Axe Maniax (TGM 1993)

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Axe maniax

The Guitar Magazine, May 1993

Dominic Salmon

Allan Holdsworth is probably the world's most respected fusion guitarist. He talks to Dominic Salmon about the appeal of Steinbergers in relation to his musical philosophy.

Allan Holdsworth has been hailed by many as one of the foremost pioneers of modern guitar playing. A champion of the SynthAxe, Allan swapped to Steinbergers after the collapse of the guitar synth company.

'The SynthAxe was a great instrument. Unlike other guitar synths it didn't require you to throw away your guitar technique, and it also meant that you could use sounds winch were completely separate from the guitar. However, when they went bust, it meant that there was no support for the machine, and due to its complexity, this could prove a nightmare on the road. Because a lot of my set at that time was based round the SynthAxe, a lot of the musical ideas couldn't work without it. In the end I just ended up selling them to avoid the hassle but I am thinking of buying another one that I can play at home in my spare time. A friend of mine has one he wants to sell - there is a problem with the switches in the neck, but hopefully I can get that sorted out.

When I started playing the guitar again exclusively, I was attracted by the possibilities that Steinbergers offered. They seemed to me to be the only real advance in guitar technology, excluding synths, for 25 years. The use of double ball end strings means that one of the most problematic areas of the guitar, which is tuning, is overcome. The system means that you don't need clamps to stabilise tuning, and also does away with having a lot of extra string flapping around, meaning that string tension is also very even. It was important that the guitars had a very consistent construction. Obviously no two models could be exactly the same, but really if you played one guitar one day and another one the next, the difference was imperceptible. That's because of the material they're made from. There is no way that two wooden instruments can ever sound exactly the same, the wood has too much to do with the sound, whereas the plastic material of the Steinberger offered stability between guitars. As I said, I am tr ying to take guitar away from the usual sounds associated with the guitar into new areas, so I didn't want my guitar to have a characteristic sound. The other appealing features were the longer 25.5" scale length and the Gibson-like string spacing. I can't play with shorter scale lengths or with really wide guitar spacing like you get on heavy metal guitars.

The necks were also a bonus in that they feel very large and rounded, almost like half a baseball bat. The flatter necks you get on modern guitars don't really suit my playing. I cant seem to grip a neck properly if it's insubstantial."

The Steinberger provided the inspiration for Allan's current guitar.

"A guy called Bill DeLapp (sic) from Canada approached me with the possibility of making a guitar for me. He built an acoustic which was very light in construction with light strings, but could be very loud. There were problems with that but he also suggested building a Steinberger-based guitar using wood in construction. I had three built for me and I have been using them for around a year now, and they're surprisingly consistent in sound despite the use of wood. They are very similar in construction to a Steinberger, in that they have a hollow body. The neck is similar although it is slightly thicker." When I caught hint at London's Jazz Cafe, Allan was using one which had an alder body with an ebony neck and rosewood fingerboard.

He also uses a lot of processing to get his sound. "I use Boogies for the lead sound, with no real processing, but for the clean sound I use a lot of processors which help me to get a sound which is far away from a guitar as possible.

A lot of my playing is based on chord voicings which are very keyboard-like, and so a keyboard type of sound is better suited to my style than a distorted lead 'guitar' sound. Gibsons may suit a lot of people, but really if I got given one then its only function or use to me would be wallpaper - I'd just hang it on the wall to look at!'