ve never used both at once - even on the SG Standard. And on my SG Custom, the middle pickup doesn’t work. I normally use the bridge pickup for leads, and the neck pickup for chording. I usually leave my volume control set between 8 and 10 on the guitar, and the treble pickup’s tone is adjusted to about 5 or 6 - enough to roll off some of the top end.
The pickups are DiMarzio. They’ve just sent me a pair with black tops because I complained that the cream tops didn’t match the whole scratchplate too well. Those people are very good to me. The pickups were especially wound and I’m going to put them in another Stratocaster eventually.
Having exhausted the always intriguing topic of Holdsworth’s technique - a subject, by the way, that bores him to tears - we move on hurriedly to the area of guitars and related equipment. This also induces instant boredom for our protagonist and, skipping the genealogy of his guitars (which includes a Hofner acoustic, Gibson SG Standard, Gibson SG Custom and Fender Strat in roughly that order), we jump to the latest.
"I have two working Fender Strats and one that’s just being finished off. They’re all made from various combinations of necks and bodies which I can’t remember at the moment, although one’s made from all DiMarzio parts and pickups. I use DiMarzio PAF’s on everything, in fact they just sent me some nice black ones, because I have a white guitar and the cream-colored ones didn’t match. All my fingerboards are ebony [he has them flattened also] except for this last one which has a maple fingerboard. It’s different but I’m gettin’ used to it. I’ve been experimenting with different body woods and I’ve formed some definite theories about how they affect the sound but I want to check them out before I embarrass myself. I’m still using the same amps - [Norlin Lab Series for chording and Hartley-Thompson for soloing-the latter only available in U.K.] and the same basic effects [MXR Noise Gate/Line Driver, various volume pedals, discrete echo from the studio board]. It’s just that everything sounds so much better no w and I get so frustrated because I want to put some of these noises on tape."
What kind of guitars did you use?
I just used my old faithful Strat that I had back then. It had two humbuckers on it: one by the bridge and one by the neck. I changed them a lot. For a long time I had a couple of old Gibson Patent Applied Fors that I took off of some old ‘60s SG Customs that I owned previously. I didn’t like the middle pickups on the SGs -- they always got in the way -- so I took them out and saved them. I used them for a long time, and then I changed to the old DiMarzio PAFs, and then I finally changed to a pair of Seymour Duncan 59s. I found that there was a little bit of difference between the Seymour Duncans and the PAFs. So I sold all the PAFs from the SGs and just bought Seymour Duncans.
Why do you only have one pickup in the bridge position and no pick up at all near the neck?
I found that I hardly ever used the other pickup, anyway. I’ve always favored the treble pickup. So when Grover made the first prototype for me, we just tried it with one. And it seems that I’ve never missed it at all. So I decided to have them all made with single pickups. It’s really basic. Each of the guitars has a different pickup on it The red basswood one has the specially made Seymour Duncan pickup, the white one has a Seymour Duncan 59N, and the spruce one has a specially wound DiMarzio on it.
Are there any fancy switches such as coil taps?
No. I don’t have any extra wiring. Just one volume and one tone. And I would have just one for volume, except that I still prefer the tone I get from the guitar’s control. There’s a difference between the tone when you have the volume up full on the guitar and you back the treble up on the amp and turn down the tone on the guitar just a bit. It sounds wetter or something -- I just prefer it.
No Record Contract, No Big Hoopla, But The Fans Have Kept The Faith For Allan Holdsworth (Guitar World 1982)
Allan has settled on DiMarzio’s replacement pickups. The electronic guts of his guitars are fashionably sparse:
"Single humbuckers with volume and tone. DiMarzio is making a prototype, testing some things out on me. I want a pickup that’s not the fashionable heavy output-high magnet. I’m looking for almost the opposite of that, which is probably the original that they selected for the original humbucker. Because that takes some beating, the balance between the magnet, the string pull and the natural output of the pickup. I’ve been using the PAF-type pickups."
In Allan Holdsworth’s career, which spans 15 years, he’s gone from cello guitar, to Fender Stratocaster, to Gibson SGs, and today he plays Charvel guitars.
‘When I first played the SG I fell in love with it instantly and I took the Fender which I’d bought on HP back to the shop, and traded it for the Gibson SG Standard they had. I stuck with that for a couple of years while I was a semi-pro, and then I got a job in a Mecca houseband, and that’s when I started messing about with guitars and experimenting with 335s and whatever. That was a real experimental thing, I changed the lot, different amps, different strings, different guitars. I still like trying everything and each one of these Charvel guitars I have is an experiment, but they’re getting closer and closer to what I want. All the necks are 2 ¼" wide at the top of the fretboard which is a lot wider than a Fender, and I really like that. I’ve always been anti heavy guitars, and all of these guitars are light. They’re made of spruce or Bass (as in ass) wood. Most of the older Strats were light.’ Allan Holdsworth had, at the date of our meeting, four Stratocaster type Charvels which included a blonde one w ith a pair of custom wound DiMarzio humbuckers, a red one with a single custom wound Seymour Duncan humbucker, and a white one with two more custom wound Seymour Duncan humbuckers in the middle and rear positions for a certain sound Allan was after. The fourth one is blue, also with a pair of custom wound Seymour Duncan pickups. All of these guitars feature one tone and one volume control plus pickup selector and brightness switches. Another guitar of Allan’s is a Charvel prototype that looks not a million miles from an Ovation Viper, also with Seymour Duncan pickups.
One of these instruments carries a Dave Storey (Kahler) tremelo (sic) which loads from the top, with no tremolo block in sight. Before he emigrated to the USA, Dave was England’s answer to Floyd Rose, and his unique tremolo system. Ah well, England’s loss, America’s gain.
Holdsworth’s current lead work is especially unusual because although his tone is as fluid and nimble as a synthesizer, he uses virtually no signal processing at all (he did use a Scholz Rockman for the sax-like bite of "Three Sheets To The Wind"). "I’ve noticed for a long time that lighter bodied guitars always seemed to sound better. [Charvel’s] Grover Jackson was unbelievable, going to all lengths experimenting with different woods. We finished up using bass wood; it’s a little bit like alder, but it’s lighter, very resonant. Grover made four Charvel guitars for me. He also widened the neck dimensions, more like a Gibson. The bridge is an aluminium DiMarzio and the pickups are Seymour Duncans, similar to a PAF but with two rows of pole pieces so that both bobbins are absolutely symmetrical; it makes the magnetic field more uniform." For strings, Allan uses .009 Kaman Performers. His favorite amp for lead playing has been a Hartley-Thompson with an occasional Fender.