Signal processing

From Allan Holdsworth Information Center
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T.C. Electronics

Allan Holdsworth (Beat Instrumental 1979)

"I’ve always looked on amplification as being very important, an integral part of one’s guitar sound rather than just as an afterthought. In fact I’ve looked quite closely into the subject at times.

"What has really amazed me is the extent to which speakers can totally change your sound which is why I stick everything through my Marshall 4 x 12 which gives me perhaps the perfect sound. I know readers and manufacturers will find this hard to believe but I can tell the difference in sound between the straight fronted and slope front Marshall 4 x 12’s; cabinets and speakers make that much difference to me.

"What I’ve been using lately is a three amp setup giving me some sort of stereo effect. What I have is a Marshall 50 for lead lines, a Marshall head running through a 4 x 12. For chords I use two Marshall 100’s with a Dynachord digital delay between them set to a very short time lag. The resulting effect is very subtle indeed, in fact if I turned the Dynachord off yoy (sic) may not even notice any difference but it does have an effect that I like, a sort of stero (sic) on the chords.

"The signal is switched between the three amps by a very simple routing box which I had Pete Cornish make for me, there’s nothing much to it, it just let’s me switch between the chords and lead lines.

"There’s nothing really that clever about what I’m doing but it just enables me to have one amp set-up ready for chordal sounds and the other ready for lead, you can’t really have the same two on one amp.

"I do use that Dynachord subtly though, hardly have it on at all. Having played around with it though I’d say that it’s an extremely versatile unit, very capable indeed. About the only other effect that I ever use is a Roland Chorus unit which, again, I just use sometimes in a very low key way."

Allan Holdsworth (Guitar Player 1980)

Which guitar do you use most of the time now?

I’m back to my SG Standard at the moment. It seems as if nobody likes them, but I love them. It has a vibrato on it, but the nicest thing about it is that it’s not a very good vibrato - not as good as the Fender’s. And that’s perfect, because I’m not as tempted to use it. I know that if I do, the guitar will most likely go out of tune. I was using the Strat’s vibrato a lot, and I’ll probably use the SG’s once in a while, but not on such a grand scale. It’s a gadget like a phaser or bass pedals - here today, gone tomorrow.

What functions are assigned to each amp?

I use the Labs for chording with a Dynacord digital delay between them to add some depth. The Labs are very clinical sounding - extremely clean. The Hartley-Thompson is a bit warmer, even though that and my other amps are 100% transistorized. And that’s really unusual. Normally, transistor amps are clean up to a certain point, and after that they go into a horrendous type of distortion. The Hartley-Thompson doesn’t do that. All my amps have 12" speakers, too.

How do you switch between the amps onstage?

I have a routing box with three transformers that prevent me from electrocuting myself. A patch bay is also included so that I can add effects if I want to. It’s really flexible. The footswitches for turning the amps on and off are completely silent - there’s no popping whatsoever. All three channels have separate MXR Noise Gate/Line Drivers, and I have two volume pedals - a mono one for the level of the signal going to the digital delay, and a stereo one for the chording amps. I’ve also been experimenting with chorus units and limiters for the chording channel, but I don’t use any effects for my leads.

Allan Holdsworth (Guitar Player 1982)

In your equipment rack is a box with no labeling for control functions on it.

Yeah. That’s a custom routing box made about five years ago by Pete Cornish. The box it was in kind of fell apart, so Hartley Thompson built a new case for it, and I stuck one of their stickers on it. I know what all the knobs are, so they aren’t labeled. It’s basically a routing box that allows me to patch anything that I want in any sequence. You see, I have two channels on each Hartley Thompson amp, and each has its own tone equalization. That box sends different signals at different times to whichever amplifier I want. Usually, I only use effects on the chord channels: a real short delay, or A/DA Stereo Tapped Delay. On the lead channel -- the red channel -- I usually go directly into it.

How does your signal chain patch together?

My guitar plugs into the switch box on the floor. From that little switch, the signal goes either directly to the lead channel of the Hartley Thompson or to the chord system. Because the two amplifiers have different settings, I can also route the signal to the red channel of either amp. To do this, I have to manually switch it; there’s a switch right on the routing box just for this. Either way, the lead signal goes straight in.

