Dick Knight

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Allan Holdsworth (Beat Instrumental 1979)

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.

Holdsworth & Co. A New Side Of Allan’s Music. (Guitar 1980)

Have you had the same struggle to get a guitar you’re really happy with?

I’ve always gone through a lot of equipment in a continual search for things, and that process has slowed me down over the years as I’ve got nearer the mark. There was a time when I tried loads of guitars, but I don’t think I’ll be changing too many things on guitars in the future. I now have one Strat with a Boogie body and a Dick Knight neck, and that’s the newest one. The other Strat is the nicest one, the dark one, and it’s older and has been played more. That’s an original Fender that I bought when I was working with Tony Williams, and I got it for 300 dollars including case, about £150. It was fairly new one with quite a narrow nut, and being so cheap and fairly nasty I decided to take the neck off and sell it. With the money from that I had Dick Knight make one for me. I had a few teething problems with that but he’s sorted them out now. I also had two Gibson humbuckers which I took off a couple of SG Customs - over the years I’ve built up quite a collection of old PAF’s from the centre position of SG’s - and they are what I put on that Strat, and I really liked the sound. I’d always fancied the idea of putting Gibson pickups on a Fender guitar because there’s something about the guitar I liked, the long scale length. It seemed that the strings rang a lot more. I also noticed that if you put the Fender pickups a long way from the strings that horrible harmonic caused by the powerful magnets disappeared. When I put the old PAF’s on the balance seemed just right between the power of the magnets, the amount of windings on the coil and the fact of being humbucking, which I liked for obvious reasons- they also didn’t affect the string movement. I’ve found that a lot of the very powerful pickups, the Super Distortions and so on, have an incredible effect on the way the guitar sounds to me acoustically, and I didn’t like that. If you use thin strings like I do these pickups practically stop them from vibrating, and when you’ve got to a point like that it’s pretty ridiculous. I think there’ll be a swing back soon to pickups that actually sound better rather than having lots of volume. With amps the way they are these days who needs hot pickups? They’ll probably find a less Mickey Mouse way of amplifying strings than bobbins and magnets anyway eventually. It’s like loudspeakers, you’ve got all these thousand [sic] of pounds of equipment and at one end you’ve got a little magnet on the guitar and at the other end you’ve got a big magnet and a piece of paper. It’s very strange. That side of it has been the same for many years and they haven’t improved on it. Like those high-output pickups: The sound of a lot of them is pretty disgusting, and I’m looking forward to the guys who are going to make the better sounding ones.

Is the way your guitar is set-up very important to play the way you do?

Not really, because I’ve always tried to do what I do with acoustic guitars. It depends on how you set them up, but it’s the same for any instrument. If you play saxophone you use the kind of reeds you like. But those things are never as important as what comes out in the end. I use thin strings, and I’ve experimented with all weights of strings. Sometimes thin strings are worse to play than thicker strings. There’s an optimum balance for playing and a similar balance for sound, and I’ve always gone for the one that sounded right, even if it might not have felt quite right. Sometimes the string set-up feels a bit funny, a bit weightless in the middle, and when other people play it they go out of tune. It’s a matter of getting used to them, and I like them because like the sound to really sing, like John McLaughlin on acoustic guitars - a beautiful singing sound from thin strings. Other guys do it with different gauge strings, but it’s all relative to how you play the guitar, the natural balance between your right and left hands, the sound you hear in your head and the one you produce. I’ve had problems with acoustic guitars because I’ve never really owned a good one. The only time I play them is on records, and it’s never been a priority to own one. I have a nice Ibanez acoustic cello guitar, and I liked the sound of it, but it has no volume. The top is so thick round the outside I suppose. Dick was explaining to me that it doesn’t matter how thick it is in the belly of the guitar as long as it gets thinner towards the edge, so the top vibrates like a speaker. The Ibanez doesn’t moνe, and when I put thin strings on it, it just doesn’t operate. Other guitars, classical guitars for instance, put out an incredible volume. I’d like to find out the steel-string weights that are relative to the top of the guitar. I’ve searched for a long time with electric guitars to get the sound as near as possible to the sound in my head and it’s hard. I’ve come close to it with acoustics on records when the engineer has been hip to all the problems, but I’d really like someone to make me a cello guitar with a very thin top, something that would probably collapse if you put telegraph poles on it. A guitar that would respond to the strings I like.

