From Guitar Player,
Bouncing from one band to another, album by album, was once
the rule rather than the exception for Allan Holdsworth.
Moments of brilliance left in his wake on LPs by jazz and
progressive rock artists including Tony Williams Lifetime,
Gong, U.K., Jean-Luc Ponty, Soft Machine, and Bruford created
for Holdsworth a reputation almost exclusively as a soloist.
His presence on some of the recordings was by and large
similar to that of a saxophonist: sitting out and waiting
until it was time to fill a certain number of bars with a
flurry of creativity. Holdsworth's chordal abilities were
rarely showcased, and because strict limits often governed his
approach, he grew tired of his role as a mercenary
Allan's renown was fairly limited as well: With the
exception of Ponty and U.K., few of the musical amalgams in
which he participated ever received much attention in the U.S.
Despite virtual invisibility in the pop music world at large,
Allan, through his unique sound and strongly independent
approach, became a touchstone for many guitarists. Among lead
players, "Allan Holdsworth" had elevated to a buzz word -- if
you wanted to perk your ears up, he was the one to listen
Regarding his sheer individuality, one might conceivably
categorize Allan Holdsworth with the likes of Chuck Berry,
Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, or John McLaughlin. Although no
artist is utterly without influences, these guitarists infused
their work with so much originality that they created whole
new styles. While Holdsworth has certainly not yet achieved
the worldwide commercial success of the others, his musical
voice is so unique that it may be best defined in terms of
itself: More than just a gifted artist popular among his
fellow musicians, he originated what has become the Allan
Neither a rock guitar wildman nor a limelight-seeking stage
strutter, 34-year-old Holdsworth is instead an intense devotee
of the guitar. His lead style is immediately striking as fast,
fluid, vibrant, and deadly accurate. Upon closer examination,
enigmatic melodies with large intervallic leaps and rhythmic
syncopations and ambiguity emerge. Hand tremolo plays a strong
part in his style as well, lending a shimmer to passages to
add depth and immediacy to even seemingly inconsequential
passing tones, rather than acting as a tool for creating
half-octave bends and squealing feedback.
As a soloist, this English guitarist is certainly unique.
However, as his abilities to play lead became better and
better known and exploited, he found himself trapped into a
one-dimensional mode; his chordal and melodic talents were
lying fallow. This musician, who has drawn praise from Eddie
Van Halen, Steve Morse, and many other well-known exponents of
the electric guitar, felt that he had more to offer that just
flashy embellishment to other people's songs. And in order to
vent his ideas, he decided to form his own band.
In 1980, Allan teamed with bassist Paul Carmichael and
drummer/pianist Gary Husband to form a trio in London known as
False alarm. Expanded later to include vocalist Paul Williams
(formerly of Juicy Lucy and Tempest, a band in which he and
Holdsworth had worked together in 1973), the group became
known as I.O.U. In a Guitar Player interview in the December
1980 issue, Holdsworth originally described the music as
having "some elements of jazz and rock, but we try not to be
Given the freedom to pursue his chordal, melodic, and
soloing abilities with the new band, Holdsworth developed
material he had written over the previous few years, and with
I.O.U. began performing in England. According to Allan,
though, the climate wasn't quite right for the type of music
the band was performing. Punk and new wave were the rage,
making I.O.U.'s music less desirable to the general public.
Holdsworth and company recorded in early 1981, and found their
music met with less than enthusiastic response by record
By 1982, the band decided to try their luck in the United
States, and released their LP, I.O.U., independently.
It showcased for the first time the side of Allan Holdsworth's
guitar playing that had only been hinted at on previous works:
complex, densely voiced chord melodies including unusual
harmonic arrangements that sounded as if they came from
neither guitar nor keyboard. Ambient, shimmering, and at times
ghostly chordal swells, rather than harsh rhythm chopping
guided the songs. Solos were sharply focused, the rhythm
section of Husband and Carmichael pumped like a powerful
machine, and Paul Williams' vocals provided a familiar
reference point for the songs. Accentuated by the band's
aggressive, jazz-influenced-but-rock-rooted arrangements, the
music indeed captured a different side of the guitarist.
For several months Allan and I.O.U. played gigs mostly on
the West Coast, and in August a dramatic upheaval in the band
found Gary Husband and Paul Carmichael out, and bassist Jeff
Berlin and Drummer Chad Wackerman (who accompanied Frank Zappa
on a few tours) in. After a few weeks of working together, the
new lineup went out on the road, hitting major cities on the
West Coast -- mostly in California. New material by Jeff
Berlin and Holdsworth combined with new approaches to the
older songs yields a hard-charging, spellbinding concert for
guitarists as well bassists. Currently, I.O.U. plans to record
a new album this month for Warner Bros.
