What kind of mikes did you select for your amps? I'm always experimenting, but for the most part I used Neumann U-87s, because they "hear" the way I hear. You know sometimes you put a certain microphone on a guitar, and when you hear it in the control room, it's got every single part of the sound that you didn't want to hear and none of the part you did. Now, that would be different for every person, because everybody's ears are different. But I quite like those microphones. I've tired a lot of other ones, but the Neumann gives the sound that's close to what I'm doing. And that's important, because the idea is to try to capture the sound you're actually making.
Your tone has a little more bite than it did the last couple of records. A lot of that is because I started using Boogie stuff. One of the other things I'd been perfecting over time was my little load box, the Juice Extractor. When I combine that with certain miking methods, it worked great. On this track, I ran a Mark III Boogie with the Juice Extractor into the Boogie 295 [power amp], and recorded if with a Neumann TLM17D microphone with a James Demeter mike preamp. I used that mike setup for all the guitar solos.
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."
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."
To create the tones customized for the specific tracks on Secrets, Allan cross-matched ideas, ingenuity and his inventions until he struck on a tasteful variety. Using his Steinberger GM2T, loaded with two custom Seymour Duncan Allan Holdsworth humbuckers and refretted by luthier Bill DeLap with Dunlop 6000 wire, Allan created "City Nights" by running a Boogie Mark III head through the Extractor prototype, into an equalizer, and back into a Boogie Simulclass 295 power amp, using only one side of the unit to drive his speaker box. There, the signal from a Celestion KS speaker was brought to tape via a Neumann TLM 170 microphone. The inline processing for his lead tone included an ADA Stereo Tapped Delay, two ADA mono delay lines and a Lexicon PCM60. Formulas differ on each track; there are few constants. "I used that power amp and the speaker box on all the tracks, with different variables," Allan reports. "On 'Peril Premonition,' for instance, I substituted a Boogie Quad preamp, and used a combination of a Shure SM58 and an AKG 460 on the same Celestion I'm very flexible, because it's all a big experiment to me. If I thought that I'd gotten a really good guitar tone and just left the mike and everything in the same position and used it, I know I'd die after-wards. I wanted to get back to using tube amps. Since I started using the Juice Extractor with the Boogies, I've fo und that I can get more flexible variations of tone than ever before. I find myself customizing the amp from the outside."
“We used to go in the studio and spend hours miking up. I learned quite a bit about miking techniques, so I decided it would be a good idea to make a totally enclosed box. So I did, and it works great. It's probably about 5' long, 3' high and 3' wide, and that contains a speaker cabinet design with totally exchangeable baffles. I can take baffles out and change speakers really quick. It's got a Neumann U87, and a specially constructed stand which I can move, but once I find a sound I like, it's permanently located.'
When did you start getting closer?
I started to get an understanding of how to record a guitar when I was with Tony Williams in the Believe It days. By that time, most engineers had come around to recording a loud amplifier. We were working with an incredible engineer named Bruce Botnick, and he was great at understanding exactly what I was looking for. That's where I learned what kind of mic I wanted to use, and where it goes on the speaker. And that recipe hasn't changed from that day on: a Neumann U87 placed between the center and the edge of the cone.