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Allan Holdsworth Interview (richardhallebeek.com 1996)

-This is the first album that is completely recorded in your own studio 'The Brewery'. How did you work?

'While recording the basic tracks, bass, drums and piano, I just engineered. The basic sound is pretty much traditional, drums and bass play swing, I have tried to keep their sound pretty dry. I also played some Synthaxe here and there. Probably the album sounds more produced than your average Jazz album. But that was my intention. I wanted to mold the whole situation to my own thing. Without sacrifying the songs, I hope.'

Allan Holdsworth’s Untold Secrets + Worthy Quotes (Guitar Player 1990)

On an average day, it may take a couple of slow, careful steps to wade safely through the foyer at the Holdsworth residence, which is generally crammed waist-high with pieces of ingoing or outgoing equipment. The day before an I.O.U. tour, allow an extra minute or two. But when Allan is immersed in a recording project, it's best to either pack a lunch or just use the patio door around, because that's the most direct route to the meister's nerve center, The Brewery - home of bottles, boxes, inventions-in-the-rough, and site of much of the sonic outrage captured on Secrets, his latest release.

But Allan is far too judicious to squander time on one element in the picture he wanted to present with Secrets, which is why he chose to mix the tracks at home, away from the financial demands of a studio schedule and the distractions of travel and industry. But this kind of music lives for the bandstand, and he was called away from the console for short tours that waylaid the project even further. "We did a tour with Vinnie Colaiuta and Jimmy that was just wonderful," he reports, "and in the same tour played with [drummer] Chad and [bassist] Bob Wackerman, and that was wonderful. Then we did a trip to Japan with [drummer] Gary Husband and Jimmy, which was amazing. I'm so stoked to be playing with these guys. As far as I know, they're probably all saying, 'Give me the guitar.' In fact, I tell them that every time: I say, 'Man, the only thing wrong with this band is the guitar player. There's probably a lot of people who would agree with that, and I'm with 'em. They played so great on the alb um, and it makes me feel particularly good, knowing I gave them the kind of freedom I would enjoy."

At home in the Brewery (Home Recording 1997)

Allan Holdsworth may be one of the World's most evolved guitarists, but he records at home for the simple reason most people do: economics. "What I usually do is rent a tape machine because it's cheaper to do that than to go up to L.A. and record in a big studio,” says Holdsworth. "I've rented the Mitsubishi 88032-track, the Otari MTR90 and MX80 and others. I've had a mix of analog and digital, but I've found that renting is the best solution, because I take a long, long time to mix. I simply couldn't afford to take the time to mix what I do at home in a big studio."

And So Holdsworth has outfitted his studio with care in regards to his board (a Trident 24), his outboard gear (tons of vintage mic pres, EQ's and digital processors), and mics (his favorite being a Neumann U87). But unless he's been budgeted for a big machine, Holdsworth records on Alesis ADATs, as he did for his latest release, None Too Soon (AH Records). "They certainly don't give you the same quality that the big machines do," he says, "but that doesn't stop you from being creative with them."

For this project, and when working with the ADATs in general, Holdsworth tries to get as much of the sound from the mic pre's and mic positioning as possible, and to rely very little on EQ'ing. "I've found that with digital recording you shouldn't really count on EQ'ing too much, especially if it's something with the high frequencies," he observes. "When you start EQ'ing highs in the digital domain, it can sound really terrible, so I use good mic pre's and go right into the tape machine. I never actually recorded anything through my board for guitar. The board's just for monitoring."

For that direct-as-possible sound, Holdsworth has collected and used a variety of mic preamps, both stand-alone units and ones pulled from mixing consoles. "I have access to some Neve modules that belong to a friend of mine, the 1073's, and I have two AMEK preamp/equalizers that were designed by Rupert Neve, and I have a James Demeter mic preamp which is absolutely wonderful on some things. I think possibly the best one I've ever used was made by Millennia, but I couldn't afford it. The guy who lent it to me was really generous because he let me keep it for a long time. I was kind of sad to see it go."

The quest for good mics to record guitars seems a lot more straightforward for Holdsworth than the mic pre quest. He states simply: "Everybody's got their own opinion, but for me, there's a Neumann U87 and then there's everything else." Holdsworth uses other mics, such as the Neumann TLM170, though he still prefers the U87 for most guitar things. "I have a couple of the Shure SM-7's and a Shure single-point stereo mic that I like a lot, which I'll use for drums. I, of course, like dynamic mics on drums, so I'll use an SM-57 for a lot of things. This U87 actually belongs to Scott Henderson, but he likes dynamic mics on guitars. So when he needs it for vocals or something, he just comes and borrows it back."