As self-effacing as he is unconventional, Allan Holdsworth
doesn't believe he has tapped his full potential as a
guitarist, nor does he feel there will come a time when he
has. Constantly changing and updating his equipment, he is a
perfectionist who loves to experiment, and finds music the
most rewarding pursuit he can imagine.
Why did you choose to record an independent album?
I didn't choose. We just couldn't get anybody interested in
our music. In fact, we tried for about three years to get a
record deal -- with no luck. We had to borrow the money to do
the album because we couldn't get anybody interested. And
rather than disappear -- just wilt away -- I figured it might
be worth a shot to do it on our own. The album's almost two
years old now, and it's taken more than that amount of time to
get anybody interested.
How long did it take to record the album?
I think we took about five days to record it, and it was
mixed in two evenings. Rather quick. It was recorded on The
Barge, a studio in England, which is actually a real boat. It
floats, but it doesn't move much because it's very heavy. And
luckily, the water where it's docked is usually very
What king 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.
Did you leave the original Fender single-coil in the
No. Because I used to use pretty thin strings, and I didn't
like pickups like those, which had a lot of [magnetic] string
pull, because they took away a lot of the vibration.
How was your guitar recorded? Did you mike it or go direct
into the board?
I just miked it, out in the room where the whole band was.
It was actually a tiny place, so we couldn't get much
isolation. The drums were in the middle of the room, the
guitar amp was tucked away in one corner, and the bass was
practically in the toilet at the other end of the boat. It
probably would have sounded better if we had recorded it in a
bigger place, but we didn't have the money to do it anywhere
Actually, it sounds as if it were recorded in a much bigger
That was just the help of Trident [studio, were the album
was mixed]. And we probably could have gotten it to sound a
lot better if we had had more time to mix. But we
What kind of mikes did you select for your amps?
I'm always experimenting, but for the most part I used
Neumann U-87s, because they "hear" the way I hear. You know
sometimes you put a certain microphone on a guitar, and when
you hear it in the control room, it's got every single part of
the sound that you didn't want to hear and none of the part
you did. Now, that would be different for every person,
because everybody's ears are different. But I quite like those
microphones. I've tired a lot of other ones, but the Neumann
gives the sound that's close to what I'm doing. And that's
important, because the idea is to try to capture the sound
you're actually making.
Did you use your usual stage setup to record
Actually, since then I've gotten different equipment,
because I had to sell the guitar and amps I used on the album
in order to pay for it. I used two Hartley Thompson amplifiers
and two Lab series L-5 amps. With the Hartley Thompsons I used
two cabinets, each with two Goodman GP-12 speakers. They're
the best speakers, but they're hard to get in America.
How do they compare to other speakers?
I prefer them to Celestions -- I use Celestions in my
Marshall 4x12 cabinet. But they have a sound that is somewhere
in between a Celestion and maybe one of the old Jensens --
like the ones you find in some old Fender cabinets. They have
a warm sound, but with a lot of highs. Not quite as chewed up
at the top end. They also have a small voice coil.
Does anything else distinguish the Goodmans?
I had a silver dust cap removed and had paper caps put in
their place. I just can't stand speakers with silver dust caps
because they distort all the frequencies; to my ears they're
really offensive. I have yet to hear a silver dust-cap speaker
that doesn't make my teeth grind. You can get a lot of bottom
and a lot of top with a big hole in the middle. It just kind
of radiates all this top. The Goodmans don't go quite as hard
on the top as the Celestions. They sound sweeter.
Did you use mikes to capture all of the guitar parts on the
Well, actually I went DI [direct input into the mixing
console] on one song, "Temporary Fault." I did that one DI
just to see how it would come out, and I was quite pleased
with the results. I could have probably gone DI on more. The
Hartley Thompson works well for miking and DI. It does
everything. The reason I didn't use DI more in the studio was
that chords and the solos would have been coming down on the
same track. At that time I didn't own enough Hartley Thompsons
to set them up like one for the solo and one for the
Did you set the mikes very close to the amps, or did you go
for more of an ambient sound?
On some of the tracks I just used one mike, because there
wasn't really enough room to get ambient miking. On "Checking
Out" I overdubbed the solo, and was able to put up an ambient
mike because no one else was in the room at the time. Pretty
much, all the other tracks were done live.
