Saxophone

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...Where No Guitarist Has Gone Before... (Cymbiosis 1986)

Cymbiosis: I understand if your family could have afforded it you would have had a saxophone instead of a guitar when you were younger?



Holdsworth: Yeah, that’s what I really wanted—to play saxophone.



Cymbiosis: Why was that?



Holdsworth: Well, I just loved the saxophone. It was the sound. I think people are first attracted to music and then to specific sounds within it. I also liked violin later. But at the time I liked saxophone more, because it was on most of the records that my dad had. He was a jazz player and had a lot of jazz records.



Cymbiosis: So you had things like John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley, Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw?



Holdsworth: Yeah, Dad played in the Air Force band during the war, and they played a lot of swing.



Cymbiosis: So that might account for why a lot of your riffs almost sound hornlike as opposed to how a "regular" guitarist might sound?



Holdsworth: I don’t think any of that was deliberate, really. My parents bought me a guitar; it was real cheap. I think they paid 10 shillings for it, about a dollar at the time, I guess. I just left it lying around and had no interest in it.

Cymbiosis: And that’s what moved you into electric guitar?



Holdsworth: When I got my first electric (which was just an acoustic fitted with a pickup), I didn’t start out trying to make the guitar sound like a saxophone, or anything like that. It just evolved over a number of years. It’s only now that I realize that’s what was happening subconsciously. All these years I’ve really wanted to make a different sound than I was making.

Allan Holdsworth (Beat Instrumental 1979)

"I really would have loved to have played the saxophone when I began. I actually didn’t start guitar till I was about 17 which I suppose is pretty late really. Before that I’d always wanted to play but never really wanted to enough to make a nuisance about getting myself an instrument."

Allan Holdsworth (English Tour Program 1989)

Born in Bradford in 1946, Allan didn’t start playing the guitar until relatively late - he never wanted to play it anyway, he’d rather have learnt sax - but it was a guitar he was given and so it was the guitar he learnt to play. Guided by his father, apparently a gifted jazz pianist, Allan was a good pupil, always questioning and probing. He quickly realised that the way keyboard chords were arranged differed greatly from the musically limiting system which ‘shape’ guitarists seemed all too willing to adhere to. But, as Allan preferred the more musical sound of his father’s piano chords, he set about the arduous task of transferring them to the guitar: "I started experimenting... taking a triad and going through all the inversions I could get on the lower three strings. Then I’d do the same on the next three, then take a four note chord and do the same... and so on. Then I’d write them all out, find the ones I liked and discard the ones I didn’t." It was this approach that gave Allan his amazing chord vocabulary and led to those tendon-defying stretches - seven or eight frets sometimes - that still put his imitators to shame.

Allan Holdsworth (Guitar Player 1982)

And that wasn’t as enjoyable as the electric?



Well, I wanted something I could blow on. I wanted to be able to make a note loud or long or soft or short; play things legato or play them staccato. Whatever I felt like. But it seemed that the guitar was only capable of a few of the things that I really wanted to do at the time. I guess I fell in love with it later. I mean, I didn’t really dig electric guitar that much at first. I’ve always been more in love with music than instruments. I’m not overly concerned with what instrument. If I had been presented with another instrument at the same time as the guitar, I may have gone with that. It just happened to be the guitar. And I’ve always listened to all kinds of instruments -- I’m not just a guitar freak. I love the guitar, and there are so many fantastic players that I always get enjoyment listening to them play. But it’s the same for other instruments too.

Allan Holdsworth (Guitarist 1985)

Your style is very unique, did you arrive at it by listening to other players, or was it purely what you heard in your own head?

No, no, I listened to lots of different things, but I tried just to draw from the things which I found particularly moving, and which made me feel something. Sometimes I will be in awe of something I hear which is amazing in a technical sense but, usually, it’s how emotively it connects with me; like listening to Michael Brecker or Keith Jarrett when you get that feeling up your back and your hair stands on end. That’s the feeling that I try to extract.



When I first started playing I tried to copy people, but soon realised that it didn’t get me anywhere; I didn’t seem to be learning anything at all. So I decided I had to try to find out what the essence, the core or the motivation behind those people was, and that’s the kind of thing I’m looking for; just a way to express myself through an instrument. It could have been anything. It just turned out that it was the guitar.



I didn’t really want to play the guitar, I wanted to play saxophone, but it just so happened that I didn’t get a saxophone, I got a guitar and that’s where it all started. That is why this SynthAxe thing is so interesting to me, because for a long time now I’ve been very interested in the compositional side of things. One of the things I’d really love to do is get an amazing band together but not be a player in it at all, just a writer. I’d love to write a piece of music that a set of musicians could embellish. The themes and the chord structures would be fixed, but the rest of it would be very open to interpretation. In the framework of a band you can tell the players roughly how it is, they know what the bar lengths are and they can take it from there, without ever getting lost or the music becoming something else.



One of the things that drove me crazy when I used to work with UK, was that everything was always superficially organised, but it wasn’t organised at all really. It’s like an insect that’s got the skeleton on the outside, and I prefer it when the skeleton is on the inside. Not that there’s anything wrong with insects, bugs are great!

What advice would you give to anybody starting out playing jazz, or even to someone who is quite proficient at rock guitar, but would like to extend their horizons?



As I mentioned before, I didn’t really want to play the guitar, I wanted to be a saxophonist

...Where No Guitarist Has Gone Before... (Cymbiosis 1986)

Cymbiosis: I understand if your family could have afforded it you would have had a saxophone instead of a guitar when you were younger?



Holdsworth: Yeah, that’s what I really wanted—to play saxophone.



Cymbiosis: Why was that?



Holdsworth: Well, I just loved the saxophone. It was the sound. I think people are first attracted to music and then to specific sounds within it. I also liked violin later. But at the time I liked saxophone more, because it was on most of the records that my dad had. He was a jazz player and had a lot of jazz records.



Cymbiosis: So you had things like John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley, Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw?



Holdsworth: Yeah, Dad played in the Air Force band during the war, and they played a lot of swing.



Cymbiosis: So that might account for why a lot of your riffs almost sound hornlike as opposed to how a "regular" guitarist might sound?



Holdsworth: I don’t think any of that was deliberate, really. My parents bought me a guitar; it was real cheap. I think they paid 10 shillings for it, about a dollar at the time, I guess. I just left it lying around and had no interest in it.

Cymbiosis: And that’s what moved you into electric guitar?



Holdsworth: When I got my first electric (which was just an acoustic fitted with a pickup), I didn’t start out trying to make the guitar sound like a saxophone, or anything like that. It just evolved over a number of years. It’s only now that I realize that’s what was happening subconsciously. All these years I’ve really wanted to make a different sound than I was making.

Allan Holdsworth (Beat Instrumental 1979)

"I really would have loved to have played the saxophone when I began. I actually didn’t start guitar till I was about 17 which I suppose is pretty late really. Before that I’d always wanted to play but never really wanted to enough to make a nuisance about getting myself an instrument."

Allan Holdsworth (English Tour Program 1989)

 [ 1]

Born in Bradford in 1946, Allan didn’t start playing the guitar until relatively late - he never wanted to play it anyway, he’d rather have learnt sax - but it was a guitar he was given and so it was the guitar he learnt to play. Guided by his father, apparently a gifted jazz pianist, Allan was a good pupil, always questioning and probing. He quickly realised that the way keyboard chords were arranged differed greatly from the musically limiting system which ‘shape’ guitarists seemed all too willing to adhere to. But, as Allan preferred the more musical sound of his father’s piano chords, he set about the arduous task of transferring them to the guitar: "I started experimenting... taking a triad and going through all the inversions I could get on the lower three strings. Then I’d do the same on the next three, then take a four note chord and do the same... and so on. Then I’d write them all out, find the ones I liked and discard the ones I didn’t." It was this approach that gave Allan his amazing chord vocabulary and led to those tendon-defying stretches - seven or eight frets sometimes - that still put his imitators to shame.

Allan Holdsworth (Guitar Player 1982)

And that wasn’t as enjoyable as the electric?



Well, I wanted something I could blow on. I wanted to be able to make a note loud or long or soft or short; play things legato or play them staccato. Whatever I felt like. But it seemed that the guitar was only capable of a few of the things that I really wanted to do at the time. I guess I fell in love with it later. I mean, I didn’t really dig electric guitar that much at first. I’ve always been more in love with music than instruments. I’m not overly concerned with what instrument. If I had been presented with another instrument at the same time as the guitar, I may have gone with that. It just happened to be the guitar. And I’ve always listened to all kinds of instruments -- I’m not just a guitar freak. I love the guitar, and there are so many fantastic players that I always get enjoyment listening to them play. But it’s the same for other instruments too.

Allan Holdsworth (Guitarist 1985)

Your style is very unique, did you arrive at it by listening to other players, or was it purely what you heard in your own head?

No, no, I listened to lots of different things, but I tried just to draw from the things which I found particularly moving, and which made me feel something. Sometimes I will be in awe of something I hear which is amazing in a technical sense but, usually, it’s how emotively it connects with me; like listening to Michael Brecker or Keith Jarrett when you get that feeling up your back and your hair stands on end. That’s the feeling that I try to extract.



When I first started playing I tried to copy people, but soon realised that it didn’t get me anywhere; I didn’t seem to be learning anything at all. So I decided I had to try to find out what the essence, the core or the motivation behind those people was, and that’s the kind of thing I’m looking for; just a way to express myself through an instrument. It could have been anything. It just turned out that it was the guitar.



I didn’t really want to play the guitar, I wanted to play Saxophone, but it just so happened that I didn’t get a Saxophone, I got a guitar and that’s where it all started. That is why this SynthAxe thing is so interesting to me, because for a long time now I’ve been very interested in the compositional side of things. One of the things I’d really love to do is get an amazing band together but not be a player in it at all, just a writer. I’d love to write a piece of music that a set of musicians could embellish. The themes and the chord structures would be fixed, but the rest of it would be very open to interpretation. In the framework of a band you can tell the players roughly how it is, they know what the bar lengths are and they can take it from there, without ever getting lost or the music becoming something else.



One of the things that drove me crazy when I used to work with UK, was that everything was always superficially organised, but it wasn’t organised at all really. It’s like an insect that’s got the skeleton on the outside, and I prefer it when the skeleton is on the inside. Not that there’s anything wrong with insects, bugs are great!

What advice would you give to anybody starting out playing jazz, or even to someone who is quite proficient at rock guitar, but would like to extend their horizons?



As I mentioned before, I didn’t really want to play the guitar, I wanted to be a saxophonist and what has come to light for me is that the music is the most important thing; the way you write it, or the way you play it. I really don’t think the instrument has anything to do with it at all. For me the instrument happens to be the guitar, because I’ve played that particular instrument longer than anything else and am able to express myself more easily on it, than say on piano. It’s only as time has evolved that I’ve got to a certain stage -however grim, or good doesn’t matter- it’s just better now than it was a few years ago.

Allan Holdsworth (International Musician 1981)

Do you have any favourite players?

ALAN: There’s a guy called Steve Topping I like very much. Mostly it’s musicians who play other instruments that move me, horn players for example. I’m more interested in trying to figure out what they’re playing than what some other guitarist is playing. Actually Hendrix didn’t make any kind of impression on me until after he died.

Allan Holdsworth (Music UK 1983)

‘In the beginning when I started playing, I wanted an instrument that I could blow on and I’ve now found a way of getting something that I want out of the guitar. About 2 or 3 years ago I basically rediscovered the guitar, if you know what I mean, because I started to find a way of expressing myself through the guitar. In a way the instrument doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter what it is really, whether it’s a saxophone, a violin, anything, there’s always a way of trying to find something from it. What I didn’t want to do is sound like somebody else.’

Allan Holdsworth (Sound Waves 2012)

The thing I liked about jazz was that I had a fascination with improvising. I didn’t want to stick to any one style of jazz. I just liked being presented with a set of chord changes, and then trying to think of putting something interesting on top of it. I didn’t really focus a lot on the guitar. I listened to a lot of horn players, like Charlie Parker of course, and when I discovered John Coltrane, that was it. That guy changed my whole life. I couldn’t hear any lineage in his playing. Somehow, he seemed to be connected to the instrument in a way that I had never heard before. So I became really fascinated with John Coltrane, and I bought just about every record I could get my hands on.

Allan Holdsworth (steveadelson.com 2000)

Allan Holdsworth: I actually never was interested in playing. I only wanted to listen to music.



TCG: How then did guitar come into your life?



AH: When I was about 15 or 16, I thought it might be interesting to try the horn, because I found myself listening to a lot of saxophone players. I was really drawn to the idea that you could shape the notes after they were sounded, as opposed to the guitar which was basically a percussive instrument. Saxophones were pretty expensive and we couldn’t afford one, so I ended up with a guitar that I got from my uncle. I wasn’t really that interested in this instrument. I wasn’t particularly drawn to it. I soon took an interest in some local Skiffle music which sort of lit the torch. My father realized this and started helping me with my musical education. Interestingly, even though he was a pianist, he realized that playing scales and such with open strings on the guitar was counterproductive to playing in different keys. So I learned and still use lots of fingers to accomplish my musical ideas.

Allan Holdsworth - An interview (Atavachron 1994)

CH: Much has been written, they say, about your legato style.



AH: Oh, God. Did I even answer that question? That last one?



MP: Chris, you answered it for him.



CH: They want to know if you attribute your unique approach to playing legato, or is it something new-a new style, perhaps.



AH: No, it’s not; it’s nothing. It’s just the way...



CH: I guess I would rephrase the questions: "Is there any significant factor in the way you derive your own style?"



AH: Significant? Yes, there is; a significant factor was always trying to make the guitar sound the way you want it to sound.



CH: Like a horn?



AH: Yeah. I mean, for no other reason. I wanted to play the saxophone, but I couldn’t-I got stuck with a guitar. And I didn’t realize what I was doing! I didn’t know that I was playing legato... I didn’t know. I really didn’t care! I was just trying to play music; I was trying to find the notes that I wanted to hear. And who cares? The notes, the music... again, the music’s the thing, man. Who cares whether the guy has a pick between his first two toes, or holds it picking his ass-cheeks. Who cares, man? What does it matter, man? It’s totally unimportant. It’s irrelevant. Completely.

Allan Holdsworth - Jazz Fusion Guitarist (Musicguy247 2017)

R.V.B. - I glad you made out ok. Thank you for taking this time to speak with me. The guitar... you brought it to a new level. Was there any incident in your youth that made you want to become a guitar player?



A.H. - Not really. I had always loved music way before I ever touched an actual instrument. My dad played music all the time, as he was a really great pianist. I was surrounded by music. He had lots of great records... classical... jazz and other stuff. I wanted to play a horn - like a saxophone - but they were kind of expensive. My dad bought a guitar from my uncle and I started noodleing around on that. I wasn’t really interested in it at first but it kind of grew on me.

Allan Holdsworth Talks SynthAxes, Jaw-Dropping Solos and More (Guitar World 2017)

I’ve read that you started out wanting to play saxophone, but couldn’t afford one and ultimately decided to play guitar. True? —Gordon Lee

I didn’t decide to play guitar, but that was the instrument which I was offered. I’ve always been interested in horn-type instruments, such as a saxophone; but those instruments are very expensive, so my dad bought me a guitar instead. I didn’t like the guitar at first, but after noodling on it for several months, I developed a feel for it. I was around 14 at the time. That was many years—and beers—ago.

Allan Holdsworth interview (Abstract Logix 2004)

Fan: You have pioneered a voice in music and influenced your peers and your fans. Who are some of your favorite guitar pioneers?



AH: Django Reinhardt, Charlie Christian, Jimmy Raney, Wes Montgomery in fact most of the great guitar players; I loved them all. The newer guys: John McLaughlin, Pat Metheny, John Scofield, Scott Henderson and Frank Gambale... They?re all amazing with very different musical personalities. Of course there’s Michael Brecker and Keith Jarrett, but they don’t play the guitar (thank God!). I think I’ve been influenced by all instruments. I was influenced a lot by horn players, from Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderly, John Coltrane on to Michael Brecker. There’s many, many more that you could fill this whole page with people that have brought great gifts to the world of music.