There are two more Tapped Delays in your rack. What are they for?

I occasionally use one between the two red channels, just to turn them on and off. And I plan to use an independent A/DA unit for each green channel. That way I can drive a couple more amplifiers and speakers somewhere else and create additional madness.

Do you have any equipment that will give you more pronounced echoes rather than just ambience effects?

I have a Yamaha E-1010 analog delay, which I switch in and out for special effects. I can put it on anywhere I want by way of patch cords on the back of the switcher. The reason I use that is because the A/DA only goes up to the maximum of 55 milliseconds delay, so you can’t actually get an echo out of it. And that’s what I really like about it. That was one of the things I initially wanted a delay system for -- I didn’t really want an echo. But I found the Yamaha was really useful if I wanted an echo of any description. So I can switch that in and out before the A/Ds.

Are you particular about what kinds of guitar cords you use?

I was using these things called EZ Locks, where there’s no solder joint between the cord and the plug. You just cut off the end of the cord and stick it in the plug. They work really well when you’re using them yourself, but when you get other people moving your gear, it gets dangerous, because leads tend to get torn out by pulling on the cable instead of the plug. After a couple of days of somebody pulling on the cables, they don’t work. So they’re good leads if you’re responsible for setting up your own stuff.

Because some brass plugs tend to corrode, making an occasional unreliable contact, do you have a preference for chrome-plated ones?

No. I never worried about brass plugs. Brass blocks, yes, but brass plugs, no. It doesn’t worry me. They can be as green as they like, just as long as they work.

Allan Holdsworth (International Musician 1981)

How about amps and effects?

ALAN: I don’t like effects because they can be used creatively but aren’t, they soon sound boring.

Allan Holdsworth (Music UK 1983)

‘I was endorsing two products but I’ve stopped doing it because I was getting terrible ear bendings from both companies and it seemed like I was losing my freedom and I couldn’t use what I wanted. Being a man of contradictions, Allan does actually endorse A/DA stereo delay units. These form part of his stage rack, coupled with another pair of delay lines to get a longer delay, namely a Lexicon PCM41 and a Dynacord DDL 12. A Yamaha E1010 analogue delay completes his set of five delay lines which Allan needs to use with his set up. For solos he has a pair of Hartley Thompson 100 watt amps (shortly to be replaced by a pair of the 200 watt variety), and for chords a pair of Yamaha PI2200s, which are 200 watts a side, plus a pair of Yamaha PGI pre amps.

Allan Holdsworth’s New Horizons (Downbeat 1985)

Today Holdsworth’s rack of electronic gear does everything he wants it to do. His onstage setup consists of four amplifiers - a pair of amps for his rhythm guitar sound and another pair for his lead sound with a lot of different delay lines on each. "Basically, on the lead sound I use the regular guitar sound and add a bit of digital reverb and a long delay. And for the rhythm I use a 1ot of delay lines set up for multi-chorusing. I like to create a real random kind of situation so that you know it’s stereo but ‘you can’t actually pinpoint at any time what’s happening to it. It’s all just kind of moving"

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

You don’t use any effects do you?

No, I don’t really like them. I’ve probably said this thousands of times but you can practically tell when a record was made by what’s on it. ‘Oh, that was made in 1973 or 1974 when they invented phase shifters’ and that sort of thing. I tend to avoid that and try and get the best sound from the guitar itself.

At home in the Brewery (Home Recording 1997)

Crafted signal processing has always been a part of Holdsworth’s core sound, and he explains part of his approach: "An example of what I do is to take the four Yamaha 1500 DDLs I have in a rack and combine them all as one unit. I’ve always done that, actually. I group processors together, multi-ing three or four to make one sound. For example, I use an entire unit to place an effect on the left side and One unit on the right for a stereo sound. I don’t use the same unit for left and right. I use Intellifex processors because there’s, like, eight voices in there, and I used to have to use eight single-delay lines to create the same sound."

Axe Maniax (TGM 1993)

He also uses a lot of processing to get his sound. "I use Boogies for the lead sound, with no real processing, but for the clean sound I use a lot of processors which help me to get a sound which is far away from a guitar as possible.