But when you mixed the album, didn't you have to add reverb
to give everything more space?
I guess so, but I always had good results with one mike
before. The way my amp setup is now, I can make the mike hear
something that it thinks sounds ambient.
Even though each of the albums you have played on showcases
a difference in tone and a stylistic evolution, there's a
common thread that holds the sound together -- one that is a
sort of audible personality. Did you originally envision that
sound and try to create it with your gear, or was it something
inherent in the equipment that you were able to put to a good
I kind of visualized a sound like that, but it changes, and
it continues to change. And that's why I look so forward to
doing this next album, because the I.O.U. album is
almost two years old, and the last thing I did before that was
the Bruford album [One Of A Kind], about two years
before that again. A lot of time has gone by, and for that
reason I wish that we could have been able to use a better
studio so that I could have made more use of the room and get
the sound I was really after. It was kind of a compromise; the
drums got the benefit of the room. After all, they were set up
right in the middle of the room. Hopefully, when we do this
next album, we can do it properly. And because we've moved on
quite a bit since the last one was recorded. It will be
interesting to see what people think of the sound now.
How much guitar overdubbing did you do?
Not much at all. There were a couple of tracks where I
added some extra guitar parts, but most of it was done as live
basic tracks. For instance, on "Checking Out" I added an extra
Why did you switch from Stratocasters to Charvel
I was really lucky, because just before I sold my
Stratocaster, I met [Charvel Luthier/designer] Grover Jackson
in London. We went out for a few beers and he was willing to
listen to ideas I had about certain woods, whereas a lot of
other people wouldn't. They'd say "you can't make a guitar
from this wood or that wood." But Grover listened to
everything, and made three Strat-style guitars from various
woods. Also I had the necks made wider at the fingerboard end.
I hate the Fender string spacing.
Fender's overall string spacing is wider than Gibson's, but
at the same time Gibson's necks are wider than Fender's. It's
absolute madness. I had Grover make the necks wide at the top
[near the headstock] like Gibsons, and about 2 1/4" wide at
the body end of the neck. So that means there's a good 1/8" on
either side of the outer strings, which is really nice. The
strings used to really fly off the edges of the Stratocasters.
I'm really happy with the guitars Grover made. They're the
best guitars I've ever owned.
What kinds of woods were employed in their
All three are different. The red one has a maple neck with
an ebony fingerboard and a basswood body. The white one has a
maple neck, ebony fingerboard, and a body made of jelutong [a
Malaysian and Indonesian softwood]. Then there's the one that
I was most interested in: a maple neck and fingerboard -- one
piece -- and a spruce body with a clear finish. They all sound
different from each other, which is really great, because I've
learned so much about what to do about two more guitars that
Grover's going to make. He's going to use a combination of all
the best ideas in these three.
Is the spruce a lot lighter than the others?
No, actually the basswood's the lightest. The Jelutong and
the spruce are about the same, which is probably about the
same as alder or something like that. The spruce one sounds
stiffer, or harder. Very quick. I wanted to find a real
resonant wood, and spruce is often used for the tops of
acoustic guitars. I didn't believe the normal stories that
said, "the heavier the better for a solid guitar." And I've
never believed that. Most of the old guitars I've ever played
-- the good ones -- have been at least half the weight of
their modern equivalents. If you feel the weight of an old
Strat or an old Les Paul, it seems to weigh much less than a
new one. The wood gives so much to the sound, just like in an
acoustic guitar, whereas if the body is really heavy, it just
sort of soaks the sound up, and you're left with a string
talking down to the pickup. Then you'd might as well have a
concrete body or build it into the ground. I really like when
a guitar feels as if it's got some sort of acoustic thing
going for it.
Have you ever considered installing a contact pickup in the
guitar in order to infuse more of the body's resonance into
No, I'm still trying to get the sound I want just through
the combinations of the wood. It's getting pretty close now.
And Seymour Duncan made me a pickup a few months ago that I'm
currently using, and I've fallen in love with it. I just hope
I have a chance to get together with him to take it to the nth
degree; that is, the right combination of the right pickup and
the right woods.
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.
You also have a new Epiphone Spirit-I solidbody.
Yeah. I just got it in L.A. It needed a different pickup,
so I had Grover put on a custom-wound DiMarzio. The Epiphone
didn't come with a vibrato, but I think I may have one put on.
I have to test it some more.