Allan Holdsworth interview (Music Maker 2003)

You love the saxophone and recorded with trumpet player Walt Fowler on ‘16 Men Of Tain’. Do you ever think about recording some more with a horn player?


Yeah, I’d love to do something more with a horn player. It was just always like a budget problem. It’s hard enough trying to pay the guys in the band to do it anyway. A lot of times guys do it for next to nothing already, so..It’s just because they want to do it. So it’s kinda difficult with a horn. The last one it was nice because Gary Novak and Dave knew Walt Fowler. So it was nice to talk Walt Fowler into coming down and doing some stuff on that one which sounded great. I like trumpet and guitar actually. I like it a lot.

Allan Holdsworth’s New Horizons (Downbeat 1985)

Originally an aspiring reed player, Holdsworth didn’t pick up the guitar until he was 17 years old. "I played saxophone and clarinet and I wanted to play oboe, but I had problems with my ear. I kept popping it from blowing and getting ear infections, so I had to stop. It was some kind of peculiar physical thing where all the pressure would build up in one place. I don’t know - I guess I wasn’t supposed to play a wind instrument"

When he switched over to guitar he was still interested in getting a saxophone kind of sound, which led to all kinds of early experimenting with amplifiers and sustain. "I guess consciously since I’ve started on the instrument I’ve been trying to get the guitar to sound more like I was blowing it than plucking it, as such. I remember having this little 15-watt amplifier that my parents had bought me, and there’d be a certain volume I’d play at with this thing where it would feedback and sound really great, a more hornlike quality than anything I had heard before. Then I’d plug my guitar into somebody else’s amplifier and it would sound completely different. That interested me very much, so I’d try and figure out how the whole electronics thing worked. My father had a friend who built amplifiers and I’d get some lessons with him, so I gradually became aware of what was happening with the sound once you’d pluck a note. From there I’d try to hone in on it - make an amplifier that did exactly what I wanted it to do!’

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

Because I long to be a wind player - I always wanted to play saxophone - when I go to a synthesizer to create a sound, that’s usually where I start. I’m not trying to replicate anything specific; I just say, "Well, let’s try and get a wind-instrument-from-Mars tone." So long as it’s a wind instrument, that’s all that matters. I quite liked the sound on "Spokes," which is just a lone Oberheim Xpander. In the middle, I had a second Xpander detuned a tone away from the first, and faded that in during the middle section where Jimmy and Vinnie are just completely reaming. I wanted to leave it kind of open there for the bass and drums to do a bit of savaging.

Winds Of Change



I find that people - and particularly guitar players - tend to create barriers. It’s kind of like the stories you hear about somebody like Adolf Sax [who invented the saxophone in 1846] - man, I almost cried when I read the story about that guy. I mean, he invented a musical instrument and was punished for it; he and his family were given a hard time, just for his invention. Like the electric guitar, the saxophone for a long time wasn’t even considered a musical instrument by classical people, or people with closed minds who weren’t willing to accept that something can come along and do something different. And there he was, a persecuted guy who invented a really great instrument; there’s nothing that sounds like a saxophone - nothing. It indicates the amount of time it takes for people to accept something.

Any Key In The U.K. (Unknown publication 1978)

Can you pinpoint any one particular influence that helped you evolve your style?

Well,’ I think I was influenced in that I think I wanted to play a different instrument to the guitar! It started very early when I was listening to jazz records. The guitarist would be playing well but I was often more impressed musically with the sax solo. That’s what inspired me really. I wanted to get a more horn-like thing out of the guitar. It’s very natural. I didn’t consciously go out to do that. I knew I loved that but I didn’t know that I was approaching it differently until a few years later. I just like that sort of liquid thing as opposed to guitars with a machine-gun feel. I really like it to be like . . . water. It’s more like patterns as well. I know people mock guitarists who play fast things but I don’t think of it in terms of a stream of notes. It’s like a pattern, you create a pattern or a colour that you see as one. It’s like a colour that appears before your face.

Blinded By Science (Guitar Player 1993)

Oddly enough, Holdsworth became a musician almost by accident. "I had no desire to become a musician," he explains. "I was only interested in listening. When I started listening to saxophone players, I became interested in playing sax. My parents couldn’t afford to buy me one, so my father bought an acoustic guitar from my uncle. He left it lying around to see if I had any interest. Through time, I picked the thing up and tried to play it, and slowly I started to pick a few things up."

Holdsworth’s love of the saxophone never waned, so he attempted to emulate that sound with his guitar. "I tried to make electric guitar a non-percussive instrument, more like a horn. There’s something about the sound I wanted to hear that doesn’t happen naturally on the instrument. I’m constantly trying to refine my tone and make it better. Since recording The Wardenclyffe Tower I’ve made a lot of progress. I’m really happy with the way my guitar sounds right now."

Creating Imaginary Backdrops (Innerviews 1993)

Why did you decide to abandon it?



There’s a number of reasons, but the most important reason is that I was getting to a point where I was going to abandon playing the guitar altogether and only play the Synthaxe. I thought it was closer to what I wanted to do musically, in my head—sonically, the whole thing. With the Synthaxe, I could use it as a wind instrument. I used to use it with a breath controller—I could use it as the wind instrument I had always wanted to play since I was a kid. I didn’t have to deal with distortion and shaping a distorted guitar sound into something musical, which is a real challenge. It’s been one of the problems I have all of the time with the guitar—I want to make it sound more like a horn. But at the same time, the fact that you have to use any sort of distortion to get sustain is a kind of a catch-22. You have to use something you don’t want to use to get something that you want to use. I didn’t have any of those problems with the Synthaxe. It was really clear and really easy.



The fact that is has the keys as well as the strings —that was a stroke of genius for me. What I got afraid of is that I tried to keep in contact with them [Synthaxe Inc.] about any future things that they wanted to implement and Ideas that I had about modifications and improvements. The barrier broke down and in the end and right as it is—this moment—they don’t exist at all. There’s maybe two or three guys on the whole planet that could probably fix one. That got to be a really dangerous position to be in. If I quit guitar and got rid of them all and played only Synthaxe right now, then I’d be in real bad shape right now. And my worst fear came true, because a couple of months ago I sold both of my Synthaxes and thought "Well geez, I just have to get rid of them." And now over the last few weeks I’ve realized that I really miss them. I hooked up with this guy that bought one he never uses. He inherited some money and spent it on a Synthaxe and he decided he didn’t want to use it, so he knew that I played it and he tracked me down and he offered to sell it to me. I borrowed it from him to try it and there were two bad frets on the neck and I called some of the people that used to work at Synthaxe and try to find out what the possibilities of getting this malfunction fixed were and I’m still waiting to hear from one of the tech guys. So you can see, that’s a scary situation to be in if that was the only instrument I played!

DownBeat’s Final Interview with Allan Holdsworth (Downbeat 2017)

You wanted to take up a horn rather than guitar when you were younger. You really didn’t think of yourself as a guitar player. Do you still feel that way and why?



Pretty much. I just think of myself as a musician. I always think of an instrument as exactly that, it’s just a tool for you to try and express yourself. My dad was a fine pianist and he had a lot of great records and beautiful music.



I grew up listening to Ravel, Debussy, Bartók and jazz like Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Cannonball Adderley, Charlie Christian and Django Reinhart. It was incredibly inspiring! And I was given a guitar and I said “What the hell is this?!”



Like I said, my dad was a piano player, and I tried that, but I just didn’t have the feel for it. I wanted to play a horn or violin because you could change the loudness or softness of a sound. With a percussive instrument like piano or guitar I didn’t think I could get the feel I wanted on it. But I tried the guitar and found myself trying to make it not sound like a guitar [laughs].



But eventually I fell in love with the guitar for other reasons. I played the violin for a couple years too but I missed playing chords. So I went back to the guitar and used distortion to sustain notes and make it do things it wouldn’t normally do. So, here I am playing the guitar… or trying to!

Guitar Like A Saxophone (Guitar World 1987)

Holdsworth has added a breath controller apparatus to his SynthAxe. Basically a piece of thin tubing that hooks up to the unit and runs to his mouth, this breath controller allows Allan to literally blow the notes out of his instrument. With this bit of tubing, the guitarist’s guitar hero can finally become a saxophonist.

"I really never wanted to be a guitar player," he begins. "I’m a guitar player because I was given a guitar as a young boy and I began dabbling on it and eventually got into it. I always loved music as a kid, but the instrument I really wanted to play was the saxophone. I’ve always wanted to play a wind instrument of Some kind, be it a wind instrument that exists now or one that is played on some other planet somewhere . . . I dunno. So, I’ve begun experimenting with this breath controller to get that quality. It’s an accessory that’s been around for a long time. In fact, they don’t really exist anymore. This one ... a friend of mine found it in a junk shop because he knew how interested I was in blowing. The way it works with the SynthAxe is the instrument won’t make any sound until I blow. And the sound changes with the amount that I blow, both in volume and in tone. The voice box that Peter Frampton used in the seventies is quite different. That shaped the sounds. This activates the sounds. All you’re d oing is blowing into your instrument, like a sax player. It’s a whole new ball game for me."

During intense moments of his set, Holdsworth resembled a sax player, blowing through his plastic tubing, grimacing, getting very physical and emotional with the instrument. At times, it was hard to imagine him as a guitar player at all. The sheets of sound pouring forth, the peaks of intensity, the total abandon and unswerving conviction… he reminded me of John Coltrane, blowing scales upon scales of pent-up passion.

Guitar Synths in Jazz (Music Technology 1987)

I NEVER REALLY WANTED to play guitar in the first place, it was just an accident." (I can’t believe I’m hearing this.) "I wanted to play saxophone. I wouldn’t have been a musician at all, except my dad bought a guitar from an uncle, and left it lying around. At the time, saxophones were very expensive and not very easily come by, so l started messing around with it.’

"That was the SynthAxe through a Marshall. The first track was guitar, but the last track was the SynthAxe. Most of the other sounds I used on the SynthAxe were guitar-like sounds, or horn-like sounds, because that’s the instrument I hear in my head. I’ve always tried to get the guitar to sound like a horn. It’s easier for me to get the SynthAxe to sound like a horn than it was the guitar.

Holdsworth seems to pattern a lot of his playing after wind instruments. Is this intentional?

“I guess it’s just a natural thing because I always wanted to play a horn. Always wanting to play a horn and shape a note, have it get loud and then quiet and soft, and then bend it and straighten it, make it loud and then mellow again. All after you’ve played a note, which are things very difficult to do on guitar. And I tried to do them on guitar, the way you hit the string with either hand, the way you can shape the note with a pick...’

Guitarist’s Guitarist (Jazz Times 1989)

3 references coded [ 1]

Holdsworth’s first interest was the saxophone, and its a fascination that has stayed with him right up to the present day. "I loved the sound of it," he said, "and I still do. But we didn’t have the money to buy one. When I was about 15, my dad picked up an acoustic guitar from an uncle and just left it laying around. At first, I didn’t pay any attention to it. at all. But after it’d been around for a couple of years, I started noodling around on it. When my father saw there was some interest, he started to help me out with chords and stuff. He was such a fantastic natural teacher that he understood the guitar, even though he didn’t play the instrument. The funny thing is that he actually wound up teaching it to local students in Bradford.

Even the most cursory hearing of Holdsworth’s playing will reveal just how moved he was by Coltrane - the long, fluid lines, the extended improvisations, the phrasing which feels and sounds more like a horn than a plucked string instrument. "It was unconscious in the beginning," Holdsworth said. "But I think I was always trying to make the guitar into a less percussive instrument. That’s why I got interested in trying to use the amplifier to create sustained notes - so I could put the instrument into another realm of phrasing. Its not that I like distortion or anything like that for its own sake, its that I liked the way the amplifier could let [me] play long notes. Whereas, the normal jazz guitar - like say Joe Pass - is too percussive for me to be able to relate to it; I still love it and love to listen to it, but it wasn’t something that I felt; that’s why the SynthAxe was such a great discovery for me. It was like it was suddenly possible for long, flowing lines to be created by a guitar player; and now, with a breath controller, I can control the dynamics using breath like I would if I was playing a horn. So its kind of like a dream come true. Its like I’ve finally gotten around to playing the saxophone!"

"I’ve been trying - and I haven’t succeeded yet, but I keep getting closer - to create a kind of a horn sound that’s somewhere between an oboe and a soprano saxophone. And since there’s no real acoustic instrument that I can learn how to play, I use the synthesizers that I control with the Synth-Axe to create a sound which is somehow like that. I’ve always liked the idea of synthesis. I mean, there must be so many sounds - unheard sounds - that would be wonderful to hear. The real quest is to find some of them. Hopefully, eventually I’ll come up with a sound that isn’t trying to be something else, but which is definitely identifiable as something else.

I want to reach people with my music – common people. (Sym Info 1987)

You’re a shining example for a lot of famous guitarists. Bill Bruford told me a month or so ago that if he would play the guitar, he would have wanted to play like you, which is somehow the most beautiful compliment one can get. Aren’t you afraid that you’re investing 10.000’s of dollars in an instrument which will in the end alienate you from your own audience?

“Yes, but I don’t care for it. I’m not interested in guitar-players, I don’t want to play for guitar-players, I don’t like it to play for guitar-players. I want to make music, become a better musician. The instrument isn’t important. I listen to music, to tones. When I hear Michael Brecker play the saxophone, I’m not only hearing the saxophone, but also the music, the ideas, ‘the mind in the man’. The same when I hear Keath Jarrett play the piano. I’ve never wanted to play piano, it’s in some way a percussive instrument, and I don’t like percussive instruments. I love wind-instruments, like an oboe, or English horn, which is about my favourite sound. I want to reach people with my music, common people. And when I don’t play guitar anymore in the future, maybe I get a bigger audience, or not any at all, but that doesn’t interest me.”

Joe Satriani Meets Allan Holdsworth (Musician special edition 1993)

ALLAN HOLDSWORTH: "Well, I never felt I was ahead with ANYTHING. But I look at it compared to other instruments. I never really wanted to play guitar; I wanted to play a horn, and think about how horrendous a horn would sound if you were tonguing every note---it would drive you nuts. There’s a time and place for all of that, and I think guitar’s more like that now. There’s people mixing a lot more picking and LESS picking, which is nice. But guitar being a percussive instrument, it was harder to get away from that. Using amplifiers and trying to get a different kind of sound just seemed a fairly natural thing to do. I didn’t WANT the guitar to be percussive like a marimba or something, where the only way you get the note is to hear it BEGIN. And in the beginning, I’d always be able to hear the notes that were picked and the ones that were hammered on, so I started practicing actually playing accents with the hammered notes and making the picked notes seem more slient than the one you played with your left hand. I never got it a hundred percent, but I keep modifying the technique as I go"

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

His career as a guitarist has in many ways been a constant battle against the inherent limitations of the guitar. His parents were not so well off, and they could not afford a saxophone. Young Allan had to make do with his uncle’s guitar.

- I had no interest in it. You could not shape the tone very much afterwards, and I just picked it up from time to time.

Ever the perfectionist, he has refined his technique and sound over the years. He knows the guitar building process well, and is aware of the importance of each link in the audio chain. He talks about the recording process in such a way that Eric Johnson appears to be a slacker - it is about maintaining total control.

- I have been experimenting so much over the years. I play with a distorted sound, and then you have to see the amplifier and the guitar together as one instrument, they are inseparable. I do not use the amplifier only to raise the volume of the guitar. Put it this way; it’s not just something you add when the sound is already fully formed. The way horn instruments are able to control and shape the tone has always been my ideal, and working with distortion is my way of compensating the guitar’s deficiencies in that area. That’s why I’ve completely abandoned acoustic guitar, which has a percussive quality and little sustain. In my studio, The Brewery, I have been able to try things out, and now I think the pieces have fallen into place.

- I am very careful with my guitar sound, but the truth is that I would rather have played saxophone. Everything I do with my guitar rig may be seen as an attempt to make the most of the situation. I’m too old to change, and therefore I welcome everything that expands the possibilities of the guitar. For me, the choice of instrument is totally unimportant, I’m only interested in being able to convey my music with as few barriers as possible.

