When King Crimson ceased to exist in the mid '70s (and Robert Fripp went on his "small, intelligent, mobile tour"), two other musicians in the band-John Wetton and Bill Bruford were left wanting to continue the type of music they had become accustomed too. So they started a new band with Eddie Jobson and Allan Holdsworth called UK to try to carry on the Crimson tradition. The resulting self-titled album became an instant classic within the progressive-rock genre, while the guitar solo on "In The Dead Of Night"-from the then-unknown Holdsworth captured the imagination of listeners on both sides of the Atlantic, fueling the notion that Robert Fripp might actually be replaceable.
But as Holdsworth remembers, his gear for the recording of that album and its groundbreaking solo is somewhat pared down compared to the equipment he uses today. "I was using only a single 50-watt Marshall and two 4xl2 cabinets," he mused. "Occasionally, I used a Vox AC30, but not on the UK album-1 used that on Bill's record, One Of A Kind.
"That's one of my quirks: I can remember all the gear I've used right back to the very first band I was in, to the point of every single amplifier and guitar on every single track. The guitar I used on 'In The Dead Of Night' was a stock Fender Strat with a custom neck made by a great guitar builder in England named Dick Knight that was fitted to that instrument.
It was a big, half a baseball bat-sized neck with an ebony fingerboard and huge frets. It had a very flat fingerboard, too. I used that guitar for many years ... I chiseled the whole body out myself so I could get humbuckers on it. I took the original pickups off and threw them away, and got a pick guard made by Dick."
Holdsworth admits to going for a clean sound on the song, without any processing, with the aim of getting a keyboard texture; he professes to never liking jangly, strumming guitar. "I liked a lusher sound, like a keyboard player would get just using different voicings, and sticking to a clean sound for solos.
And it's the same today-the sound comes from whatever amp and guitar I'm using. I used really nice-sounding, low-output pickups, because very old pickups have very weak magnets and very little pull on the strings, which creates a nice tone. A lot of guys like to use really high-output pickups, but that sucks the strings and kills your sustain because it stops the strings from vibrating. The new Carvin pickup that I helped to design for our new Allan Holdsworth Model uses that old enameled wire, and it has a lower magnetic pull so it doesn't suck on the strings."
Ironically, this solo is mandatory listening for any up-and-coming player, yet Holdsworth, having heard it again just recently, admits to hating it: "I can't even compare it to anything I do today. If I hear that and I hear a solo that I've done recently, it's not even the same guy anymore. It's like a river: you just keep going and changing. As a player, I just want to keep growing. You know, I used to like to use the tremolo bar in the beginning because that wasn't used very often by many people, and then that technique got sort of attached to me." Holdsworth, of course, viewed the gimmicky appendage as just a tool and, once it became more popular with the masses (thanks to Mr. EVH), he decided to discard it, and doesn't use it at all today. The emphasis today is on notes rather than gimmicks.
So it comes as no surprise that the solo on "In The Dead Of Night" was cut as just another improvisation from another time: "I never played a solo that wasn't a complete improvisation, so if I did it again it wouldn't be the same. That's the part of music that I love. I always wanted to become a good improviser, and the challenge of the whole thing is trying to figure out different ways to play all these solos and chord sequences. It's simply the way I approach the guitar."
Cherry Lane Music, Guitar and Guitar Shop, 1999.