Early career and 1970s
Holdsworth first recorded in 1969 with the band
'Igginbottom on their lone release,
'Igginbottom's Wrench (later reissued under the group name of "Allan Holdsworth & Friends"). In 1971 he joined Sunship, an
improvisational band featuring keyboardist
Alan Gowen, future
King Crimson percussionist
Jamie Muir and bassist Laurie Baker. They played live but would never release any recorded material.
 Next came a brief stint with
jazz rock band
Nucleus, with whom Holdsworth played on their 1972 album, Belladonna; likewise with
progressive rock band
Tempest, on their self-titled first studio album in 1973.
 His playing can also be heard on a live
BBC Radio concert from that year, which was released several decades later in 2005 as part of Under the Blossom: The Anthology, a Tempest compilation album. There has been an urban myth, propagated in part by the singer
Donovan, that Holdsworth played the fuzztone solo on Donovan's 1968 hit "
Hurdy Gurdy Man"; however it has since been established that
Alan Parker was the session guitarist responsible.
During the middle part of the decade, Holdsworth went on to work with various well-known progressive rock and jazz fusion artists. These included
Soft Machine (
The New Tony Williams Lifetime (
Believe It and
Million Dollar Legs),
Pierre Moerlen's Gong (
Expresso II) and
Jean-Luc Ponty (
Enigmatic Ocean). He has often since expressed his enjoyment of the experience gained with all of these groups, in particular his time spent with drummer
 1976 brought about the first of Holdsworth's many frustrations with the music industry, when
CTI Records released a recording of a rehearsal session on which he played, passing it off as an official studio album entitled
Velvet Darkness. This angered Holdsworth, who said that he still loathes the album intensely and wished it were never made public.
As the 1970s wore on, Holdsworth was recruited by drummer and
Bill Bruford to play on his 1978 debut album,
Feels Good to Me. Shortly afterwards, Bruford formed the progressive rock supergroup
U.K. with keyboardist/violinist
Eddie Jobson and bassist
John Wetton; Holdsworth was brought in on the recommendation of Bruford. Despite getting along well with them personally and enjoying the recording of their 1978
self-titled album, Holdsworth claims that he "detested" his time spent with the group,
 and that it was "miserable" due to numerous musical differences whilst on tour, namely Jobson and Wetton's desire for Holdsworth to play his solos to an organised structure for each show, something to which he vehemently objected.
Whilst U.K. continued with different musicians, Bruford returned to the core line-up of his solo band now simply named Bruford, with Holdsworth retained as guitarist. Their second album,
One of a Kind, was released in 1979 and featured extensive contributions by Holdsworth, but by this point he wished to pursue his own musical aspirations and soon left the group, albeit with some reluctance.
Holdsworth's first significant collaboration was with jazz pianist
Gordon Beck on the latter's
Sunbird album in 1979. Their first collaborative release
The Things You See followed in 1980, and was a largely similar effort but without percussion or bass. Soon afterwards, Holdsworth joined up with drummer
Gary Husband and bassist Paul Carmichael in a trio that became known as False Alarm. This was Holdsworth's first outing as a bandleader and, after the acquisition of former Tempest singer Paul Williams, the band was renamed I.O.U. Their
self-titled debut album was released
independently in 1982, followed by a mainstream reissue through
Enigma Records in 1985.
Immediately after I.O.U.'s release, guitarist
Eddie Van Halen brought Holdsworth to the attention of
Warner Bros. Records executive
Mo Ostin. Van Halen had previously enthused about Holdsworth in a 1980 issue of
Guitar Player magazine, saying "That guy is bad! He's fantastic; I love him", and that Holdsworth was "the best, in my book".
 Furthermore, in a 1981 interview for
Guitar World magazine, he said that "To me Allan Holdsworth is number one".
This resulted in the Warner Bros. release of
Road Games in 1983. It was produced by longtime
Van Halen executive producer
Ted Templeman, and received a nomination for
Best Rock Instrumental Performance at the
1984 Grammy Awards. Holdsworth, however, has always disliked the
EP because of creative issues with Templeman.
Jack Bruce provided vocal duties on Road Games (Holdsworth and Bruce had played together with
Didier Lockwood and
David Sancious under the name A Gathering of Minds at
Montreux in 1982), whilst the latest incarnation of the I.O.U. band consisted of Paul Williams, drummer
Chad Wackerman (who, along with Husband, would become a regular Holdsworth bandmember for the next three decades) and bassist
Having relocated permanently to
Southern California and acrimoniously parted ways with Warner Bros.,
 Holdsworth signed to Enigma for the 1985 release of
Metal Fatigue (along with the aforementioned I.O.U. reissue). It was during this time that
Flim & the BB's bassist
Jimmy Johnson joined the band and, like Husband and Wackerman, has remained a regular member of Holdsworth's touring bands until his death. Making his last appearance on vocals was Paul Williams, with whom Holdsworth claims to have fallen out due to the selling of live
bootlegs by the former.
