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So what’s the secret behind Allan Holdsworth?

ricstudioc

Member
Messages
1,073
My first record was Metal Fatigue
Damn, now THAT'S diving into the deep end! I think the first actual album I owned was Santana's first. Went through the typical 60's/70's rock catalog until a friend sat me down and played me Birds Of Fire - changed my perspective on music from then on. Found Holdsworth in the 80's.

But... starting there? Yikes.
 

noisebloom

Member
Messages
1,234
Allan never played in a box. He saw the whole guitar neck top to bottom.
This is my takeaway while trying to figure out Holdsworth over the years. He saw the guitar as his saxophone. He wanted to play notes from the very bottom to the very top, unconcerned by the distance between notes or strings. For me, he turned upside down the whole idea of scales and chords and phrasing. The fretboard is forever a different landscape because of him.
 
Messages
321
I remember when I first heard Holdsworth on metal fatigue. Listening to that literally changed my life. I didn't think it was even possible to play like that and to be honest nobody has since.

To answer the question. It is actually possible to play like Holdsworth over normal chord progressions and he's done so himself on numerous albums. His approach is very idiosyncratic and IMO that's why he sounds so different. His concept of harmony isn't the same as what is traditionally taught, so his playing and songs sound different from others.

I don't know how people feel about pluging your own stuff, but I made a video about my approach the getting somewhat close to the holdsworth sound. I hope someone finds this useful.

This one is on pentatonics.
 

Jabby92

Member
Messages
3,851
This is my takeaway while trying to figure out Holdsworth over the years. He saw the guitar as his saxophone. He wanted to play notes from the very bottom to the very top, unconcerned by the distance between notes or strings. For me, he turned upside down the whole idea of scales and chords and phrasing. The fretboard is forever a different landscape because of him.
Yeah, every year that goes by I'll go back and listen to some Holdsworth playing and it sort of blows my mind more each time I hear it.

I have to say as well for me that some of his absolute best playing is in other peoples bands/groups & recordings. One of my favourites is the "Truth in Shredding" album when Allan played with Frank Gambale (another amazing player) and they do back to back fusion soloing/shredding. What an insane album, when Allan comes in the 1st track (around 4:05) I'll never forget how my jaw dropped with each passing note (even after hearing Frank shred the 1st half of the song).


Also.. in my opinion one of his most incredible solos ever is with Gongzilla:

 

mikeyjobu

Member
Messages
4
It's not really one secret -- not sure if it's in one of the clips from an REH video already posted here, but Allan didn't really have guitar heroes the way I do, or many of the rest of us here to -- he was a music lover who was given a guitar, and made the best of it -- wish I had that problem. What I get is that he wasn't influenced by guitarists so much, and always sought to sound more like the instruments that he wanted to be playing -- kind of a roots-jazz way of going at it -- and the way he framed everything in his own theoretical language? He didn't let the sign on the out door prevent him from going in - he just invented his own language for it. Playing the whole half-half scale and all of its permutations? As familiar as a blues box for the rest of us.
 

burchyk

That's just like my opinion, man
Silver Supporting Member
Messages
232
I remember when I first heard Holdsworth on metal fatigue. Listening to that literally changed my life. I didn't think it was even possible to play like that and to be honest nobody has since.

To answer the question. It is actually possible to play like Holdsworth over normal chord progressions and he's done so himself on numerous albums. His approach is very idiosyncratic and IMO that's why he sounds so different. His concept of harmony isn't the same as what is traditionally taught, so his playing and songs sound different from others.

I don't know how people feel about pluging your own stuff, but I made a video about my approach the getting somewhat close to the holdsworth sound. I hope someone finds this useful.

This one is on pentatonics.
This is pretty good!

Seem to recall Allan saying he does not like/use pull-offs..
 

Vaibhav Joshi

Member
Messages
2,572
True, and very important. He wasn't playing some microtonal 17-note Harry Partch scale. He used pretty normal scale patterns (with the exception of a couple he made up, which you can find in his book), he just used them in utterly unique relation to the underlying harmony.

