Other Players

Quality Time with Dr May


I can't help it, I just love this guy.

For one thing, he has the soothing speaking voice (and hair) to provide the comfort-listening we used to get from Bob Ross. Just queue up some Brian interviews and float away.

And of course he's one of the all-time giants of the guitar. But that's only a part of it. It's the story: his upbringing and family, building the guitar of a lifetime with his dad, the astrophysics, the holding it all together with grace and wit through a meteoric career, finishing his PhD, doing the real science, playing from the roof of Buckingham Castle for the Queen, his stereoscopic photography...just the whole package. Science, art, grace, humility and humanity.

Here's a wonderful visit, up close and personal with not only the Red Special but his first acoustic guitar, lots of guitar nuts and bolts (well-presented to a generalist audience at a book launch), some nice demo playing, and just Brian being Brian.



I've always liked Brian/Queen, but watching the movie Bohemian Rhapsody has made me an even bigger fan, and I want this book. I don't even care about the guitar itself so much, as I do about Brian's telling of it journey through life... from conceiving and building it with his dad, to it's travels around the world with Queen.


Thanks for posting. Brian is among my favorite people.


Wow, that guitar really has some unique sounds in it! And to think I've been happy with a tele 3-way switch all these years... LOL


Cool vid with Mr May demonstrating his delay technique... similar to in the Red Special video, but in this one he uses it for "faux harmonies". I know what I'll be doing later this afternoon!


Nice one.. I really need to concentrate more on playing on the 'dusty end'..


Getting our tickets this week to see Queen touring this summer. Can't wait. Even without Freddie, it'll be a great show like it was the last time. Dr. May still has great chops. Thanks for posting.


So now that we're well over the Mayvian event horizon, here's a rig rundown with both Brian and his tech; full explanation of what (3 main amps aside) is actually a very simple rig. Clearest and closest images of ol' Red I've ever seen.

And here's a Brazilian guitarist demo'ing the current popularly priced Brian May Guitars Red Special. All the sound demos come at the end, and they're fine. Before that, he goes over ever spec and feature of the BMG RS, and that's fine. (Subtitles for those of us who don't sprachen del lingo.)

But the real value (for me) are the photos in the first section of the construction details and guts of the original RS. You see how the Mays' minds were working when they built Excalibur.


Go see Queen. Amazing show, and Adam Lambert is totally respectful of Freddie. He tells the audience how grateful he is for this opportunity and that he knows that Freddie was and is irreplaceable.


Here, from 2001, Brian himself demos the Burns Brian May that came out about that time against the original RS, back to back, same settings. It's hard to tell which is which. If ever there was a proof that "tone is in the player," this is it.

I had a Burns Brian May for a couple of years, and liked it. But never at any time, in any way, did I sound remotely like Brian - even when I was trying. I concluded that Brian sounded like Brian in spite of the guitar, not because of it - or, rather, as his tech confirms above, that Brian sounds like Brian on any guitar he picks up. This should come as no surprise.

But, in truth, even with that sound, Brian sounds most like Brian when he's playing the unique bits he developed for Queen songs. When he's noodling generic blues-rock riffs (as he occasionally does in demos), he sounds like an older fella noodling blues-rock on a Strat through a cranked Vox.

All of which is not to say that BM isn't the magician he is. The magic, for me, resides in his pulling rabbits from the same hat that usually holds only lint, in summoning the genie from the tarnished lamp that's too often empty. It's in the arrangements, the voicings, the melodies and phrasing he finds to fit particular musical situations. It's the proof that genius resides not just in inspiration, but in sustained application of informed effort. He carved the sonic structures of Queen with a lot of hard work.

Neither do I mean to imply that the Red Special contributed nothing to his palette of tones. Its pickup and phase switches do make possible a wide range of sonic possibilities that the series wiring of the fatter-than-Strat Burns single coils optimizes. The secret sauce in many Queen (especially lead) tones comes from out-of-phase series combinations that just weren't (and still aren't) available on many guitars as they come from the factory.

I enjoyed that variety on my BM model - but in the end I recognized I could get those tones from other guitars (though not all in a single instrument), and I just wasn't often pulling the Burns out of its case. For me, it was effectively a warmed-up short-scale Strat, and that just wasn't compelling enough for me to keep it.

Also, as the videos make clear, Brian always uses the treble booster and dimes his amps at all times - and while he rarely uses the tone knob on the RS, he continually rides the volume knob to dial in whatever balance of clean and super-saturated, whatever sonic girth he wants at any moment. He also calibrates his right-hand touch, pence-angle to the strings, and picking location along the string to the musical moment. It's a thorough example of playing the amp as much as the guitar.

He clearly understands the physics which govern the interaction between the physical and electrical characteristics of the guitar, the space in which he's playing, and the behavior of the amp - and responds instinctively and intuitively to all of that. It's in the alchemy of all those relationships that he's found and developed his "voice," as he puts it.

But without the full-cranked saturation of a treble-boosted AC-30 - and his ease with the volume knob - the guitar itself is just an inert thing.

On the other hand (though with both hands), I play inertly through low-volume clean amps, mixing pedals for juice.

Very different approaches - his for concert halls and stadiums, mine for small rooms.

But I'm thinking about getting another Red Special, just because it's such a beautiful instrument. (Which does sound perfectly wonderful.)


Brian is so cool and they were all so smart and clever about the way they created music. The movie was awesome but it was more about Freddie than any of them.


Man, that BMG Special sounds killer.


Brian is so cool and they were all so smart and clever about the way they created music. The movie was awesome but it was more about Freddie than any of them.

