The Harness

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Harness built by Allan Holdsworth. Images courtesy of Bill DeLap.

In the quotes below, Allan talks about the Harness. At the end, there is also a marketing blurb.

Castles Made Of Sand (Guitarist 1987)

Speaking of recorded sound, tell us about this electronic box you’ve been working on...

Well, I’ve been working on it for a couple of years in its different forms and I’ve got it to a stage now where I think I’m going to get a company to market it. I’m sure every guitar player has got an amp that they just plug Into and love the sound of- except that it’s three hundred times louder than they want it. Or they can’t use the processing on it, because the effects send and returns are pretty sad on tube amps, because they’re a voltage device. You have to have transformers knocking the level down to get it into your pedal and then another transformer to get it back out, and consequently the sound of the amp’s all screwed up. Anybody who’s even just used the reverb on an amp that’s distorting will know that generally you won’t hear the reverb too much while you’re playing, but it jumps in when you stop. So basically I made this box which you just plug into the output of any amp. It has an output with a volume and a tone control on it. It’s a totally isolated output and it plugs into stereo proce ssing or a mono power amp so you can control the volume from zero to whatever. And it captures all of the sound of the original amplifier. In fact, it sounds better to me. I’ve played it to quite a lot of people and every amp we’ve tried it with sounded better with the box than without it. It’s not like a power attenuator (sic) or a power-soak, as such, because that’s just like a load resistor and it also involves the speaker, whereas this has no speaker involvement at all. But it does have a simulator inside it because a speaker is like an inductor as well, which changes with different frequencies. I’ve been using this thing on and off for a couple of years and the version I’ve got is the final one. I’ve got a lot more gadgets on mine, like A/B tests of various components so I can switch between them and see which one actually works better in live use.

So you’ve road tested it yourself?

Yeah and I’ve got a couple of final tests to make - one of which is to decide between a rotary eq or just a variable tone control . . . I haven’t decided which yet.

Axes Of God (Guitar World 1989)

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."

The Unreachable Star (Guitar World 1989)

GW: What exactly is "The Extractor"?

HOLDSWORTH: Well, a lot of guys use a load resistor on an amplifier so they can come off the amp’s line output and use that to drive all their effects, because everybody knows how useless a tube amplifier is in terms of utilizing effects sends and returns. For example, once you push a power amplifier into distortion, everything you return in that insert will be distorted: the reverb, the delay everything will just be a mess. And, in my opinion, if you’re using a tube amp, a big part of the tone - if not eighty per cent of the beef, the actual quality of the sound - comes from the output section. I realized that I wanted to tap the output of the amplifier, but I didn’t want to use a load resistor. So the Juice Extractor uses a different principle. For live use, the advantage is that you can use any kind of a head - a Fender, a Boogie, a Marshall or whatever - and just come off the output and into the Extractor. It’s got eight multi - pie outs, so you can send and return for eq and gatin g and make the amp totally invisible to your ears. The outs can be sent to as many pieces of processing equipment as you can afford, and that signal just returned to a stereo power amp via a mixer of some description.

For recording, I take an amplifier whose sound I really like and put it into the Extractor. Then I take the line out of the Extractor - it has only a line out; there’s no output - and feed it into a solidstate power amp. That drives the box that’s going to be recorded at an absolutely minimal level, so the speaker’s not experiencing any pain, and the cabinet’s not experiencing any undue resonance from overloaded air inside it. Plus, the microphones are happy because they’re not dealing with huge air excursion. And it’s unbelievably quiet. I can get a big, reaming guitar tone on tape, with no noise whatsoever.

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

For his guitar tones, Allan worked with several pieces of MESA/Boogie equipment, running either a Mark III, Quad Preamp, or .50 Caliber through various combinations of custom enclosed speaker boxes, prototypes of what Rocktron now markets as the Allan Holdsworth Juice Extractor load box, and other assorted gear that best suited each situation. And although his mastery of the SynthAxe controller has taken considerable strides over three years of exploratory use, Allan’s loss of contact with the company over unresolved design flaws has cast the instrument into a position of liability, especially for stage work. "It’s really hard to push forward," he points out, "because I’ve got four consoles of which only two work properly, and even those screw up. The last time I went to Japan, it was dropping memory all the time. It’s bad enough when you’re a guitar player who’s already got mission control there, but with all the synthesizers, when the stuff starts going wrong, boy, it starts going wrong. On that last Jap anese trip, I just wanted to throw it away and start playing guitar again.

Allan Holdsworth Interview ( 1996)

-What does a day in the life of Allan Holdsworth look like?