As somebody who comes from jazz, in a technical sense, the vast majority of jazz solos feature somebody playing in fairly standard scales/modes over most of each chord, and then doing something idiosyncratic to transition to the next chord. It's always sounded to me like Allan thought, "What if I just take all the in-between bits?," and made a vocabulary out of that. (Sort of similar to what Coltrane did with his personal chord substitution systems c. Giant Steps, which evolved into the poly- and pantonality of his later music.)
It could be. It's beyond me to analyse his vocabulary, honestly.
Since he was so inspired from Coltrane early on, it's quite possible he imbibed some ideas from his music.
 

plexified

Member
Messages
581
I know this thread is going to go on for a while for good reason and regarding Allan and his technique, I would highly suggest listening to the rhythm in his playing, without it you don't have it. His chord changes, if you can find it in your heart to continue to do them are one thing, however his lead is a cadence driven jazz drive. You will hear that in the Ken Burns Jazz Documentary as its one of the key facets of what he actually captures. The sweat and tension of high level early Jazz in the environment that pushed the artists so hard, even into substance usage and performance enhancment to get it on and get it out. It is a VERY apparent tension and its a competitive tension. Burns gets that part correct between the artists. Damn man, a jazz cat had a shelf life of zero. Your nothing until you can cover the greats, grow and SHOW your the next HERO or you are stomped on , literally. Forget about being able to gig or back up an artist in anytown. You were a gig whore pegged for elimination unless you took your own **** down first. Sad times and not shown yet on the big screen.

Here are a few more while we are here :

Carpenter / Novak Trio :


Most popular with good sound :

 

Ethn Hayabusa

Member
Messages
1,491
Steve has abnormally large hands. By his own account, he has not met another guitarist with bigger hands.


Sorry that’s just not true at all.
I recently saw an old photo of him and Steve Vai with their hands together comparing the size of them.
Steve’s was significantly larger....
 

plexified

Member
Messages
581
100 % man ! Truth In Shedding had Allan playing a nylon acoustic ! The Varney mindset is alive today although I don't know who the new Varney is, I just know peeps like you and me are the players looking for the next one. Do we have a lively bunch today or what ! That Abasi kid gets me and others with feel and joy to no end. Hey we are going to live to be a few hundred years old because of this stuff and on and on. Nobody gets up in the morning like we do. Whats next or what was THAT dream about, you know? No doom or gloom, just songs and experiences we get out. Crazy thing with me is I could care less about tape or fame or a capture. I live it live time and love it. Not many know this love and experience. I know a bunch that record every second and are remarkable for it. I am one that has lost the remarkable and only shared it with myself or whomever was around during the experience. Sometimes I call it a exorcism or resorection, it flows like a scene in death valley when it flowers.

Forgot to mention that Holdsworth would be the ultimate gear whore today and looping in his hands or feet would be the ultimate. I do solo shows with him in mind and 5 track stereo Boss RC 505 is beyond belief for this vibe. No I don't have Wackerman or Berlin in tow, however its a platform that paints a watchable stage for design. Nobody wonders where a backing track came from and they know I am the source of all the live sounds. It started at my feet and mad way to a waist high stand which was in great protest on my behalf, however its now fine that way and to burn in a trio like Wackerman, Berlin and AH is unique. He played a Roland VG-8 for a while and got me into the GR-55 which slays and has his tones in it all day long. PM me if your into that kind of thing. The man enhanced my life in many ways, in recording and live time at the shows. If you like the man get yourself a GR 55 and carry it on forever. Like I mentioned PM me for the advice on that one and if its for you. Just amazing stuff.

GR 55 here :

 
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Messages
1,219
I'm a fan, and I appreciate that he had a very idiosyncratic approach, but almost all of his solos sound the same to me. Lots of notes and moments of breathtaking playing, but not a lot of differentiation.
I think this is an important point about "hearing" Holdsworth: he's not exactly sculpting melodies, or orchestrating sonic "events" (the way you might say about EVH), in his solos. He wanted to find as many different secret tunnels through the chord changes as he could, and then find tunnels branching off those tunnels, et al, et al, until he's built all these parallel substructures that build out like a fractal.

In that sense, he's precisely Coltrane's successor, although Coltrane always retained a certain amount of pure HOWL in his playing, pure insistence on the overwhelming presence of a few giant notes, and Holdsy wasn't really into that (at least not after his early years).

