Skip to main content

Steve Vai on his favorite guitarist: "It's hard to realize how great he is - not many people understand"

(Image credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Awhile back, the gang over at Music Radar sat down with guitar legend Steve Vai and asked him to name "the 10 guitarists that blew his mind." You can check out this full list right here; but if you wanted to get right to the meat of the list - Vai's fave guitarist - read on.

"I very rarely agree with the term 'best guitar player'," Vai says. "It just seems so obscene to put something so subjective into a best category. But if I had to say there was one, I would pick Allan Holdsworth. He was unique in ways I don't think have been discovered yet."

Holdsworth, who graced the cover of Guitar World magazine in its early days, died April 16, 2017 at age 70. Following his death, GuitarWorld.com shared several Holdsworth-themed lessons and videos, many of which continue to baffle viewers, especially "Allan Holdsworth's 10 Most Useful Scales."

It features the following Holdsworth quote:

"As the chord changes go by, I don't so much think about a static chord voicing changing. I just see the notes on the neck change. For me, the only thing that makes one scale different from another is not the starting note; it's the separation of the intervals. For example, if it's a D minor major seven scale, the name I give the scale is only a means of identification. It's for no other purpose. So when I think of that scale, I don't think of it as starting on D; I think of it as starting on the lowest-available note on my instrument, which would be an E, and the highest-available note, which would be another E. That's basically how I think of scales."

I'm not ashamed to say it makes my brain sting when I start thinking about that paragraph; luckily, Vai puts it in perspective and makes me feel a little better:

"Many musicians can be considered ahead of their time, but usually - they're not," he says. "They're mainly ahead of everyone else at that time. For example, Jimi Hendrix wasn't ahead of his time; he was perfect for his time and ahead of everyone else. Allan Holdsworth was definitely ahead of his time because it's hard to realize how great he is - not many people actually understand. It takes time for us to catch up with those that are ahead of their time.

"The way he uses the whole tone scale is like his own baby shoes - it's so easy for him," Vai adds. "His thought process was phenomenal."

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month*

Join now for unlimited access

US pricing $3.99 per month or $39.00 per year

UK pricing £2.99 per month or £29.00 per year 

Europe pricing €3.49 per month or €34.00 per year

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Prices from £2.99/$3.99/€3.49

Damian Fanelli
Editor-in-Chief, Guitar World

Damian is Editor-in-Chief of Guitar World magazine. In past lives, he was GW’s managing editor and online managing editor. He's written liner notes for major-label releases, including Stevie Ray Vaughan's 'The Complete Epic Recordings Collection' (Sony Legacy) and has interviewed everyone from Yngwie Malmsteen to Kevin Bacon (with a few memorable Eric Clapton chats thrown into the mix). Damian, a former member of Brooklyn's The Gas House Gorillas (opens in new tab), was the sole guitarist in Mister Neutron (opens in new tab), a trio that toured the U.S. and released three albums (opens in new tab). He now plays in two NYC-area bands.