I play almost constantly, but it’s something organic, I don’t have a schedule or something. I play when I feel like it. My major hobby is cycling. The advantage of California over England is that the weather is good here throughout the year and I can always go out if I feel like it. Furthermore, I’m brewing my own beer. I’m trying to get it on the market for a while now, but as always, money is the problem. I’ve also developed my own beerpump. It gets rid of the CO2 in the beer so it doesn’t have any head anymore and it tastes much more powerful. That pump is a huge success here in the neighbourhood. Every pub has one. I’m also building my own power soaks, called the Harness. It’s almost the same thing Rocktron still releases as ‘The Juice Extractor’. But I went into a disagreement with the company and I broke the contract. Their box doesn’t resemble the original in any way. It’s all a matter of mass production. My own, handbuilt power soaks a re available in a small amount at local music stores.

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

Between the Rectifier and Carvin power amp, Allan uses a custom designed box.

- I call it "The Harness". Together with Rocktron, I developed "The Juice Extractor", and the Harness does the same thing, but in a much better way. I’ve always hated to feel controlled by the amplifier. The Harness allows me to convert the signal from the Rectifier on full throttle to line level, and then let it pass into the Carvin power amp. It does not work like a power soak; as the signal never reaches the speakers. I get the sound of the entire amplifier, both the preamp and power stages, and also get the feeling of it. All components remain intact. I use the box both live and in the studio, where I record at conversation levels! I have developed two models. One is suitable for amplifiers with master volume controls, the other is for those without.

The Harness was originally built for Allan himself and some friends, including Scott Henderson, but now he also takes orders.

At home in the Brewery (Home Recording 1997)

When Holdsworth does create his tone the old-fashioned way—using the preamp, power amp, and speakers for the total sound—he employs a now-standard method that he helped invent and popularize. "I take the signal out of the speaker jack, because I feel you have to have the interaction of the preamp with the power amp. You can’t just take the preamp signal of a Marshall and process it with, say, a solid-state power amp because that signal wasn’t designed for that type of amp. So I’ll take the preamp and power amp signal combined, feed it through a black box that converts it to line level and feed that through a solid-state Carvin power amp. Not a tube power amp, but a solid-state one. I have a couple of 300’s, a 600 series and a 1200 series. They sound particularly good with guitar."

Your tone has a little more bite than it did the last couple of records.

A lot of that is because I started using Boogie stuff. One of the other things I’d been perfecting over time was my little load box, the Juice Extractor. When I combine that with certain miking methods, it worked great. On this track, I ran a Mark III Boogie with the Juice Extractor into the Boogie 295 [power amp], and recorded if with a Neumann TLM17D microphone with a James Demeter mike preamp. I used that mike setup for all the guitar solos.

I also took a really different recording approach: I ran the output of a Boogie Quad Preamp into the power amp of the .50 Caliber, and put that into the Extractor. Everybody knows now that 75% or more of the tone of a great tube amplifier comes from the power amp. If you plug a preamp straight into a recording console, it’s the worst sound ever. You have to use power tubes, and since the Quad is a preamp, I needed to feed it into a power amp before I could Extract it. I didn’t want to use a big power amp, because I would have had to make the Juice Extractor glow red.

Strong stuff from the brewery (EQ magazine 1997)

One last thing: some of the most roaring tones Holdsworth achieves on record and onstage these days are actually generated at very low volumes, thanks to a reactive load device he’s invented called The Harness:

"Even with the amp’s master volume pretty low, it will still sound cranked. You can usually talk over the volume that I record guitar at. That’s something I’ve been working on for a while now. I just got fed up playing loud. I feel like the volume pushes you into playing things that you don’t necessarily want to. It’s taken me a long time to realize that music can be really fiery, but not loud. You don’t need volume to make it intense."

Allan Holdsworth interview (Abstract Logix 2004)

Fan: Allan being that in terms of equipment you are an innovator and when you have the time to you sometimes sell things like the Harness and the Harness II. Since you don’t have time with all your musical endeavors to make them and there are so precious few have you ever thought about selling copyrighted schematics to those interested so you could make a profit yet not waste your time making needless units?

AH: I have. In fact I have a couple of people right now interested in manufacturing them for me. They took a long time for me to make by hand. But there’s still some interest in various versions of The Harness, and it’s an ongoing project.

No Rearview Mirrors (20th Century Guitar 2007)

TCG: Well I think for a while, you were distributing the Juice Extractor under your own name, weren’t you?

AH: Well, originally I think Rocktron licensed it for a while, the Juice Extractor, but then they discontinued it because one of the problems you had was that you actually changed the way that the load section was really responsible for the sound, so in my opinion, even though it was a great device, they never sounded as good as the ones I made myself. They discontinued it mostly because of people who don’t know how to use things like that, and through misuse, it would blow up amplifiers, because if you don’t think about what you’re doing, you just plug an amplifier into it and turn it up to ten and then all of a sudden they wonder why their amp blows up, you know.