Allan Holdsworth (International Musician 1981)

Dick Knight is making me a spurce (sic) solid at the moment, I wonder what the experts make of that. My reason for trying it is because the timber is very light and I tend to get a better sound when I start with a light body. One day I’d like to get a guitar made like a Gibson L7, something that’s smaller than a Gibson Super 400, lighter with a larger scale. I like the clearer sound from a cello (‘f’ hole) guitar - Charlie Christian was my hero. Round hole guitars sound a little on the boomy side to my ears. I’ve used an Ibanez L5 type cello guitar for recording that wasn’t bad.

Allan Holdsworth (Guitar Player 1982)

Do you perform many modifications yourself?

I used to until Grover came along, because if I was going to take a chisel to it, He’d say, "On, no. Let me do it." And [luthier/repairman] Dick Knight was the same way in England. He and his son-in-law, Gordon, were always helpful. They did so much work for me there. As far as wiring goes, I always liked to do my own, though.

Was this because you trusted your own work more than other people’s?

Only in certain departments. But usually as far as chiseling a hole in a guitar, it was so spontaneous. I’d get an idea and have to do it right away. And to go over to Dick’s house meant getting in the car or jumping on my bike and pedaling over there. So sometimes it was just easier to take the chisel to it myself. And since I pawned the SG in ‘76, I lost a lot of respect for guitars. It didn’t bother me to take a chisel to one if I felt I was doing something good for the guitar. I couldn’t believe that the guy I sold my good Strat to back in England immediately took the humbuckers off of it and put on some regular Fender-style single-coil pickups. He didn’t know what it was capable of.

Allan Holdsworth (Music UK 1983)

Dick Knight was the first guy to modify a Stratocaster type guitar for me, but what I love about the Charvels is the neck dimensions which make it an incredibly comfortable guitar for me to play. I play the Yamaha 335 type guitar over in the corner, I don’t know what it’s called, but it’s a pretty good guitar.

Reaching For The Uncommon Chord

MODIFIED STRAT

When I was with Tony Williams, I bought a Fender Stratocaster. It wasn't a very old one - about 1973. I took it back to England and had Dick Knight make me a neck. He did all my guitar work along with his son-in-law Gordon. It was a maple neck with an ebony fingerboard. They do absolutely marvelous work. I'd always come out of there with a grin from ear to ear. The neck was quite big - an inch and three quarters at the nut to two and a quarter at the body, and it was quite chunky; it transformed the sound of the guitar. Those were my chisel days. I started hacking guitars up like crazy – I put a couple of humbuckers on a Strat, and I really liked the way it sounded. I always thought it would sound good. I had to sell that guitar too, which was painful. I actually sold it just before we came out to the States to a guy who put the original pickups back on it. I was dumbfounded — he missed the point, but one man's meat is another man's poison ... I played that guitar from Gong through UK.

Allan Holdsworth (Guitarist 1985)

Then, about a year ago, Ibanez said they would be interested in making a guitar to my specific design. So, we took all the things that I’d learned over the years, including the time in England, when my ‘main man’ was Dick Knight, along with his son-in-law Gordon, and they were marvellous to me. They gave me greatly reduced bills when I wasn’t working, and Dick helped me experiment with different woods. One of the things I found was that I loved the sound of light guitars.

Allan Holdsworth Remembers:"In The Dead Of Night" (Guitar and guitar shop 1999)

"That’s one of my quirks: I can remember all the gear I’ve used right back to the very first band I was in, to the point of every single amplifier and guitar on every single track. The guitar I used on ‘In The Dead Of Night’ was a stock Fender Strat with a custom neck made by a great guitar builder in England named Dick Knight that was fitted to that instrument.

It was a big, half a baseball bat-sized neck with an ebony fingerboard and huge frets. It had a very flat fingerboard, too. I used that guitar for many years ... I chiseled the whole body out myself so I could get humbuckers on it. I took the original pickups off and threw them away, and got a pick guard made by Dick."