Axes Of God (Guitar World 1989)

Two different versions of the same home-built effects rack that served Allan faithfully for fifteen years have been used recently in conjunction with two set-ups: one for SynthAxe transmissions and rhythm guitar, and one for his lead tone. "It’s pretty modular," he points out. "What I’m trying to set up at the moment is something where I don’t have a rack anyone. I’d just take pieces I want to use, and that way I’m not locked in. But for my live sound, I use that T.C. Electronic Spatial Expander, the ADA Stereo Tapped Delay and a Rocktron Pro Chorus - those are my three main chorusing units. I return the effected signal to a small Ramsa twelve-channel mixer and then, right before it goes to the power amp, it goes through the Hush IIC. And I use the RX, which is like a new Hush Exciter, on DX7 synthesizers, because it makes them sound a lot better."

Joe Satriani Meets Allan Holdsworth (Musician special edition 1993)

ALLAN HOLDSWORTH: "You know, amps are EXPENSIVE and everything, and a young guy who’s just started goes out and buys an amp ‘cause someone might be horrendous. I think a lot of kids worry about that when they see ALOT of stuff, especially somebody like me, who has a big train set. But I use things in subtle ways. I’ll use four single delay lines to get a chorus when you can just go out and buy one box that does it; I can take four used $100 delay lines and blow any thousand-dollar chorus uint out of the water completely. If another guy had four pieces, he’d be able to get four completely different sounds. I guess people try and get the most from the minimum, but I can’t find any new multiprocessor company that can make anything like the sound I want---BUT, the downside of that is it’s four against one rack size, so it ends up being a big box. [laughs] You eventually end up with a lot of stuff, but you’re not...I always remember one gig we played and this guy came up and asked, "hey, how come I saw two racks up there and I only heard two sounds all night long?!" I was thinking to myself, "Yeah, but were they okay or not?"

One Of A Kind (Guitar Shop 1995)

“In fact my English rack is based on this: it has two Lexicon PCM 41s, two Yamaha 1500s, two Roland 3000s, and two DeltaLab Effectrons, which is eight total. And it sounds better when you use units from different manufacturers, because each company has its own sound; when you blend them, you get the best tone. If you used eight delays from the same company, it wouldn’t sound nearly as good. I don’t use MIDI, either, because I like real-time control over it. Plus I just set the units and pretty much leave them, if I do change anything I like to do it myself manually.”

Player Of The Month (Beat Instrumental 1978)

Pedals? "No. The only thing I’ve used is a noise gate. And an MXR phase shifter. But I don’t use anything now at all. Everybody goes through these trends. You can almost hear what year a record was made in by the gadgets. So now I’m trying to get the best sound possible straight from the guitar."

The Innocent Abroad (Musician 1984)

On his chordal accompaniments, Allan has been striving for a more "orchestral" sound, using layers of delays to get shimmering, pulsating textures from his sophisticated fingerings. "For my rhythm sound, I’ve designed a setup where all the signal processing is driven from one master board; I put each effect into one fader." His digital delays are two ADA STD-1s, two AMS units and a Yamaha E1010. The whole rhythm setup is run through a Yamaha PG-1 instrument pre-amp, some P2200 power amps and S412 speakers. The mixers are a Yamaha M406 and a M516. Allan also has an Ovation ‘83 Collector’s Series acoustic and a Chapman Stick.

The Man Who Changed Guitar Forever (Guitar Player 2008)

You only use one type of effects box live, but you use a lot of them.

I designed a box for Yamaha called the UD Stomp, which I really liked, but they discontinued it. Then they came up with the Magicstomp, but I couldn’t use it until I discovered the programmer, which allowed me to recreate all of the sounds that I was getting from the UD Stomp. I use four, or sometimes six Magicstomps on stage, and they are all programmed to do completely different things. I use three to process the clean sound and three for the dirty sound, and I keep them on a table because I just don’t like stuff on the floor.

The Sixteen Men Of Tain ( 2000, Spanish language)

Which effects do you normally use?

I don’t use any foot pedals, I have two big racks. I used a lot of effects before, but it was too much to carry on the road. What I have now is good enough. I also use an equalizer for the solo guitar.