Technique In Service Of Feeling. (Guitar Club 1987, English)

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Guitar Club October 1987

Unknown writer


This is a machine translated version of the article “La tecnica al servizio del sentiment”, which appeared in the Italian magazine Guitar Club in October 1987. The original article can be found here:

A text only version can be found here: La tecnica al servizio del sentimento. (Guitar Club 1987, Italian). See also bottom of page for photos of the original magazine.

I have used both Google and Microsoft machine translation, and done very minor human editing. I am not trained in Italian, so there are probably (definitely) numerous errors in the translation. The grammar and syntax is strange in many places. I have marked each paragraph of the interview as machine back translated, to highlight the fact that these are not Allan's quotes verbatim. That said, the general meaning comes through reasonably well. The story is divided into several parts, where the most interesting part is the interview with Allan. I have tried to pay a little more attention to this part. The interview took place on a European tour following the release of “Sand”, so Allan talks about his exploration of the SynthAxe. The remainder of the interview deals with fairly common questions. Allan is fairly outspoken about Bill Connors. The three other parts are editorial, and contain very little new information.

Thanks to the anonymous uploader who supplied photos of the magazine.



Allan Holdsworth is certainly among the most innovative guitarists of the last decade, both for his adventurous harmonic solutions, and for his unmistakable phrasing served as a unique stamp. [Machine translated.]

Holdsworth's guitar has taken on an increasingly full-bodied sound over the years, but its main feature is the dramatic expressiveness of solos, achieved with millimetric control of bending and legato. The original use of tonal finesse of is approaching six-string vibrato modulation of the human voice, though Allan would rather compare it to the phrasing of a saxophone. [Machine translated.]

The lyricism of his melodic lines and fluid sliding stem from the violin, an instrument he studied by himself and used until a few years ago both in concert, and on disk (see "Karzie Key" from Velvet Darkness and "Temporary Fault" I.O.U.). [Machine translated.]

Electronic accessories (such as digital delay and harmonizer) or innovations of guitar technique (like hammering a double hand) are used naturally inserted fluidly in a style rich in emotion that shuns empty virtuosity. Even more acrobatic and unusual steps are calibrated according to the rich harmonic structures, because the compositional side is very important for Holdsworth, always looking for unusual melodies. [Machine translated.]

His progressive originality made him a leader that inspired several soloists: recall the aggressive Bill Connors, the Brainiac doctor David Torn and Steve Khan latest version, as it appears in the Weather-Up-dates by Joe Zawinul. [Machine translated.]

Holdsworth's music is not easily definable, because it combines the aggressiveness of rock to the accuracy and adventurousness of jazz (a definition might be "metal-fusion"). [Machine translated.]

His composite style stems from the numerous experiences in very different groups, research-driven anyway. Almost all his collaborations have left a large footprint, because Allan has always preferred playing in formations of which he was a member, rather than appear as a session man. [Machine translated.]


Holdsworth 18 years, only guitar picks up with the intellectual approach from already mature person that follows the music as an attentive listener. [Machine translated.]

His first experiences in the twisted jungle of English jazz, by the end of the ' 60; working with the drummer John Stevens, who introduced him to the joys and sorrows of free-jazz. [Machine translated.]

The engagement in the Nucleus of trumpeter Ian Carr is the first official meeting with the jazz-rock, documented from the album Belladonna. The gig in the Nucleus of trumpeter Ian Carr represents the first official meeting with jazz-rock, documented by the album Belladonna. The producer of the album is Jon Hiseman, drummer of the dissolved Colosseum, who offers him the role of soloist in his new rock band Tempest. The training lasts just over a year, Allan takes the opportunity to enter the new electric version of Soft Machine and disrupts their sound in Bundles. [Machine translated.]

Is the 1975, drummer Tony Williams summons him to complete the New Lifetime, as that was the big break for Mc Laughlin: you look out on the American scene and attract the attention of George Benson, who offers the producer Creed Taylor for a solo album. Hence, Velvet Darkness, the first album by Holdsworth as leader, done in a hurry and therefore quite immature despite distinguished guests Alphonso Johnson and Narada Michael Walden. [Machine translated.]

After Lifetime, Allan accepts the offer by Pierre Moerlen for reunited Gong; very aggressive intrepretation guitarist at the sound of the group, driving with authority the album a sparkling summits (Gazeuse!) [Machine translated.]

Another quick blitz on American soil, to appear alongside violinist Jean-Luc Ponty in LP Enigmatic Ocean and two months later is already dealing with new creative experimentation in the first quartet of drummer Bill Bruford. [Machine translated.]

