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Material Real: Gear

The Beverly Theatre, Beverly Hills CA, Dec. 1983
(Photo: Nancy Clendaniel)
     Like most guitarists with a unique sound, Allan Holdsworth's career has been partially shaped by an evolving landscape of guitars and amps.  Below is a a list pieced together from interviews, photos and videos.  In reality, Allan's descriptions in published interviews were largely a simplification of his actual set up, as he almost always did modifications "under the hood".  Nonetheless, this rough timeline might give some insight into Allan's ever-restless search for the "perfect tone".

1961: (Age 15): Allan’s gets an acoustic guitar which Sam buys from Allan’s uncle (this guitar may actually have been (or been preceded by) his mother Vera’s acoustic Spanish guitar).  It lays around for a couple years unplayed, but years later Allan begins to noodle around on it. (16, 64, 35, 27, DD)
Allan's father buys him an f-hole cello (arch-top) guitar (probably a Hofner President). (16) 
1963 (Age 17): After seeing an electric guitarist in a pub, he, his father and/or a friend of theirs attaches a pickup to his f-hole cello guitar. (16, 51, 5, 67)
Sam's friend builds an amplifier for Allan’s guitar.  Allan is intrigued by the building process and learns from observing the process. (51, 17)  
Allan gets a 15-watt amp from his parents (possibly the same one Sam’s friend built?) which produces a nice horn-like texture when it feeds back. (34, 7)
Allan buys a (blue) Fender Strat, but 6 months later, in a Kitchens department store in Leeds, Allan is transfixed by a cherry red Gibson SG Standard, which he buys.  A friend takes over payments on the Strat.  (5, 7, 16, 51, 67).  
1969: Allan plays his Gibson SG Standard through a Vox AC-30 amp (this SG/Vox combo is used for the ‘Igginbottom record).  (7, 61) (Actually Mick Jackson remembers Allan playing Marshalls, not Voxs)
1969: Allan tries to play sax (as taught by the sax player from the Glen South band) and clarinet (as well as showing interest in oboe and English horn) but has health issues.  Allan finds a violin in a junk shop. (17, 22, 34, 40)
1969-72: While with the Glen South Band, Allan somehow parts with his cherry SG Standard. His next guitar is a Hofner Colorama with a bent neck and a broken truss rod.  Allan soon replaces it with a 1960s Gibson SG Custom guitar, which sounds nice but is not as well made as his previous SG (3, 5, 33).  He begins using a Vox AC30 amp.
1972, Nov: Allan records with Tempest using a Gibson ES-335 semi-acoustic, after trying out and liking Paul Williams’ ES-335. He also plays around with an ES-175 (he doesn’t sell off the SG Custom, though).  (11, 33, 51, 64b)  
1974.07.16-18, 23-26 (CC) – Allan records “Bundles” with Soft Machine using the white Gibson SG Custom and the ES-335.  He also plays acoustic and 12-string acoustic guitars.
1975: Allan still plays the white Gibson SG Custom with Tony Williams as well as a Small Stone (or MXR) Phaser with a Marshall stack (51, 64, 64b).  The white SG Custom later gets repainted pink and then blue.
While Allan is “out in the country” visiting his girlfriend, he hears that his blue (previously white) SG has been mysteriously sold off to a pawn shop by Tony’s tour manager to get back his/her fee.  After returning to NYC, Allan sees the guitar at a music store but can’t afford to buy it back, and so instead gets a black 1961 SG Custom with 3 pickups. (35, 62)
1975.07: Allan records on Tony Williams’ “Believe It!” (37)  While working with engineer Bruce Botnick, Allan finds his preferred miking set up (“Neumann U87 placed between the center and the edge of the cone.”) (61)
1976: Allan acquires a new 1973 Fender Stratocaster, but is unhappy with the magnetic interference from the pick-ups on the strings.  Nonetheless, it gets used on the 2nd Tony Williams record, “Million Dollar Legs”.  (16, 64b)
1976, May (24-26) (CC) & June: “Velvet Darkness” is written in 2 weeks and recorded in 9 hours at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in NJ.  On one track Allan uses Tony’s girlfriend Tequila’s cracked acoustic guitar.  (3)  
1976, July: Allan is forced to sell the black 1961 SG Custom in order to get enough money to fly back home to London (but with the ’73 Strat). (7, 35, 40)
1976-78: Back in England, Dick and Gordon Knight make a custom neck (maple with ebony fingerboard) for the $300 Strat Allan brings back from the States. He also replaces the Strat’s 3 single coil pick-ups with 2 PAF humbuckers salvaged from his previous SG Customs (center position). This guitar is used from Gong (first heard on the Gazeuse! album) thru UK, but is sold before moving to the States.  (64b)
Allan also acquires 2 more guitars: one with a neck made by the Knights attached to Boogie maple bodies, fitted with Dimarzio (Gibson copy) PAF pick-ups (5, 16), and one with a Boogie Telecaster body made out of ash and fitted with a Fender Jazzmaster neck.  He also owns an Ibanez cello guitar (Gibson L5 copy) and a 1938 Gibson Kalamazoo acoustic.
For lead amplification tones, he uses Marshall 50 heads with 4x12 cabinets, and for clean tones two Marshall 100s with a short Dynachord stereo delay to create a sense of subtle stereo.  He also uses a Burman for lead sometimes.  (11)
1977-79: With Bruford, he plays both the maple and white Knight-customized Strats and a red Gibson SG.  He also adds a 50 watt Hiwatt top to his Marshall 50 and Marshall 4x12s, all with modded elements. The Vox AC-30 also makes a reappearance in 1979.  (46)  Effects-wise, he no longer uses a noise gate or an MXR phase shifter at this point.  (3)

