It sounds like you’re sweep-picking the beginning of the solo. No, I don’t do that. I can’t do that. It’s just that normally I don’t arpeggiate things in the way that’s become fashionable. I remember when I first started playing, my dad had all these books for me to practice on: Everybody was familiar with Paganini’s Caprices, and arpeggios were something you practiced but didn’t play. It’s always inspiring to hear somebody like Frank Gambale do it - I couldn’t play arpeggios the way he does, but I can play them the way I do. I’ve practiced playing scales where you put the accent anywhere, whether on a note you pick or one you don’t. You can say, "I’m going to play four notes and accent the second note, but I’m only picking the first note." So you make the first a really gentle touch, and then you have to whack the string with your finger on the second. For the third you can be a little slower when it hits the fret, and so on, so that eventually you can put the accent where you want it. Over the years I’ve learned that by using the legato technique, I can physically play anything that anyone else can play anyway, just by accenting unpicked notes and finding different fingerings. But it’s easy for me to do that, because that’s how I play. One problem with legato technique is that it tends to make you play all the notes running in one direction, and that’s something I tried to stop doing two or three years ago. I try not to play more than three or four notes going in one direction. You realize that it’s too easy, that your fingers are doing the walking, as John Scofield says. When I read that, it made me start rethinking it.
GW: What players do you feel epitomize the proper way the instrument should be played? HOLDSWORTH: Well, in a funny way all the people I like are all the people who are doing something different with it. From the beginning, I’ve enjoyed players like Charlie Christian, Wes Montgomery and Joe Pass, and more recently, Pat Metheny who did a whole thing on his own. Scott Henderson is doing something unique, and now; Frank Gambale comes along and does something great. It just shows you that you shouldn’t be so resolute about things like music. People waste time spending hours trying to clone something when they could be spending hours practicing something really different.
People always say;. "Oh, you use wide interval leaps" and stuff like that. Well, I do in some ways, but then again, I don’t use any more wide interval leaps than somebody like Scott or Frank Gambale. The only reason I did it with stretches was for a sonic purpose - it was the only way I could get that note to sound that way Like, if I had to play [plays an ascending figure beginning on. the B string’s fourteenth fret; repeating the C# on the first string on the way up], then I’d have to repeat that note, and it wouldn’t sound the same, or the limitations of my hand wouldn’t allow me to do that, because I’m not a good guitar player.
Your solos are often really long, but always interesting. Do you do a lot of Punch-ins? Hardly ever. It’s also not possible because I always work alone. You need somebody to push that red button for you. At one point I’ve played so many times through the chord changes that I don’t have to think about the scales anymore. Sometimes I will paste a small segment of a different take over a less interesting part of my solo to fix a solo. And sometimes I might combine some tracks, but usually I don’t. I think it sounds natural when some things are a little bit off. That’s just a part of that solo. But if I’m in an overdub situation, I try to get things as good as possible. Frank Gambale (with whom Holdsworth recorded the album ‘Truth In Shredding’ for Mark Varney -RH) once said to me "My solos are not perfect. I look at them like a Persian Rug. Up close there are a million imperfections, but if you stand back a little bit it’s fantastic". But just how far do you want to stand back?? Do you have to stand back 200 kilometers to get the right picture? I think Gambale is great, don’t get me wrong. I really like his playing. It all depends on the way your looking at you’re own things. That’s just different for everybody. My problem is that I always want more from myself than I can possibly give. I hear it in my head, but it seems I can’t fully reach it. My head is always ahead of my hands. When my playing gets a little bit better, I can do what I heard in my head before. But right now I’m hearing things which I can’t play at the moment. And that’s always very frustrating. I don’t think it will ever change though. But if you’re able to play anything you can imagine, there’s no magic to it any longer. Then I would probably be ready with it and just quit.
Fan: You have pioneered a voice in music and influenced your peers and your fans. Who are some of your favorite guitar pioneers? AH: Django Reinhardt, Charlie Christian, Jimmy Raney, Wes Montgomery in fact most of the great guitar players; I loved them all. The newer guys: John McLaughlin, Pat Metheny, John Scofield, Scott Henderson and Frank Gambale... They?re all amazing with very different musical personalities. Of course there’s Michael Brecker and Keith Jarrett, but they don’t play the guitar (thank God!). I think I’ve been influenced by all instruments. I was influenced a lot by horn players, from Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderly, John Coltrane on to Michael Brecker. There’s many, many more that you could fill this whole page with people that have brought great gifts to the world of music.