Atavachron album in 1986 was a landmark, in that it was the first to feature Holdsworth's work with a brand new instrument named the
SynthAxe. This unusually designed
 (different from a
guitar synthesizer) would become a staple of Holdsworth's playing for the next fifteen years, during which he would effectively become the public face of the instrument. The next year saw the release of a fourth album,
Sand, which featured no vocals and showcased further SynthAxe experimentation. A second collaboration with Gordon Beck,
With a Heart in My Song, followed in 1988.
In the late 1980s, Holdsworth set up his own recording studio named The Brewery in
North County, San Diego, which would become one of the main recording locations for all of his studio albums beginning with
Secrets in 1989, and throughout the 1990s. In a 2005 interview, he stated that he no longer owned the studio following his divorce in 1999.
 Secrets introduced pianist
Steve Hunt, who went on to play keyboard as a member of Holdsworth's touring band, and for two further albums.
A collaboration in 1990 with fusion guitarist
Frank Gambale came about in the form of
Truth in Shredding, an ambitious collaborative project put together by Mark Varney (brother of
Shrapnel Records founder
Mike Varney) through his Legato Records label.
 In December of that year, following the death of
Level 42 guitarist
Alan Murphy in 1989, Holdsworth was recruited by the band to play as a guest musician during a series of concerts at London's
Hammersmith Odeon. With former I.O.U. partner Gary Husband now being the drummer for Level 42, these factors all led to Holdsworth contributing guitar work on five tracks for their 1991 album,
 Holdsworth would also play on Chad Wackerman's first two studio albums,
Forty Reasons (1991) and
The View (1993).
Holdsworth's first solo album of the decade was 1992's
Wardenclyffe Tower, which continued to feature the SynthAxe but also displayed his newfound interest in self-designed
baritone guitars built by
luthier Bill DeLap.
 With the 1994 release of
Hard Hat Area, Holdsworth's touring band for that and the following year was composed of Steve Hunt, Husband and bassist
Skúli Sverrisson. A collaboration in 1996 with brothers
Jens Johansson resulted in
Heavy Machinery, an album with more hard-edged playing from Holdsworth than was usual. In the same year, he was once again joined by Gordon Beck on
None Too Soon, which comprised interpretations of some of Holdsworth's favourite jazz standards.
The decade began positively with the release of
The Sixteen Men of Tain in 2000, but it turned out to be Holdsworth's last album recorded at The Brewery. Immediately afterwards he abruptly slowed down his solo output due to events within his personal life.
 A pair of official live albums,
All Night Wrong and
Then!, were released in 2002 and 2003 respectively, along with a double compilation album,
The Best of Allan Holdsworth: Against the Clock, in 2005.
His eleventh album,
Flat Tire: Music for a Non-Existent Movie, was released in 2001. In a 2008 interview Holdsworth mentioned that a new studio album entitled Snakes and Ladders was slated for release in the same year through guitarist
Favored Nations label, but this did not happen. Further new material with Chad Wackerman and Jimmy Johnson was also said to be in the works.
 In a 2010 interview he claimed to have enough material for two albums, which he planned to begin recording after a show in
Throughout the latter half of the 2000s he extensively toured both North America and Europe, and played as a guest on albums by numerous artists. Notably, he was featured on keyboardist
Derek Sherinian's 2004 album
 as well as with the latter's
progressive metal supergroup
Planet X, on their 2007 album
In 2006 he performed with pianist
Alan Pasqua, Wackerman and bassist
Jimmy Haslip as part of a live tribute act in honour of the late Tony Williams; a DVD (Live at Yoshi's) and double album (Blues for Tony) of this tour were released in 2007 and 2009 respectively.
 Throughout 2008–10 he toured with drummers
Terry Bozzio and
Pat Mastelotto, and bassist
Tony Levin as
HoBoLeMa, a supergroup playing improvised experimental music. On 3 November 2011, Holdsworth performed in
Mumbai as part of drummer
Virgil Donati's touring band.
 The following year, Holdsworth joined Chad Wackerman for a third time on a studio album by the latter, for
Dreams Nightmares and Improvisations.
In 2015, Holdsworth launched a
PledgeMusic venture to release new studio material, as part of a collection named Tales from the Vault.
 The album, his final release, appeared in July 2016.