Chronology of Allan's Gear in the Late '70s/Early '80s
1978: UK
Dick Knight attaches custom (wide) necks to Boogie Strat bodies.
Allan plays through Marshalls and L5 amps.

  • Boogie Strat w Dick Knight neck, DiMarzio (Gibson copy) PAF pick-ups 
  • Tony Williams period $300 Strat w Dick Knight neck (maple with ebony fingerboard), 2 PAF humbuckers
  • Boogie Telecaster ash body, fitted with a Fender Jazzmaster neck
  • Ibanez L5 copy acoustic cello guitar
  • 1938 Gibson cello guitar (Kalamazoo?)
  • Gibson Firebird 7
Dynacord digital delay   between clean L5 amps to give a stereo effect

Pete Cornish custom router bay
Lead: Hot-rodded 50W Marshall (or 50W Burman (Pro 501) custom head) w 4x12 cabs (Celestion speakers)

Rhythm: 2 Norlin Lab Series L5 100W amps
1979: After Bruford (Holdsworth & Co, etc)
Along with the Knight-modded Strats, a red Gibson SG gets some play.
Allan meets the Hartley Thompson amp people, surprised at how good their solid-state lead tones are.
Beck and Holdsworth at l'Espace Cardin, 1979
(Photo: Christian Rose, for Jazz Magazine June 2017)
  • Boogie Strat w Dick Knight neck (DiMarzio PAF's (cream?), one volume and one tone control - treble/bridge pickup only)
"The bridge pickup is for leads, and the neck pickup for chording. I usually leave my volume control set between 8 and 10 on the guitar, and the treble pickup's tone is adjusted to about 5 or 6 - enough to roll off some of the top end."
  • Tony Williams-period Strat w Dick Knight neck (first fitted w SG Custom center position PAF pickups, then DiMarzio PAF's)
  • Red Gibson SG
  • Ibanez L5 acoustic cello guitar
  • 1938 Gibson cello guitar (Kalamazoo?)
(L5 amps include a built-in limiter)Lead: Hot-rodded 50W Marshall, Hartley-Thompson transistor amp (set for 2 different lead sounds, depending on bridge/neck pickup)

Rhythm: 2 Norlin Lab Series L5 100W amps, Vox AC-30, 50W Hiwatt 
1980: False Alarm
Allan says his favorite guitar is now the SG...
Two volume pedals are used to control the stereo sound.