How does switching over from, say, an SG to a Stratocaster
affect your playing?
Well, I've always had more difficulty playing a Strat than
a Gibson: The scale length is slightly longer, and originally
I didn't have flat fingerboards on my Strats, so they just
felt generally more cumbersome. Also, it seems that because
the strings on the old Gibson just sort of lay on the bridge,
you could have an extremely low action, and if you had string
rattle it wouldn't show up through the amp. On the Fender,
though, because the bridge situation is so precise and so
clean, any rattles you've got show up through the amps.
What made you leave the SG behind for the Strat?
The big difference for me in changing from the SG to the
Start was putting humbuckers on the Strat. From then on, I
couldn't go back. I've tried a couple of times, because I love
SGs -- they're definitely my favorite guitars. I love the way
they play and look. But there was just something in the sound
that I missed after playing the Strat -- some of the heart,
the upper harmonics. I think that it's partially because of
the bridge. That's part of why I don't like most of the new
locking tremolo units like the Floyd Rose, where the strings
are attached right on top. It seems that if the strings don't
actually pass through the block, they don't sound as good.
When the strings are just on top. Well, it seems that most of
this mysterious Strat sound has been coming from the block,
where the strings pass through the tubes in the blockpiece. I
also found that the lighter the block, the better it sounds. I
hate brass blocks; they just seem to absorb. It's like if you
have a practice mute on a violin. You stick a piece of brass
or lead on the bridge and all the sound goes; it's absorbed.
And that's what I think happens with brass. There's a tremolo
being designed by a guy named Dave Story in Southern
California, and it's got a totally different design than
anything I've ever seen. It has a locking nut, but the bridge
has fine-tuning adjusters.
What sort of tremolo units do you have?
DiMarzios with Gibson-spaced blocks. The new ones. The old
ones have a lot of mass on top, and I had a bit of trouble
keeping them in tune. This new on is almost like the old
Fender one: It's very small and very basic. And it works
How many springs do you use?
Three, but they'll hold up to five. I've tried four or five
at different times to compensate for the tension of the
strings. If I use like a .012 for the top E string, I
will use four or five springs. But if I use that many, it
feels a lot stiffer, and it doesn't give a good relationship
between the springs and the strings. You have to experiment
and find a balance between the type of strings you use and the
number of springs.
You've used solidbody after solidbody and yet you strive
for a more resonant instrument. Have you ever considered a
semi-hollowbody such as an ES-335?
I used a 335 years and years ago. After the SG, I used one
for a while. And I found it very difficult indeed to play a
solidbody after playing that 335. I got so used to that
hollow, wet response -- that sort of spring where the tone
sort of goes into the guitar and then it goes "whack" out
through the amp. It seemed that on a solid guitar the note
would come out through the speakers almost before you even
played it, and I had difficulty adjusting to that. But that
appears to be over since I found these lighter woods for my
solidbodies. They respond almost like the 335.
How was the feel of the 335?
I loved the feel of 335s; they were pretty nasty to play
sitting down, but the way they hung on a strap made them about
the most comfortable guitars to play. The balance was perfect.
My 335 didn't hang neckheavy like the SG and didn't lean
toward the body. And 335s were a reasonable weight, so you
didn't get dents in your shoulder. Unfortunately, the sound
was a little bit honky for me -- hollow in the middle,
You seem to go through a lot of guitars.
Not really. The Strat I sold to make the I.O.U.
album I had since I was with Tony Williams back in '76. I
never played another guitar -- it changed color a few times,
but it was the same guitar. From about 1972 until '76 I played
the SG Custom consistently. Just prior to that, I was starting
out on guitar and experimenting with all kinds. But the
experiments now are to find the one guitar. And once that
guitar is there, then that'll be the one I'll play nearly all
the time. It's happening already, really. I play the red
basswood one the most. But in order to experience something,
you have to try more than one thing. And once we have that one
guitar, I expect to stick with it practically forever.
Do you perform many modifications yourself?
I used to until Grover came along, because if I was going
to take a chisel to it, He'd say, "On, no. Let me do it." And
[luthier/repairman] Dick Knight was the same way in England.
He and his son-in-law, Gordon, were always helpful. They did
so much work for me there. As far as wiring goes, I always
liked to do my own, though.