In true Holdsworthian attention to detail, Allan gets his sound through a methodical approach to mic positioning. There are no quick fixes in his method, which involves setting the mic in front of the speaker in the live room, going back into the control room and listening, then going back into the studio to make position tweaks. "I always use close-miking, and I very rarely use more than one mic because of all the potential phase problems that exist,” he explains. "I think of the speaker as being divided in half, so there's the center line and then you can move the mic off to the left, toward the edge. Usually the mic is placed about halfway between the center of the cone and the edge. Sometimes I'll angle the mic slightly downward into the speaker, toward the speaker cabinet, ever so slightly. But that's what takes the longest, that positioning. I don't use headphones, they're too confining, so I go in there, put the mic up, and walk back and forth from the studio to the control room, moving the mic one centimeter at a time."

Holdsworth's home studio is not specially designed or constructed, and the live and control rooms have dimensions fairly typical of rooms found in a basement. Because he is so familiar with the space and because he close-mics critical things like the guitar sound, he doesn't really find this a limitation. "I've been to a lot of places, and I've found it's about familiarity. Once I know a room's characteristics I can deal with it, and that's true really of any studio, state of the art or not. They all have a character. The reason you acoustically treat rooms is so that as you go from one to another there's not that much of a change."

Even the fact that the walls are lined with wood doesn't pose a problem, as Holdsworth likes to record at lower levels. "Obviously, close miking helps, because the room's not really big enough to warrant putting up ambient mics,” he explains. "But I do record drums in there, and if a guy doesn't play too loudly, the reflections aren't really a problem. I like to record the guitars at a lower volume anyway, because then it's not so tremendously loud that the speaker cabinet reaches that honk point, which they all have. Once you're loud enough to activate the cabinet's resonant frequency point, it alters the sound dramatically."

At the heart of "The Brewery,” Holdsworth's affectionate name for his studio, is an old Trident 24 series console that he's modified quite a bit. "To me they're the best sounding boards ever made, along with the Neves,” he says. "I've put in large capacitors in the first eight channels, which gives me a lot of headroom and makes the board really punchy. Also, the thing that I love about this console is it's not hard-wired to a patch bay. Patch bays are great for getting things hooked up really quick, but I've found that connectors can be a big source of degradation in the sound. Luckily, with this console every channel has its own input/output. There's a mic in, a line in, a line out, and a send and return per channel. I'll just take a processor and physically move it close to the board and connect it with the shortest cord possible.”

Perhaps the biggest challenge Holdsworth faces in recording is not in his acoustics or the home recording environment, but in the recording machines themselves, as he discussed at the beginning. To Holdsworth, the issue is not about analog vs. digital, because he's recorded on both and had successful results with both. The real question is the quality of digital. "People think that digital is digital, and it's just not true," he says. "I've rented these expensive digital machines and run them alongside of ADATS, and there's just no comparison. You don't even have to have good ears to hear the difference, it's so astounding. You don't even have to be musically inclined. But people don't understand there are levels of digital. They also think that any digital is superior to analog, which just isn't true. ADATs are great, and I record on them, but you have to understand there's a difference between the converters on them and the ones Apogee makes as replacements for the Mitsubishi machines."

Axes Of God (Guitar World 1989)

Somewhere within the quaint repose of The Brewery lurk the lurid secrets Of Allan Holdsworth's magic. "Sometimes I just dread going in there, he confides, "for fear of what I might hear when I start playing."

Until Allan decides to devote full-time attention to vatting his own condiments, the Brewery metaphor will apply to that place where ingredients are carefully sifted and his ideas age to perfection. A fully equipped twelve-track studio with remarkable sound and a highly efficient design, the room houses all the harmonic, sonic and technological variables that inform Allan's work.

Although certain of his older instruments have been sold due to space limitations, the disregarded relics of Allan's guitar-development heyday pepper areas of the Holdsworth homestead in and around the Brewery. A mutated prototype of Allan's signature Ibanez model leans, forgotten, behind the patio door, while other parts and portions of guitars, amplifiers and innovations-in-progress can be found just about anywhere else one glances. Beside a dormant Battle Zone arcade machine sits one of Allan's latest and proudest, a soundproof enclosure containing sliding speaker rigs and microphone fixtures, designed to provide a clinical, sonically consistent recording environment for live guitar tracks.

Cluttered, cramped and shimmering with a warm, inspirational magic, The Brewery remains a warehouse of ideas and dreams yet to be realized. "I'm intrigued with electronics and amplifiers and I've experimented a lot," the maestro muses. "I've still got quite a lot of thoughts about what can be done to allow the electric guitar to do more, but that sort of thing is almost as difficult to get someone to execute as it is to get someone to create a SynthAxe. In a way, the creation of the SynthAxe was like a dream come true - something I might have dreamt up that somebody else actually made. A lot of the other dreams I have about guitar amplifiers - 'if only I could do this' kind of syndromes - are much less likely to happen, and probably won't."