  • Red Gibson SG Standard (becomes main guitar)
MXR Noise Gate/Line Drivers

2 volume pedals - a mono one for the level of the signal going to the digital delay, and a stereo one for the chording amps.

Experiments with chorus units and limiters for the chording (rhythm) channel.
1981: IOU w. Paul Williams
The Dick Knight Boogies return.
The Hartley Thompson amps are perfected.
In early 1981, Allan begins working with Charvel in California to develop a new guitar, 
eventually resulting in a Jelutong body, ebony fretboard and maple neck.
  • Tony Williams-period Strat w Dick Knight neck, bound for extra width, ebony fingerboard, custom black-cover DiMarzio pickups, 3-way pickup selector giving either pickup, or out of phase. 
"The other switch brings in a capacitor which gives me extra brightness at low volume."
  • Boogie Strat w Dick Knight neck, maple fingerboard (DiMarzios are traded for Seymour Duncan 59s)
(Guitars sold to pay for mixing "I.O.U.")
Dynacord digital delay (tight delay) between clean L5 amps to give a "stereo" effect

L5's include a built-in limiter
Lead: Hartley-Thompson transistor amp (set for 2 different lead sounds, depending on bridge/neck pickup), 2 cabs each with two Goodman GP-12 speakers

Rhythm: 2 Norlin Lab Series L5 100W amps

(all amps except HT's sold to pay for mixing "I.O.U.")
1982: America
Grover and Allan
Grover Jackson makes Allan three nice new guitars.
Allan relies on A/DA and Yamaha delays to create spatial sound fields.
Hartley Thompsons are brought over from the UK, while Fenders are used for clean tones.
     "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... He told me that when I came over to the States, he was going to make me a guitar. When we came to California, I didn't have a guitar (I had a guitar, but it was just a cricket bat). (Grover) made me three Strat-style guitars from various woods - the one I preferred was made from basswood. I had him 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. We used Gibson string spacing and Seymour Duncan pickups. I'm really happy with the guitars Grover made. They're the best guitars I've ever owned." (11, 16)
  • Red, maple neck, ebony fingerboard and a basswood body, custom Seymour Duncan pickup (see below)
  • White, maple neck, ebony fingerboard and a jelutong body, Seymour Duncan 59N (see above pic)
  • Clear finish, maple neck, maple fingerboard and a spruce body, custom DiMarzio pickup (seen in I.O.U. chapter top)
All with one pickup in the bridge position, one volume and one tone
Two A/DA STD-1 units (Stereo Tapped Delay, 55ms to create stereo effect, for both rhythm and lead channels)

Korg stereo volume control between the A/DA STD and the stereo rhythm amps (controls volume of chordal channels simultaneously)

Steelmaster mono volume pedal, controls volume from rhythm guitar to the A/DA (mainly for noise reasons)

Yamaha E-1010 analog delay (for textural echo SFX)

(custom rack, see below)
Lead: Hartley Thompson, Fender (occasionally)

Rhythm: HT, also Fender Twin Reverbs, Fender Princeton IIs, Fender Super Champ into Yamaha 200w power amp and Marshall 4x12 cabs

Guitar Player, Tom Mulhern, Dec 1982
1983-85: Road Games
Allan relies on the red Charvel mostly, but soon gets turned on to some Ibanez prototypes.
His delay effects become more complex, as he mixes manufacturers to get more organic mixtures.
Jeff Berlin, Allan Holdsworth, Edward Van Halen
Four Jackson Charvel Guitars (blue one is the new addition), all w. one tone and one volume control, plus pickup selector and custom "brightness" switches.
  • Red, maple neck, ebony fingerboard and a basswood body, custom Seymour Duncan pickup (shown above)
  • White, maple neck, ebony fingerboard and a jelutong body, Seymour Duncan 59N (also middle position)
  • Clear finish (blonde), maple neck, maple fingerboard and a spruce body, custom DiMarzio pickup
  • Blue, 2 custom Seymour Duncan pickups
  • Charvel prototype (similar to Ovation Viper), also with Seymour Duncan pickups.
  • 1956 Gibson Super 300
  • Ibanez electric prototypes
  • Ovation '83 Collectors Series
  • Chapman Stick
Multiple delay lines for textural/spacial effects:

