Gibson SG

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Allan Holdsworth (Beat Instrumental 1979)

Of course, I was immediately into hire purchase on one! Then people started mentioning this name ‘Gibson’ to me and one day I went into Kitchens in Leeds and saw this amazing looking cherry red S.G. I had to have it, it was such a beautiful guitar, such a lovely piece of wood. I got into even more H.P. debt on that!

"After the Hofner I was able to get another S.G. but that one was made when Gibson were going through a rough patch and although it sounded nice it was rather badly made, a narrow nut and a pretty bad joint on the neck.

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 di SGusting, and I’m looking forward to the guys who are going to make the better sounding ones.

Allan Holdsworth (Guitar Player 1980)

Allan’s second guitar was a Hofner f-hole acoustic, which he played through a 15-watt amp. In a year’s time he progressed beyond that guitar’s capabilities and talked his parents into buying him a Fender Stratocaster. Within six months he sold the Strat and bought a cherry Gibson SG Standard, which he later replaced with a SG custom played through a Vox AC-30.

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.

Which guitar do you use most of the time now?

I’m back to my SG Standard at the moment. It seems as if nobody likes them, but I love them. It has a vibrato on it, but the nicest thing about it is that it’s not a very good vibrato - not as good as the Fender’s. And that’s perfect, because I’m not as tempted to use it. I know that if I do, the guitar will most likely go out of tune. I was using the Strat’s vibrato a lot, and I’ll probably use the SG’s once in a while, but not on such a grand scale. It’s a gadget like a phaser or bass pedals - here today, gone tomorrow.

Allan Holdsworth (International Musician 1981)

ALAN: Oh yeah I love it. L.A. on the other hand I find a bit too laid back, it’s not for me. In fact I was there in Frisco in ‘76 with Tony or should say without Tony. He was in N.Y.C. trying to sort out the management problems. It was a ridiculous situation, no money, nowhere to stay. Regretfully I sold my beloved 1961 Gibson Les Paul SG Custom to raise the plane fare back to London.

The Reluctant Virtuoso (Guitar World 1981)

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."

Mike Pachelli Show (video transcript 1991)

MP: Let’s talk about some of your instruments, basically. What was your first guitar then?

AH: First guitar was this old, it was kind of like an old classical guitar, but it did have steel strings on it, and then after that my Dad got me an f-hole guitar which is a guitar I played a year or so - it was a Hofner, and then I put a pickup on it and I spent it my Dad who was into building amplifiers just started getting interested in amplifiers then. He built that, then I saw this guy who had this Fender Stratocaster which I fell in love with so I tried this Fender Strat, my Dad got it – well signed for it – so I could make the payments on it. And then about 2 months later I saw, I played an SG and that was it from then on, I was completely in love with this SG. I got this SG Standard, later I traded it for an SG Custom. I basically stayed with that guitar right the way through until…Tony Williams.

Allan Holdsworth (Guitar Player 1982)

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.

How does switching over from, say, an SG to a Stratocaster affect your playing?

Well, I’ve always had more difficulty playing a Strat than a Gibson: The scale length is slightly longer, and originally I didn’t have flat fingerboards on my Strats, so they just felt generally more cumbersome. Also, it seems that because the strings on the old Gibson just sort of lay on the bridge, you could have an extremely low action, and if you had string rattle it wouldn’t show up through the amp. On the Fender, though, because the bridge situation is so precise and so clean, any rattles you’ve got show up through the amps.

What made you leave the SG behind for the Strat?

The big difference for me in changing from the SG to the Start was putting humbuckers on the Strat. From then on, I couldn’t go back. I’ve tried a couple of times, because I love SGs -- they’re definitely my favorite guitars. I love the way they play and look. But there was just something in the sound that I missed after playing the Strat -- some of the heart, the upper harmonics. I think that it’s partially because of the bridge. That’s part of why I don’t like most of the new locking tremolo units like the Floyd Rose, where the strings are attached right on top. It seems that if the strings don’t actually pass through the block, they don’t sound as good. When the strings are just on top. Well, it seems that most of this mysterious Strat sound has been coming from the block, where the strings pass through the tubes in the blockpiece. I also found that the lighter the block, the better it sounds. I hate brass blocks; they just seem to absorb. It’s like if you have a practice mute on a violin. You stick a piece of brass or lead on the bridge and all the sound goes; it’s absorbed. And that’s what I think happens with brass. There’s a tremolo being designed by a guy named Dave Story in Southern California, and it’s got a totally different design than anything I’ve ever seen. It has a locking nut, but the bridge has fine-tuning adjusters.

No Record Contract, No Big Hoopla, But The Fans Have Kept The Faith For Allan Holdsworth (Guitar World 1982)

While Allan was with Tony Williams he used the vibrato arm on his ax - an SG back then - and it became his trademark, extending his legato runs by changing pitch within a note. Things have changed since then: "Most of the time I leave it alone. I’ll first find one that works real well, that can do anything, really, and I’ll not use it too much at all, because it’s the fashion now and I don’t want to know about fashion. It’s like looking over my shoulder, if you know what I mean, because my sound’s changing."