If it helps, you can think of (e.g.) a David Gilmour solo as a line that swoops and dives and crests, and an EVH solo as a series of explosions and whiplash turns and phosphenes going off behind your eyelids, and a Holdsworth solo like watching the growth of a crystal, a basic structure pushing further and further into strange echeloned complexities that then branch out into their own ramifications.
 
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iamdavea

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
8,762
I think this is an important point about "hearing" Holdsworth: he's not exactly sculpting melodies, or orchestrating sonic "events" (the way you might say about EVH), in his solos. He wanted to find as many different secret tunnels through the chord changes as he could, and then find tunnels branching off those tunnels, et al, et al, until he's built all these parallel substructures that build out like a fractal.

In that sense, he's precisely Coltrane's successor, although Coltrane always retained a certain amount of pure HOWL in his playing, pure insistence on the overwhelming presence of a few giant notes, and Holdsy wasn't really into that (at least not after his early years).
That's all very fanciful, but I'm not sure I buy it. Those tunnels, "et al.", included many of the same patterns and approaches, over and over, so it's not like he was constantly reinventing the wheel. He had a VERY strong sonic footprint, which included a lot of pet maneuvers.
 
Messages
1,219
That's all very fanciful, but I'm not sure I buy it. Those tunnels, "et al.", included many of the same patterns and approaches, over and over, so it's not like he was constantly reinventing the wheel. He had a VERY strong sonic footprint, which included a lot of pet maneuvers.
Oh sure, of course! He used the same basic devices over and over, as anybody does. It was more about context, how to connect them, where to make them come out of the ground, as it were. That's his magic, the way he could take a few basic scales, add a passing tone here or there, superimpose it over an unexpected chord change, and go somewhere you'd never have been able to predict. That's part of why I mention Coltrane, because Trane obsessively used the same basic devices and patterns over and over, and even endowed them with mystical and religious significance (which you can see carried on in the work of people like Steve Coleman).
 

iamdavea

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
8,762
Oh sure, of course! He used the same basic devices over and over, as anybody does. It was more about context, how to connect them, where to make them come out of the ground, as it were. That's his magic, the way he could take a few basic scales, add a passing tone here or there, superimpose it over an unexpected chord change, and go somewhere you'd never have been able to predict. That's part of why I mention Coltrane, because Trane obsessively used the same basic devices and patterns over and over, and even endowed them with mystical and religious significance (which you can see carried on in the work of people like Steve Coleman).
I'm a big fan of agreement.

:beer
 
Messages
98
I guess all the true greats in human endeavors are usually their own toughest critics. I saw Allan live several times and he never seemed happy with his performances.
TBF he wasn't very good or comfortable live (certainly not as untouchable as in a more controlled environment). I saw him several times and each time he made bizarre mistakes and just didn't feel at ease at all.

Still one of the greatest musicians of any era on any instrument.
 

plexified

Member
Messages
581
Dead On Mate, Mandelbrat nailed it to with his explenation , however Dead Astronaut gets it even further ! So in tribute check him out, Mandelbrat a genius. . . I would curse tenfold for his introduction but we are sensored here. . . I don't like that much . . so . . back to our origionally sensored topic : Mandelbrat, a Genius that rivals our faves. . . .

 
Messages
98
I think this is an important point about "hearing" Holdsworth: he's not exactly sculpting melodies, or orchestrating sonic "events" (the way you might say about EVH), in his solos. He wanted to find as many different secret tunnels through the chord changes as he could, and then find tunnels branching off those tunnels, et al, et al, until he's built all these parallel substructures that build out like a fractal.

In that sense, he's precisely Coltrane's successor, although Coltrane always retained a certain amount of pure HOWL in his playing, pure insistence on the overwhelming presence of a few giant notes, and Holdsy wasn't really into that (at least not after his early years).

If it helps, you can think of (e.g.) a David Gilmour solo as a line that swoops and dives and crests, and an EVH solo as a series of explosions and whiplash turns and phosphenes going off behind your eyelids, and a Holdsworth solo like watching the growth of a crystal, a basic structure pushing further and further into strange echeloned complexities that then branch out into their own ramifications.
How can this sound both like you're high af AND completely accurate?
 




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