Mike Pachelli Show (video transcript 1991)

MP: I understand that when you were young you wanted to be a saxophone player.



AH: Yeah, well after I’d been listening to music for a long time, I got to be about 10 or 11. I was really interested in saxophone, the breathing thing seemed so alive, you could do more with it than a voice. But it was on that connection like a vocal thing.



MP: And why didn’t you pursue that?



AH: Well, at the time saxophones were very expensive things to buy so my Dad got, we I had an uncle who played guitar and my Dad got a guitar from him and just left it lying around, I just started in front of the mirror (laughs) I had no real interest in it at all, and he just left it there and I just noodled on it from time to time, try it on listening to music but still had no real desire to play anything and I guess over a period of time I realized I was playing a few chords on it and my Dad sort of took over because he knew all the notes on the guitar being the musician that he was…so as soon as he saw I had any interest in it he started trying to help me out. But I was very stubborn, I didn’t really like the help, though I needed it, but I wanted to do it on my own.

MP: Your guitar always sounds as if you’re blowing it, like you’re not plucking it. Is that intentional?



AH: Yeah, I mean I really don’t like guitar very much – I mean I love to hear other people play it, I don’t mean I don’t like the instrument, period, it’s just that for me

MP: There’s some amazing tunes on there, I always thought that if Metal Fatigue if it got airplay it could have been a great FM crossover hit. There was Devil Take the Hindmost, all I can say about that is “whew!” and then the tune I was REALLY interested in is The Un-Merry-Go-Round. Where’d that come from?



AH: Well it’s kind of a… basically I wrote that for my Dad, you know, because my Dad died during that year that I was doing the album. He used to have all these… he was a really great artist, he used to draw this merry go round with all these famous English politicians on it, like you’d have Ronald Reagan and all these guys on it, and he’d have them with their slogans, and he used to call it the UN Merry go round, so I got the title from him.



MP: The solo in there, which by the way is Phil Keaggy’s all-time favorite electric guitar solo, the soprano – which is quite a compliment in itself – the soprano sax solo that you sort of do – how, where’s that coming from, I mean what’s the inspiration, it sounds nearly exactly like a soprano!

(laughs) For a period of time I guess I was – I go through these periods that change and I was really trying to get like that soprano kind of tone. I guess that was about as close I got. I couldn’t get any closer so I gave up, started on something else.

No Secret (Guitar Extra 1992)

Q: Did your parents push you to take piano lessons?

Allan: My father tried to get me interested in the piano, but it was really obvious that I had no interest in it. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the sound of it, it was just that I don’t have any interest in that kind of instrument. Then I really started to like the saxophone, Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane, who I heard on the Miles Davis albums. When I heard John Coltrane, I was really moved by it. Then I started going down to the record shop every Saturday-I’d go down in to town and buy an album, and I started buying all these John Coltrane albums. It was only four or five months after I discovered John Coltrane that I read in the paper that he died. It was a real shock because I guess when you’re young and you’ve just discovered somebody, I felt like I really knew him. I just felt like he had a whole lot more left.

Q: Were you playing guitar at this point?



Allan: Yeah. I’d just started messing around with it, but I had no real interest in it. I wanted to play saxophone, but at the time, a saxophone was really expensive, and my mom and dad didn’t have the money for it. He got me a guitar from an uncle who played guitar, and he left it laying around. It was just an old roundhole acoustic guitar.

Q: Was moving on to the sax ever a goal?

Allan: No. By that time I was stuck noodling with the guitar. In fact, I didn’t think too far forward. I was just thinking it was a hobby, and that I really loved listening to music. It was listening to music that was more important to me than playing.

Q: Well, more so than anyone else, I think you’ve been able to get the sound of a blown instrument, and the fact that you’ve done it to the extent that you’ve done it is quite amazing. You’re saying you haven’t gotten there yet, as far as you’re concerned?



Allan: No, because you can’t. Some of the things I’ve tried to do, like changing the sound of the note after you’ve played it, is unbelievably hard to do on guitar. Where as on a bowed instrument, like a violin or a saxophone, it’s really quite easy to shape the note after you’ve started it. With the guitar, percussive instrument that it is, the note is essentially over once you’ve picked it. I have always tried to use equipment and amplifiers where I can change the vowel sound, to change an "ooh" to an "aah", and stuff like that. For the solos, I wanted it to sound more like a horn, and for the chords, I use a volume pedal to sound more like a keyboard, and not so chinky. And I hate strumming, the sound of strumming drives me nuts. It’s the same thing about how the guitar is kind of not the right instrument for me, but I’m too old to start worrying about another one.

Q: Isn’t the attraction to amplified guitar the fact that it can afford so many different sounds and colors, that you can get a lot of different variances in tone quality, probably more so than on a violin or saxophone?

Allan: Essentially you can’t though. There’s no way that you can do that with a guitar what some guy can do with a bow. I know that from the Synthaxe, because I can do things on the Synthaxe that would be completely impossible on the guitar. I can play a note using a vibrato on it, make the note disappear, make the tone go soft, make the tone go hard again right away after that, so the bottom of the decay is almost gone, the envelope is gone, and then you open it right up again. You can’t do that on guitar. Not even with a volume pedal. The note isn’t there anymore, it’s decayed. I know what you’re saying. You can do a lot with amplifiers and processing, which I’ve tried to do, but it’s not a real substitute.

No Secrets (Facelift 1994)

Holdsworth paints a picture of a fairly shambolic set-up. I presumed that this had maybe then been his first sortie into a band set-up. "No, it wasn’t, actually. I played with a lot of local Top 40 bands, club bands, working around in Bradford. Because I never wanted to be a musician, I was just a listener, and I used to just listen to my Dad’s records and spent most of my time as a kid just listening to the music. And I really wanted a saxophone but they were pretty expensive. And then he bought a guitar from my uncle and he left it lying around and I picked up a few things here and there, but had no real interest in it. And then I guess after a couple of years I started to learn a few things. When he saw me taking some interest in it, my dad, he tried to help me, and from that point on started to meet other people who were in bands and they started to ask me to play with them. So that’s how it started. But I never intended to be a professional musician - it wasn’t like a lot of young people when they first start learning an instrument.

"It was just curiosity ‘cos I’ve always had a curiosity about instruments. I borrowed a clarinet and a saxophone from somebody in the same band. Then I tried an oboe - just to see how they work. I like to know - you get a better understanding of the difficulties you’ve got with each instrument. But the violin, even though I didn’t play it or practice it all that much, it felt relatively easy for me to play it. I think that if I’d started with that instrument when I was learning, that would have probably have been more my instrument than guitar, although unfortunately I wouldn’t have been able to play any chords. The chords have become a really important part for me. Maybe it worked out for the best..."

One Man Of ‘Trane (Jazz Times 2000)

Ironically, Holdsworth never intended to play guitar at all. "I was just dabbling with it," he recalls of his teenage years in the small town of Bradford in Yorkshire, England. "I had wanted a saxophone, I didn’t really want the guitar, but saxophones were pretty expensive in those days, relative to a cheap acoustic guitar. My uncle played guitar and when he had bought himself a new one he sold his old one to my father, who gave it to me. That’s basically how it started."

The SynthAxe was a particular favorite tool for Holdsworth through the ‘80s in that it helped him get closer to the legato sax style that he had been emulating since hearing Coltrane recordings for the first time back in the ‘60s.



"Because I always wanted to play a horn, which is a non-percussive instrument, the guitar is essentially a percussive and I try and make it sound like it’s not," he explains. "But one of the things I always wanted to do was to be able to make a note and then change the whole shape of it after it sounded. You know, make it soft, make it loud, put vibrato on it, take it off, change the timbre of the sound, all after the note was played, which is not a very easy thing to do with a percussive instrument. And with the SynthAxe I have that ability because I can hook it up to a breath controller and I can do exactly that. I can make a note and change it and shape it in a totally different way than I can do on the guitar. And because the guitar gave me the chords -which I would’ve surely missed if I would have played the horn and not the guitar - eventually it gave me the combination of being able to play like a chordal instrument and a horn at the same time, and that was very appealing to me. It gave me a lot of textural possibilities that I didn’t have with guitar. And I kind of got engrossed in it. But I don’t feel exactly the same way about it now. I think of it more as something that I can use for extra color."

Player Of The Month (Beat Instrumental 1978)

How curious, then, that he didn’t even pick up anything with six strings on it until he was seventeen. "Originally I wanted to play saxaphone [sic], when I was a kid. My dad was a piano player. He was really good, but he gave it up. I don’t know why, I’ve never understood that. Anyway, he never got round to buying me a sax, and I didn’t have any money of my own at that time, so I couldn’t afford an instrument. So he bought an old Spanish guitar off an uncle of mine for a fiver, and he left it lying around, and I just picked it up."

Terry Theise’s electric guitar top ten (Guitar magazine 1976)

Alan Holdsworth is the first guitarist I’ve heard who doesn’t think guitar. He seems to approach his instrument as if it were a saxophone, notes spilling out without the tension or enunciation of the usual guitarist’s picking hand. He has the most amazing stamina in his fretting hand, enabling him to play at continual top speed for measure after measure without pauses, something beyond the powers of Ollie Halsall, with whom he shares a similar technique. However, while Halsall is beginning to achieve some critical and popular recognition, Holdsworth is mysteriously glossed over. This might be excusable if he had only his speed to commend him but he is a most musicianly guitarist.

The Allan Holdsworth Interview, part one (Musoscribe 2017)

Was it your time with Jean-Luc Ponty that sparked your interest in playing the violin?

Oh no, no, it was just curiosity. I messed around with a lot of instruments; I played clarinet for awhile. I had borrowed saxophones from band mates in the past, just to get a feeling of how they work and the challenges of each; and it was like that with the violin. I got a violin, and then after that I did buy a viola. But the viola got lost in the shuffle when I moved; I don’t really know what happened to it.

Early on in your solo career, you became very closely associated with the Synthaxe. What piqued your initial interest in that instrument?

It went back really far into my childhood, actually. Because I always wanted to play a horn or a violin or something where you could shape a note, as opposed to the guitar which is basically a percussion instrument. And I always tried to get the guitar to sound like it wasn’t a percussion instrument.

When the Synthaxe came along, it opened the door to not only different textures and sounds that were unavailable on the guitar, but with the use of the breath control, I could do all the things that I wanted to do if I had been a horn player of some sort. I learned a lot from just playing that instrument. I still use it a lot in the studio; for the stuff I’m working on now, it has probably ended up on every track.

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

Guitar.com: Your legato sax-type attack has always come through in your playing going back to Soft Machine. If you listen closely, it’s very much a Coltrane thing.



Holdsworth: He just completely turned my life upside down. I remember when I first heard those Miles Davis records that had Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane on them. It was fascinating to me, a major revelation. I loved Cannonball Adderley also but when I listened to Cannonball I could hear where it came from. I could hear the path that he had taken. But when I heard John Coltrane, I couldn’t. I couldn’t hear connections with anything else. It was almost like he had found a way to get to the truth somehow, to bypass all of the things that, as an improviser, you have to face. He found a way to be actually improvising and playing over the same material but in a very different way. That was the thing that really changed my life because I realized it was possible. His playing was just like a complete, total revelation to me. And I realized then that what I needed to do was to try and find a way to improvise over chord sequences without playing any bebop or without having it sound like it came from somewhere else. And it’s been an ongoing, everlasting quest.

Guitar.com: When did you have this epiphany?



Holdsworth: When I was probably about 18, 19.

Guitar.com: You were already playing guitar at that time?



Holdsworth: Yeah, I was just dabbling with it. I was still really interested in the horn. I had wanted a saxophone, I didn’t really want the guitar. But saxophones were pretty expensive in those days anyway, relative to a cheap acoustic guitar. There weren’t so many guitars around then, not compared to nowadays. But my uncle played guitar and when he had bought himself a new guitar, he sold his old one to my father, who then gave it to me. And that’s basically how it started.

The Reluctant Guitarist (Jazz Journal 1992)

He began to take a serious interest in music in his late teens, while lie was working in factories and as a bike repairman. At first he wanted a saxophone, but it was then that Sam Holdsworth suggested a more modestly priced acoustic guitar. There followed lessons with Sam, an electric guitar and experiences with various local groups before an invitation from his friend Glen South led to three years or so in a Top 40 band on the Sunderland Mecca circuit. It was there that Holdsworth was first able to try his hand at the clarinet.

‘I never really wanted to play guitar. I always wanted to play like a horn. The saxophone player in the Glen South band showed me a few things, and I tried the clarinet, but I kept perforating my ear. When I hurt my ears I wanted to try something else, so I got the violin and started noodling on that.’

‘The Synthaxe is close to what I want, cause it’s a combination of blowing and picking, so it’s like a horn and guitar. You don’t have to blow so hard though, it’s an open blowing, like blowing a balloon up; there’s no embouchure.’

The Reluctant Virtuoso (Guitar World 1981)

"I listen to everything actually. I really like horn players because of that sensation of playing one note and making it long or short, or making it loud, or changing the tone. The saxophone thing always knocked me out, ‘cause when they’d blow notes it would be like ‘water.’ But I mix it up. It gets monotonous picking every note, it’s just like a sax player blowing every note."

The Sixteen Men Of Tain (musired.com 2000, Spanish language)

At which age did you start to play and what kind of music did you listen to?

Well, that’s a good question because I started to listen to music when I was around three years old, but I didn’t want to be a musician, I just enjoyed listening to music. I couldn’t understand that there were some compositions that could make me cry and others that could make me feel happy. It was like something magical, something really fascinating. I took my parents’ records and, although I didn’t know how to read yet, I knew all of them and identified them by taking a look at the covers. I think that when I was 11 or 12 my dad tried to teach me to play piano, but I didn’t like piano. It is not that I don’t like to listen to others playing, simply I didn’t feel comfortable sitting there. I thought that I wanted to play a wind instrument, like a saxophone, for an example, but at that time they were very expensive and my parents couldn’t buy it. So my father bought an old guitar from my uncle, but the truth is that at the beginning it didn’t like a lot either. I put myself in front of a mirror and started to imitate Elvis. My father started to play guitar on his own, he was a pianist, so in the beginning he didn’t have a lot of technique but a lot of knowledge, so he played very attractive things, but not too fast. It wasn’t until 18 or 19 when I started to be interested, to take it seriously. I just wanted to listen to music, not to be a musician. I didn’t feel I had anything to offer as a musician. But, without knowing how, I changed. Unconsciously years went by and I started to like it.

The Unreachable Star (Guitar World 1989)

GW: Although you’ve mentioned that it’s a saxophonic quality you’ve tried to bring to the guitar, the way your phrasing combines with your guitar tone often attains an almost bowed sound.



HOLDSWORTH: The violin’s very similar in a lot of respects, because again, you wouldn’t want to hear a violinist sputtering out every note bowed. In a way it’s the closest you can get to a wind instrument, because you can blow soft and loud on it, just by virtue of the bow; and you’ve got control over the volume, shape and sustain of the note once the vibration of the string has started. That’s very difficult to accomplish on guitar because the guitar’s really a percussive instrument.

Whisky Galore (Guitarist 2000)

Your guitar tone is huge and thick, almost like a baritone sax...

"Well that’s the kind of sound I’ve been striving to achieve. I’ll never get exactly what I want, but it’s just like music itself. When I first started listening as a kid, I’d hear some piece of classical music and it would make me want to cry. And I didn’t understand it, so instinctively I knew I wanted to be a listener and an absorber of music. It’s like when you first fall in love and it’s an agony and an ecstasy at the same time; that’s because there’s something that you don’t understand and that’s what I love about music. It’s like being in love with something you know you’re never going to get. And it’s the same with the sound: to me the sound is part of the music; I’ve always strived to achieve a certain sound and that’s a neverending quest for me."



and what has come to light for me is that the music is the most important thing; the way you write it, or the way you play it. I really don’t think the instrument has anything to do with it at all. For me the instrument happens to be the guitar, because I’ve played that particular instrument longer than anything else and am able to express myself more easily on it, than say on piano. It’s only as time has evolved that I’ve got to a certain stage -however grim, or good doesn’t matter- it’s just better now than it was a few years ago.