Was this because you trusted your own work more than other
Only in certain departments. But usually as far as
chiseling a hole in a guitar, it was so spontaneous. I'd get
an idea and have to do it right away. And to go over to Dick's
house meant getting in the car or jumping on my bike and
pedaling over there. So sometimes it was just easier to take
the chisel to it myself. And since I pawned the SG in '76, I
lost a lot of respect for guitars. It didn't bother me to take
a chisel to one if I felt I was doing something good for the
guitar. I couldn't believe that the guy I sold my good Strat
to back in England immediately took the humbuckers off of it
and put on some regular Fender-style single-coil pickups. He
didn't know what it was capable of.
Have you ever thought of just chucking the electric and
going solely on into acoustic guitar?
No, because if someone had ever told me that if I wanted to
play an instrument that it had to be an acoustic guitar, I
would have never started to play guitar at all. I really
wanted to play the saxophone, and the only reason I like
acoustic guitar now is through electric. I started on
acoustic, but that was accidental.
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.
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 do you designate your amp channels?
Each channel has a red channel and a green channel. I set
the red channels for lead and the green channels for rhythm.
It's super-flexible. I can play chords louder and cleaner than
I've ever heard from any other amplifier, especially a tube
amplifier. Because if you drive a tube amp hard -- the only
way to get a good lead sound -- you have to really kick the
output level. And if you start kicking the output to get the
sound, there's no way in hell that you can get clean chords
coming out of there at the same volume. The only way around
that is to compromise and get a progressively worse lead sound
as the volume goes down and a progressively nastier chord
sound as the volume goes up.
Do you use any other guitar amps? You used to have Norlin
Lab Series L-5s.
I've been using a couple of Fender Twin Reverbs for the
chords as well. I also have two new Fender Princeton IIs and a
Super Champ. I'm really knocked out by them. They're amazing.
In fact all the new Fender amps seem to be really good. And
because I sold most of my equipment back in England, except
for the Hartley Thompson amps, I had to kind of piece
everything back together. Grover got two Marshall 4x12
cabinets, which worked fine for the solos, but the speakers
couldn't handle the chords. The Hartley Thompsons would just
kind of blow them up. So I had to stop using the Hartley
Thompson clean channel, and I started using the Fenders for
the chords. Since then, Jeff Berlin has showed me his stuff,
which is Yamaha. I was very impressed with it, and have since
obtained one of their 200-watt power amps. It works
fantastically. It has two channels, and I run the DI outputs
of the Fenders into it. It's hyper-clean. I've arranged to get
more Hartley Thompson equipment, and change the speakers.
Everything will get simpler once I'm able to select the
speakers I want that will do both jobs. Then the Hartley
Thompson will actually do everything, and the amps wont have
to accommodate the types of speakers. It's fine, because I
love to experiment, and I've found a lot of different ways to
Do you think you will ever be totally satisfied?
I think when I get the two Hartley Thompsons and the
speakers sorted out, I'll be as close to satisfied as anybody
could be. They're the best amplifiers in the world.
Did their transistor circuitry put you off
The fact that it's a transistor amplifier totally
devastated me, because I said, "Oh, no. Not a transistor
amplifier." I had used transistor amps for chords, but never
for solo things. After I tried the amp, I wouldn't let the guy
out of the house. He said, "This is the only one I've got.
It's the prototype." I told him I don't care, and if he took
it away, I wouldn't buy one, because I didn't believe that the
sound could be duplicated. I thought that they had come across
an absolute fluke -- some sort of miracle in this little box.
I told him to leave it. He reluctantly did, and as it turned
out, I was in for even a bigger shock. A couple of months down
the road, he came over with a second amp, which proceeded to
destroy the first one. Then I knew they knew exactly what
they're doing. And since then, everything they have made has
done nothing short of blown me away.
You have a volume pedal on the floor and another
That's a switch box that controls the routing box. It tells
it what to do. I have a Korg stereo volume control patched
between the outputs of the A/DA Tapped Delay and the amps.
That turns both of the chord channels on the amps up and down
simultaneously. I have another mono volume pedal, a
Steelmaster, which turns the volume up or down before the
signal goes from my guitar to the A/DA. I use it mainly for
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
There are two more Tapped Delays in your rack. What are
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
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
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
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.
Does a bassist such as Jeff, who plays lots of chords, free
you up to do more solo work?
Well it's really great in this trio situation because he
sounds like three guys. It's great; Jeff's perfect. I love his
playing anyway. We're toying with the idea of adding someone
else, but someone who's not going to fulfill the normal
keyboard role, because the last thing I want it to turn into
is just another jazz-rock band. I just hope there's enough in
this band for everyone to keep them happy.
