Any Holdsworth fans here?


Hi, I’ve been an Allan Holdsworth fan for almost two decades. I especially dig his SynthAxe stuff, tracks like Distance vs Desire, Against the Clock, Secrets, Eidolon etc. I figured out some licks in fifths tuning which Allan often used playing SynthAxe. The fifths tuning is achievable on a hexaphonic guitar system with one of Roland guitar synths.

Eidolon is my favourite, I transcribed the solo many years ago — I mean I just wrote down all the notes, but I’m not quite sure about the fingerings. Allan seems to be using standard tuning here, but some phrases seem to be difficult/impossible to execute at that speed. For instance, check out the Bb major arpeggio, followed by Ab arpeggio at 2:25 in the video below. How did he play that? Very enigmatic.

I wonder if anyone tried to learn his SynthAxe tunes and solos (I’m not talking about Allan’s guitar stuff here), and understand the logic and fingerings behind them. Google search gives surprisingly few results about this.

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I recently got into Allan’s music through modern players that mention him a lot as their influence. I never even considered trying playing his stuff, he was an extraterrestrial being with a human disguise.

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When Allan played the Synthaxe it was usually tuned in fifth, like violin, cello … There’s an interview out there where he said he had to relearn the “Non Brewed Condiment” theme on the guitar and it was a bitch to play with standard tuning.

Now I’m not sure Eidolon was performed on Synthaxe. It’s possible he used a Roland synth controller for some synth stuffs on that album.

[edit] sorry … for some reason I did not pay attention to the beginning of your post about synthaxe/tuning.


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I’m sure that if the Eidolon solo was played live, it was played on the SynthAxe. Allan’s playing style is heavily based on legato, and pitch-to-MIDI technology doesn’t respond very well to legato playing. Allan said in some interview that pitch-to-MIDI technology’s delays are unacceptable for him. Devices like VG-88 etc. are better in this regard, but still aren’t that smooth as the SynthAxe. (I’ve several Roland synth units; never have touched a SynthAxe of course.)

Speaking of the “16 men of tain” album in general, I think that the head on “Downside up” is performed through some sort of VG synth – not the SynthAxe and not a pitch-to-MIDI device. But that’s just my opinion.


Thanks for the videos. I think I missed one word in my original post (I should edit it) – my intention was to talk specifically about SynthAxe solos. Allan’s guitar stuff, while being very unique and original, seems easier to decipher for me. I think that’s because SynthAxe is easier to play – picking isn’t necessary at all, and speed is basically limited with the left hand only.

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It would probably make sense indeed. btw what makes you believe that it was regular guitar tuning ( as opposed to 5th) on that one - if I understand your OP correctly ?

re: Allan solo on Synthaxe. You might try to transcribe his solo of ‘Maid Marion’. One of my favorite, totally classy. It has some great runs, and typical holdsworthian melodic twists. Also the one he played on the Alex Masi album was great.


Because I once went through the whole solo, applying the phrases to guitar neck, and for the most part it is quite playable and convenient (however too fast) in regular tuning, and unplayable in 5ths tuning. Maybe I’ll post couple of licks later. But! There are some moments in this solo for which I couldn’t find convenient fingerings, like aforementioned major arpeggios.

Well, I did. :slight_smile: Long time ago (like in 2003, as well as Eidolon). As far as I remember, it seems to be in regular tuning too.

Maybe he switched SynthAxe tunings on the fly? I had this thought, but haven’t found any info.

Haven’t heard this one.

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Track is called ‘Cold Sun’. Very 80s sounding/dated, but the solo holdsy did is great.

Also … did you listen to the solo he did for that cover of ‘Highway Star’ from a band named ‘Snew’ ? It’s (to me) quite funny that one and totally awesome.


One thing about the Synthaxe tuning… it’s possible that Allan Holdsworth used mixed 5th/4ths tuning. That would explain why you have hard times figuring out fingerings. Most of his Synthaxe solo sound to me very expanded range-wise, more than a regular tuning could cover, but I may be wrong on this. It would be interesting to figure out the lower and higher pitches in the solo to give a clue. I happen to use Joni Mitchell tuning on one of my acoustic (lots of her tunings have the top 3 strings tuned in 5ths, and variations for the other 3) and you can get that vibe, sort of.

For the record I did a transcription of the “Mac Man” theme and is on YT.

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Yes, I like that solo too.

I came across the old short recording of mine improvising in fifths tuning using Roland GR-30. It’s relatively easy to achieve Holdsworthian sounds with this tuning, check it out:

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That’s really great sounding!

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Ok, maybe you’ll like this one too, also fifths tuning :slight_smile: That’s Boss GP-10.


That would be totally mind boggling :astonished: I mean, to be able to “see” all these tunings on the neck.


Yeah, but it wouldn’t surprise me from AH. Remember he used to play the violin in addition to the guitar. So a mixed tuning 5th/4th for 6 strings might even have been kind of ‘logical’ for him.


By the way, speaking of Allan’s violin playing – his violin solos (too bad there are only a few) are beautiful. I’ve read in an interview that he once bought an old violin, tried to play it and it felt instantly natural to him. Amazing.


I agree. Too bad he did not make more of it. He was really good.