Two A/DA STD1 (stereo delays)

Lexicon PCM41

Dynacord DDL 12

Yamaha E1010 (analog delay)

Scholz Rockman (on "Three Sheets to the Wind")

Two AMS units (DMX 15-805 Digital Delays?)
Lead: 2 Hartley Thompson 100w amps (later 200w) w 4 Yamaha 4x12 cabs (mixed Yamaha and Celestion GI2 speakers)

Rhythm: 2 Norlin Lab Series L5 100W amps, later 2 Yamaha P-2200s (200w), plus 2 Yamaha PGI pre-amps, S412 speakers

1984: Metal Fatigue is recorded mostly with one of his Charvel Jackson guitar, using Hartley Thompson and Jim Kelly amps and harmonizers effects (on "Metal Fatigue"). This album also sees Allan trying out Kramer's new "stereo" Ripley Hex Guitar ("Panic Stations"), a Roland guitar synthesizer ("In the Mystery") and a Maccaferri (Ibanez) acoustic guitar ("Home").
1984-85: Ibanez begins developing guitars for Allan, eventually resulting in an Allan Holdsworth "signature model" (the AH10 1-pickup and 2-pickup AH20). This model has a basswood (slightly chambered) body with an ebony neck and jumbo frets.

Allan begins using Dan Pearce amps, as well as Jim Kelly and Sundown. He continues to use A/DA STD1 (stereo delays), Lexicon PCM 4060 Digital Reverb, and ADA Multi-effects unit. (17)
Allan works with Emmett Chapman on some custom Chapman stick designs (in alternate tunings).
1985: In early 1985, Allan gets to try out the SynthAxe MIDI-controller and falls in love with it immediately. He pairs it with Oberheim Matrix 12 synth modules, mostly.
1986-87: Allan begins using a breath controller to modulate the SynthAxe output. He supplements the Oberheim modules with Kurzweil Expanders.
1986: Allan begins using a stock Steinberger TransTrem as his main electric guitar.
1987: Allan begins developing some custom studio gear, including the "Juice Extractor" (a kind of line level attenuator) and a portable speaker box enclosure.
1989: Gear Notes for Secrets
  • Electric guitar: Steinberger TransTrem (stock) with custom Seymour Duncan pickups, 20" DeLap customized neck radius, Dunlop 6000 fretwire, Steinberger GM2T with two custom Seymour Duncan Allan Holdsworth humbuckers, refretted Dunlop 6000 wire.
  • Acoustic guitar: "I own one custom - made guitar built by Bill DeLap, which is beautiful. It's a five-string guitar, tuned in fifths. I like that tuning [C,G,D,A,E, low to high]; it's a really logical tuning to me." (54)
  • ADA Stereo Tapped Delay, two ADA mono delay lines, Lexicon PCM60, T.C. Electronic Spatial Expander,  Rocktron Pro Chorus (as main chorusing units)
  • Amps: Boogie Mark III ("City Nights"), Boogie Quad Pre-amp, or .50 Caliber, Boogie Simulclass 295 power amp, Juice Extractor (prototype, various signal chain positions), "speaker box" with Celestion KS speakers, Neumann TLM17D microphone with a James Demeter mike pre-amp. (30)
  • SynthAxe synth modules: Oberheim Matrix 12 and Xpander, Kurzweil Expander, some Yamaha TX synth modules (but mostly Oberheim and Kurzweil used). (58)
DeLap Baritone guitar
1990-93: Wardenclyffe Tower: Allan adds several Bill DeLap "piccolo and baritone" guitars to his arsenal. The 3 (semi-hollow body) baritone guitars have scale lengths of 34", 36" and 38" and are named Igor, Gonan and Boris. He also uses DeLap-customized Steinergers, a DeLap double-neck guitar (top neck probably tuned in fifths), a Boogie Dual Rectifier, and a 50 Calibre (hot-rodded).
1991-93: Hard Hat Area: Allan switches to DeLap "regular scale" guitars. He sometimes uses Norlin Lab L5 amps for his clean tones (such as on Just For the Curious studio date). He experiments with the Starr Ztar.
(Guitar Shop, 1994)
1994: Allan begins working with Mark Keisel at Carvin to develop a signature line of guitars. In 1996, the H1 is made available, with a alder (chambered) body and neck with the Holdsworth H22 pickup.  The H1T comes with a Wilkinson tremolo bridge. The H2/H2T variants have 2 pickups.
For overseas touring, however, he usually brings his DeLap, as it's easier to travel with.
1995: Allan does demos for the Roland VG8 guitar and amp modeller. 
(from: The Recording Guitarist: A Guide for Home and Studio, 1999).
Some of this diagram has been identified as being inaccurate by some Holdsworthians,
but it's an interesting approximation, nonetheless. 
1996: None Too Soon: Steinberger, spruce DeLap, 2 Mesa Boogies (one is a Dual Rectifier), then later Carvin guitar prototypes (H1T), Yamaha DG1000 preamp, TC Parametric EQ, Marshall JCM 800, Harness (info partly from Chip Flynn's FaceBook post). At least one track uses the Roland VG8 processor.

