Guitar Player (1998)

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Allan Holdsworth's joy of intervals. 1 April 1998

FEW GUITARISTS HAVE AS identifiable a sound as Allan Holdsworth. In our Dec. '82 cover story, he shared his sonic secrets.

Q: How did you develop your wide hand stretches?

AH: Most of the time when guitarists play scales, they fret the notes consecutively. I wanted to avoid that by playing intervals that were spaced further apart. I use the same scales and chords, I'm just juggling the tones. I don't like conventional guitar voicings. I love listening to jazz guitar, for example, but I quickly tire of the chord voicings. I decided that if I was going to get some chord things together I might as well play something other than the Jazz Book One or even jazz Book Ten types of chords, listening to piano players, I heard much more inventiveness in the voicings.

Q: Do you relate your solos to chord changes?

AH: I break a solo down to see the chord progression, find out what scales I can use, and see if I can superimpose harmony—such as a triad on top of another triad. To play something, I need to see it in my mind's eye. I don't make any rules and I don't divide the neck up. It's all one.

Q: How do you get your trademark legato sound?

AH: I use a lot of hammers and pulls. My pull-offs aren't conventional, though. I never pull my finger sideways because when you do, you get a meowing sound. I detest that sound. I've practiced hard not to play like that. Instead of coming off sideways, my fingers drop directly on and off the strings like I'm tapping them.

Q: Do you ever fall into slumps?

AH: I'm sure everyone falls into slumps where no matter how hard you try, you fall back on things you've already learned. Keep going. You have to persist, and out of sheer frustration come out the other side.