Lab Series amps
- 1 Allan Holdsworth (Guitar Player 1980)
- 2 Holdsworth & Co. A New Side Of Allan’s Music. (Guitar 1980)
- 3 Allan Holdsworth (International Musician 1981)
- 4 The Reluctant Virtuoso (Guitar World 1981)
- 5 Allan Holdsworth (Guitar Player 1982)
- 6 Med Siktet Innställt På Total Kontroll (MusikerMagasinet 1996, Swedish language)
- 7 Allan Holdsworth in exclusive LMS interview (tlms.co.uk 2000)
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
Today he uses Roland Jazz Cubes for his clean sound.
- They are good and have a soft sound, they remind me a little of Lab L5 amps. Before that, I used the Mesa Boogie Mark III. For the lead sound, I use the Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier through a Carvin solid state stereo power amp. The speakers are either a pair of 1x12" or 2x12" Rectifier cabinets. The rig has become smaller over the years, and the only effects I’m using now are two Rockton Intellifexes for the cleans, and a Lexicon Reverb for the solos. Signal processing was more fun before, when it was not created from presets, and it was assumed that the user himself had an idea of what he wanted to accomplish with the sound.
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.