The partnership lasts three years, time to make two excellent albums, which still preserve their freshness, and to establish with Eddie Jobson and John Wetton the quartet U.K., following in the footsteps of progressive-baroque band King Crimson. [Machine translated.]

Allan has a flashback for jazz and left Bruford to collaborate with pianist Gordon Beck; the album The Things You See is one of the rare occasions to hear our hero struggling with acoustic guitar and to understand that much of his style is in the fingers, not in boosting. [Machine translated.]

1982 sees the concept of his trio IOU with Gary Husband and the recording of for a self-managed label. [Machine translated.]

The next mini-LP Road Games is attempting to reach a larger audience with the help of a multinational record label: music represents a milestone in the history of the electric guitar, but is too busy to make it commercially. [Machine translated.]

The two subsequent disks (Metal Fatigue and Atavachron) further extend his unique style and make him true object of worship by the loyal fans. [Machine translated.]

Today Holdsworth is 38 years old, but it does not show in his music, always aimed at innovation and dynamism. [Machine translated.]

After years of waiting, Allan came for the first time in Italy with his trio, for a concert in tandem with Stanley Clarke's band. [Machine translated.]

The audience welcomed him enthusiastically, even with football style welcome banners. [Machine translated.]

The exhibition with brothers Bob and Chad Wackerman confirmed his inimitable class, fire from a still greater than his records. [Machine translated.]

Despite the aggressiveness of his music, Allan is a person quite shy but available to the interview we jumped at backstage after the concert. [Machine translated.]


GC: You played a couple of new songs, tell me about your next album ...

AH: It's called Sand and it comes out in Europe for my usual label, Enigma, while in America is published on Relativity (the same record company of the Mahavishnu Orchestra). On the first side play Jimmy Johnson on bass and Gary Husband on drums, while the drummer of side two is Chad Wackerman. In practice are two different band because Gary has a very spacious sound, and Chad has a drumming more nervous and aggressive, almost rock at certain times. I am very happy with them because they are true friends with whom I have worked extensively and understanding is perfect. [Machine back translated.]

GC: You used a lot the SynthAxe in recording?

AH: I learned how to use it better, because I own for more than a year. By doing a lot of experimentation I really understood what are its possibilities and I got to know the touch response. Some new features of this album were created by the more mature exploration of new sounds. Some new features of this album come from the most mature exploration of new sounds; when I recorded Atavachron I had just taken it and then I still had the superficial approach. [Machine back translated.]

GC: What you linked to your synthesizers SynthAxe?

AH: I have interfaced various Oberheim and Yamaha TX 7 expander. When I play chords, I often use different modules with different timbres for the individual strings at the same time, to obtain a greater depth of polyphony, this is achieved by assigning separate Midi channels to six strings. [Machine back translated.]

GC: I noticed puffs in a tube to give breath to the phrasing of your solos inflection to the SynthAxe. It's a normal Breath-Controller, or is some devilry designed especially for your instrument?

AH: Is a simple breath-controller, which can be used as an option in some synths. I always liked the flexibility of wind instruments and myself I wanted to play the sax. Controlling with the breath the dynamics of the guitar-synth I can get an expressiveness that I could never reach with my fingers, or with any pedal. [Machine back translated.]

GC: About your guitar's unmistakable stamp, what are the secrets to get that sound?

AH: Ah, there are no secrets! I do not use special tricks, I do not use special processors for distortion. I simply add depth to the sound of my amp with some effect, such as digital delay or reverb. [Machine back translated.]

GC: (Editor - Holdsworth does not want to unbutton this topic too much, but peeking off-stage between his equipment, I find that the "some effect" cited by Allan is actually a complete pre-amplification structure, comprising some fifteen overlapping racks in two semi-hidden boxes on stage: among the devices, some stereo digital delay, digital reverb and flanger of the ADA Signal Processor, equalizers and compressors TC Electronics, pre-ampli Rockman, harmonizer Yamaha).

GC: You can tell me at least something about your amplifiers! I noticed that in concert you use two Roland with Marshall speakers.

AH: Well, for this tour I share some of Stanley Clarke's amplifiers. The Roland are good for the rhythms or arpeggios, but for the solo parts I use the Pearce: they are excellent amplifiers manufactured in New York, which I discovered for a couple of years now. [Machine back translated.]

GC: Do you always use those in the recording room?

