Hartley-Thompson amps

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Allan Holdsworth (Guitar Player 1980)

What kind of amps are you using now?

I had Marshalls all the way up through U.K. and with Bill Bruford. Since then, I’ve gotten two [Norlin] Lab Series amps and a British amp called a Hartley-Thompson. The trouble with the Marshalls was that they only gave a suitable sound for single-note solo stuff. They always distorted the chords; if I wanted to get a clean sound for chords, I had to push the amps too hard. I often ended up with a horrible square-wave, fuzzbox sound. What functions are assigned to each amp?

I use the Labs for chording with a Dynacord digital delay between them to add some depth. The Labs are very clinical sounding - extremely clean. The Hartley-Thompson is a bit warmer, even though that and my other amps are 100% transistorized. And that’s really unusual. Normally, transistor amps are clean up to a certain point, and after that they go into a horrendous type of distortion. The Hartley-Thompson doesn’t do that. All my amps have 12" speakers, too.

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

What sort of equipment will you be using live with the trio?

Well I’ve got a really good set-up at the moment. I’ve had a lot of trouble finding it, and started experimenting with it in UK, although that was stone-age compared to how it is now. I was using one 50 watt Marshall amp and a couple of 4X12 cabinets, and that was alright for solos but every time I played a chord it just wouldn’t hack it. I tried a couple of other amps, to switch between for chords and solos, and that didn’t work either, and it really began to worry me. If I played on my own at home could play all the things I liked. but it just wouldn’t work when it was loud, the chords would disintegrate. So I’ve just been experimenting and getting closer and closer to what I want. I’m still looking, but what I’ve got at the moment is two of the Lab Series L5 amps for chords, because I found they were very clean and strong sounding. Rather than have a 200 watt amp I though [sic] I’d have two 100’s and have a little more spread, and there’s a close delay between them to give a stereo effect. I really like the L5’s, although I find they’re not quite up to it for the single line sound I’m used to, but then I’ve never found a transistor amp that is, except for a new amp, which I’ll describe in a minute. My set-up is basically the two L5’s linked with the close delay, and I plug my guitar into a little routing box which sends the signal between what was originally the Marshall 50 watt and the two Labs. I then found I could get a more controllable sound by using a Burman 50 watt amp, a Pro 501. It was originally a combo but Mr. Burman kindly made me a head which I used with the Marshall cabs, and that worked really well. And then came the killer of all time. Two guys from Sheffield, Pete Hartley and Pete Thompson, turned up while I was on tour with Bill, and they said they liked the sound that I made and that if they could make a transistor amp that satisfied me then they might be able to convince a few other people. So, I tried it and it was really excellent, but still fell a little bit short for me. They took it away, worked on it and brought it back, and it was getting better and better every time. Their standard model is a 2X12 combo but with an unusual shape, like a cheese-wedge. It has one input, is all transistor, and has two volume controls, a red channel and a green channel, and you can set them for a clean or dirty sound, the usual thing. With valve amps, like Boogies, I’ve always found in that situation that they don’t work, because to get a sound out of the amp anyway I find I have to push the output, and if you turn the pre-amp up and the master down you just get that horrible distorted fuzz-box sound. To get any sort of sound out of it you had to turn it right up, which completely defeated the object of having two inputs on it - if you wanted to play chords you couldn’t play loud. lt would be just like having two 50 watt amps and setting one up for a dirty sound and one for a clean sound, and I couldn’t do that because I’d be driving the amp for single notes so hard the other one would never compete with it at all. So the Boogie was a total waste of time for me. Although the amp these guys have made is transistorised, they’ve found a way somehow, using magic parts or something, to make it sound fantastic, and it’s absolutely incredible to me that I’m now using a completely transistorised set-up. That Hartley-Thompson transistor amp sounds as good as if not better than any valve amp I’ve ever played, honestly, and that’s an incredible achievement. It doesn’t have a conventional pre-amp and master volume; you produce the sound with the first volume and all the second one does is turn it up or down, without any tonal distortion or anything. There’s no conventional overdriving system. It’s the same on the red channel and the green channel, and you can set the master volume controls for chords and single lines, and it really does work, with very clean chords. Since then they’ve improved it with two separate devices for the red and green channels, and it’s really amazing. The only reason I’m not using just that one package is because I’ve really got hooked on the multiple amp system and the spaciousness of it all. The Hartley-Thompson amp that I’m using is set for two different lead sounds, so I can switch between them. If I change pickups, like from the front to the back, I like to change the tone settings on the amp, which you can’t do normally, but I can do that with this amp and switch between the two lead sounds, and then with the routing box I can switch to the Lab amps. It’s got me reeling in a way because I always thought I understood a little bit about amps, and I’m completely baffled now as to why I like this one so much. It’s got me worried in a way too, because I always like to know how a thing works, even if it’s only very basically. I’ve messed about with practically every amp I’ve had, and know within 10 or 15 per cent what results I’m going to get, but all this transistorised solid-state is totally alien to me, I’ve got no understanding of it at all. The fact that I’ve got this transistor amp and am relying on it and not knowing how it works is a bit unsettling. I think I’ll have to go and stay with those guys and get them to do a little number on me. For me the amp is like the body of the guitar, the part of it which speaks. The guitar itself is incredibly important, but not so important as the amp. I could play a pretty gruesome guitar through a reasonable amp and guarantee a better sound than if I played a really good guitar through a duff amp. It’s just an extension of the guitar, although for many players it’s just an afterthought, which is just fine, but it’s not way I feel about it.