How does a drummer affect the way you play?
Everybody has been in a band with a bad drummer, and a good
drummer is very important. I like drummers who play; I don't
like drummers who are plodders. It's important to have a
balance. That's why I liked Gary initially: he had a good
balance. And Chad has a great balance as well. Some drummers
are just into a groove, and it makes me want to tear my hair
Does Jeff's melodic, active playing make you more
aggressive or less aggressive?
I find it inspiring and helpful, because he's such a great
soloist. He's fantastic. I like what he does. His playing is
changing -- I can hear it, and I'm overjoyed that we could all
find something in the music together.
How do you work out parts for the band?
Very basically: Because I don't write, I have to just play
things for people. I mean, I can write the chords down, but I
can't write where they come in the bar. They just basically
have to do it by memory or take notes on their own.
Were any solos spliced on I.O.U.?
We didn't do any splicing. In fact, most of the album was
done straight in one take. I don't like cutting. I'd rather do
it again from the top then cut it. I just don't like editing.
It doesn't feel right?
I don't know, but I'm always waiting for it when it comes
around. I can hear it when I've done it before -- on other
people's records. I go, "Oh, God." It usually stands out like
someone poking you in the eye halfway through the
Did you release the I.O.U. album in England?
No. They probably don't know about it -- two years later
[laughs]. England is definitely on its knees as far as music
and almost everything else, it seems.
Are you more enchanted with the music environment in
Absolutely. It's a much more happening place. The struggle
is everywhere -- no matter where in the world you live. You
end up banging your head against the wall. It's been easier in
the States for me than England. No one -- absolutely no
one--was interested in anything that I did. We couldn't get
any gigs, which is why we called the band I.O.U.: The few gigs
that we did do there always ended up costing us more money
than we'd get. We almost finished up phoning people by saying,
"How much do you want for us to play." It's definitely better
for me in America, although it may be different for somebody
else. It seems that English musicians don't get any respect in
their own country until they've been somewhere else. People
used to tell me about John McLaughlin -- how he wasn't
accepted at all in England. Then after he played in the States
and returned, they were all like down on their hands and
knees. England's such a fickle place, and the music's so much
monopolized by the BBC, which plays such crap all day long.
And the record companies are only interested in fashion. And
if it's fashionable, then that's it. They'll spend a little
money on three bands and hope that they'll make it by being
fashionable, rather than spending maybe the same amount or
less on one band that may turn out to be long-term. It's
How does it affect you working in a band thousands of miles
Well, you see, it really does. You try to keep it to
yourself and not trouble the other guys in the band. I look
forward to every performance, and try not to let it bother me.
Once I get on the stand it may be a total disaster. But I
always try to look forward to it so much that my mind is clear
Do you find much time to practice?
Yeah. I usually find time in the hotel room when we are on
the road. I practice scales, fingerings, chords, exercises. I
just generally try to help myself get out of the hole.
Recently it hasn't been so easy to find time because we've had
so much to do. I try hard to find the time. It usually works
out the opposite way: When I haven't got time, I'm desperately
trying to find the time to practice. And when I have the time,
I'll do things like sit around and drink Coors.
When did you compose the material for the I.O.U.
Originally, I had a backlog of material from when I left
Bill Bruford, and I knew what direction I wanted to go in. So,
that's why it turned out that most of the tunes were mine. It
wasn't that we didn't particularly want to play anybody
else's. It's just that those tunes were there from the
beginning, and those were the things that I wanted to try to
do. So we did them at the gigs and recorded them in England.
When Chad and Jeff joined, I just gave them copies of the
album, and they listened to it and worked out the parts for
themselves. And now I've got some songs and Jeff's got some
songs. So we're on the way.
Do you think that your playing is constantly
I hope so. I mean, I think so, because it seems to me that
I've learned a lot in the last two or three years. It seems to
be escalating at the moment. But I don't know. I could be
vastly wrong and actually be playing a lot of rubbish now. I'm
Do you listen to your old material on records to gauge your
Oh, no! That's why I'm pretty confident about my progress,
because when I listen to my old stuff, I just die. I can't
believe it. It sounds like a caveman or a baby -- just so
primitive and so long ago and unbearable.
That must be a good sign.
I guess so. It's just that you know so much more about
yourself. I just hate to hear them because I cringe. I just
can't listen; I have to leave.
Do you ever fall into slumps and lose interest?