Allan Holdsworth (International Musician 1981)

Do you have any favourite players?

ALAN: There’s a guy called Steve Topping I like very much. Mostly it’s musicians who play other instruments that move me, horn players for example. I’m more interested in trying to figure out what they’re playing than what some other guitarist is playing. Actually Hendrix didn’t make any kind of impression on me until after he died.

Allan Holdsworth (Music UK 1983)

‘In the beginning when I started playing, I wanted an instrument that I could blow on and I’ve now found a way of getting something that I want out of the guitar. About 2 or 3 years ago I basically rediscovered the guitar, if you know what I mean, because I started to find a way of expressing myself through the guitar. In a way the instrument doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter what it is really, whether it’s a saxophone, a violin, anything, there’s always a way of trying to find something from it. What I didn’t want to do is sound like somebody else.’

Allan Holdsworth (Sound Waves 2012)

The thing I liked about jazz was that I had a fascination with improvising. I didn’t want to stick to any one style of jazz. I just liked being presented with a set of chord changes, and then trying to think of putting something interesting on top of it. I didn’t really focus a lot on the guitar. I listened to a lot of horn players, like Charlie Parker of course, and when I discovered John Coltrane, that was it. That guy changed my whole life. I couldn’t hear any lineage in his playing. Somehow, he seemed to be connected to the instrument in a way that I had never heard before. So I became really fascinated with John Coltrane, and I bought just about every record I could get my hands on.

Allan Holdsworth (steveadelson.com 2000)

Allan Holdsworth: I actually never was interested in playing. I only wanted to listen to music.



TCG: How then did guitar come into your life?



AH: When I was about 15 or 16, I thought it might be interesting to try the horn, because I found myself listening to a lot of saxophone players. I was really drawn to the idea that you could shape the notes after they were sounded, as opposed to the guitar which was basically a percussive instrument. saxophones were pretty expensive and we couldn’t afford one, so I ended up with a guitar that I got from my uncle. I wasn’t really that interested in this instrument. I wasn’t particularly drawn to it. I soon took an interest in some local Skiffle music which sort of lit the torch. My father realized this and started helping me with my musical education. Interestingly, even though he was a pianist, he realized that playing scales and such with open strings on the guitar was counterproductive to playing in different keys. So I learned and still use lots of fingers to accomplish my musical ideas.

Allan Holdsworth - An interview (Atavachron 1994)

CH: Much has been written, they say, about your legato style.



AH: Oh, God. Did I even answer that question? That last one?



MP: Chris, you answered it for him.



CH: They want to know if you attribute your unique approach to playing legato, or is it something new-a new style, perhaps.



AH: No, it’s not; it’s nothing. It’s just the way...



CH: I guess I would rephrase the questions: "Is there any significant factor in the way you derive your own style?"



AH: Significant? Yes, there is; a significant factor was always trying to make the guitar sound the way you want it to sound.



CH: Like a horn?



AH: Yeah. I mean, for no other reason. I wanted to play the saxophone, but I couldn’t-I got stuck with a guitar. And I didn’t realize what I was doing! I didn’t know that I was playing legato... I didn’t know. I really didn’t care! I was just trying to play music; I was trying to find the notes that I wanted to hear. And who cares? The notes, the music... again, the music’s the thing, man. Who cares whether the guy has a pick between his first two toes, or holds it picking his ass-cheeks. Who cares, man? What does it matter, man? It’s totally unimportant. It’s irrelevant. Completely.

Allan Holdsworth - Jazz Fusion Guitarist (Musicguy247 2017)

R.V.B. - I glad you made out ok. Thank you for taking this time to speak with me. The guitar... you brought it to a new level. Was there any incident in your youth that made you want to become a guitar player?



A.H. - Not really. I had always loved music way before I ever touched an actual instrument. My dad played music all the time, as he was a really great pianist. I was surrounded by music. He had lots of great records... classical... jazz and other stuff. I wanted to play a horn - like a saxophone - but they were kind of expensive. My dad bought a guitar from my uncle and I started noodleing around on that. I wasn’t really interested in it at first but it kind of grew on me.

Allan Holdsworth Talks SynthAxes, Jaw-Dropping Solos and More (Guitar World 2017)

I’ve read that you started out wanting to play saxophone, but couldn’t afford one and ultimately decided to play guitar. True? —Gordon Lee

I didn’t decide to play guitar, but that was the instrument which I was offered. I’ve always been interested in horn-type instruments, such as a saxophone; but those instruments are very expensive, so my dad bought me a guitar instead. I didn’t like the guitar at first, but after noodling on it for several months, I developed a feel for it. I was around 14 at the time. That was many years—and beers—ago.

Allan Holdsworth interview (Abstract Logix 2004)

Fan: You have pioneered a voice in music and influenced your peers and your fans. Who are some of your favorite guitar pioneers?



AH: Django Reinhardt, Charlie Christian, Jimmy Raney, Wes Montgomery in fact most of the great guitar players; I loved them all. The newer guys: John McLaughlin, Pat Metheny, John Scofield, Scott Henderson and Frank Gambale... They?re all amazing with very different musical personalities. Of course there’s Michael Brecker and Keith Jarrett, but they don’t play the guitar (thank God!). I think I’ve been influenced by all instruments. I was influenced a lot by horn players, from Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderly, John Coltrane on to Michael Brecker. There’s many, many more that you could fill this whole page with people that have brought great gifts to the world of music.

Allan Holdsworth interview (Music Maker 2003)

You love the saxophone and recorded with trumpet player Walt Fowler on ‘16 Men Of Tain’. Do you ever think about recording some more with a horn player?


Yeah, I’d love to do something more with a horn player. It was just always like a budget problem. It’s hard enough trying to pay the guys in the band to do it anyway. A lot of times guys do it for next to nothing already, so..It’s just because they want to do it. So it’s kinda difficult with a horn. The last one it was nice because Gary Novak and Dave knew Walt Fowler. So it was nice to talk Walt Fowler into coming down and doing some stuff on that one which sounded great. I like trumpet and guitar actually. I like it a lot.

Allan Holdsworth’s New Horizons (Downbeat 1985)

Originally an aspiring reed player, Holdsworth didn’t pick up the guitar until he was 17 years old. "I played saxophone and clarinet and I wanted to play oboe, but I had problems with my ear. I kept popping it from blowing and getting ear infections, so I had to stop. It was some kind of peculiar physical thing where all the pressure would build up in one place. I don’t know - I guess I wasn’t supposed to play a wind instrument"

When he switched over to guitar he was still interested in getting a saxophone kind of sound, which led to all kinds of early experimenting with amplifiers and sustain. "I guess consciously since I’ve started on the instrument I’ve been trying to get the guitar to sound more like I was blowing it than plucking it, as such. I remember having this little 15-watt amplifier that my parents had bought me, and there’d be a certain volume I’d play at with this thing where it would feedback and sound really great, a more hornlike quality than anything I had heard before. Then I’d plug my guitar into somebody else’s amplifier and it would sound completely different. That interested me very much, so I’d try and figure out how the whole electronics thing worked. My father had a friend who built amplifiers and I’d get some lessons with him, so I gradually became aware of what was happening with the sound once you’d pluck a note. From there I’d try to hone in on it - make an amplifier that did exactly what I wanted it to do!’

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

Because I long to be a wind player - I always wanted to play saxophone - when I go to a synthesizer to create a sound, that’s usually where I start. I’m not trying to replicate anything specific; I just say, "Well, let’s try and get a wind-instrument-from-Mars tone." So long as it’s a wind instrument, that’s all that matters. I quite liked the sound on "Spokes," which is just a lone Oberheim Xpander. In the middle, I had a second Xpander detuned a tone away from the first, and faded that in during the middle section where Jimmy and Vinnie are just completely reaming. I wanted to leave it kind of open there for the bass and drums to do a bit of savaging.

Winds Of Change



I find that people - and particularly guitar players - tend to create barriers. It’s kind of like the stories you hear about somebody like Adolf Sax [who invented the saxophone in 1846] - man, I almost cried when I read the story about that guy. I mean, he invented a musical instrument and was punished for it; he and his family were given a hard time, just for his invention. Like the electric guitar, the saxophone for a long time wasn’t even considered a musical instrument by classical people, or people with closed minds who weren’t willing to accept that something can come along and do something different. And there he was, a persecuted guy who invented a really great instrument; there’s nothing that sounds like a saxophone - nothing. It indicates the amount of time it takes for people to accept something.

Any Key In The U.K. (Unknown publication 1978)

Can you pinpoint any one particular influence that helped you evolve your style?

Well,’ I think I was influenced in that I think I wanted to play a different instrument to the guitar! It started very early when I was listening to jazz records. The guitarist would be playing well but I was often more impressed musically with the sax solo. That’s what inspired me really. I wanted to get a more horn-like thing out of the guitar. It’s very natural. I didn’t consciously go out to do that. I knew I loved that but I didn’t know that I was approaching it differently until a few years later. I just like that sort of liquid thing as opposed to guitars with a machine-gun feel. I really like it to be like . . . water. It’s more like patterns as well. I know people mock guitarists who play fast things but I don’t think of it in terms of a stream of notes. It’s like a pattern, you create a pattern or a colour that you see as one. It’s like a colour that appears before your face.

Blinded By Science (Guitar Player 1993)

Oddly enough, Holdsworth became a musician almost by accident. "I had no desire to become a musician," he explains. "I was only interested in listening. When I started listening to saxophone players, I became interested in playing sax. My parents couldn’t afford to buy me one, so my father bought an acoustic guitar from my uncle. He left it lying around to see if I had any interest. Through time, I picked the thing up and tried to play it, and slowly I started to pick a few things up."

Holdsworth’s love of the saxophone never waned, so he attempted to emulate that sound with his guitar. "I tried to make electric guitar a non-percussive instrument, more like a horn. There’s something about the sound I wanted to hear that doesn’t happen naturally on the instrument. I’m constantly trying to refine my tone and make it better. Since recording The Wardenclyffe Tower I’ve made a lot of progress. I’m really happy with the way my guitar sounds right now."

Creating Imaginary Backdrops (Innerviews 1993)

Why did you decide to abandon it?



There’s a number of reasons, but the most important reason is that I was getting to a point where I was going to abandon playing the guitar altogether and only play the Synthaxe. I thought it was closer to what I wanted to do musically, in my head—sonically, the whole thing. With the Synthaxe, I could use it as a wind instrument. I used to use it with a breath controller—I could use it as the wind instrument I had always wanted to play since I was a kid. I didn’t have to deal with distortion and shaping a distorted guitar sound into something musical, which is a real challenge. It’s been one of the problems I have all of the time with the guitar—I want to make it sound more like a horn. But at the same time, the fact that you have to use any sort of distortion to get sustain is a kind of a catch-22. You have to use something you don’t want to use to get something that you want to use. I didn’t have any of those problems with the Synthaxe. It was really clear and really easy.



The fact that is has the keys as well as the strings —that was a stroke of genius for me. What I got afraid of is that I tried to keep in contact with them [Synthaxe Inc.] about any future things that they wanted to implement and Ideas that I had about modifications and improvements. The barrier broke down and in the end and right as it is—this moment—they don’t exist at all. There’s maybe two or three guys on the whole planet that could probably fix one. That got to be a really dangerous position to be in. If I quit guitar and got rid of them all and played only Synthaxe right now, then I’d be in real bad shape right now. And my worst fear came true, because a couple of months ago I sold both of my Synthaxes and thought "Well geez, I just have to get rid of them." And now over the last few weeks I’ve realized that I really miss them. I hooked up with this guy that bought one he never uses. He inherited some money and spent it on a Synthaxe and he decided he didn’t want to use it, so he knew that I played it and he tracked me down and he offered to sell it to me. I borrowed it from him to try it and there were two bad frets on the neck and I called some of the people that used to work at Synthaxe and try to find out what the possibilities of getting this malfunction fixed were and I’m still waiting to hear from one of the tech guys. So you can see, that’s a scary situation to be in if that was the only instrument I played!

DownBeat’s Final Interview with Allan Holdsworth (Downbeat 2017)

You wanted to take up a horn rather than guitar when you were younger. You really didn’t think of yourself as a guitar player. Do you still feel that way and why?



Pretty much. I just think of myself as a musician. I always think of an instrument as exactly that, it’s just a tool for you to try and express yourself. My dad was a fine pianist and he had a lot of great records and beautiful music.



I grew up listening to Ravel, Debussy, Bartók and jazz like Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Cannonball Adderley, Charlie Christian and Django Reinhart. It was incredibly inspiring! And I was given a guitar and I said “What the hell is this?!”



Like I said, my dad was a piano player, and I tried that, but I just didn’t have the feel for it. I wanted to play a horn or violin because you could change the loudness or softness of a sound. With a percussive instrument like piano or guitar I didn’t think I could get the feel I wanted on it. But I tried the guitar and found myself trying to make it not sound like a guitar [laughs].



But eventually I fell in love with the guitar for other reasons. I played the violin for a couple years too but I missed playing chords. So I went back to the guitar and used distortion to sustain notes and make it do things it wouldn’t normally do. So, here I am playing the guitar… or trying to!

Guitar Like A '''saxophone''' (Guitar World 1987)

Holdsworth has added a breath controller apparatus to his SynthAxe. Basically a piece of thin tubing that hooks up to the unit and runs to his mouth, this breath controller allows Allan to literally blow the notes out of his instrument. With this bit of tubing, the guitarist’s guitar hero can finally become a saxophonist

...Where No Guitarist Has Gone Before... (Cymbiosis 1986)

Cymbiosis: I understand if your family could have afforded it you would have had a saxophone instead of a guitar when you were younger?



Holdsworth: Yeah, that’s what I really wanted—to play saxophone.



Cymbiosis: Why was that?



Holdsworth: Well, I just loved the saxophone. It was the sound. I think people are first attracted to music and then to specific sounds within it. I also liked violin later. But at the time I liked saxophone more, because it was on most of the records that my dad had. He was a jazz player and had a lot of jazz records.



Cymbiosis: So you had things like John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley, Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw?



Holdsworth: Yeah, Dad played in the Air Force band during the war, and they played a lot of swing.



Cymbiosis: So that might account for why a lot of your riffs almost sound hornlike as opposed to how a "regular" guitarist might sound?



Holdsworth: I don’t think any of that was deliberate, really. My parents bought me a guitar; it was real cheap. I think they paid 10 shillings for it, about a dollar at the time, I guess. I just left it lying around and had no interest in it.

Cymbiosis: And that’s what moved you into electric guitar?



Holdsworth: When I got my first electric (which was just an acoustic fitted with a pickup), I didn’t start out trying to make the guitar sound like a saxophone, or anything like that. It just evolved over a number of years. It’s only now that I realize that’s what was happening subconsciously. All these years I’ve really wanted to make a different sound than I was making.

Allan Holdsworth (Beat Instrumental 1979)

"I really would have loved to have played the saxophone when I began. I actually didn’t start guitar till I was about 17 which I suppose is pretty late really. Before that I’d always wanted to play but never really wanted to enough to make a nuisance about getting myself an instrument."

Allan Holdsworth (English Tour Program 1989)

 [ 1]

Born in Bradford in 1946, Allan didn’t start playing the guitar until relatively late - he never wanted to play it anyway, he’d rather have learnt sax - but it was a guitar he was given and so it was the guitar he learnt to play. Guided by his father, apparently a gifted jazz pianist, Allan was a good pupil, always questioning and probing. He quickly realised that the way keyboard chords were arranged differed greatly from the musically limiting system which ‘shape’ guitarists seemed all too willing to adhere to. But, as Allan preferred the more musical sound of his father’s piano chords, he set about the arduous task of transferring them to the guitar: "I started experimenting... taking a triad and going through all the inversions I could get on the lower three strings. Then I’d do the same on the next three, then take a four note chord and do the same... and so on. Then I’d write them all out, find the ones I liked and discard the ones I didn’t." It was this approach that gave Allan his amazing chord vocabulary and led to those tendon-defying stretches - seven or eight frets sometimes - that still put his imitators to shame.

