Allan Holdsworth on Not Sweep-Picking…

January 29, 2010 | By | Reply More

Holdsworth_Allan_wsqSteinberger…and Not Needing To

In keeping with our picking theme this week, here’s more, this time from the one and only Allan Holdsworth.

In a 1990 Guitar Player magazine interview, he says he can’t sweep pick – which I’m assuming is true only because he doesn’t really want to because there’s nothing Allan can’t do on a guitar!

Instead, “I’ve practiced playing scales where you put the accent anywhere, whether on a note you pick or one you don’t. You can say, ‘I’m going to play four notes and accent the second note, but I’m only picking the first note.’ So you make the first a really gentle touch, and then you have to whack the string with your finger on the second. For the third you can be a little slower when it hits the fret, and so on, so that eventually you can put the accent where you want it.”

Got that, people?

“Over the years I’ve learned that by using the legato technique, I can physically play anything that anyone else can play any way, just by accenting unpicked notes and finding different fingerings.”

So that’s why he doesn’t need to sweep-pick. But “one problem with legato technique is that it tends to make you play all the notes running in one direction, and that’s something I tried to stop doing two or three years ago. I try not to play more than three or four notes going in one direction.”


If you know anything about Allan, you know that he wants his guitar to sound like a woodwind instrument, which means no clanging strings, fuzzy distortion or other traditional guitar-like sounds, like picking. On de-emphasizing the pick sound, he said:

“You have to make your finger hit the fret just a fraction of a second apart from when the pick strikes the string, and then it won’t have the front of the note. Like I said, I’ve practiced a lot to emphasize different notes – because I hated it when I used to listen to what I’d done, and I’d say,’ there’s the pick, there’s the hammer, there is the pick.’ I thought, Screw that. I want to make it so you can’t tell which one’s which.”

Well-executed, Allan! You, sir, are a monster – and I mean that in the best possible way.

Here’s Allan and Frank Gambale (no slouch either) both playing on the track “Rocks” from the 1990 MVP (The Mark Varney Project) album Truth In Shredding. And Yes, I believe Frank swee-picks in here!

Category: Allan Holdsworth, Fingering, Frank Gambale, Picking Technique

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