Not lose interest. I fall into slumps, and I'm sure
everybody falls into slumps where the creativity just cant
seem to start and no matter how hard you try you just seem to
fall back on things that you've already learned -- as opposed
to trying to improvise or whatever. Keep going. You have to
persist, and out of sheer frustration of what you've been
doing or you haven't been doing you just come out the other
side. Of course, when you come out the other side, you find
that there's an even bigger hill to climb than the last one.
And that's always the way. I'm really glad, though.
Do you ever tape your rehearsals to give you an indication
of what you're doing right or wrong?
Oh, yeah. I listen to them a lot. It's very helpful, but it
usually makes me depressed -- only about myself, though. Who
could be depressed listening to those other guys? So, I get a
little depressed. And that's good, because it makes you say,
"Oh God, I've got to do something about that." And off you go
Do you think that you might be too self-critical?
I don't think so. Maybe I am. Maybe. But I don't think so.
But that's the way I am, and I cant do anything about
How do you use your tremolo?
Sometimes I use my fingers, and other times I sort of use
the palm of my hand. Mostly I use my little finger.
How about left hand-finger vibrato and bends?
Well, I don't think I bend notes anymore. I used to, but I
don't think I still do it. If I want a vibrato, I use a
classical vibrato technique along the length of the string
like a violin. The top two strings and higher up the neck, I
change to a classical vibrato, and lower down the neck I go
more from side to side. I physically pull the string. Up high
I apply more tension and sort of squeeze the string.
Where did your wide hand stretches come from?
Basically, if you know you want to play over a certain
chord or a certain scale, most of the time guitarists play the
scale so that the notes are played consecutively. I wanted to
avoid that by playing intervals that were spaced further
apart. They're the same scales and chords, it's just that I
wanted them to be juggled around more. I'm just juggling,
Do you ever find that your hands just wont stretch that way
They usually stretch okay. I think my stretch has gotten a
little worse as I've gotten a little older. I keep notes of
the things I used to play, and sometimes I have trouble with
Will you take, say, a F# chord, and experiment with
various ways to spread it out?
Yeah. I'll just experiment with different voicings. What I
usually do is just try to find the kind of voicings of
particular chords that I like. Turn them around. I don't like
the sound of conventional guitar voicings. I love listening to
jazz guitar; I listened to it a lot when I was younger,
because my father introduced me to it. But I very quickly
tired of the sound of the chord voicings. Whereas with a piano
player I hear much more chordal inventiveness, not in terms of
shuffling around with the chords, but with the inventiveness
of voicings. I just decided that if I was going to get some
chord things together that I might as well play some other
voicings, instead of the kind of Jazz Book One or Jazz Book
Two or Jazz Book Ten types of chords. I just searched for
Do you think that different voicings evoke certain types of
Oh, yeah. Sometimes you can use a simple chord and come up
with a nice voicing. It's all important, because it's
Do you use two hands to fret very often? On "Shallow Seas,"
for instance, you use a right-hand finger to hit a bass
I use it very rarely: mostly for chords. I can do it much
more than I do it, but I just don't like to do it because it's
almost become such a fashionable thing. And there are still a
lot of things I can't do using what I've got already. I still
want to work a lot on that before I decide I've had enough of
my left hand.
Do you ever locate chords on certain groups of strings to
change their mood or impact?
I wouldn't favor any particular one over any other, unless
it was called for in a specific piece. Then I would. I just
try to look for interesting ways to play around some simple
things and make them sound like they're not. Or the other way
around: Make something simple seem much more involved.
Do you approach the use of the tremolo bar differently for
solo and chords?
I guess so. Obviously, I try to get that steel guitar-like
sound when I'm playing chords. It sounds more like floating
Do you have to be careful while bending chords not to clash
with the bass?
No. I never bend chords that extremely. I just use it to
sound like a slur, so it doesn't really upset your
How do you relate your solos to the chord changes? Do you
consciously try to cover those chords?
Yeah. I break it down to find out what the chord structure
is, what scales I can use, if I can superimpose things over
the top such as triad. I generally experiment with it. There's
no set way. I don't go about each tune thinking, "This is what
I have to do." For me to be able to play it I have to be able
to see it in my mind's eye. I can't play off a piece of paper.
If I do, I've had it.
Have you ever tried recording a rhythm part on a cassette
and working out a solo to the playback?
I have done that, but I usually don't. I usually just study
the chords and make a few notes for myself.
Do you think the register that a solo is played in has an
important bearing on it?