Allan Holdsworth (Guitar Player 1982)

And that wasn’t as enjoyable as the electric?



Well, I wanted something I could blow on. I wanted to be able to make a note loud or long or soft or short; play things legato or play them staccato. Whatever I felt like. But it seemed that the guitar was only capable of a few of the things that I really wanted to do at the time. I guess I fell in love with it later. I mean, I didn’t really dig electric guitar that much at first. I’ve always been more in love with music than instruments. I’m not overly concerned with what instrument. If I had been presented with another instrument at the same time as the guitar, I may have gone with that. It just happened to be the guitar. And I’ve always listened to all kinds of instruments -- I’m not just a guitar freak. I love the guitar, and there are so many fantastic players that I always get enjoyment listening to them play. But it’s the same for other instruments too.

Allan Holdsworth (Guitarist 1985)

Your style is very unique, did you arrive at it by listening to other players, or was it purely what you heard in your own head?

No, no, I listened to lots of different things, but I tried just to draw from the things which I found particularly moving, and which made me feel something. Sometimes I will be in awe of something I hear which is amazing in a technical sense but, usually, it’s how emotively it connects with me; like listening to Michael Brecker or Keith Jarrett when you get that feeling up your back and your hair stands on end. That’s the feeling that I try to extract.



When I first started playing I tried to copy people, but soon realised that it didn’t get me anywhere; I didn’t seem to be learning anything at all. So I decided I had to try to find out what the essence, the core or the motivation behind those people was, and that’s the kind of thing I’m looking for; just a way to express myself through an instrument. It could have been anything. It just turned out that it was the guitar.



I didn’t really want to play the guitar, I wanted to play Saxophone, but it just so happened that I didn’t get a Saxophone, I got a guitar and that’s where it all started. That is why this SynthAxe thing is so interesting to me, because for a long time now I’ve been very interested in the compositional side of things. One of the things I’d really love to do is get an amazing band together but not be a player in it at all, just a writer. I’d love to write a piece of music that a set of musicians could embellish. The themes and the chord structures would be fixed, but the rest of it would be very open to interpretation. In the framework of a band you can tell the players roughly how it is, they know what the bar lengths are and they can take it from there, without ever getting lost or the music becoming something else.



One of the things that drove me crazy when I used to work with UK, was that everything was always superficially organised, but it wasn’t organised at all really. It’s like an insect that’s got the skeleton on the outside, and I prefer it when the skeleton is on the inside. Not that there’s anything wrong with insects, bugs are great!

What advice would you give to anybody starting out playing jazz, or even to someone who is quite proficient at rock guitar, but would like to extend their horizons?



As I mentioned before, I didn’t really want to play the guitar, I wanted to be a saxophonist and what has come to light for me is that the music is the most important thing; the way you write it, or the way you play it. I really don’t think the instrument has anything to do with it at all. For me the instrument happens to be the guitar, because I’ve played that particular instrument longer than anything else and am able to express myself more easily on it, than say on piano. It’s only as time has evolved that I’ve got to a certain stage -however grim, or good doesn’t matter- it’s just better now than it was a few years ago.

Allan Holdsworth (International Musician 1981)

Do you have any favourite players?

ALAN: There’s a guy called Steve Topping I like very much. Mostly it’s musicians who play other instruments that move me, horn players for example. I’m more interested in trying to figure out what they’re playing than what some other guitarist is playing. Actually Hendrix didn’t make any kind of impression on me until after he died.

Allan Holdsworth (Music UK 1983)

‘In the beginning when I started playing, I wanted an instrument that I could blow on and I’ve now found a way of getting something that I want out of the guitar. About 2 or 3 years ago I basically rediscovered the guitar, if you know what I mean, because I started to find a way of expressing myself through the guitar. In a way the instrument doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter what it is really, whether it’s a saxophone, a violin, anything, there’s always a way of trying to find something from it. What I didn’t want to do is sound like somebody else.’

Allan Holdsworth (Sound Waves 2012)

The thing I liked about jazz was that I had a fascination with improvising. I didn’t want to stick to any one style of jazz. I just liked being presented with a set of chord changes, and then trying to think of putting something interesting on top of it. I didn’t really focus a lot on the guitar. I listened to a lot of horn players, like Charlie Parker of course, and when I discovered John Coltrane, that was it. That guy changed my whole life. I couldn’t hear any lineage in his playing. Somehow, he seemed to be connected to the instrument in a way that I had never heard before. So I became really fascinated with John Coltrane, and I bought just about every record I could get my hands on.

Allan Holdsworth (steveadelson.com 2000)

Allan Holdsworth: I actually never was interested in playing. I only wanted to listen to music.



TCG: How then did guitar come into your life?



AH: When I was about 15 or 16, I thought it might be interesting to try the horn, because I found myself listening to a lot of saxophone players. I was really drawn to the idea that you could shape the notes after they were sounded, as opposed to the guitar which was basically a percussive instrument. Saxophones were pretty expensive and we couldn’t afford one, so I ended up with a guitar that I got from my uncle. I wasn’t really that interested in this instrument. I wasn’t particularly drawn to it. I soon took an interest in some local Skiffle music which sort of lit the torch. My father realized this and started helping me with my musical education. Interestingly, even though he was a pianist, he realized that playing scales and such with open strings on the guitar was counterproductive to playing in different keys. So I learned and still use lots of fingers to accomplish my musical ideas.

Allan Holdsworth - An interview (Atavachron 1994)

CH: Much has been written, they say, about your legato style.



AH: Oh, God. Did I even answer that question? That last one?



MP: Chris, you answered it for him.



CH: They want to know if you attribute your unique approach to playing legato, or is it something new-a new style, perhaps.



AH: No, it’s not; it’s nothing. It’s just the way...



CH: I guess I would rephrase the questions: "Is there any significant factor in the way you derive your own style?"



AH: Significant? Yes, there is; a significant factor was always trying to make the guitar sound the way you want it to sound.



CH: Like a horn?



AH: Yeah. I mean, for no other reason. I wanted to play the saxophone, but I couldn’t-I got stuck with a guitar. And I didn’t realize what I was doing! I didn’t know that I was playing legato... I didn’t know. I really didn’t care! I was just trying to play music; I was trying to find the notes that I wanted to hear. And who cares? The notes, the music... again, the music’s the thing, man. Who cares whether the guy has a pick between his first two toes, or holds it picking his ass-cheeks. Who cares, man? What does it matter, man? It’s totally unimportant. It’s irrelevant. Completely.

Allan Holdsworth - Jazz Fusion Guitarist (Musicguy247 2017)

R.V.B. - I glad you made out ok. Thank you for taking this time to speak with me. The guitar... you brought it to a new level. Was there any incident in your youth that made you want to become a guitar player?



A.H. - Not really. I had always loved music way before I ever touched an actual instrument. My dad played music all the time, as he was a really great pianist. I was surrounded by music. He had lots of great records... classical... jazz and other stuff. I wanted to play a horn - like a saxophone - but they were kind of expensive. My dad bought a guitar from my uncle and I started noodleing around on that. I wasn’t really interested in it at first but it kind of grew on me.

Allan Holdsworth Talks SynthAxes, Jaw-Dropping Solos and More (Guitar World 2017)

I’ve read that you started out wanting to play saxophone, but couldn’t afford one and ultimately decided to play guitar. True? —Gordon Lee

I didn’t decide to play guitar, but that was the instrument which I was offered. I’ve always been interested in horn-type instruments, such as a saxophone; but those instruments are very expensive, so my dad bought me a guitar instead. I didn’t like the guitar at first, but after noodling on it for several months, I developed a feel for it. I was around 14 at the time. That was many years—and beers—ago.

Allan Holdsworth interview (Abstract Logix 2004)

Fan: You have pioneered a voice in music and influenced your peers and your fans. Who are some of your favorite guitar pioneers?



AH: Django Reinhardt, Charlie Christian, Jimmy Raney, Wes Montgomery in fact most of the great guitar players; I loved them all. The newer guys: John McLaughlin, Pat Metheny, John Scofield, Scott Henderson and Frank Gambale... They?re all amazing with very different musical personalities. Of course there’s Michael Brecker and Keith Jarrett, but they don’t play the guitar (thank God!). I think I’ve been influenced by all instruments. I was influenced a lot by horn players, from Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderly, John Coltrane on to Michael Brecker. There’s many, many more that you could fill this whole page with people that have brought great gifts to the world of music.

Allan Holdsworth interview (Music Maker 2003)

You love the saxophone and recorded with trumpet player Walt Fowler on ‘16 Men Of Tain’. Do you ever think about recording some more with a horn player?


Yeah, I’d love to do something more with a horn player. It was just always like a budget problem. It’s hard enough trying to pay the guys in the band to do it anyway. A lot of times guys do it for next to nothing already, so..It’s just because they want to do it. So it’s kinda difficult with a horn. The last one it was nice because Gary Novak and Dave knew Walt Fowler. So it was nice to talk Walt Fowler into coming down and doing some stuff on that one which sounded great. I like trumpet and guitar actually. I like it a lot.

Allan Holdsworth’s New Horizons (Downbeat 1985)

Originally an aspiring reed player, Holdsworth didn’t pick up the guitar until he was 17 years old. "I played saxophone and clarinet and I wanted to play oboe, but I had problems with my ear. I kept popping it from blowing and getting ear infections, so I had to stop. It was some kind of peculiar physical thing where all the pressure would build up in one place. I don’t know - I guess I wasn’t supposed to play a wind instrument"

When he switched over to guitar he was still interested in getting a saxophone kind of sound, which led to all kinds of early experimenting with amplifiers and sustain. "I guess consciously since I’ve started on the instrument I’ve been trying to get the guitar to sound more like I was blowing it than plucking it, as such. I remember having this little 15-watt amplifier that my parents had bought me, and there’d be a certain volume I’d play at with this thing where it would feedback and sound really great, a more hornlike quality than anything I had heard before. Then I’d plug my guitar into somebody else’s amplifier and it would sound completely different. That interested me very much, so I’d try and figure out how the whole electronics thing worked. My father had a friend who built amplifiers and I’d get some lessons with him, so I gradually became aware of what was happening with the sound once you’d pluck a note. From there I’d try to hone in on it - make an amplifier that did exactly what I wanted it to do!’

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

Because I long to be a wind player - I always wanted to play saxophone - when I go to a synthesizer to create a sound, that’s usually where I start. I’m not trying to replicate anything specific; I just say, "Well, let’s try and get a wind-instrument-from-Mars tone." So long as it’s a wind instrument, that’s all that matters. I quite liked the sound on "Spokes," which is just a lone Oberheim Xpander. In the middle, I had a second Xpander detuned a tone away from the first, and faded that in during the middle section where Jimmy and Vinnie are just completely reaming. I wanted to leave it kind of open there for the bass and drums to do a bit of savaging.

Winds Of Change



I find that people - and particularly guitar players - tend to create barriers. It’s kind of like the stories you hear about somebody like Adolf Sax [who invented the saxophone in 1846] - man, I almost cried when I read the story about that guy. I mean, he invented a musical instrument and was punished for it; he and his family were given a hard time, just for his invention. Like the electric guitar, the saxophone for a long time wasn’t even considered a musical instrument by classical people, or people with closed minds who weren’t willing to accept that something can come along and do something different. And there he was, a persecuted guy who invented a really great instrument; there’s nothing that sounds like a saxophone - nothing. It indicates the amount of time it takes for people to accept something.

Any Key In The U.K. (Unknown publication 1978)

Can you pinpoint any one particular influence that helped you evolve your style?

Well,’ I think I was influenced in that I think I wanted to play a different instrument to the guitar! It started very early when I was listening to jazz records. The guitarist would be playing well but I was often more impressed musically with the sax solo. That’s what inspired me really. I wanted to get a more horn-like thing out of the guitar. It’s very natural. I didn’t consciously go out to do that. I knew I loved that but I didn’t know that I was approaching it differently until a few years later. I just like that sort of liquid thing as opposed to guitars with a machine-gun feel. I really like it to be like . . . water. It’s more like patterns as well. I know people mock guitarists who play fast things but I don’t think of it in terms of a stream of notes. It’s like a pattern, you create a pattern or a colour that you see as one. It’s like a colour that appears before your face.

Blinded By Science (Guitar Player 1993)

Oddly enough, Holdsworth became a musician almost by accident. "I had no desire to become a musician," he explains. "I was only interested in listening. When I started listening to saxophone players, I became interested in playing sax. My parents couldn’t afford to buy me one, so my father bought an acoustic guitar from my uncle. He left it lying around to see if I had any interest. Through time, I picked the thing up and tried to play it, and slowly I started to pick a few things up."

Holdsworth’s love of the saxophone never waned, so he attempted to emulate that sound with his guitar. "I tried to make electric guitar a non-percussive instrument, more like a horn. There’s something about the sound I wanted to hear that doesn’t happen naturally on the instrument. I’m constantly trying to refine my tone and make it better. Since recording The Wardenclyffe Tower I’ve made a lot of progress. I’m really happy with the way my guitar sounds right now."

Creating Imaginary Backdrops (Innerviews 1993)

Why did you decide to abandon it?



There’s a number of reasons, but the most important reason is that I was getting to a point where I was going to abandon playing the guitar altogether and only play the Synthaxe. I thought it was closer to what I wanted to do musically, in my head—sonically, the whole thing. With the Synthaxe, I could use it as a wind instrument. I used to use it with a breath controller—I could use it as the wind instrument I had always wanted to play since I was a kid. I didn’t have to deal with distortion and shaping a distorted guitar sound into something musical, which is a real challenge. It’s been one of the problems I have all of the time with the guitar—I want to make it sound more like a horn. But at the same time, the fact that you have to use any sort of distortion to get sustain is a kind of a catch-22. You have to use something you don’t want to use to get something that you want to use. I didn’t have any of those problems with the Synthaxe. It was really clear and really easy.



The fact that is has the keys as well as the strings —that was a stroke of genius for me. What I got afraid of is that I tried to keep in contact with them [Synthaxe Inc.] about any future things that they wanted to implement and Ideas that I had about modifications and improvements. The barrier broke down and in the end and right as it is—this moment—they don’t exist at all. There’s maybe two or three guys on the whole planet that could probably fix one. That got to be a really dangerous position to be in. If I quit guitar and got rid of them all and played only Synthaxe right now, then I’d be in real bad shape right now. And my worst fear came true, because a couple of months ago I sold both of my Synthaxes and thought "Well geez, I just have to get rid of them." And now over the last few weeks I’ve realized that I really miss them. I hooked up with this guy that bought one he never uses. He inherited some money and spent it on a Synthaxe and he decided he didn’t want to use it, so he knew that I played it and he tracked me down and he offered to sell it to me. I borrowed it from him to try it and there were two bad frets on the neck and I called some of the people that used to work at Synthaxe and try to find out what the possibilities of getting this malfunction fixed were and I’m still waiting to hear from one of the tech guys. So you can see, that’s a scary situation to be in if that was the only instrument I played!

DownBeat’s Final Interview with Allan Holdsworth (Downbeat 2017)

You wanted to take up a horn rather than guitar when you were younger. You really didn’t think of yourself as a guitar player. Do you still feel that way and why?



Pretty much. I just think of myself as a musician. I always think of an instrument as exactly that, it’s just a tool for you to try and express yourself. My dad was a fine pianist and he had a lot of great records and beautiful music.



I grew up listening to Ravel, Debussy, Bartók and jazz like Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Cannonball Adderley, Charlie Christian and Django Reinhart. It was incredibly inspiring! And I was given a guitar and I said “What the hell is this?!”



Like I said, my dad was a piano player, and I tried that, but I just didn’t have the feel for it. I wanted to play a horn or violin because you could change the loudness or softness of a sound. With a percussive instrument like piano or guitar I didn’t think I could get the feel I wanted on it. But I tried the guitar and found myself trying to make it not sound like a guitar [laughs].