Allan Holdsworth (International Musician 1981)

ALAN: My main amp is a Hartley Thompson used in tandem with a pair of Lab L5 amps with built in limiter, my only concession to effects. The L5’s I use on heavy gigs with delay, splendid for fat chords.

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."

Allan Holdsworth (Guitar Player 1982)

Did you use your usual stage setup to record I.O.U.?

Actually, since then I’ve gotten different equipment, because I had to sell the guitar and amps I used on the album in order to pay for it. I used two Hartley Thompson amplifiers and two Lab series L-5 amps. With the Hartley Thompsons I used two cabinets, each with two Goodman GP-12 speakers. They’re the best speakers, but they’re hard to get in America.

Do you use any other guitar amps? You used to have Norlin Lab Series L-5s.

I’ve been using a couple of Fender Twin Reverbs for the chords as well. I also have two new Fender Princeton IIs and a Super Champ. I’m really knocked out by them. They’re amazing. In fact all the new Fender amps seem to be really good. And because I sold most of my equipment back in England, except for the Hartley Thompson amps, I had to kind of piece everything back together. Grover got two Marshall 4x12 cabinets, which worked fine for the solos, but the speakers couldn’t handle the chords. The Hartley Thompsons would just kind of blow them up. So I had to stop using the Hartley Thompson clean channel, and I started using the Fenders for the chords. Since then, Jeff Berlin has showed me his stuff, which is Yamaha. I was very impressed with it, and have since obtained one of their 200-watt power amps. It works fantastically. It has two channels, and I run the DI outputs of the Fenders into it. It’s hyper-clean. I’ve arranged to get more Hartley Thompson equipment, and change the speakers. Everything w ill get simpler once I’m able to select the speakers I want that will do both jobs. Then the Hartley Thompson will actually do everything, and the amps wont have to accommodate the types of speakers. It’s fine, because I love to experiment, and I’ve found a lot of different ways to do things.

Do you think you will ever be totally satisfied?

I think when I get the two Hartley Thompsons and the speakers sorted out, I’ll be as close to satisfied as anybody could be. They’re the best amplifiers in the world.

Did their transistor circuitry put you off initially?

The fact that it’s a transistor amplifier totally devastated me, because I said, "Oh, no. Not a transistor amplifier." I had used transistor amps for chords, but never for solo things. After I tried the amp, I wouldn’t let the guy out of the house. He said, "This is the only one I’ve got. It’s the prototype." I told him I don’t care, and if he took it away, I wouldn’t buy one, because I didn’t believe that the sound could be duplicated. I thought that they had come across an absolute fluke -- some sort of miracle in this little box. I told him to leave it. He reluctantly did, and as it turned out, I was in for even a bigger shock. A couple of months down the road, he came over with a second amp, which proceeded to destroy the first one. Then I knew they knew exactly what they’re doing. And since then, everything they have made has done nothing short of blown me away.

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

The amps he prefers are solid state amps that sound like tubes. Made in England, unlike most setups they reside in a rack with the rest of Allans’ electronic gear: "I’ve got two Hartley-Thompson amplifiers, they’re in the rack. They make combo’s normally, but I was trying to make a rack up, and I thought I could incorporate them, so I did. ‘Cause originally I was going to use them for chords as well as solos. But we had some problems with the power supply and I wasn’t able to get the amount of wattage that I needed for the chords. So I finished up using what I could for that, the two Twins."

