Brian May

Jump to: navigation, search
Brian May.
Brian May.



Born on the 19th July 1947, Brian Harold May is probably best known for his part in the Rock band Queen. He is also a qualified Astrophysicist. Famous for using his own hand-built guitar, ‘’’The Red Special’’’, he has been responsible for writing many Hit Records including:- "Tie Your Mother Down", "We Will Rock You", "Who Wants to Live Forever" and "Hammer to Fall".
Although he lives in Surrey, England he is the current Chancellor of Liverpool John Moore’s University, taking over from Cherie Blair in 2007 and he was officially installed in 2008.
In 2005 he was awarded the CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) for his ‘Services to the Music Industry.’
In Rolling Stone magazine’s list of ‘100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time’ May was ranked 39th.


May was born in Hampton, London, and attended the Hampton Grammar School. It was as a Student there that he formed his first band, called ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ after the George Orwell Novel of the same name. This was with Vocalist and Bassist Tim Staffell. May received a good education at Hampton Grammar and graduated with 10 GSE Ordinary Level passes and 4 Advanced Level passes in Mathematics, Applied Mathematics, Additional Mathematics and Physics.

May’s father, Harold, held a post as a Draughtsman for the Ministry of Aviation. He had been a life-long smoker of Cigarettes and because of this Brian dislikes the habit immensely. In more recent years he has even banned Smoking at his Indoor Concerts. (A trait also followed by Ry Cooder). May married English Actress Anita Dobson, who is mainly known for her role in the BBC Soap Opera ‘Eastenders’. She also released a single to the Theme tune of that show called ‘Anyone can fall in Love’, this single was also produced by May. It reached #4 in the UK in 1986.


After leaving Hampton Grammar School, May went on to Imperial College, London, where he studied Physics and Mathematics gaining a B. Sc (Hons) in both subjects. He also gained an ARCS with Upper Second-Class Honours.
He then proceeded to study for a Ph.D degree, also at the Imperial College London departments of Physics and Mathematics, and was part way through this Ph.D programme, studying reflected light from interplanetary dust and the velocity of dust in the plane of the Solar System, when Queen became successful.
It was at this point that he stepped back from his Doctorate but he did manage to co-author two scientific research papers. These were:- MgI Emission in the Night-Sky Spectrum (1972) and An Investigation of the Motion of Zodiacal Dust Particles (Part I) (1973), which were based on May's observations at the Teide Observatory in Tenerife.
Published in October 2006 he also co-authored with well known English Astronomer Patrick Moore and Chris Lintott, the book was called ‘Bang – The complete History of the Universe.’
A year later in October 2007 May finally finished the Doctorate that he had begun 30 years earlier and entered his Ph D Thesis in Astrophysics. It was entitled:- ‘A Survey of Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud’. He went on to pass his viva voca and, upon completing any necessary corrections, he officially Graduated. There was an awards ceremony for all Postgraduates held at the Royal Albert Hall on 18th May 2008.

As well as his Doctorate, May has even had an Asteroid named after him. It’s called Asteroid ‘52665 Brianmay’ and was named in his honour on 18 June 2008 on the suggestion of Sir Patrick Moore (probably influenced by the asteroid's provisional designation of 1998 BM30).


Brian with the 'Red Special'.
Brian with the 'Red Special'.

Although May has used a wide range of instruments he is perhaps best known for ‘The Red Special’, built by his father and himself when he was 16.
The mahogany used originally came from an 18th Century fireplace. (Could it be the adverse heating conditions that have given it ‘special’ tonal properties????)
In his own words he says:-

"I like a big neck – thick, flat and wide. I lacquered the fingerboard with Rustin's Plastic Coating. The tremolo is interesting in that the arm's made from an old bicycle saddle bag carrier, the knob at the end's off a knitting needle and the springs are valve springs from an old motorbike."

As well as this May is well known to use small coins instead of a normal plectrum, being especially fond of English ‘Sixpence’s’. He says that the extra rigidity gives him more control. (Billy Gibbons is also a well known user of currency for picking with!!!)

May cites his early heroes as being Cliff Richard and The Shadows, whom he has said were:-
'The most metallic thing out at the time.’
Years passed but he has managed to have the opportunity to play with both Cliff Richard and also The Shadows lead guitarist Hank Marvin.
On Queen For An Hour 1989 Interview on BBC Radio 1 May listed Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton as his guitar heroes.
He has also admitted to being ‘proud’ upon hearing that Cliff Richard had said, in an interview, that he would like to have May in his own, personal fantasy Band!!!

To demonstrate his diversity in musical situations, it should be pointed out that as well as being quite happy within The Shadows realm of the Rock and Roll spectrum May does sometimes step outside and do something slightly unexpected! A great example of which would be that in October 2000 May made a guest appearance at the Motörhead 25th Anniversary show at Brixton Academy along with Eddie Clarke (former Motörhead guitarist) for the encore song Overkill.