Castles Made Of Sand (Guitarist 1987)

I also built a room inside my garage so there's like the outside garage and the inside garage - just made of two-by-fours and hardboard - just basic but it is a room and it's the first time in my life I've actually had somewhere I could work, let alone record.

What happened was, with each consecutive record I got further and further in debt with the studio, so I decided that I needed to do some recording at home. When we do the basic tracks in the studio they're always done really fast because the guys - Jimmy Johnson, Gary Husband and Chad Wackerman are so fast - and the basic tracks are done in just two or three days. So I checked around and tried a few machines and decided to get the Akai 1214. Actually it's called the 14D, I think! It's the rack mount version with no board. What we did was mix the basic studio tracks down to two tracks on the Akai and then did the rest of the overdubs at home. It worked out great because even though I couldn't get the same quality on the Akai as using a 24 track Studer, I could make up for the difference by the fact that I was able to spend more time on it - more time fine tuning the sound, rather than just having to go in there and record it because we were out of time. Everybody knows what that's like! So that worke d out pretty good with both the guitar and the synth.

Guitar Synths in Jazz (Music Technology 1987)

Running a home studio obviously affords Allan the luxury of such experimentation. What is his home studio like?

“I have a place where I can work, but I don't have a board as such. You really don't need one except for monitoring. I use an Akai 1214, and I recently started using the 14D, which is the rack-mount Akai tape deck. It's a nice-sounding machine and it really worked out well. I did all of the solos on it. I didn't do any of the solos in the studio.

Makin’ Trax (Guitar 1994)

Well, I can do certain pieces - solo things - at home, but generally the whole band recorded at Front Page Studios in Costa Mesa [California]. Then we try to pick the tracks where the rhythm section is the happiest. If somebody wants to fix something, then we'll take care of that at home.

Why do it at home?

It's cheaper. It's very difficult to make the kind of album I want to make with the budgets we get. The basic tracks are done very quickly, usually in three or four days. But the critical thing for me is mixing; that's what's done at home. That takes a while because I go at my own speed and I don't do it all the time. What I try to do these days is get it where I want it and then walk away for a bit...go out on my bike or go for a beer. Then when I come back I can hear it much more clearly. I find when I do it too quickly I focus on the EQ of the guitar or bass, say, and I miss other things. After I come back, I'll be shocked. I'll say, "Jeez, the bass drum is way too loud."

How long have you been using the system where you record at a studio and mix at home?

About five years. I started with a little 12-track Akai. Do you know it?

Sure, the one that takes its own cassettes.

That's the one. And I used to take care of any overdubbing-guitar solos, keyboard solos, bass solos, whatever. Then I would take the tape back to the studio and mix it there. But I sold that unit and bought a board. Secrets [1990] was the first album I recorded entirely at home.

If you mix at home you must have the same format as the studio's. What do you use as your multitrack, a digital machine?

No, I just have my board and rent the machine. Renting the machine is much cheaper than renting studio time. For $3,000 you can rent an MTR-90 for a month. There's no studio I know of where you could rent for a month for that. You see, I don't pay myself either. I do it because it's my album, but I don't get paid for it. I work for free - and it's a lot of work.

When you take the tape home, is it a safety master?

No, what I do is make multiple recordings. I'll use the digital output of, say, the Mitsubishi X-86, and put it into another machine. They're not digital copies.

Strong stuff from the brewery (EQ magazine 1997)

Guitar virtuoso Allan Holdsworth spends lots of quality time in his garage studio, which is adjacent to his house in San Diego, California. He calls the place The Brewery. "It's where we brew up all the music," he explains, "Plus, I like beer." Soft-spoken, Northern-English born, and mechanically inclined, Holdsworth has even invented and patented his own beer pump. But most of his exceptional digital dexterity has been devoted to music. Holdsworth emerged as a key figure on the '70s fusion and art rock scenes, playing with Soft Machine, Tony Williams' Lifetime, Jean Luc Ponty, Gong, and with drummer Bill Bruford in the U.K.

By the time the '80s arrived, Holdsworth had emerged as an able composer and bandleader in his own right - his 1984 Road Games album was nominated for a Grammy - while continuing to record with fellow virtuosi like Stanley Clarke, Michael Brecker, and Chad Wackerman. The guitarist has long been in the habit of mixing his projects at home, but a recent move from Orange County (just outside L.A.) to the San Diego area netted him an extra bonus: a garage with enough space for a tracking room as well as a control room.

