- 1 Allan Holdsworth (Guitar Player 1982)
- 2 Allan Holdsworth (Guitarist 1985)
- 3 Med Siktet Innställt På Total Kontroll (MusikerMagasinet 1996, Swedish language)
- 4 Mike Pachelli Show (video transcript 1991)
- 5 No Record Contract, No Big Hoopla, But The Fans Have Kept The Faith For Allan Holdsworth (Guitar World 1982)
- 6 The Innocent Abroad (Musician 1984)
- 7 The Man Who Changed Guitar Forever (Guitar Player 2008)
Why did you switch from Stratocasters to Charvel guitars?
I was really lucky, because just before I sold my Stratocaster, I met [Charvel Luthier/designer] Grover Jackson in London. We went out for a few beers and he was willing to listen to ideas I had about certain woods, whereas a lot of other people wouldn’t. They’d say "you can’t make a guitar from this wood or that wood." But Grover listened to everything, and made three Strat-style guitars from various woods. Also I had the necks made wider at the fingerboard end. I hate the Fender string spacing.
Fender’s overall string spacing is wider than Gibson’s, but at the same time Gibson’s necks are wider than Fender’s. It’s absolute madness. I had Grover make the necks wide at the top [near the headstock] like Gibsons, and about 2 1/4" wide at the body end of the neck. So that means there’s a good 1/8" on either side of the outer strings, which is really nice. The strings used to really fly off the edges of the Stratocasters. I’m really happy with the guitars Grover made. They’re the best guitars I’ve ever owned.
What kinds of woods were employed in their construction?
All three are different. The red one has a maple neck with an ebony fingerboard and a basswood body. The white one has a maple neck, ebony fingerboard, and a body made of jelutong [a Malaysian and Indonesian softwood]. Then there’s the one that I was most interested in: a maple neck and fingerboard -- one piece -- and a spruce body with a clear finish. They all sound different from each other, which is really great, because I’ve learned so much about what to do about two more guitars that Grover’s going to make. He’s going to use a combination of all the best ideas in these three.
Is the spruce a lot lighter than the others?
No, actually the basswood’s the lightest. The Jelutong and the spruce are about the same, which is probably about the same as alder or something like that. The spruce one sounds stiffer, or harder. Very quick. I wanted to find a real resonant wood, and spruce is often used for the tops of acoustic guitars. I didn’t believe the normal stories that said, "the heavier the better for a solid guitar." And I’ve never believed that. Most of the old guitars I’ve ever played -- the good ones -- have been at least half the weight of their modern equivalents. If you feel the weight of an old Strat or an old Les Paul, it seems to weigh much less than a new one. The wood gives so much to the sound, just like in an acoustic guitar, whereas if the body is really heavy, it just sort of soaks the sound up, and you’re left with a string talking down to the pickup. Then you’d might as well have a concrete body or build it into the ground. I really like when a guitar feels as if it’s got some sort of acoustic thing going for it.
I hear you’ve got a rather interesting new guitar, would you like to tell us something about it?
Well, until about a year ago I was using a Charvel guitar, very similar to a Stratocaster, which was built for me by Graver Jackson of the Charvel manufacturing company out in California.
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. Grover had made me some guitars out of Basswood, which is a really lightweight, resonant wood used for making furniture - drawers and things. It’s very unaffected and doesn’t absorb moisture easily, so it’s ideal for painting. It’s a very sonorous wood and I love the sound of it. We used a quarter-sawn Maple neck with Ebony fingerboard, an inch and eleven sixteenths at the nut to two and a quarter inches at the body, with a seventeen inch radius on the fingerboard -so it’s very flat. I’ve been using Jim Dunlop 60/J 00 frets, which are very high; I like them to go right to the very edge of the fingerboard and cut quite steeply. Ibanez made about six different guitars and each one was progressively better than the one before until, about six months ago, when they gave me a guitar which was absolutely marvellous, the best guitar I’ve ever owned.