Reaching For The Uncommon Chord

FENDER STRATOCASTER

The first good guitar I had was a Fender Stratocaster. I only had it for a short period of time, but I really loved it. The Fender was a new guitar with a great sound, although I only had that first Strat for about six months. Then one day I went down to Leeds. ...

GIBSON SG

I used to ride the bus down there, sometimes just to look in the window of a Kitchens - a big music store. And one day I saw a Gibson SG - it was the first time I'd ever seen one in my life. I went in, and they let me take it downstairs and play it. I loved it. So I managed to exchange the Strat for the SG. I played that guitar from then through the time I joined with Tony Williams. Wonderful machines. In those days there weren't that many different guitars around. There were basically two, Fender and Gibson; both had completely different sounds. With the Gibson I had found a guitar with a voice more akin to what I was looking for. Now those two sounds have merged more with a lot of people experimenting, putting Humbuckers on Strats, etc. — which I did. I was so knocked out with this little Gibson. I then read about Orville Gibson and that man's story, and I became a big fan of his. I used to read a lot of books about violin makers and instrument makers in general. I admire innovative people like Leo Fender and Orville Gibson and those who helped develop their instruments, like Bach did with the organ.

No Secret (Guitar Extra 1992)

Q: Let’s go back a little bit. After hearing Clapton and being a fan, did you then pursue getting equipment like that, and buy a Les Paul?

Allan: I never liked Les Pauls. After I had the semi-hollow guitar, my dad bought me a Strat, and I played that for about 6 months. Then I made the mistake of going into this music store in Leeds, and I saw a SG custom in the window, a white one with 3 pick-ups. I played that thing, and that was it. So a friend of mine took over the payments on the Strat, and I started a new payment plan on the SG. And I basically used that SG pretty much right the way through until Tony Williams. I love those guitars. That one was lost mysteriously. The tour manager of Tony’s band was owed some money and he had my guitar, and what he did is, he took my guitar down to the pawn shop and sold it. So when I came back to carry on working with Tony, my guitar was in the window of Sam Ash’s or something. And I couldn’t get it back, because I couldn’t prove that it was mine. It was there for sale, but they wanted so much money for it that I had to go buy another SG somewhere else. This was right around that time of the first albu m, Believe It. And then I got this other SG Custom, a really nice one, but it was black, and that was a beautiful guitar. Then the band got stranded in San Francisco and I had to sell that one to get home.

Axes Of God (Guitar World 1989)

One of the least constant factors in the equation has been Allan’s preference in the characteristics of the guitar itself. Since the early seventies, when he acquired his first Fender Stratocaster, he persistently sought to break the instrument down to an elemental form - moving on to the thinner Gibson SG, another chiselled Strat, several hollowed-out Charvel and Ibanez solidbodies and, most recently, to the deceptively resonant, stripped down plastic Steinbergers - ultimately using MIDI as the basis for its restructure. With two SynthAxes and their corresponding analog Oberheim Matrix 12 and X5B synth modules and disk player, some Yamaha DX 7’s and an Akai S-900 sampler, Allan feels that the dream has been finally realized. "For years, I’ve been trying to get the guitar to do things it simply didn’t want to do," he explains. "I never have to fight the SynthAxe to make it respond, and, in a surprising sense, it’s really the most expressive instrument I’ve ever played through"

No Secrets (Facelift 1994)

So, how did the Gong projects come about?

Well, it’s funny because it kind of intertwined. I then went to do the thing with Tony Williams and stayed there in New York and then we had some real problems. Not with Tony or the band, because that was the other thing - I loved that band - enjoyed every minute of it - but it was really rough financially. I stayed at Tony’s house which was fine. I didn’t need any money and he took really good care of me. But when we were on tour, we had got back to New York and I’d scraped together enough money to get a plane ticket back to see my girlfriend. So I was there, hanging out, and then I phoned back to see what was happening, and then I found out that the tour manager didn’t get paid and he was in charge of my guitar and he sold it!

