Seymour Duncan pickups
What kind of guitars did you use?
I just used my old faithful Strat that I had back then. It had two humbuckers on it: one by the bridge and one by the neck. I changed them a lot. For a long time I had a couple of old Gibson Patent Applied Fors that I took off of some old ‘60s SG Customs that I owned previously. I didn’t like the middle pickups on the SGs -- they always got in the way -- so I took them out and saved them. I used them for a long time, and then I changed to the old DiMarzio PAFs, and then I finally changed to a pair of Seymour Duncan 59s. I found that there was a little bit of difference between the Seymour Duncans and the PAFs. So I sold all the PAFs from the SGs and just bought Seymour Duncans.
Why do you only have one pickup in the bridge position and no pick up at all near the neck?
I found that I hardly ever used the other pickup, anyway. I’ve always favored the treble pickup. So when Grover made the first prototype for me, we just tried it with one. And it seems that I’ve never missed it at all. So I decided to have them all made with single pickups. It’s really basic. Each of the guitars has a different pickup on it The red basswood one has the specially made Seymour Duncan pickup, the white one has a Seymour Duncan 59N, and the spruce one has a specially wound DiMarzio on it.
Are there any fancy switches such as coil taps?
No. I don’t have any extra wiring. Just one volume and one tone. And I would have just one for volume, except that I still prefer the tone I get from the guitar’s control. There’s a difference between the tone when you have the volume up full on the guitar and you back the treble up on the amp and turn down the tone on the guitar just a bit. It sounds wetter or something -- I just prefer it.
In Allan Holdsworth’s career, which spans 15 years, he’s gone from cello guitar, to Fender Stratocaster, to Gibson SGs, and today he plays Charvel guitars.
‘When I first played the SG I fell in love with it instantly and I took the Fender which I’d bought on HP back to the shop, and traded it for the Gibson SG Standard they had. I stuck with that for a couple of years while I was a semi-pro, and then I got a job in a Mecca houseband, and that’s when I started messing about with guitars and experimenting with 335s and whatever. That was a real experimental thing, I changed the lot, different amps, different strings, different guitars. I still like trying everything and each one of these Charvel guitars I have is an experiment, but they’re getting closer and closer to what I want. All the necks are 2 ¼" wide at the top of the fretboard which is a lot wider than a Fender, and I really like that. I’ve always been anti heavy guitars, and all of these guitars are light. They’re made of spruce or Bass (as in ass) wood. Most of the older Strats were light.’ Allan Holdsworth had, at the date of our meeting, four Stratocaster type Charvels which included a blonde one w ith a pair of custom wound Dimarzio humbuckers, a red one with a single custom wound Seymour Duncan humbucker, and a white one with two more custom wound Seymour Duncan humbuckers in the middle and rear positions for a certain sound Allan was after. The fourth one is blue, also with a pair of custom wound Seymour Duncan pickups. All of these guitars feature one tone and one volume control plus pickup selector and brightness switches. Another guitar of Allan’s is a Charvel prototype that looks not a million miles from an Ovation Viper, also with Seymour Duncan pickups.
One of these instruments carries a Dave Storey (Kahler) tremelo (sic) which loads from the top, with no tremolo block in sight. Before he emigrated to the USA, Dave was England’s answer to Floyd Rose, and his unique tremolo system. Ah well, England’s loss, America’s gain.
Holdsworth’s current lead work is especially unusual because although his tone is as fluid and nimble as a synthesizer, he uses virtually no signal processing at all (he did use a Scholz Rockman for the sax-like bite of "Three Sheets To The Wind"). "I’ve noticed for a long time that lighter bodied guitars always seemed to sound better. [Charvel’s] Grover Jackson was unbelievable, going to all lengths experimenting with different woods. We finished up using bass wood; it’s a little bit like alder, but it’s lighter, very resonant. Grover made four Charvel guitars for me. He also widened the neck dimensions, more like a Gibson. The bridge is an aluminium DiMarzio and the pickups are Seymour Duncans, similar to a PAF but with two rows of pole pieces so that both bobbins are absolutely symmetrical; it makes the magnetic field more uniform." For strings, Allan uses .009 Kaman Performers. His favorite amp for lead playing has been a Hartley-Thompson with an occasional Fender.
To create the tones customized for the specific tracks on Secrets, Allan cross-matched ideas, ingenuity and his inventions until he struck on a tasteful variety. Using his Steinberger GM2T, loaded with two custom Seymour Duncan Allan Holdsworth humbuckers and refretted by luthier Bill DeLap with Dunlop 6000 wire, Allan created "City Nights" by running a Boogie Mark III head through the Extractor prototype, into an equalizer, and back into a Boogie Simulclass 295 power amp, using only one side of the unit to drive his speaker box. There, the signal from a Celestion KS speaker was brought to tape via a Neumann TLM 170 microphone. The inline processing for his lead tone included an ADA Stereo Tapped Delay, two ADA mono delay lines and a Lexicon PCM60. Formulas differ on each track; there are few constants. "I used that power amp and the speaker box on all the tracks, with different variables," Allan reports. "On ‘Peril Premonition,’ for instance, I substituted a Boogie Quad preamp, and used a combination of a Shure SM58 and an AKG 460 on the same Celestion I’m very flexible, because it’s all a big experiment to me. If I thought that I’d gotten a really good guitar tone and just left the mike and everything in the same position and used it, I know I’d die after-wards. I wanted to get back to using tube amps. Since I started using the Juice Extractor with the Boogies, I’ve fo und that I can get more flexible variations of tone than ever before. I find myself customizing the amp from the outside."
MP: And before getting into that you went through a period with Charvel Strats, your chisel period, explain how that was...
AH: Well it was just basically, before I met Grover Jackson – who is an unbelievable guy, he really helped us out a lot in the beginning with IOU when I first came into the States I didn’t have a guitar or anything, he gave me 3 or 4 really great guitars, and uh, basically the chisel thing was just taking an old Strat and chiseling a hole so you could put a humbucker on it. It was before you could get humbuckers on Strats, you know. And then, like I said, I met Grover and he made these guitars for us. Those were some of the best guitars – I had a red one he made that was actually one of the best guitars I ever owned.
MP: What was the neck configuration? Was it maple or
AH: It was maple with ebony fingerboard and a basswood body
MP: And Seymour Duncan 59…
AH: Seymour Duncan, it was essentially a 59.
MP: Great-sounding guitar…And then you got into Steinberger, recently how did that come about?
AH: Well this guy kept saying Hey have you checked out those little plastic things you know and I go I don’t think I’m gonna like that, and a friend of mine just took me up to the booth at one of those NAMM shows and I played one and I just fell in love with it. I couldn’t believe it. It was totally unexpected. And turned me inside out with the guitar. It was so consistent, had the right neck width, everything about it was great. And now when I go back to playing wood guitar they feel kind of dinosaur-like. I think it was the only significant thing that anybody did with electric guitar for like 20 years.
MP: What sort of pickup is on there?
AH: It’s the same one, a Seymour Duncan.
MP: How about string gauge? What sort of string gauge do you use?
AH: Well I do vary those but for the last, well I do use very thin strings, 8, I usually go from anywhere between a 10 and an 8 …at the moment I’m using 8’s.
MP: What’s the low E?