– Suprdave

Yeah, I'd love to hear (read) more about how they functioned as a band; The 3 members should write a memoir. The "inner workings" of Queen, THE MUSIC.


All guitar players are the same...check out my axe, man.


Two vital, living and breathing immortal candidates for Mt Rockmore. Could it possibly get cooler?

It could not. It could not possibly get cooler.

Geez man.


Great video, I watched it all the way through. I've been a Queen fan from the beginning, and the Red Special has always intrigued me. I think many guitarists (who have reached the age of 50 or greater) have their own sort of "Red Special". That one guitar that even though we may not have built it, has been a part of us since the beginning, and we would never part with. I'm fortunate to have such a guitar, that I've been playing for almost 40 years. It's played countless gigs and still makes me feel the magic!


It's so good that he has two lyrical, musical, expressive voices in these films.

As you say Proteus, the guitar's volume control is everything.

It's funny how often he mentions Lonnie Donegan. You'd imagine skiffle was polite and a bit home-made and soppy. I did monitors for Lonnie, he was around 70 years old at the time. The music would start at a whisper and would build and build at an electrifying tempo, and it would end up like a runaway locomotive. It was utterly terrifying and would leave you breathless. What a relief when the train would miraculously pull up safely to the station at the song's conclusion, only to roar off again on another nightmare hurtle. Lonnie was brutal!

Magic photos Deed!


This thread just surpassed the coolness factor. Thanks, Miss. Deed.


Thanks to this thread, I spent a good chunk of my day reading about and looking at pictures of the Red Special. All I really knew about it was that it was made by Brian and his father. What a cool story and remarkable guitar, especially considering its origins and time. Found this cool pic...


Holy crap!!!! I've never seen a pic of Brian that young!!

This thread has made me want to own a Red Special, if only for awhile, for the experience.

Also ran across this in my searches today: http://www.bbesound.com/pro...


Brian originally used the Dallas Rangemaster, of which many clones have been made. Now he uses small, light plastic versions which are fastened to his guitar straps. The rig rundown showed a closeup, including manufacturer info.

Here's a 10-year-old article that covers the history and what was available then in the way of straight Rangemaster clones. (The article is a bit breathless and over-dramatic, but go with it.)

British Pedal Company makes a full-on historically accurate clone, shown in this rambling but effective demo. (Guy's concentrating on Clapton, who may or may not even have used one, but you can see and hear the pedal in flight.)

For a meandering, leisurely, noodly wander through traditional and modern takes on the treble boost, here's Dan & Mick. At least a couple of these are straight clones, others include various rolloff points to determine where the bottom end is peeled out.

And really, the boost starts somewhere in the midrange, so "treble" booster is a bit misleading. But the signal logic is clear: when you boost the full range of an amp into hard overdrive, the whole thing compresses and you lose dynamics and even color. And since bass frequencies take a lot more voltage than highs, the bass is mostly responsible for the compression, with the side-effect that it squeezes the highs as well. So...don't push the bottom end, just push the highs, and the amp remains more harmonically colorful and dynamically responsive.

So...Dan and Mick. I like these guys, but I do wish they'd wrap things a little tighter. I don't always have 50 minutes when I want to absorb some info.


Agree on Dan & Mick- they're great, but take way too much time.... altho if a couple of us were in a room with that many cool pedals, we'd likely take even LONGER than they do LOL

I bought a Keeley Java Boost because of that video. It wasn't for me, so now I'm not sure treble boosters are for me in general...? IDK


Yeah, I don't know either. I've learned through multiple experiences (which took me longer to process than they should have) that I generally don't bond with Keeley pedals. I like the guy, and everything he's accomplished - but I no longer have any Keeley products. And, alas, it took me only a couple weeks to realize the DM Drive wasn't for me, either.

So I don't know if Dan-Mick experiences are applicable to my situation. I love it that Dan is so enthusiastic about almost everything - and indeed both he and Mick are (when they get down to it) great players, each in his own way, so they make everything sound good. (Also, when you watch for almost an hour, you have no other context for comparison.)

But I wonder how LOUD they are in that room, and it's worth noting that they almost always use big and/or boutique amps, usually more than one at a time, and I wonder if gear doesn't respond in that situation differently than it would in mine.

For all those reasons, I wouldn't conclude from an unsatisfactory experience with the Java that treble boosting isn't a good thing for me. Of those in this shootout, the Plosive May Boost was my favorite (loved the capacitor bank). But it appears to be made of obsolete unobtainium. My second favorite was the little Analogman Beano Boost - but guess what? 350.00, used, on Reverb! Cwazy.

As we've discussed before, I almost never get the chance to wind an amp all the way out - but you tried it, didn't you, Ruger, and find it gave you plenty of clean-up dynamics with just the guitar's volume control? That's the ideal environment for the classic use of a treble booster. But Dan makes the useful point toward the end of the segment that a treble booster into a full range boost, then into a clean pedal-platform amp yields the same magic as a pedal booster in front of a cranked amp. That would work for me.

I don't know why I'm looking. I've come into a couple pedal/preamps in the last several months which had (I thought) completely quenched my desire for further experiments in gain factoring. Likewise, I've romped through gobs of fuzzes and collected a few, better than which I can't imagine. So I think I'm done looking for overdrive, distortion, and fuzz. Really, every time I play the stuff I have I get happier and happier.

In the past I've done something like treble boosting by dialing in EQ to push some frequency bands and dump others, and that was worked. But the Dr May crash course has me thinking a dedicated treble booster is a thing I might still sometimes usefully deploy.

First world problems: having to dig for something to want.

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