But eventually I fell in love with the guitar for other reasons. I played the violin for a couple years too but I missed playing chords. So I went back to the guitar and used distortion to sustain notes and make it do things it wouldn’t normally do. So, here I am playing the guitar… or trying to!

Guitar Like A Saxophone (Guitar World 1987)

Holdsworth has added a breath controller apparatus to his SynthAxe. Basically a piece of thin tubing that hooks up to the unit and runs to his mouth, this breath controller allows Allan to literally blow the notes out of his instrument. With this bit of tubing, the guitarist’s guitar hero can finally become a saxophonist.

"I really never wanted to be a guitar player," he begins. "I’m a guitar player because I was given a guitar as a young boy and I began dabbling on it and eventually got into it. I always loved music as a kid, but the instrument I really wanted to play was the saxophone. I’ve always wanted to play a wind instrument of Some kind, be it a wind instrument that exists now or one that is played on some other planet somewhere . . . I dunno. So, I’ve begun experimenting with this breath controller to get that quality. It’s an accessory that’s been around for a long time. In fact, they don’t really exist anymore. This one ... a friend of mine found it in a junk shop because he knew how interested I was in blowing. The way it works with the SynthAxe is the instrument won’t make any sound until I blow. And the sound changes with the amount that I blow, both in volume and in tone. The voice box that Peter Frampton used in the seventies is quite different. That shaped the sounds. This activates the sounds. All you’re d oing is blowing into your instrument, like a sax player. It’s a whole new ball game for me."

During intense moments of his set, Holdsworth resembled a sax player, blowing through his plastic tubing, grimacing, getting very physical and emotional with the instrument. At times, it was hard to imagine him as a guitar player at all. The sheets of sound pouring forth, the peaks of intensity, the total abandon and unswerving conviction… he reminded me of John Coltrane, blowing scales upon scales of pent-up passion.

Guitar Synths in Jazz (Music Technology 1987)

I NEVER REALLY WANTED to play guitar in the first place, it was just an accident." (I can’t believe I’m hearing this.) "I wanted to play saxophone. I wouldn’t have been a musician at all, except my dad bought a guitar from an uncle, and left it lying around. At the time, saxophones were very expensive and not very easily come by, so l started messing around with it.’

"That was the SynthAxe through a Marshall. The first track was guitar, but the last track was the SynthAxe. Most of the other sounds I used on the SynthAxe were guitar-like sounds, or horn-like sounds, because that’s the instrument I hear in my head. I’ve always tried to get the guitar to sound like a horn. It’s easier for me to get the SynthAxe to sound like a horn than it was the guitar.

Holdsworth seems to pattern a lot of his playing after wind instruments. Is this intentional?

“I guess it’s just a natural thing because I always wanted to play a horn. Always wanting to play a horn and shape a note, have it get loud and then quiet and soft, and then bend it and straighten it, make it loud and then mellow again. All after you’ve played a note, which are things very difficult to do on guitar. And I tried to do them on guitar, the way you hit the string with either hand, the way you can shape the note with a pick...’

Guitarist’s Guitarist (Jazz Times 1989)

3 references coded [ 1]

Holdsworth’s first interest was the saxophone, and its a fascination that has stayed with him right up to the present day. "I loved the sound of it," he said, "and I still do. But we didn’t have the money to buy one. When I was about 15, my dad picked up an acoustic guitar from an uncle and just left it laying around. At first, I didn’t pay any attention to it. at all. But after it’d been around for a couple of years, I started noodling around on it. When my father saw there was some interest, he started to help me out with chords and stuff. He was such a fantastic natural teacher that he understood the guitar, even though he didn’t play the instrument. The funny thing is that he actually wound up teaching it to local students in Bradford.

Even the most cursory hearing of Holdsworth’s playing will reveal just how moved he was by Coltrane - the long, fluid lines, the extended improvisations, the phrasing which feels and sounds more like a horn than a plucked string instrument. "It was unconscious in the beginning," Holdsworth said. "But I think I was always trying to make the guitar into a less percussive instrument. That’s why I got interested in trying to use the amplifier to create sustained notes - so I could put the instrument into another realm of phrasing. Its not that I like distortion or anything like that for its own sake, its that I liked the way the amplifier could let [me] play long notes. Whereas, the normal jazz guitar - like say Joe Pass - is too percussive for me to be able to relate to it; I still love it and love to listen to it, but it wasn’t something that I felt; that’s why the SynthAxe was such a great discovery for me. It was like it was suddenly possible for long, flowing lines to be created by a guitar player; and now, with a breath controller, I can control the dynamics using breath like I would if I was playing a horn. So its kind of like a dream come true. Its like I’ve finally gotten around to playing the saxophone!"

"I’ve been trying - and I haven’t succeeded yet, but I keep getting closer - to create a kind of a horn sound that’s somewhere between an oboe and a soprano saxophone. And since there’s no real acoustic instrument that I can learn how to play, I use the synthesizers that I control with the Synth-Axe to create a sound which is somehow like that. I’ve always liked the idea of synthesis. I mean, there must be so many sounds - unheard sounds - that would be wonderful to hear. The real quest is to find some of them. Hopefully, eventually I’ll come up with a sound that isn’t trying to be something else, but which is definitely identifiable as something else.

I want to reach people with my music – common people. (Sym Info 1987)

You’re a shining example for a lot of famous guitarists. Bill Bruford told me a month or so ago that if he would play the guitar, he would have wanted to play like you, which is somehow the most beautiful compliment one can get. Aren’t you afraid that you’re investing 10.000’s of dollars in an instrument which will in the end alienate you from your own audience?

“Yes, but I don’t care for it. I’m not interested in guitar-players, I don’t want to play for guitar-players, I don’t like it to play for guitar-players. I want to make music, become a better musician. The instrument isn’t important. I listen to music, to tones. When I hear Michael Brecker play the saxophone, I’m not only hearing the saxophone, but also the music, the ideas, ‘the mind in the man’. The same when I hear Keath Jarrett play the piano. I’ve never wanted to play piano, it’s in some way a percussive instrument, and I don’t like percussive instruments. I love wind-instruments, like an oboe, or English horn, which is about my favourite sound. I want to reach people with my music, common people. And when I don’t play guitar anymore in the future, maybe I get a bigger audience, or not any at all, but that doesn’t interest me.”

Joe Satriani Meets Allan Holdsworth (Musician special edition 1993)

ALLAN HOLDSWORTH: "Well, I never felt I was ahead with ANYTHING. But I look at it compared to other instruments. I never really wanted to play guitar; I wanted to play a horn, and think about how horrendous a horn would sound if you were tonguing every note---it would drive you nuts. There’s a time and place for all of that, and I think guitar’s more like that now. There’s people mixing a lot more picking and LESS picking, which is nice. But guitar being a percussive instrument, it was harder to get away from that. Using amplifiers and trying to get a different kind of sound just seemed a fairly natural thing to do. I didn’t WANT the guitar to be percussive like a marimba or something, where the only way you get the note is to hear it BEGIN. And in the beginning, I’d always be able to hear the notes that were picked and the ones that were hammered on, so I started practicing actually playing accents with the hammered notes and making the picked notes seem more slient than the one you played with your left hand. I never got it a hundred percent, but I keep modifying the technique as I go"

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

His career as a guitarist has in many ways been a constant battle against the inherent limitations of the guitar. His parents were not so well off, and they could not afford a saxophone. Young Allan had to make do with his uncle’s guitar.

- I had no interest in it. You could not shape the tone very much afterwards, and I just picked it up from time to time.

Ever the perfectionist, he has refined his technique and sound over the years. He knows the guitar building process well, and is aware of the importance of each link in the audio chain. He talks about the recording process in such a way that Eric Johnson appears to be a slacker - it is about maintaining total control.

- I have been experimenting so much over the years. I play with a distorted sound, and then you have to see the amplifier and the guitar together as one instrument, they are inseparable. I do not use the amplifier only to raise the volume of the guitar. Put it this way; it’s not just something you add when the sound is already fully formed. The way horn instruments are able to control and shape the tone has always been my ideal, and working with distortion is my way of compensating the guitar’s deficiencies in that area. That’s why I’ve completely abandoned acoustic guitar, which has a percussive quality and little sustain. In my studio, The Brewery, I have been able to try things out, and now I think the pieces have fallen into place.

- I am very careful with my guitar sound, but the truth is that I would rather have played saxophone. Everything I do with my guitar rig may be seen as an attempt to make the most of the situation. I’m too old to change, and therefore I welcome everything that expands the possibilities of the guitar. For me, the choice of instrument is totally unimportant, I’m only interested in being able to convey my music with as few barriers as possible.

Mike Pachelli Show (video transcript 1991)

MP: I understand that when you were young you wanted to be a saxophone player.



AH: Yeah, well after I’d been listening to music for a long time, I got to be about 10 or 11. I was really interested in saxophone, the breathing thing seemed so alive, you could do more with it than a voice. But it was on that connection like a vocal thing.



MP: And why didn’t you pursue that?



AH: Well, at the time saxophones were very expensive things to buy so my Dad got, we I had an uncle who played guitar and my Dad got a guitar from him and just left it lying around, I just started in front of the mirror (laughs) I had no real interest in it at all, and he just left it there and I just noodled on it from time to time, try it on listening to music but still had no real desire to play anything and I guess over a period of time I realized I was playing a few chords on it and my Dad sort of took over because he knew all the notes on the guitar being the musician that he was…so as soon as he saw I had any interest in it he started trying to help me out. But I was very stubborn, I didn’t really like the help, though I needed it, but I wanted to do it on my own.

MP: Your guitar always sounds as if you’re blowing it, like you’re not plucking it. Is that intentional?



AH: Yeah, I mean I really don’t like guitar very much – I mean I love to hear other people play it, I don’t mean I don’t like the instrument, period, it’s just that for me

MP: There’s some amazing tunes on there, I always thought that if Metal Fatigue if it got airplay it could have been a great FM crossover hit. There was Devil Take the Hindmost, all I can say about that is “whew!” and then the tune I was REALLY interested in is The Un-Merry-Go-Round. Where’d that come from?



AH: Well it’s kind of a… basically I wrote that for my Dad, you know, because my Dad died during that year that I was doing the album. He used to have all these… he was a really great artist, he used to draw this merry go round with all these famous English politicians on it, like you’d have Ronald Reagan and all these guys on it, and he’d have them with their slogans, and he used to call it the UN Merry go round, so I got the title from him.



MP: The solo in there, which by the way is Phil Keaggy’s all-time favorite electric guitar solo, the soprano – which is quite a compliment in itself – the soprano sax solo that you sort of do – how, where’s that coming from, I mean what’s the inspiration, it sounds nearly exactly like a soprano!

(laughs) For a period of time I guess I was – I go through these periods that change and I was really trying to get like that soprano kind of tone. I guess that was about as close I got. I couldn’t get any closer so I gave up, started on something else.

No Secret (Guitar Extra 1992)

Q: Did your parents push you to take piano lessons?

Allan: My father tried to get me interested in the piano, but it was really obvious that I had no interest in it. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the sound of it, it was just that I don’t have any interest in that kind of instrument. Then I really started to like the saxophone, Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane, who I heard on the Miles Davis albums. When I heard John Coltrane, I was really moved by it. Then I started going down to the record shop every Saturday-I’d go down in to town and buy an album, and I started buying all these John Coltrane albums. It was only four or five months after I discovered John Coltrane that I read in the paper that he died. It was a real shock because I guess when you’re young and you’ve just discovered somebody, I felt like I really knew him. I just felt like he had a whole lot more left.

Q: Were you playing guitar at this point?



Allan: Yeah. I’d just started messing around with it, but I had no real interest in it. I wanted to play saxophone, but at the time, a saxophone was really expensive, and my mom and dad didn’t have the money for it. He got me a guitar from an uncle who played guitar, and he left it laying around. It was just an old roundhole acoustic guitar.

Q: Was moving on to the sax ever a goal?

Allan: No. By that time I was stuck noodling with the guitar. In fact, I didn’t think too far forward. I was just thinking it was a hobby, and that I really loved listening to music. It was listening to music that was more important to me than playing.

Q: Well, more so than anyone else, I think you’ve been able to get the sound of a blown instrument, and the fact that you’ve done it to the extent that you’ve done it is quite amazing. You’re saying you haven’t gotten there yet, as far as you’re concerned?



Allan: No, because you can’t. Some of the things I’ve tried to do, like changing the sound of the note after you’ve played it, is unbelievably hard to do on guitar. Where as on a bowed instrument, like a violin or a saxophone, it’s really quite easy to shape the note after you’ve started it. With the guitar, percussive instrument that it is, the note is essentially over once you’ve picked it. I have always tried to use equipment and amplifiers where I can change the vowel sound, to change an "ooh" to an "aah", and stuff like that. For the solos, I wanted it to sound more like a horn, and for the chords, I use a volume pedal to sound more like a keyboard, and not so chinky. And I hate strumming, the sound of strumming drives me nuts. It’s the same thing about how the guitar is kind of not the right instrument for me, but I’m too old to start worrying about another one.

Q: Isn’t the attraction to amplified guitar the fact that it can afford so many different sounds and colors, that you can get a lot of different variances in tone quality, probably more so than on a violin or saxophone?

Allan: Essentially you can’t though. There’s no way that you can do that with a guitar what some guy can do with a bow. I know that from the Synthaxe, because I can do things on the Synthaxe that would be completely impossible on the guitar. I can play a note using a vibrato on it, make the note disappear, make the tone go soft, make the tone go hard again right away after that, so the bottom of the decay is almost gone, the envelope is gone, and then you open it right up again. You can’t do that on guitar. Not even with a volume pedal. The note isn’t there anymore, it’s decayed. I know what you’re saying. You can do a lot with amplifiers and processing, which I’ve tried to do, but it’s not a real substitute.

No Secrets (Facelift 1994)

Holdsworth paints a picture of a fairly shambolic set-up. I presumed that this had maybe then been his first sortie into a band set-up. "No, it wasn’t, actually. I played with a lot of local Top 40 bands, club bands, working around in Bradford. Because I never wanted to be a musician, I was just a listener, and I used to just listen to my Dad’s records and spent most of my time as a kid just listening to the music. And I really wanted a saxophone but they were pretty expensive. And then he bought a guitar from my uncle and he left it lying around and I picked up a few things here and there, but had no real interest in it. And then I guess after a couple of years I started to learn a few things. When he saw me taking some interest in it, my dad, he tried to help me, and from that point on started to meet other people who were in bands and they started to ask me to play with them. So that’s how it started. But I never intended to be a professional musician - it wasn’t like a lot of young people when they first start learning an instrument.

"It was just curiosity ‘cos I’ve always had a curiosity about instruments. I borrowed a clarinet and a saxophone from somebody in the same band. Then I tried an oboe - just to see how they work. I like to know - you get a better understanding of the difficulties you’ve got with each instrument. But the violin, even though I didn’t play it or practice it all that much, it felt relatively easy for me to play it. I think that if I’d started with that instrument when I was learning, that would have probably have been more my instrument than guitar, although unfortunately I wouldn’t have been able to play any chords. The chords have become a really important part for me. Maybe it worked out for the best..."

One Man Of ‘Trane (Jazz Times 2000)

Ironically, Holdsworth never intended to play guitar at all. "I was just dabbling with it," he recalls of his teenage years in the small town of Bradford in Yorkshire, England. "I had wanted a saxophone, I didn’t really want the guitar, but saxophones were pretty expensive in those days, relative to a cheap acoustic guitar. My uncle played guitar and when he had bought himself a new one he sold his old one to my father, who gave it to me. That’s basically how it started."

The SynthAxe was a particular favorite tool for Holdsworth through the ‘80s in that it helped him get closer to the legato sax style that he had been emulating since hearing Coltrane recordings for the first time back in the ‘60s.