Later --->
The Brewery, Photos: Rick Gould (from HOME RECORDING, Volume 1, 1997):
1997-99: The Sixteen Men of Tain: DeLap, Carvin (H2T) and Steinberger guitars. Yamaha DG1000 pre-amp, Yamaha DG-80 amps and two Rocktron Intellifex processors, Roland VG-8 guitar processor.
1999: Allan and Carvin present the HF1 Fatboy guitar with a thicker body (a true semi-acoustic electric), and maple neck instead of alder. The HF2 has 2 pickups.
1999-2000: Carvin Fatboy with Roland GK synth pickup, 2 Yamaha DG80-112s, 2 DG80 extension cabs, dbx Project 1 compressor/gate, ADA delay, 2 Rocktron Intellifexes, TC Electronic Boost, Roland VG-8 processor system, Korg and Boss volume pedals, Carvin FET450 power amp (from GuitarOne July 2000, see below).
(from Gear Secrets of the Guitar Legends, 2003)
2001: See above diagram (Rocktron Intellifexes, Yamaha DG80, DG100, MESA/Boogie Mark IV, Dual Rectifier, etc).
2002: Allan works with Yamaha to create the programmable Yamaha UD Stomp Delay/Chorus pedal for his signal processing.It includes several custom settings programmed by Allan himself.
(Guitar Player, March 2008)
2006: Carvin, DeLap guitars, Hughes & Kettner Switchblade 100, ZenTera head, Hughes and Kettner CC412 A 30 cabs, Yamaha UD Stomp (later replaced by MagicStomps), TC Electronic Booster & Line Driver Distortion, MXR CAE (Bradshaw Custom Audio Electronics) Boost/Overdrive.
Guitar Rigs of the Superstars, 2010
2009: Around late 2009 Canton guitars starts building custom models for Allan (with signature models eventually available in 2011). Due to some feedback issues, these guitars are mostly used in the studio (for example, on Chad Wackerman's 2012 release, Dreams, Nightmares and Improvisations)
2012: Carvin starts producing headless guitars for Allan (HH series).
  • HH1: headless, maple neck, alder chambered body
  • HH1X: with tremolo bar
  • HH2: 2 pickup variant
2013: Allan tries out some .strandberg* guitars for size, and is pleased with them. 

(Work in progress...corrections/additions welcome.)

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  1. estremamente accurato ,non facile seguire tutti i cambiamente di strumentazione usati da Allan ,come nela la musica anche nella ricerca timbrica ai massimi livelli direi unico complimenti per il sito web

  2. Hi, amazing site and thnks for your efforts. Just for completion

    Allan used a one-off Yamaha headless built by John Gaudesi

    He also had Strandberg build him an instrument

    1. Also Yamaha built a one off 25 1/2 scale sg 2000 with a Kahler Tremolo............