Allan Holdsworth (Music UK 1983)

‘I was endorsing two products but I’ve stopped doing it because I was getting terrible ear bendings from both companies and it seemed like I was losing my freedom and I couldn’t use what I wanted. Being a man of contradictions, Allan does actually endorse A/DA stereo delay units. These form part of his stage rack, coupled with another pair of delay lines to get a longer delay, namely a Lexicon PCM41 and a Dynacord DDL 12. A Yamaha E1010 analogue delay completes his set of five delay lines which Allan needs to use with his set up. For solos he has a pair of Hartley Thompson 100 watt amps (shortly to be replaced by a pair of the 200 watt variety), and for chords a pair of Yamaha PI2200s, which are 200 watts a side, plus a pair of Yamaha PGI pre amps. ‘The Hartley Thompson is a solid state amp and in my opinion it’s the best guitar amplifier in the world, they’re insane! To me it sounds better than any tube amp I’ve ever heard. It’s infinitely better than a Boogie, it does things a Boogie can’t even come close to, they’re so . . .000 QUIET! I put them through four Yamaha 4x12 cabinets, two of them have the original speakers, and two of them contain Celestion Gl2s. With a Boogie set up I had to run the amp so hard that the output tubes couldn’t cope with the clean signal, and there was no way I could get the clean chords that loud. ‘The Hartley Thompson has two entirely separate channels that give a sustain on the red channel that leaves every other amp I’ve tried, in the dust. On the green channel you can play chords twice as loud and twice as clean as the red channel with individual EQ and separate reverbs. They’re light years ahead of anybody else, I don’t think anybody else even comes close.

The Innocent Abroad (Musician 1984)

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.

The Unreachable Star (Guitar World 1989)

GW: Well, you certainly use what you say you use; there’s a bevy of Rocktron gear in here. One thing I don’t see, though, is a single Hartley-Thompson amplifier.

HOLDSWORTH: [warmly] Yeah, I’ve got them out in the garage. I couldn’t sell them because they mean too much to me, in nostalgic terms. I stopped using the Hartley - Thompsons when I started using Dan Pearce’s amplifiers. The Rocktron stuff is great, and they’re really, really nice people. It’s tough as a musician with regard to those things.

Med Siktet Innställt På Total Kontroll (MusikerMagasinet 1996, Swedish language)

- A friend gave us free studio time at The Barge, [literally] a barge in London. To be able to mix the album over two evenings in Trident Studios, I had to sell the guitars used for the recording. Sometimes I miss England, but that side of the country I don’t miss. For a musician like myself, it’s extremely inhibitive to live there.

During this time, he used Hartley/Thompson amplifiers.

- They were my favourites for a long time and I still have one of them. I don’t use it anymore, but keep it as a memory.

Allan Holdsworth in exclusive LMS interview (tlms.co.uk 2000)

MRJ: You were getting a fantastic clean sound from those Lab Series amps back in the early eighties. Did you use them for quite a while?

AH: I used to play through a Marshall 50W with two 4x12 cabs, but when I would play a chord it was always a ‘crunch’ sound, so I didn’t play a lot of chords back then. When I decided to start my own thing I had an endorsement deal with Lab Series. I really love the clean sound-soft and wide. It was my first stereo set up and the beginning of what I use nowadays. I used to use three amps-a Hartley-Thompson and two Lab Series. It was a very fat sound. (Then) I used a Dual Rectifier. That was probably one of my favourite all time guitar (amp) heads. I used Mesa Boogie amps for years. when I went to Japan a few years ago (someone from Yamaha) brought me the first DG series amp. It blew me away. I now use two of the new DG *0s. I used on the whole of the (new) record.

A Different kind of Guitar Hero (BAM 1983)

BAM: Why do you use Hartley Thompson amps exclusively?

AH: Because they're 30 years ahead of everything else, they don't really have much competition. But l do use other amps sometimes, like the new Fender Super Champ, which is a great little amp, and I've got a Yamaha power amp, as well. But the Hartley Thompson can do things that no other amplifier has ever done. It's like having two separate amplifiers in one. Each channel has a separate EQ, and one is super super clean, while the other gets that real sustained kind of sound. And the amp is made with transistors, it's not a tube amp, but I prefer this sound to any tube amp I’ve ever heard. I can get great lead sound and play chords cleaner and twice as loud as lever have before.