"Because I always wanted to play a horn, which is a non-percussive instrument, the guitar is essentially a percussive and I try and make it sound like it’s not," he explains. "But one of the things I always wanted to do was to be able to make a note and then change the whole shape of it after it sounded. You know, make it soft, make it loud, put vibrato on it, take it off, change the timbre of the sound, all after the note was played, which is not a very easy thing to do with a percussive instrument. And with the SynthAxe I have that ability because I can hook it up to a breath controller and I can do exactly that. I can make a note and change it and shape it in a totally different way than I can do on the guitar. And because the guitar gave me the chords -which I would’ve surely missed if I would have played the horn and not the guitar - eventually it gave me the combination of being able to play like a chordal instrument and a horn at the same time, and that was very appealing to me. It gave me a lot of textural possibilities that I didn’t have with guitar. And I kind of got engrossed in it. But I don’t feel exactly the same way about it now. I think of it more as something that I can use for extra color."

Player Of The Month (Beat Instrumental 1978)

How curious, then, that he didn’t even pick up anything with six strings on it until he was seventeen. "Originally I wanted to play saxaphone [sic], when I was a kid. My dad was a piano player. He was really good, but he gave it up. I don’t know why, I’ve never understood that. Anyway, he never got round to buying me a sax, and I didn’t have any money of my own at that time, so I couldn’t afford an instrument. So he bought an old Spanish guitar off an uncle of mine for a fiver, and he left it lying around, and I just picked it up."

Terry Theise’s electric guitar top ten (Guitar magazine 1976)

Alan Holdsworth is the first guitarist I’ve heard who doesn’t think guitar. He seems to approach his instrument as if it were a saxophone, notes spilling out without the tension or enunciation of the usual guitarist’s picking hand. He has the most amazing stamina in his fretting hand, enabling him to play at continual top speed for measure after measure without pauses, something beyond the powers of Ollie Halsall, with whom he shares a similar technique. However, while Halsall is beginning to achieve some critical and popular recognition, Holdsworth is mysteriously glossed over. This might be excusable if he had only his speed to commend him but he is a most musicianly guitarist.

The Allan Holdsworth Interview, part one (Musoscribe 2017)

Was it your time with Jean-Luc Ponty that sparked your interest in playing the violin?

Oh no, no, it was just curiosity. I messed around with a lot of instruments; I played clarinet for awhile. I had borrowed saxophones from band mates in the past, just to get a feeling of how they work and the challenges of each; and it was like that with the violin. I got a violin, and then after that I did buy a viola. But the viola got lost in the shuffle when I moved; I don’t really know what happened to it.

Early on in your solo career, you became very closely associated with the Synthaxe. What piqued your initial interest in that instrument?

It went back really far into my childhood, actually. Because I always wanted to play a horn or a violin or something where you could shape a note, as opposed to the guitar which is basically a percussion instrument. And I always tried to get the guitar to sound like it wasn’t a percussion instrument.

When the Synthaxe came along, it opened the door to not only different textures and sounds that were unavailable on the guitar, but with the use of the breath control, I could do all the things that I wanted to do if I had been a horn player of some sort. I learned a lot from just playing that instrument. I still use it a lot in the studio; for the stuff I’m working on now, it has probably ended up on every track.

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

Guitar.com: Your legato sax-type attack has always come through in your playing going back to Soft Machine. If you listen closely, it’s very much a Coltrane thing.



Holdsworth: He just completely turned my life upside down. I remember when I first heard those Miles Davis records that had Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane on them. It was fascinating to me, a major revelation. I loved Cannonball Adderley also but when I listened to Cannonball I could hear where it came from. I could hear the path that he had taken. But when I heard John Coltrane, I couldn’t. I couldn’t hear connections with anything else. It was almost like he had found a way to get to the truth somehow, to bypass all of the things that, as an improviser, you have to face. He found a way to be actually improvising and playing over the same material but in a very different way. That was the thing that really changed my life because I realized it was possible. His playing was just like a complete, total revelation to me. And I realized then that what I needed to do was to try and find a way to improvise over chord sequences without playing any bebop or without having it sound like it came from somewhere else. And it’s been an ongoing, everlasting quest.

Guitar.com: When did you have this epiphany?



Holdsworth: When I was probably about 18, 19.

Guitar.com: You were already playing guitar at that time?



Holdsworth: Yeah, I was just dabbling with it. I was still really interested in the horn. I had wanted a saxophone, I didn’t really want the guitar. But saxophones were pretty expensive in those days anyway, relative to a cheap acoustic guitar. There weren’t so many guitars around then, not compared to nowadays. But my uncle played guitar and when he had bought himself a new guitar, he sold his old one to my father, who then gave it to me. And that’s basically how it started.

The Reluctant Guitarist (Jazz Journal 1992)

He began to take a serious interest in music in his late teens, while lie was working in factories and as a bike repairman. At first he wanted a saxophone, but it was then that Sam Holdsworth suggested a more modestly priced acoustic guitar. There followed lessons with Sam, an electric guitar and experiences with various local groups before an invitation from his friend Glen South led to three years or so in a Top 40 band on the Sunderland Mecca circuit. It was there that Holdsworth was first able to try his hand at the clarinet.

‘I never really wanted to play guitar. I always wanted to play like a horn. The saxophone player in the Glen South band showed me a few things, and I tried the clarinet, but I kept perforating my ear. When I hurt my ears I wanted to try something else, so I got the violin and started noodling on that.’

‘The Synthaxe is close to what I want, cause it’s a combination of blowing and picking, so it’s like a horn and guitar. You don’t have to blow so hard though, it’s an open blowing, like blowing a balloon up; there’s no embouchure.’

The Reluctant Virtuoso (Guitar World 1981)

"I listen to everything actually. I really like horn players because of that sensation of playing one note and making it long or short, or making it loud, or changing the tone. The saxophone thing always knocked me out, ‘cause when they’d blow notes it would be like ‘water.’ But I mix it up. It gets monotonous picking every note, it’s just like a sax player blowing every note."

The Sixteen Men Of Tain (musired.com 2000, Spanish language)

At which age did you start to play and what kind of music did you listen to?

Well, that’s a good question because I started to listen to music when I was around three years old, but I didn’t want to be a musician, I just enjoyed listening to music. I couldn’t understand that there were some compositions that could make me cry and others that could make me feel happy. It was like something magical, something really fascinating. I took my parents’ records and, although I didn’t know how to read yet, I knew all of them and identified them by taking a look at the covers. I think that when I was 11 or 12 my dad tried to teach me to play piano, but I didn’t like piano. It is not that I don’t like to listen to others playing, simply I didn’t feel comfortable sitting there. I thought that I wanted to play a wind instrument, like a saxophone, for an example, but at that time they were very expensive and my parents couldn’t buy it. So my father bought an old guitar from my uncle, but the truth is that at the beginning it didn’t like a lot either. I put myself in front of a mirror and started to imitate Elvis. My father started to play guitar on his own, he was a pianist, so in the beginning he didn’t have a lot of technique but a lot of knowledge, so he played very attractive things, but not too fast. It wasn’t until 18 or 19 when I started to be interested, to take it seriously. I just wanted to listen to music, not to be a musician. I didn’t feel I had anything to offer as a musician. But, without knowing how, I changed. Unconsciously years went by and I started to like it.

The Unreachable Star (Guitar World 1989)

GW: Although you’ve mentioned that it’s a saxophonic quality you’ve tried to bring to the guitar, the way your phrasing combines with your guitar tone often attains an almost bowed sound.



HOLDSWORTH: The violin’s very similar in a lot of respects, because again, you wouldn’t want to hear a violinist sputtering out every note bowed. In a way it’s the closest you can get to a wind instrument, because you can blow soft and loud on it, just by virtue of the bow; and you’ve got control over the volume, shape and sustain of the note once the vibration of the string has started. That’s very difficult to accomplish on guitar because the guitar’s really a percussive instrument.

Whisky Galore (Guitarist 2000)

Your guitar tone is huge and thick, almost like a baritone sax...

"Well that’s the kind of sound I’ve been striving to achieve. I’ll never get exactly what I want, but it’s just like music itself. When I first started listening as a kid, I’d hear some piece of classical music and it would make me want to cry. And I didn’t understand it, so instinctively I knew I wanted to be a listener and an absorber of music. It’s like when you first fall in love and it’s an agony and an ecstasy at the same time; that’s because there’s something that you don’t understand and that’s what I love about music. It’s like being in love with something you know you’re never going to get. And it’s the same with the sound: to me the sound is part of the music; I’ve always strived to achieve a certain sound and that’s a neverending quest for me."



.

"I really never wanted to be a guitar player," he begins. "I’m a guitar player because I was given a guitar as a young boy and I began dabbling on it and eventually got into it. I always loved music as a kid, but the instrument I really wanted to play was the saxophone. I’ve always wanted to play a wind instrument of Some kind, be it a wind instrument that exists now or one that is played on some other planet somewhere . . . I dunno. So, I’ve begun experimenting with this breath controller to get that quality. It’s an accessory that’s been around for a long time. In fact, they don’t really exist anymore. This one ... a friend of mine found it in a junk shop because he knew how interested I was in blowing. The way it works with the SynthAxe is the instrument won’t make any sound until I blow. And the sound changes with the amount that I blow, both in volume and in tone. The voice box that Peter Frampton used in the seventies is quite different. That shaped the sounds. This activates the sounds. All you’re d oing is blowing into your instrument, like a sax player. It’s a whole new ball game for me."

During intense moments of his set, Holdsworth resembled a sax player, blowing through his plastic tubing, grimacing, getting very physical and emotional with the instrument. At times, it was hard to imagine him as a guitar player at all. The sheets of sound pouring forth, the peaks of intensity, the total abandon and unswerving conviction… he reminded me of John Coltrane, blowing scales upon scales of pent-up passion.

Guitar Synths in Jazz (Music Technology 1987)

I NEVER REALLY WANTED to play guitar in the first place, it was just an accident." (I can’t believe I’m hearing this.) "I wanted to play saxophone. I wouldn’t have been a musician at all, except my dad bought a guitar from an uncle, and left it lying around. At the time, saxophones were very expensive and not very easily come by, so l started messing around with it.’

"That was the SynthAxe through a Marshall. The first track was guitar, but the last track was the SynthAxe. Most of the other sounds I used on the SynthAxe were guitar-like sounds, or horn-like sounds, because that’s the instrument I hear in my head. I’ve always tried to get the guitar to sound like a horn. It’s easier for me to get the SynthAxe to sound like a horn than it was the guitar.

Holdsworth seems to pattern a lot of his playing after wind instruments. Is this intentional?

“I guess it’s just a natural thing because I always wanted to play a horn. Always wanting to play a horn and shape a note, have it get loud and then quiet and soft, and then bend it and straighten it, make it loud and then mellow again. All after you’ve played a note, which are things very difficult to do on guitar. And I tried to do them on guitar, the way you hit the string with either hand, the way you can shape the note with a pick...’

Guitarist’s Guitarist (Jazz Times 1989)

3 references coded [ 1]

Holdsworth’s first interest was the saxophone, and its a fascination that has stayed with him right up to the present day. "I loved the sound of it," he said, "and I still do. But we didn’t have the money to buy one. When I was about 15, my dad picked up an acoustic guitar from an uncle and just left it laying around. At first, I didn’t pay any attention to it. at all. But after it’d been around for a couple of years, I started noodling around on it. When my father saw there was some interest, he started to help me out with chords and stuff. He was such a fantastic natural teacher that he understood the guitar, even though he didn’t play the instrument. The funny thing is that he actually wound up teaching it to local students in Bradford.

Even the most cursory hearing of Holdsworth’s playing will reveal just how moved he was by Coltrane - the long, fluid lines, the extended improvisations, the phrasing which feels and sounds more like a horn than a plucked string instrument. "It was unconscious in the beginning," Holdsworth said. "But I think I was always trying to make the guitar into a less percussive instrument. That’s why I got interested in trying to use the amplifier to create sustained notes - so I could put the instrument into another realm of phrasing. Its not that I like distortion or anything like that for its own sake, its that I liked the way the amplifier could let [me] play long notes. Whereas, the normal jazz guitar - like say Joe Pass - is too percussive for me to be able to relate to it; I still love it and love to listen to it, but it wasn’t something that I felt; that’s why the SynthAxe was such a great discovery for me. It was like it was suddenly possible for long, flowing lines to be created by a guitar player; and now, with a breath controller, I can control the dynamics using breath like I would if I was playing a horn. So its kind of like a dream come true. Its like I’ve finally gotten around to playing the saxophone!"

"I’ve been trying - and I haven’t succeeded yet, but I keep getting closer - to create a kind of a horn sound that’s somewhere between an oboe and a soprano saxophone. And since there’s no real acoustic instrument that I can learn how to play, I use the synthesizers that I control with the Synth-Axe to create a sound which is somehow like that. I’ve always liked the idea of synthesis. I mean, there must be so many sounds - unheard sounds - that would be wonderful to hear. The real quest is to find some of them. Hopefully, eventually I’ll come up with a sound that isn’t trying to be something else, but which is definitely identifiable as something else.

I want to reach people with my music – common people. (Sym Info 1987)

You’re a shining example for a lot of famous guitarists. Bill Bruford told me a month or so ago that if he would play the guitar, he would have wanted to play like you, which is somehow the most beautiful compliment one can get. Aren’t you afraid that you’re investing 10.000’s of dollars in an instrument which will in the end alienate you from your own audience?

“Yes, but I don’t care for it. I’m not interested in guitar-players, I don’t want to play for guitar-players, I don’t like it to play for guitar-players. I want to make music, become a better musician. The instrument isn’t important. I listen to music, to tones. When I hear Michael Brecker play the saxophone, I’m not only hearing the saxophone, but also the music, the ideas, ‘the mind in the man’. The same when I hear Keath Jarrett play the piano. I’ve never wanted to play piano, it’s in some way a percussive instrument, and I don’t like percussive instruments. I love wind-instruments, like an oboe, or English horn, which is about my favourite sound. I want to reach people with my music, common people. And when I don’t play guitar anymore in the future, maybe I get a bigger audience, or not any at all, but that doesn’t interest me.”

Joe Satriani Meets Allan Holdsworth (Musician special edition 1993)

ALLAN HOLDSWORTH: "Well, I never felt I was ahead with ANYTHING. But I look at it compared to other instruments. I never really wanted to play guitar; I wanted to play a horn, and think about how horrendous a horn would sound if you were tonguing every note---it would drive you nuts. There’s a time and place for all of that, and I think guitar’s more like that now. There’s people mixing a lot more picking and LESS picking, which is nice. But guitar being a percussive instrument, it was harder to get away from that. Using amplifiers and trying to get a different kind of sound just seemed a fairly natural thing to do. I didn’t WANT the guitar to be percussive like a marimba or something, where the only way you get the note is to hear it BEGIN. And in the beginning, I’d always be able to hear the notes that were picked and the ones that were hammered on, so I started practicing actually playing accents with the hammered notes and making the picked notes seem more slient than the one you played with your left hand. I never got it a hundred percent, but I keep modifying the technique as I go"

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

His career as a guitarist has in many ways been a constant battle against the inherent limitations of the guitar. His parents were not so well off, and they could not afford a saxophone. Young Allan had to make do with his uncle’s guitar.

- I had no interest in it. You could not shape the tone very much afterwards, and I just picked it up from time to time.

Ever the perfectionist, he has refined his technique and sound over the years. He knows the guitar building process well, and is aware of the importance of each link in the audio chain. He talks about the recording process in such a way that Eric Johnson appears to be a slacker - it is about maintaining total control.

- I have been experimenting so much over the years. I play with a distorted sound, and then you have to see the amplifier and the guitar together as one instrument, they are inseparable. I do not use the amplifier only to raise the volume of the guitar. Put it this way; it’s not just something you add when the sound is already fully formed. The way horn instruments are able to control and shape the tone has always been my ideal, and working with distortion is my way of compensating the guitar’s deficiencies in that area. That’s why I’ve completely abandoned acoustic guitar, which has a percussive quality and little sustain. In my studio, The Brewery, I have been able to try things out, and now I think the pieces have fallen into place.