No. The solo itself has an important bearing on it. I don't
say it has to be slow and low. I don't think being one way
makes it any more of one thing than another. I don't make any
rules about it. If it's a solo that starts out low, I'll think
about the notes in that area, but I don't divide the neck up.
It's all one.
Do you use hammer-ons or do you try to pick every
I use a mixture with a lot of hammer-ons. I don't use
conventional pull-offs, though. I never pull my finger
sideways, because I find that when you pull the strings off,
you get a kind of meowing sound as you deflect it sideways.
And I detest that sound. In the past, I have practiced quite
hard to not play like that. I don't think my fingers come off
sideways at all. They just drop on and off directly over the
top like I'm tapping the strings.
As you play faster, do you find that you are less conscious
of your actual technique?
I don't consciously make any transition between playing
slower and faster. Sure you might be likely to make more
mistakes as you start waffling around, but you try not to.
Because if you continually do that, you obviously can't play
that way anyway. Each has its own set of problems.
When you use a volume pedal to swell each chord in a
series, does it seem cumbersome?
Not particularly. Using a volume pedal with echo is not the
greatest way to get that effect, but at the moment that's the
way I do it.
Some guitarists wrap their right-hand little finder around
their volume knob to swell notes and chords.
I couldn't do that effectively because of some of the
chords that I want to play; there would then be too much going
on elsewhere. And I don't like the volume control so near my
little finger. I've displaced the volume control on each of my
guitars further south that it would be on a normal Strat. On a
normal Strat, you can turn the volume control with your little
finger, but that used to get in the way of my wrist. So, I
moved it further away. I find it easier to do that and
switching on the floor than with my hands, so I can
concentrate more on my playing.
Do you ever mute your strings with your right hand?
No, I don't like the sound. Al Di Meola's done it to death.
It's not something that particularly grabs me by the ear or
anywhere else, although it's pretty easy to do. It's just not
a very attractive sound to me.
When you fingerpick, what do you do with your pick?
I just tuck it in and hold it with my 1st finger, and then
use the thumb and the other three fingers. I play most chords
that way. I can strike all the notes at the same time, because
I don't like that "droing" -- the strum sound across the
On some of your songs, particularly "Out From Under," you
play the melody while holding chord forms. Is this for
organization or an audible effect?
It depends on whether I want it to sound like a chord or
not. Usually when I do that, I want the notes to ring into
each other -- hit more than one note at a time.
How do you execute artificial harmonics?
I just hold the pick and lightly tough the string with my
middle [right-hand] finger, but I don't use them very
Do you find the technique to be awkward?
It's not awkward, but I've heard some people do it so well
that it almost makes it not worth doing for me. Some people do
it amazingly well. For me to play it as well as some of the
people, it would probably take me as long as I've got
How did you come to jam with Eddie Van Halen?
That was at the Roxy [in Los Angeles]. I met Edward a few
years ago when I was working with U.K.; I didn't know him
then, but we said hello to each other. He came down to our
first gig at the Roxy, and I was trembling in my shoes at the
thought of all the people being out there. At any rate, he
came to the gig, and I was talking to him afterwards, and I
said we're coming down in the afternoon to do another
soundcheck. Why don't you bring your guitar? I talked to Jeff,
too, and told him to come down. So we had a bit of a blow in
the afternoon. We thought it would be a good idea to do a jam
together at the end of the night. So we worked out one of
Edward's tunes. We finished our set, came back on and played
this tune together. It was great. It was fun -- kind of a nice
contrast to the rest of the gig.
What do you think is good or bad about the current state of
I don't think anything's wrong with it.
Do you think that the guitar is taking a back seat to
vocals in music?
Oh, no. Everybody in the world plays a guitar. That's why
there are so many good guitar players. Everywhere you go,
someone plays the guitar.
Do you purposely avoid playing common rock licks or blues
In a word, yes. I occasionally use them if I'm in a
particularly jovial mood. Sometimes I'll be caught doing it
just for fun. Usually I try to avoid them; I try to avoid
everything. I'm still looking, basically.
When you're just sitting around at home, do you fall in
them just for entertainment?
No. I just keep looking for something else.
Do you think to a large extent playing guitar should be
more of a science that an emotional outlet?
Oh, no! It's got to be emotional. That's the only reason
I'm a musician -- because I love music. If I had wanted to get
into science, I would have been a mathematician. It's got to
make you laugh or cry, or both. If I wasn't moved by it, I can
think of a lot of things that I could have spent the last four
years doing rather than this.