#36 – Allan Holdsworth

Category

Guitar

About This Project

Few would argue the fact that Allan Holdsworth is one of the most influential guitarists ever, regardless of genre. Fact is, he got me into building guitars in the first place. In a Guitar Player Magazine article from December 1982, he described how he had gotten a guitar made out of Jelutong by Grover Jackson at Charvel. I had just completed turning a bowl made out of Jelutong in wood shop at school and realized that perhaps I could do it! I still own that guitar today.

I have been to several Holdsworth gigs over the years in various places, but met him in person for the first time in 2006 in Huntington Beach. I had stepped off the plane from Sweden that same day and went straight from LAX, jet-lagged, to watch the band set up, sound check, and ultimately play the set. I pulled him aside and showed him pictures of the guitars I had built 20 years before and he politely watched and commented.

When the current incarnation of .strandberg* was born, late 2007, the initial focus was on hardware. A set of string locks went out to Rick Canton, who was building a guitar for Allan at the time. There was some issue with the TransTrem III, and they thought that my string locks might take care of it and use conventional strings. But this would have been the first time Allan heard of me, I suppose. I later bumped into him at NAMM 2011, but he was in a rush, and again at NAMM 2012, where I simply stuck a guitar in his hands. He commented on how light it was and said “We have to talk”.

Fast forward to October 2012, when he played Uppsala International Guitar Festival, and I had a chance to meet him again in my hometown. He has just come from a gig in Oslo, where he had been exposed to True Temperament by a journalist who interviewed him there. Luckily, I still had #26, which I brought along with #35, my Varberg Tremolo demo guitar. He enjoyed the sound, weight and feel of both guitars very much, but the stumbling block was the clearance between the E-strings and the edge of the fretboard, which was too small on both guitars. He also commented that he liked the tremolo construction. Many conventional tremolos have a tendency to not return exactly to the neutral position when released. The Steinberger construction with a single pressure spring does suffer from this, whereas my needle-bearing hinged construction with conventional pull springs is less susceptible to it.

So we agreed that I would build him a guitar that featured my patent pending EndurNeck(tm) with his preferred neck width, the True Temperament fretting system, and a Seymour Duncan 59B pickup. That was the entire design brief. I promised delivery by NAMM 2013 time, i.e. less than three months away. Inventory of materials was short, and there was no time to buy new wood to rest in my workshop and still meet the deadline, so I had to take what was available. A formula for success in my designs is a dense/hard top and light stiff body. I had some nice lightweight beautifully flamed Maple for the neck and a Bubinga top laying around, and Swamp Ash, which is what I use a lot. But I had my mind set on Alder to get a middier sound, so I went to look locally if I could find some in my “climate zone”. There was no Alder to be found, but there was Aspen, which I have been dying to try. It is far from common as a tonewood – in fact, it is primarily used for matches in Sweden. The tap tone of the blank I cut was amazing, so I decided to risk it. It was a very odd wood to work with. Suddenly, when milling, pockets of air would be uncovered, but I carried on since there was no time to find a replacement. The fretboard was completed first and sent off to True Temperament for routing. In parallel, I completed the neck and body, and after gluing the fretboard on, the guitar was completed without frets and returned to True Temperament for the fretwork. It came back with the perfect setup and insanely low action.

The results can be seen below. As all .strandberg* guitars, the result is lightweight (about 4 lbs) and very resonant. It responds immediately to any touch and the tone disappears immediately when you mute it. Sustain is up there with the best, and all together, it is the perfect instrument for legato playing. Aspen proved a perfect choice for a good bite in terms of tone, with lots of mids that are further carried by the Duncan 59 pickup. I couldn’t help showing it for the first couple of days at NAMM 2013 in my booth, so some of you will actually have played it.

On Monday after NAMM, it was finally time to deliver it. I went to Allan’s house in San Juan Capistrano and we shared a beer before unveiling the guitar. He was very pleased with literally everything about it: the look, feel, weight, resonance and tone (actually, he would probably move the strap button, so not pleased with everything). Likening trying a new guitar with trying on new underwear – a very private matter – I left him a while later to have dinner and return back to Anaheim and pack my suitcase to go home to Uppsala. We agreed that I would give him a few days and then call to hear how it sounded plugged in and how he liked it. But only a half hour or so later, he called in the middle of my dinner and let me know how awesome it sounded. My ultimate reward will be hearing it recorded or seeing it on stage – I hope one or both of these events will happen.