- I am very careful with my guitar sound, but the truth is that I would rather have played saxophone. Everything I do with my guitar rig may be seen as an attempt to make the most of the situation. I’m too old to change, and therefore I welcome everything that expands the possibilities of the guitar. For me, the choice of instrument is totally unimportant, I’m only interested in being able to convey my music with as few barriers as possible.

Mike Pachelli Show (video transcript 1991)

MP: I understand that when you were young you wanted to be a saxophone player.



AH: Yeah, well after I’d been listening to music for a long time, I got to be about 10 or 11. I was really interested in saxophone, the breathing thing seemed so alive, you could do more with it than a voice. But it was on that connection like a vocal thing.



MP: And why didn’t you pursue that?



AH: Well, at the time saxophones were very expensive things to buy so my Dad got, we I had an uncle who played guitar and my Dad got a guitar from him and just left it lying around, I just started in front of the mirror (laughs) I had no real interest in it at all, and he just left it there and I just noodled on it from time to time, try it on listening to music but still had no real desire to play anything and I guess over a period of time I realized I was playing a few chords on it and my Dad sort of took over because he knew all the notes on the guitar being the musician that he was…so as soon as he saw I had any interest in it he started trying to help me out. But I was very stubborn, I didn’t really like the help, though I needed it, but I wanted to do it on my own.

MP: Your guitar always sounds as if you’re blowing it, like you’re not plucking it. Is that intentional?



AH: Yeah, I mean I really don’t like guitar very much – I mean I love to hear other people play it, I don’t mean I don’t like the instrument, period, it’s just that for me

MP: There’s some amazing tunes on there, I always thought that if Metal Fatigue if it got airplay it could have been a great FM crossover hit. There was Devil Take the Hindmost, all I can say about that is “whew!” and then the tune I was REALLY interested in is The Un-Merry-Go-Round. Where’d that come from?



AH: Well it’s kind of a… basically I wrote that for my Dad, you know, because my Dad died during that year that I was doing the album. He used to have all these… he was a really great artist, he used to draw this merry go round with all these famous English politicians on it, like you’d have Ronald Reagan and all these guys on it, and he’d have them with their slogans, and he used to call it the UN Merry go round, so I got the title from him.



MP: The solo in there, which by the way is Phil Keaggy’s all-time favorite electric guitar solo, the soprano – which is quite a compliment in itself – the soprano sax solo that you sort of do – how, where’s that coming from, I mean what’s the inspiration, it sounds nearly exactly like a soprano!

(laughs) For a period of time I guess I was – I go through these periods that change and I was really trying to get like that soprano kind of tone. I guess that was about as close I got. I couldn’t get any closer so I gave up, started on something else.

No Secret (Guitar Extra 1992)

Q: Did your parents push you to take piano lessons?

Allan: My father tried to get me interested in the piano, but it was really obvious that I had no interest in it. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the sound of it, it was just that I don’t have any interest in that kind of instrument. Then I really started to like the saxophone, Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane, who I heard on the Miles Davis albums. When I heard John Coltrane, I was really moved by it. Then I started going down to the record shop every Saturday-I’d go down in to town and buy an album, and I started buying all these John Coltrane albums. It was only four or five months after I discovered John Coltrane that I read in the paper that he died. It was a real shock because I guess when you’re young and you’ve just discovered somebody, I felt like I really knew him. I just felt like he had a whole lot more left.

Q: Were you playing guitar at this point?



Allan: Yeah. I’d just started messing around with it, but I had no real interest in it. I wanted to play saxophone, but at the time, a saxophone was really expensive, and my mom and dad didn’t have the money for it. He got me a guitar from an uncle who played guitar, and he left it laying around. It was just an old roundhole acoustic guitar.

Q: Was moving on to the sax ever a goal?

Allan: No. By that time I was stuck noodling with the guitar. In fact, I didn’t think too far forward. I was just thinking it was a hobby, and that I really loved listening to music. It was listening to music that was more important to me than playing.

Q: Well, more so than anyone else, I think you’ve been able to get the sound of a blown instrument, and the fact that you’ve done it to the extent that you’ve done it is quite amazing. You’re saying you haven’t gotten there yet, as far as you’re concerned?



Allan: No, because you can’t. Some of the things I’ve tried to do, like changing the sound of the note after you’ve played it, is unbelievably hard to do on guitar. Where as on a bowed instrument, like a violin or a saxophone, it’s really quite easy to shape the note after you’ve started it. With the guitar, percussive instrument that it is, the note is essentially over once you’ve picked it. I have always tried to use equipment and amplifiers where I can change the vowel sound, to change an "ooh" to an "aah", and stuff like that. For the solos, I wanted it to sound more like a horn, and for the chords, I use a volume pedal to sound more like a keyboard, and not so chinky. And I hate strumming, the sound of strumming drives me nuts. It’s the same thing about how the guitar is kind of not the right instrument for me, but I’m too old to start worrying about another one.

Q: Isn’t the attraction to amplified guitar the fact that it can afford so many different sounds and colors, that you can get a lot of different variances in tone quality, probably more so than on a violin or saxophone?

Allan: Essentially you can’t though. There’s no way that you can do that with a guitar what some guy can do with a bow. I know that from the Synthaxe, because I can do things on the Synthaxe that would be completely impossible on the guitar. I can play a note using a vibrato on it, make the note disappear, make the tone go soft, make the tone go hard again right away after that, so the bottom of the decay is almost gone, the envelope is gone, and then you open it right up again. You can’t do that on guitar. Not even with a volume pedal. The note isn’t there anymore, it’s decayed. I know what you’re saying. You can do a lot with amplifiers and processing, which I’ve tried to do, but it’s not a real substitute.

No Secrets (Facelift 1994)

Holdsworth paints a picture of a fairly shambolic set-up. I presumed that this had maybe then been his first sortie into a band set-up. "No, it wasn’t, actually. I played with a lot of local Top 40 bands, club bands, working around in Bradford. Because I never wanted to be a musician, I was just a listener, and I used to just listen to my Dad’s records and spent most of my time as a kid just listening to the music. And I really wanted a saxophone but they were pretty expensive. And then he bought a guitar from my uncle and he left it lying around and I picked up a few things here and there, but had no real interest in it. And then I guess after a couple of years I started to learn a few things. When he saw me taking some interest in it, my dad, he tried to help me, and from that point on started to meet other people who were in bands and they started to ask me to play with them. So that’s how it started. But I never intended to be a professional musician - it wasn’t like a lot of young people when they first start learning an instrument.

"It was just curiosity ‘cos I’ve always had a curiosity about instruments. I borrowed a clarinet and a saxophone from somebody in the same band. Then I tried an oboe - just to see how they work. I like to know - you get a better understanding of the difficulties you’ve got with each instrument. But the violin, even though I didn’t play it or practice it all that much, it felt relatively easy for me to play it. I think that if I’d started with that instrument when I was learning, that would have probably have been more my instrument than guitar, although unfortunately I wouldn’t have been able to play any chords. The chords have become a really important part for me. Maybe it worked out for the best..."

One Man Of ‘Trane (Jazz Times 2000)

Ironically, Holdsworth never intended to play guitar at all. "I was just dabbling with it," he recalls of his teenage years in the small town of Bradford in Yorkshire, England. "I had wanted a saxophone, I didn’t really want the guitar, but saxophones were pretty expensive in those days, relative to a cheap acoustic guitar. My uncle played guitar and when he had bought himself a new one he sold his old one to my father, who gave it to me. That’s basically how it started."

The SynthAxe was a particular favorite tool for Holdsworth through the ‘80s in that it helped him get closer to the legato sax style that he had been emulating since hearing Coltrane recordings for the first time back in the ‘60s.



"Because I always wanted to play a horn, which is a non-percussive instrument, the guitar is essentially a percussive and I try and make it sound like it’s not," he explains. "But one of the things I always wanted to do was to be able to make a note and then change the whole shape of it after it sounded. You know, make it soft, make it loud, put vibrato on it, take it off, change the timbre of the sound, all after the note was played, which is not a very easy thing to do with a percussive instrument. And with the SynthAxe I have that ability because I can hook it up to a breath controller and I can do exactly that. I can make a note and change it and shape it in a totally different way than I can do on the guitar. And because the guitar gave me the chords -which I would’ve surely missed if I would have played the horn and not the guitar - eventually it gave me the combination of being able to play like a chordal instrument and a horn at the same time, and that was very appealing to me. It gave me a lot of textural possibilities that I didn’t have with guitar. And I kind of got engrossed in it. But I don’t feel exactly the same way about it now. I think of it more as something that I can use for extra color."

Player Of The Month (Beat Instrumental 1978)

How curious, then, that he didn’t even pick up anything with six strings on it until he was seventeen. "Originally I wanted to play saxaphone [sic], when I was a kid. My dad was a piano player. He was really good, but he gave it up. I don’t know why, I’ve never understood that. Anyway, he never got round to buying me a sax, and I didn’t have any money of my own at that time, so I couldn’t afford an instrument. So he bought an old Spanish guitar off an uncle of mine for a fiver, and he left it lying around, and I just picked it up."

Terry Theise’s electric guitar top ten (Guitar magazine 1976)

Alan Holdsworth is the first guitarist I’ve heard who doesn’t think guitar. He seems to approach his instrument as if it were a saxophone, notes spilling out without the tension or enunciation of the usual guitarist’s picking hand. He has the most amazing stamina in his fretting hand, enabling him to play at continual top speed for measure after measure without pauses, something beyond the powers of Ollie Halsall, with whom he shares a similar technique. However, while Halsall is beginning to achieve some critical and popular recognition, Holdsworth is mysteriously glossed over. This might be excusable if he had only his speed to commend him but he is a most musicianly guitarist.

The Allan Holdsworth Interview, part one (Musoscribe 2017)

Was it your time with Jean-Luc Ponty that sparked your interest in playing the violin?

Oh no, no, it was just curiosity. I messed around with a lot of instruments; I played clarinet for awhile. I had borrowed saxophones from band mates in the past, just to get a feeling of how they work and the challenges of each; and it was like that with the violin. I got a violin, and then after that I did buy a viola. But the viola got lost in the shuffle when I moved; I don’t really know what happened to it.

Early on in your solo career, you became very closely associated with the Synthaxe. What piqued your initial interest in that instrument?

It went back really far into my childhood, actually. Because I always wanted to play a horn or a violin or something where you could shape a note, as opposed to the guitar which is basically a percussion instrument. And I always tried to get the guitar to sound like it wasn’t a percussion instrument.

When the Synthaxe came along, it opened the door to not only different textures and sounds that were unavailable on the guitar, but with the use of the breath control, I could do all the things that I wanted to do if I had been a horn player of some sort. I learned a lot from just playing that instrument. I still use it a lot in the studio; for the stuff I’m working on now, it has probably ended up on every track.

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

Guitar.com: Your legato sax-type attack has always come through in your playing going back to Soft Machine. If you listen closely, it’s very much a Coltrane thing.



Holdsworth: He just completely turned my life upside down. I remember when I first heard those Miles Davis records that had Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane on them. It was fascinating to me, a major revelation. I loved Cannonball Adderley also but when I listened to Cannonball I could hear where it came from. I could hear the path that he had taken. But when I heard John Coltrane, I couldn’t. I couldn’t hear connections with anything else. It was almost like he had found a way to get to the truth somehow, to bypass all of the things that, as an improviser, you have to face. He found a way to be actually improvising and playing over the same material but in a very different way. That was the thing that really changed my life because I realized it was possible. His playing was just like a complete, total revelation to me. And I realized then that what I needed to do was to try and find a way to improvise over chord sequences without playing any bebop or without having it sound like it came from somewhere else. And it’s been an ongoing, everlasting quest.

Guitar.com: When did you have this epiphany?



Holdsworth: When I was probably about 18, 19.

Guitar.com: You were already playing guitar at that time?



Holdsworth: Yeah, I was just dabbling with it. I was still really interested in the horn. I had wanted a saxophone, I didn’t really want the guitar. But saxophones were pretty expensive in those days anyway, relative to a cheap acoustic guitar. There weren’t so many guitars around then, not compared to nowadays. But my uncle played guitar and when he had bought himself a new guitar, he sold his old one to my father, who then gave it to me. And that’s basically how it started.

The Reluctant Guitarist (Jazz Journal 1992)

He began to take a serious interest in music in his late teens, while lie was working in factories and as a bike repairman. At first he wanted a saxophone, but it was then that Sam Holdsworth suggested a more modestly priced acoustic guitar. There followed lessons with Sam, an electric guitar and experiences with various local groups before an invitation from his friend Glen South led to three years or so in a Top 40 band on the Sunderland Mecca circuit. It was there that Holdsworth was first able to try his hand at the clarinet.

‘I never really wanted to play guitar. I always wanted to play like a horn. The saxophone player in the Glen South band showed me a few things, and I tried the clarinet, but I kept perforating my ear. When I hurt my ears I wanted to try something else, so I got the violin and started noodling on that.’

‘The Synthaxe is close to what I want, cause it’s a combination of blowing and picking, so it’s like a horn and guitar. You don’t have to blow so hard though, it’s an open blowing, like blowing a balloon up; there’s no embouchure.’

The Reluctant Virtuoso (Guitar World 1981)

"I listen to everything actually. I really like horn players because of that sensation of playing one note and making it long or short, or making it loud, or changing the tone. The saxophone thing always knocked me out, ‘cause when they’d blow notes it would be like ‘water.’ But I mix it up. It gets monotonous picking every note, it’s just like a sax player blowing every note."

The Sixteen Men Of Tain (musired.com 2000, Spanish language)

At which age did you start to play and what kind of music did you listen to?

Well, that’s a good question because I started to listen to music when I was around three years old, but I didn’t want to be a musician, I just enjoyed listening to music. I couldn’t understand that there were some compositions that could make me cry and others that could make me feel happy. It was like something magical, something really fascinating. I took my parents’ records and, although I didn’t know how to read yet, I knew all of them and identified them by taking a look at the covers. I think that when I was 11 or 12 my dad tried to teach me to play piano, but I didn’t like piano. It is not that I don’t like to listen to others playing, simply I didn’t feel comfortable sitting there. I thought that I wanted to play a wind instrument, like a saxophone, for an example, but at that time they were very expensive and my parents couldn’t buy it. So my father bought an old guitar from my uncle, but the truth is that at the beginning it didn’t like a lot either. I put myself in front of a mirror and started to imitate Elvis. My father started to play guitar on his own, he was a pianist, so in the beginning he didn’t have a lot of technique but a lot of knowledge, so he played very attractive things, but not too fast. It wasn’t until 18 or 19 when I started to be interested, to take it seriously. I just wanted to listen to music, not to be a musician. I didn’t feel I had anything to offer as a musician. But, without knowing how, I changed. Unconsciously years went by and I started to like it.

The Unreachable Star (Guitar World 1989)

GW: Although you’ve mentioned that it’s a saxophonic quality you’ve tried to bring to the guitar, the way your phrasing combines with your guitar tone often attains an almost bowed sound.



HOLDSWORTH: The violin’s very similar in a lot of respects, because again, you wouldn’t want to hear a violinist sputtering out every note bowed. In a way it’s the closest you can get to a wind instrument, because you can blow soft and loud on it, just by virtue of the bow; and you’ve got control over the volume, shape and sustain of the note once the vibration of the string has started. That’s very difficult to accomplish on guitar because the guitar’s really a percussive instrument.

Whisky Galore (Guitarist 2000)

Your guitar tone is huge and thick, almost like a baritone sax...

"Well that’s the kind of sound I’ve been striving to achieve. I’ll never get exactly what I want, but it’s just like music itself. When I first started listening as a kid, I’d hear some piece of classical music and it would make me want to cry. And I didn’t understand it, so instinctively I knew I wanted to be a listener and an absorber of music. It’s like when you first fall in love and it’s an agony and an ecstasy at the same time; that’s because there’s something that you don’t understand and that’s what I love about music. It’s like being in love with something you know you’re never going to get. And it’s the same with the sound: to me the sound is part of the music; I’ve always strived to achieve a certain sound and that’s a neverending quest for me."