TCG: All I remember bout the Juice Extractor, other than your publishing notes about it, is that I can remember your kids coming out of the bathroom and complaining "Dad, you’ve taken the springs out of the bathroom heaters again!"

AH: All right, well that’s a joke (laughter)! It was basically a Nichrome wire, which is a heating element, and that’s what I used for the load, and for some reason because it has an inductance thing going for it, as opposed to a fixed resistor, they just don’t sound the same, just really liked that so I just bought miles and miles of his healer coil from this company in Alabama and just started making those. I changed the name of it because I modified the circuit quite a lot and sold a few of them to a music store that my friend owns.

TCG: What was the new name?

AH: It was called a Harness.

TCG: The Harness, Okay, so if one shows up on Ebay or something like that...

AH: Yeah, the original one...there was two versions of it. The original one was only for master volumes. It didn’t work with an amp without a master volume, you’d just kill it. It has tons of shorts in it, so anything with an open power section didn’t like it at all, but anything with a master volume was usually pretty cool. I mean, I was really playing Boogies at the time, used to run my Rectifier into it and it sounded great.

TCG: Well I think for a while, you were distributing the Juice Extractor under your own name, weren’t you?

AH: Well, originally I think Rocktron licensed it for a while, the Juice Extractor, but then they discontinued it because one of the problems you had was that you actually changed the way that the load section was really responsible for the sound, so in my opinion, even though it was a great device, they never sounded as good as the ones I made myself. They discontinued it mostly because of people who don’t know how to use things like that, and through misuse, it would blow up amplifiers, because if you don’t think about what you’re doing, you just plug an amplifier into it and turn it up to ten and then all of a sudden they wonder why their amp blows up, you know.

Harness advertising

"Would you like to take your favorite amp head and interface it with signal processors: reverb, delay, pitch shifting, EQ... anything? [for post-amp eq, time-fx, etc, preserving clarity of the power tube saturation and speaker response.] Do you love the way your amp sounds, but have to play at oppressive levels to get the sound you want? Throw a Harness on it and tame that beast. The Harness is a unique device designed for total control. (Patents Applied For.) Not only will it capture the sound of your tube amp head but also the feel. You will be able to get that fat loud tone softly or at any level, EQ it, add reverb [and extreme echo, harmonizer, etc. after the amp without interfering with the power tubes' clarity], stereo-ize it and tweeze it any way you like and then monitor it on standard guitar speaker [not full-range] enclosures and the power amp of your choice. This unit is not a speaker simulator nor power attenuator. It has no through connections. It does not have any speaker cabinet eq curves and is not intended to be connected to a mixing console or tape machine [because its output signal needs to go through a speaker curve somehow first. Do either: 1) power amp, Harness, EQ/fx processor, solid-state amplifier, guitar speaker, mic, mixer, or 2) power amp, Harness, EQ/fx processor, cabinet response simulator (e.g. MicroCAB), mixer]. The Harness takes the [high-level] speaker output of any guitar amplifier or amp head, which is being used to create a modern ['modern' connotes merely preamp distortion; I would say "saturating vintage tube *power* amp"] distorted guitar sound, capture and convert that sound into more controllable line level signals. [The Harness is a full dummy load, not a partial power attenuator meant to immediately drive a speaker.] This allows the signal to remain intact [and kept simple while going through the power tubes] and be reverbed, etc. after the amplifier's internal output stage [that is, after the saturating power tubes]. This is something which would otherwise be impossible to obtain from the normal send and return jacks found on today's conventional tube amplifiers [because an amp's fx loop is *before* the saturating power tubes, which would be like placing an echo pedal before a distortion pedal]. For example, if you were playing at a relatively loud level, which included any power amp distortion, the processor's output being returned to the amp's return jack would be undesirably distorted by the internal power section -- an inadequate solution. [yes!! that's what I've been saying everywhere!] Not only does the Harness address this shortcoming, but it also allows you to take advantage of the stereo imaging provided by most modern signal processors. Using the old send and return method forces you to throw away one half of the stereo signal; with the Harness you can make full use of the stereo imaging capabilities of your favorite signal processors. Can't a preamp do the same thing? Although it is very easy to interface a pre-amp prior to any processing, and clean sounds from pre-amps can be excellent, the use of a pre-amp to derive a "distorted" guitar sound cannot produce the unique sound of a tube amplifier head (which is using its internal power section). By comparison, a pre-amp will always sound fuzzier and less dynamic. This unit is passive. Frequency response: 10-40 kHz. Input impedance: 8 ohms. Output impedance: 130k ohms. Power handling: 100 watts Each unit is hand made by Allan Holdsworth."