AH: Yes, I love the sound of the Pearce and also the Harley-Thompson I used before. For the rhythm parts, insert the guitar directly to the mixer. The solos register them in mono, with a single environmental microphone, without any added effect; if I need some more color, I add it in the mixing phase. I use stereo delay even for solo phrases. [Machine back translated.]

GC: Have you applied any particular pickups to your guitars?

AH: These are the pickups I've always used, the Seymour Duncan. I like Steinberger guitars because of their maneuverability and incredible sustain they have; occasionally I also use Ripley Hex. [Machine back translated.]

GC: Do you use different types of tuning for different tracks or do you use a single tuning?

AH: I use only the normal tuning, the strings are Ernie Ball or Kaman for their elasticity to the bending and for their sustain. [Machine back translated.]

GC: Your compositions use unusual harmonizations. Have you even invented new finger positions on the handle or new chords?

AH: I don't think I've invented out of whole cloth new agreements, in case you think you can use all the existing ones without fossilizing the usual patterns. I simply reproduce the progressions that come to mind, I have always been interested in the different harmonic developments of the same melodic line. Even in my solos I try to take full advantage of the contrasts and the dominant of the chords of the theme. [Machine back translated.]

GC: Touring Road Games was released as a mini album, instead of the LP format?

AH: It was a choice of Warner Brothers and manufacturer. I had ready the material for a whole album, but they preferred to test the market with a reduced price release. It's the trouble of working with a major label, you have to be ready for absurd decisions. [Machine back translated.]

GC: Among all groups with whom you collaborated, which are most important to your experience as a guitarist?

AH: Are all important. I have worked with different formations of them that helped shape my current style. Perhaps my best performances were in the quartet by Bill Bruford. [Machine back translated.]

GC: Would you play with him again?

AH: Oh, gladly. If I were asked to record some discs with him I would accept willingly, because it is a very intelligent musician. [Machine back translated.]

GC: How come your group U.K. with Jobson and Wetton lasted only the time of a disk?

AH: Touring Jobson fired us, said Bill and I knew the sound too intellectual and because of us debut album had not had the expected success. Jobson and Wetton made two more albums without us, but failed to hit the top ten. Either way we would've gone the same, although there had been pressured to do so, because there were other types of music. [Machine back translated.]

GC: You played for a long time with Jeff Berlin, what do you remember?

AH: Jeff has a very intuitive and friendly character: I met him in the Bruford group and then he was in my band for a year, we were very close-knit. He left my trio because he needed to vent his creativity and form a group of his own; unfortunately lately has given too much to hard rock, it's a shame because it is one of the best bassists around. [Machine back translated.]

GC: Your style has taught to many guitarists. What do you think of the soloists who try to imitate, such as Bill Connors?

AH: Ah, Connors! This is a question that is often asked of me. Imitating is certainly not beautiful, because it forces you to lose something of your true personality. I remember when Bill Connors looked just like himself, he was an interesting guitarist: now he is no longer anyone, because he no longer has a personal style. It seems to me that it sounds unnatural, presumptuous, because it wants to impress the listeners, but in reality it is incredibly dull ... [Machine back translated.]

GC: You mean there's no feeling in his phrasing.

AH: Yes, he's missing something because it's not his bag's flour, it's empty technique. Sin, was a guitar player that I liked, I listened and I respected his style of the past, but now I can't listen to his records. Copy the styles of others is a real waste of time, will never get any credit because the public understands that it is not his true personality. Too bad, he was a guitarist that I liked, I listened to him and I valued his style of the past, but now I can no longer listen to his records. Copying the styles of others is a waste of time, it will never get any recognition, because the public understands that it is not its true personality. [Machine back translated.]

AH: Musical influences are a good thing, they serve to enrich the stylistic baggage: myself I'm influenced by everything I listen to, I mean even saxophones or keyboard players, not only for guitarists. [Machine back translated.]

GC: So what are your favorite guitarists?

AH: My Favorites are the ones who have a personal style and don't care trends, like John McLaughlin or Pat Metheny. [Machine back translated.]

GC: Among the soloists of young talent, which you believe may indicate new directions for the guitar?

AH: I really like Eric Johnson (c.f.r. solo album Tones for the Reprise), Scott Henderso,n and David Torn have interesting ideas. Among the lesser-known, I really appreciate Frank Gambale and then there is a British guitarist absolutely fantastic, Steve Topic [Topping]. [Machine back translated.]

GC: In which group does he play?

AH: He does not have a stable group, he often goes from one formation to another because he has a very strange style, but I assure you that he is really great, almost revolutionary, sooner or later you will hear about it. [Machine back translated.]

GC: What are your next steps? Are you planning any collaboration with other musicians?