"So now I can record guitar," Allan enthuses. "A carpenter friend of mine basically divided the garage in half, making two rooms." The garage has a sloping roof, so ceiling height in the control room varies from approximately 8 to 12 feet, and from 12 feet to 17 feet in the tracking room, giving Holdsworth a fairly high-ceilinged space for cutting tracks. The tracking room measures approximately 15 feet wide and 30 feet long.

The studio is based around a 44-input Trident console and Yamaha NS40 monitors driven by a UREA power amp. The outboard gear on hand includes a Demeter mic preamp, two Neve mic and line amps, a GAL 5-band stereo parametric EQ, and a pair of Trident TSM EQ modules. "In the studio, I mostly use old single-delay lines, in pairs," says Holdsworth. "I have bunch of old Yamaha 1500's I use for that. The digital effects all date from the days before multiprocessors. The only multiprocessors I have are Rocktron Intellifexes, which I like a lot. But I use those mainly for live work. I don't actually own a really good reverb. I usually rent one when I need one. I used to have an AMS 1580S and RMX-16, but I sold those to Steve Vai a long time ago and could never afford to buy them back."

Another item not in use at the Brewery is a patchbay. "I don't believe in them," Holdsworth declares. "Every time you run a signal through a connector, you screw up the sound. All the pieces of equipment in my studio are very mobile, so if I want to put an EQ or limiter on something, I can take it right to the source." Tape machines are also rented in for recording projects. "I'm a big fan of Mitsubishi 880's," says Holdsworth, "and, of course, analog machines. I'll sometimes rent an Otari. It depends on what the budget can go for." The guitarist owns a pair of Alesis ADAT machines, which he keeps in the studio mainly for writing purposes. The same goes for his modest MIDI rig, which is driven by Cubase software running on an old Atari ST computer, Holdsworth's Synth Axe MIDI controller, which was his main axe a few years ago, is now principally used to input data to the sequencer for writing applications or to trigger the occasional synth pad on records. While Allan was once mad for MIDI, the M-word now plays a fairly minor role in his music. "I quit on the MIDI stuff completely for a while, but I just got back into it recently. I don't do it a lot, though, and I don't want to do it a lot anymore; although it's cool for writing."

Holdsworth cut band tracks for his most recent album, None Too Soon (1996), at the Brewery. He also used the studio to record his guitar tracks for Heavy Machinery (1996), an album he did with former Yngwie Malmsteen sidemen Anders and Jens Johansson: "They just sent me (8-track) ADAT tapes. I played to the tapes and sent them back. It was kind of cool. The tapes had stereo drums, stereo keyboards, and bass, That gave me two or three tracks to mess around with. It can be hard, trying to play an overdub so it sounds like it really belongs on the track. So I try to get a feel for the shape of the tune before I even begin putting anything to tape."

A good, old-fashioned "one guitar man," Holdsworth records with essentially the same equipment he uses for live gigs. The only difference is that he adds effects processing live, but prints his signals dry in the studio, preferring to add effects in the mix. The current axe in Allan's life is a custom Carvin that he designed himself: a set-neck instrument with an ebony fingerboard, 20-inch radius neck, a semi-hollow alder body, and a single custom-wound Carvin humbucker. His guitar signal is split out to two stereo amp rigs: a pair of Mesa Boogie Mark III's for clean sounds and a pair of Boogie Dual Rectifier amps with single 12-inch cabinets for distorted leads. He uses Rocktron Intellifexes and a Roland WG-8 guitar system to process his guitar signals.

The Outter Limits - Allan Holdsworth's Out of Bounds Existence (guitar.com 1999)

Guitar.com: How has your recording studio evolved?

Holdsworth: Where I used to live, I just converted the garage. I didn't have a place that I could really record, it was just somewhere that I could mix. I could record guitar there because I made these special isolation boxes with a speaker and a microphone. I didn't make a lot of noise, so I could get the sound I wanted at pretty low level. That was how I did it then. But when I moved to where I am now in San Diego, a good friend of mine who's also a carpenter helped me convert the big garage into a studio. With this one, there was actually enough room that I could record drums too. It's still small and it wouldn't work with someone who plays perhaps at different levels volume-wise. With someone like Gary Husband, you really need to put him a nice big room to get the drums to sound the way they should. And because Gary Novak can also play very loud but typically plays a lot softer, I was able to do it there.

The Unreachable Star (Guitar World 1989)

GW: So they've driven you into reclusion your own home.

HOLDSWORTH: [Laughs] No, I always do the guitar at home now; I can get a better sound here than I can in the studio, because I don't have to worry about wasting time for the other guys by trying to mike up the guitar. I've used that room [Front Page], but I really like a certain kind of room for recording guitar. I don't record in certain rooms because I usually can't get a sound I'd be really happy with. It might be okay - I mean, maybe nobody else would notice the difference, but I notice the difference.