"That was the first and only time that I ever got that attached to an instrument. I was mortified! I only had one - I carried it everywhere - I used to buy a ticket for it on the plane... I’d had a lot of SG’s - but instruments are like that - you can make 50 of them but there’ll only be one of them that’s any good - some of them might be OK, but only one of them will be magic and so it was sold and I was completely bombed out. So then I went back to New York and had to buy a new guitar and there in the window was hanging my guitar! But I couldn’t prove it was my guitar and it was more money than I could afford, so I had to buy something else! So I bought another one and then we did another tour and ended up on the West Coast, ended up in San Francisco. And then the band ran out of money. Tony went back to New York to find out why there was no more money and both me and Alan Pasqua had no hotel - we were absolutely out on the street with a suitcase and a guitar. So we went down to the club where we’d been playing and the waitresses there gave us free drinks. We found the guy who had put us up for the night and we get back to this guy’s house in the evening and he said, ‘yeah, you can stay in this bed and you stay in that bed’. And we get back after the club had closed and there were two other guys in those beds! So this went on for three nights, and after the third night I said, ‘Man, I can’t hack this anymore’, so I took my guitar to the pawn shop and sold it. Alan Pasqua lent me the money (he lived in New Jersey at the time) to get from San Francisco to New Jersey and bought the ticket with my guitar from New York to London. I didn’t have anything! Just a suitcase.

"Tony Newton was OK, because he lived in Los Angeles, so a ticket from San Francisco to Los Angeles wasn’t really expensive. So that’s when this thing came about with Gong. I got this call from Nicholas Powell, who actually managed me for a while. He split from Virgin Records and wanted to get involved in the video stuff. He really helped me out. In fact, it was Nicholas Powell who gave me the free studio time on the barge to record the IOU album.

Allan Holdsworth (steveadelson.com 2000)

TCG: Tell us about your guitar evolution.

AH: I started out with a regular steel string flat top at a young age. Then I got a Hofner. I think it was called a "President." Later I put a pickup on it. My father’s friend built me my first amplifier. I used to love going to his place and watch him solder and such. This got me started in my interest in electronics. When someone lent me a Stratocaster, that was it. I couldn’t believe it. It sounded like the Shadows, or Hank Marvin who was a huge hero to me. I bought a Strat and used it enthusiastically for about six months till I tried a Gibson SG. It changed me again. I sold my Strat and played SGs for about a decade. Later, I did experiment with Strats again but with humbucker replacement pickups. I liked that sound. In 1972, I recorded with a trio called Tempest using an ES-335. I later used the SG with Tony Williams’ Lifetime Band.

Patron Saint (Guitar Player 2004)

At what point did you realize that achieving the ideal of horn-like tone would require a different approach than that of the other players who were searching for the same thing?

Actually, I learned that really early on. I think this is going to make a lot of people laugh, but, early in my career in the ‘60s, I was playing with some local band, and we had an opportunity to go into the studio. I had an AC30 and a Gibson SG, and I used to like to turn up the amp until it was right at that point where it would get real throaty and fat, but without a ton of distortion. So we started playing, and the engineer came in shaking his head saying, "No, no, no. This is all wrong. You turn the amp down, and we turn it up in the control room." And I’m screaming, "No, you don’t understand. I want you to record this sound." This would go on for hours, and it would drive me crazy. I couldn’t figure out why I liked my sound at gigs, but hated it every time it was recorded. Horrible.

A Conversation With Allan Holdsworth (Abstract Logix 2005)

Bill: Speaking of guitars, I remember being at Bill Laswell’s studio in Greenpoint, and he showed me a white Gibson SG that he said once belonged to you. What guitar was that?

Allan: That would’ve been the guitar that I played in the Tony Williams days. The weird thing about that...I used to have two SG's, a white one and a black one, which was really rare. One of those SG's I had painted and it didn’t come out right, it came out pink. And I was like, ‘Oh, I can’t play a pink guitar.’ So I had the guy paint it blue. I had a number of SGs but the last SG I owned was sold by the woman who tour managed Tony Williams Lifetime...while I was out in the country. He didn’t get paid so he took my guitar and sold it, and I couldn’t get it back. There was nothing I could do about it. It was sold and was just hanging up there in the shop. And I was like, ‘Jeez, I gotta buy my own guitar.’ That was a blue SG with two pickups.

Bill: The one I saw was white with three pickups.

Allan: Well, I actually owned two or three of them at different times. It would be interesting to see it.

Allan Holdsworth - Jazz/Fusion Guitarist (Musicguy247 2017)

R.V.B. - The technical manuals are about 2" thick. I can understand that coming from a musician. Let the recording techs work it. What was your first real good guitar?

A.H. - The first real guitar I got was a Hofner President. It was an acoustic guitar. Then I got cello style jazz guitar. I got a pickup for it... that my dad put on. After I shortly got fed up with that, I got a Fender Strat. It was really a great blue Fender Stratocaster. I saw to this out of town musician, who was a really good musician, but I never really knew who he was. He played an SG, and I really liked the sound he was getting. So I sold my Strat and got an SG. I played an SG for years, and years, and years.

R.V.B. - Did you find that the thin neck on the SG was easier to play that the Strat.

A.H. - The Gibson I had was an SG custom. I had an SG standard at first, but I later traded it up for an SG custom. No - the neck was like a baseball bat - it was huge. There was nothing skinny about that neck. I had it re-fretted with big frets. I ended going back to a Strat style guitar because I liked the longer scaling... 25 1/2.