AH: I still have no definite plans in this regard. I'd love to make a live album, probably I will record some American tour, following the release of Sand. [Machine back translated.]


As already announced by Holdsworth himself, his new album is completely dedicated to exploring the frontiers opened by SynthAxe.

To fully exploit the timbral richness of the instrument, Allan wrote extremely complex scores, often released from the usual harmonic rules: from this point of view Sand is braver than the remarkable Atavachron predecessor.

In order to deepen the personal language in a direction detached from the guitar tradition, Holdsworth abandons certain connotations of metal-jazz to embrace a futuristic music at 360 degrees; who will want to study from the harmonic point of view or transcribe these passages, will find numerous innovations and techniques never ends in themselves.

As far as listening is concerned, the guitar-synth reaches perfection and complexity in the accompanying parts never listen before: the majesty of the full orchestral and the subtlety of the details seem to come from an arsenal of keyboards, yet it is equally evident that the basic touch is guitar ("Sand", "Clown").

In the solos Allan adopts different artifices to color the expression, like the breath-controller to give a phiatic quality to the SynthAxe, obtaining poetic results that make forget the accurate technological premeditation ("Distance Vs, Desire"). Despite the predominance of guitar-synths, Holdsworth still manages to amaze with the human flexibility of solos on Steinberger's electric, on the wings of an inimitable phrasing: the screams ripping guts of "Pud Wud" and the free fall of "Bradford Executive" are authentic guitar acting lessons.

To complete the irrepressible creative craving of Holdsworth in five-string bass by Jimmy Johnson he solves the complicated scores with impressive body, while the drums are shaped by Chad Wackerman and Gary Husband to provide a robust impressionist propulsion.

The final of the album opens another door to the future, with the impossible score for MacIntosh "Mac Man" computers, fought by a martian SynthAxe solo.

Massimo Bracco


At the Italian concerts Holdsworth has performed with two instruments: the SynthAxe electronic guitar and the Steinberger mini solid body. Surely not two conventional instruments, but that contribute to underline the eclecticism of Allan also as a sound researcher. Let's see them in detail even if briefly.

The manufacturer advises not to see the SynthAxe as a guitar, because such a mental approach would set limits for fast learning. What then is it if not a guitar?

The real function is to be a "dialogue" tool with external synthesizers (up to eight) via Midi. It does not have its own sound generator, but can be connected to instruments of other brands, both polyphonic and monophonic because they have a Midi connection.

What is it that differs from a normal guitar?

In the first place, the neck, although resembling the traditional six-stringed instrument, does not have the frets progressively spaced, but has the same space between one fret and the other for all 24. The reason is very simple: the frets, like the strings, produce no notes but only inputs translated into information from microprocessors. It follows that the instrument is never forgotten, or the tuning does not depend on the physical tension of the strings but is digitally controlled. Therefore, the tension of the strings can also be adjusted at will, to make every personal setting comfortable.

It is equipped with an electronically operated vibrato arm and six keyboard buttons to activate the six strings at the same time (or a number of your choice), and to obtain similar effects on the keyboards as held sounds (pads) or torn for the brass sections.

Allan Holdsworth live has also used breath control, in practice a rubber tube to be controlled with the mouth to modulate some sounds, especially those of flutes or woods with very likely effects.

The Steinberger guitar certainly does not need many presentations, since it was the first, a few years ago, to start the fashion of models without headstock.

Not only that, but both the body and the neck in graphite and the very small shape make it a special tool, very professional also for the sale price, and equipped with active electronics.

With the Steinberger Holdsworth he obtained the typical sound that distinguishes him, hinged on the middle notes, rich in sustain and with limited distortion; he used the vibrato arm in particular way by touching the vibrato arm with his right hand and releasing it immediately.

Has always operated vibrato lever and six buttons on the keyboard to activate the six strings simultaneously (or any number), and achieve similar effects on keyboards as sounds held (rugs) or torn for sections.

Allan Holdsworth live has also used the breath control, basically a rubber tube to check with his mouth to modulate some flute or woodwind sounds, particularly those with very realistic effects.

Steinberger guitar does not need much introduction, as it was the first several years ago to give the boot to fashion equipment without headstock (headless).

Not only that, but both the body and the handle in graphite and form very low makes a particular tool, very professional for the sale price, and equipped with active electronics.

With the typical sound that distinguishes obtained Steinberger Holdsworth, centered on the Middle treble, full of sustain and low distortion; he used the vibrating lever in particular way by touching the arm with his right hand and releasing it immediately.