The "Red Special" - Built by Brian May of Queen

Brian May pic 2

Brian May in his younger years, left school and went to university and went four years into a PhD into what is now known as Astrophysics. Unlike the primary instruments of most musicians, the Red Special was built by May along with his father. They began to work on the guitar in August 1963, with the project taking two years to complete. The neck was constructed from wood from an approx. 100 year old fireplace mantel, that a friend of the family was about to throw away. The neck was hand-shaped into the desired form, a job that was made more difficult by the age and quality of the wood. According to May, there are two wormholes in the neck of the guitar.


The neck was finished with a 24-fret oak fingerboard. Each of the position inlays was hand shaped from a mother of pearl button. May decided to position them in a personal way: two dots at the 7th and 19th fret and three at the 12th and 24th.

The body was made from oak from an old table, block board (strips of softwood sandwiched between two plywood skins) and mahogany veneer; the final result was technically a semi acoustic guitar the central block is glued to the sides and covered with two mahogany sheets to give it the appearance of a solid-body guitar. White shelf edging was then applied as binding. It was then completed with three pick-ups and a custom-made bridge. May purchased a set of Burns tri sonic pick-ups but re-wound them with reverse wound/reverse polarity and "potted" the coils with Araldite epoxy resin to reduce micro phonics. He originally wound his own pick-ups, as he had for his first guitar, but he did not like the resulting sound because of the polarity of these pick-ups: alternating North-South instead of all North.

The tremolo system is made from an old hardened-steel knife-edge shaped into a V and two motorbike valve springs to counter the string tension. The tension of the springs can be adjusted by screwing the bolts, which run through the middle of the springs, in or out via two small access holes next to the rear strap button. To reduce friction, the bridge was completed with rollers to allow the strings to return perfectly in tune after using the tremolo arm. The arm itself was from a bicycle saddlebag holder with a plastic knitting needle tip.For the same reason, at the other end of the neck the strings pass over a zero fret and through a bakalite string guide.

Originally the guitar had a built-in distortion circuit, adapted from a mid-1960s Vox distortion effects. The switch for this was in front of the phase switches. May soon discovered that he preferred the sound of a Vox AC30 distorting at full power, so the circuit was removed. The switch hole is now covered by a mother-of-pearl star inlay, but was originally covered by insulation tape.

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