Personalities | Allan Holdsworth | The Mystifying Master | Guitar Heroes

Of all the guitar players of the last 40 years, none produce music as confounding yet beautiful as Allan Holdsworth (b. 1946). His blinding speed, fluid legato, impossible intervallic leaps, perplexing chord voicings and unpredictable melodies have made his style one of the most mystifying to guitarists everywhere.

Allan Holdsworth was born in Bradford, West Yorkshire, England. His father was a pianist, and thus taught young Allan, who picked up the guitar around the age of 15, the fundamentals of music. Early on, Holdsworth discovered the electric-guitar playing of jazz pioneer Charlie Christian and began learning his solos. Frustrated with his own lack of creativity in that process, however, he turned to revolutionary playing of saxophonist John Coltrane, whose ‘sheets of sound’ approach would have a profound and lasting effect on the guitarist. Holdsworth’s first professional recording came in 1969, with a mildly psychedelic jazz-pop outing titled ’Igginbottom’s Wrench, on which Holdsworth was already developing many of what would become his signature phrasing and improvisational tools. He then spent time in the Cream-inspired project Tempest, before returning to the fusion of Soft Machine, Tony Williams’ Lifetime, Jean-Luc Ponty and the progressive-rock supergroup UK.

By the late Seventies, Holdsworth decided to pursue a solo career and released his first album, I.O.U. (1982). An awe-inspiring jam with Eddie Van Halen led to a deal with Warner Bros., which released Holdsworth’s now-classic Road Games in 1983. Up to that point, Holdsworth had used primarily Fender Strats, Gibson SGs and Charvel ‘super-strats’. But after he released Metal Fatigue in 1985, Holdsworth discovered the SynthAxe MIDI guitar controller and, just as he had with the traditional guitar, he soon took guitar synthesis to new and exciting musical realms. Since then, Holdsworth has championed the Steinberger headless guitar and most recently developed the Carvin Allan Holdsworth signature-model guitar.

After nearly 20 solo albums and a five-year hiatus from the music industry, Holdsworth re-emerged in 2006, sounding as fresh and downright scary as ever, in time for a new generation of guitarists to ponder his other-worldly fretboard abilities. Since 2008, he has been touring with drummers Terry Bozzio, Pat Mastelloto and bassist Tony Levin as the experimental supergroup HoBoLeMa.

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