They then decided that they were actually going to produce this guitar, which is great. The funniest thing was that at the NAMM show, when they brought one of the first production models for me to have a look at, it was so good, I managed to blag them into letting me have it. They tell me that they’re weighing the individual bodies and, if they are over or under a certain weight they are not getting through. I think it’s marvellous for such a big company to go to those extremes. One of the original prototypes didn’t have a scratchplate and the pickup was mounted directly onto the body. We took that very same guitar, hollowed out a cavity down the middle and put a scratchplate on it, with a single humbucker. It improved the sound by at least 60%! The other great thing is that, because there’s a cavity, you can use any pickup configuration you like, mounted on a scratchplate and don’t have to do any hacking!
He has worked with Charvel, Steinberger, DeLap Guitars and most recently with Carvin.
- These people have been very helpful, but usually something has come in the way. Grover Jackson was the one who took care of the band when we first came to the United States. He let us rehearse in his factory, and built a red Charvel that I had for a long time.
- Something that has always been a problem is that [factory made] guitars vary in quality so much from one to the next [in the production line]. I do not like to rely on a (single) guitar and Steinberger came to the rescue. Their guitars sounded amazing and because the material was plastic, the copies were almost identical. I ordered custom-built guitars with a flatter neck. My communication with Ned Steinberger was very good, and we had a constant dialogue where I made suggestions regarding product development. At first, there were only a few parameters to control, but it developed. Unfortunately, it went as it always does when Gibson buys something - downhill. I received no help and they did not even bother to call me back.
MP: And before getting into that you went through a period with Charvel Strats, your chisel period, explain how that was...
AH: Well it was just basically, before I met Grover Jackson – who is an unbelievable guy, he really helped us out a lot in the beginning with IOU when I first came into the States I didn’t have a guitar or anything, he gave me 3 or 4 really great guitars, and uh, basically the chisel thing was just taking an old Strat and chiseling a hole so you could put a humbucker on it. It was before you could get humbuckers on Strats, you know. And then, like I said, I met Grover and he made these guitars for us. Those were some of the best guitars – I had a red one he made that was actually one of the best guitars I ever owned.
MP: What was the neck configuration? Was it maple or
AH: It was maple with ebony fingerboard and a basswood body
MP: And Seymour Duncan 59…
AH: Seymour Duncan, it was essentially a 59.
No Record Contract, No Big Hoopla, But The Fans Have Kept The Faith For Allan Holdsworth (Guitar World 1982)
Though for Allan it’s "all in the hands", his hardware setup facilitates his playing style. His single-humbucker, Strat-like guitars are set to play easily, to offer almost no resistance with extra-super-light gauge strings and a very low action. He speaks of equipment with precise glee, and since he maintains his own guitars, he knows what he likes: "At the moment I’m using two Charvel Strats that Grover Jackson, of Charvel, did especially for me - they’re made out of slightly different wood and the neck dimensions vary slightly. They’re wider at the top of the neck, I think it’s two and a quarter inches, than at the body end, which is nice ‘cause normally Fenders are very narrow there, and the strings pop off the end. So there’s an eighth of an inch on either side of each E string all the way up the neck. I hate it when you go off the fingerboard, which is easy to do when you use thin strings."
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.
Supplemental Editorial Begins:
All of your guitars have the wider neck at the top and the flattened-out fretboard, right?
Yeah, they’re usually 11/16ths at the nut to 2 1/4 at the bottom of the neck, pretty much like the Charvel necks that Grover Jackson made for me back in the ’80s, which is not standard at all on a Strat, because Strat necks are really narrow at the top, and the string spacing is really wide, so my problem with Strats was first of all I didn’t like the radius. And then the second thing is that the necks are so narrow at the top, compared to wherever the string spacing is at the bottom, that I would roll the strings off of it on each side of the fretboard. So I just decided to ask Grover, originally, if he’d make a nice wide at the nut neck. But then make it as wide as a Gibson Les Paul at the end of the fretboard. And of course then you look at a Gibson, and the spacing’s down on the bridge end of the fretboard, but the neck is wider. So it seemed completely illogical to me that the Fender neck is really not quite right somehow. It’s just personal taste, that’s all. So I’ve had all my guitars made with pretty much those dimensions. And with just about as big a frets as you can get, and then a pretty flat radius: 20 to 25.