In Queen's three-part vocal harmonies, it was his voice that provided the lower-range backing vocal, although on certain of his songs he sings the lead vocal, most notably the first verse of Who Wants to Live Forever, the bridge on "I Want It All", "Some Day One Day", "All Dead, All Dead", "Long Away", "Leaving Home Ain't Easy", "Good Company", "Sleeping on the Sidewalk" and "'39."

In more recent times, May and Queen Drummer Roger Taylor had announced that they would go out on tour again for the first time in 18 years as Queen, along with Free/Bad Company vocalist Paul Rodgers. Billed as Queen + Paul Rodgers. This Tour was also accompanied by an Album ‘The Cosmos Rocks.’
As well as this May has also been busy Re-mastering all the original Queen material to produce various DVD a Greatest Hits releases.

In the Queen's birthday honours list of 2005, he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) ‘for services to the music industry’. In 2002, for the Queens ‘Golden Jubilee’ May had performed ‘God Save the Queen’ from the roof of Buckingham Palace.

Guitar Techniques.

May is well known for experimenting with new techniques constantly. Some techniques that we take for granted these days were in his repertoire many years ago. Some of these include:-
sweep picking ("Was It All Worth It", "Chinese Torture"),
tapping ("Bijou","It's Late","Resurrection", "Cyborg", "Rain Must Fall", "Business", "China Belle", "I Was Born To Love You"),
tape-delay ("Brighton Rock", "White Man")
He also employed more conventional techniques, such as:-
slide guitar ("Drowse", "Tie Your Mother Down"),
and Hendrix sounding licks ("Liar", "Brighton Rock").


Most of May's guitar work was done on the Red Special. However, he has used a number of other electric guitars, including a Burns Double Six,Gibson Les Paul
a Gibson Flying V
a Fender Telecaster
a Stratocaster copy
an Ibanez JS,
a Greco BM90,
a Tōkai Hummingbird Acoustic,
a Parker Fly and a Jackson Randy Rhoads.

In early Queen tours he had a Fender Stratocaster as a spare guitar but later replaced it with a Les Paul Deluxe in 1974. At this time he also had English Luthier John Birch build a replica of his Red Special. In a concert in the States on the 1982 Hot Space North American tour, he got frustrated with that instrument and smashed it, thereafter using a Gibson Flying V.
In 1984 Guild released it’s first attempt at an ‘Official Red Special’ replica for mass production. They also made some prototypes specifically for May.
Unfortunately for Guild, due to the solid body construction (Mays original RS has hollow cavities in the body) and the pickups being (DiMarzio) instead of exact replicas of the Burns TriSonic May was not overly happy with it and production stopped after just 300 guitars.

In 1993 Guild made a second replica of the RS, made in just 1000 copies, of which May has some and used as a backup. At the moment, he uses the 2 guitars made by Greg Fryer — the luthier who restored the Old Lady in 1998 — as backup. They are almost identical to the original, except for the Fryer logo on the headstock (May's original one has a sixpence).

For acoustic guitars, he mostly used Ovation 12-Strings, Martins, a Godin Thinline A-12 and a Gibson Chet Atkins for nylon-string parts.
May was keen on using some toys as instruments as well. He used a Yamaha plastic piano, a genuine George Formby Ukulele-Banjo in and a toy mini Koto.

May has used Vox AC-30 amplifiers almost exclusively since a meeting with his long time hero Rory Gallagher at a gig in London during the late 60s/early 70s.
Unlike Rory, May’s favoured choice is the model AC30TBX.
He used the Dallas Rangemaster for the first Queen albums whereafter effects guru Pete Cornish built for him the TB-83 (32dB of gain).
May switched in 2000 to the Fryer's booster, which actually gives less boost than the TB-83.

As his Live Set-up May uses grouped banks of AC30’s, where he keeps some for Guitar Only and others with all his effects. They are in 4 groups consisting of Normal, Chorus, Delay1 and Delay 2.
May has a custom switching unit, built by Cornish and modified by Fryer, situated on his Pedal board that controls which Amps are Active at any given time.
May is also known to use a 70’s Boss CE-1 Chorus Ensemble pedal as well.

Album Discography.

Studio Albums.

Queen ~ 1973
Queen II ~ 1974
Sheer Heart Attack ~ 1974
A Night at the Opera ~ 1975
A Day at the Races ~ 1976
News of the World ~ 1977
Jazz ~ 1978
The Game ~ 1980
Hot Space ~ 1982
The Works ~ 1984
A Kind of Magic ~ 1986
The Miracle ~ 1989
Innuendo ~ 1991
Made in Heaven ~ 1995

Live Albums.

Live Killers ~ 1979
Live Magic ~ 1986
Live at Wembley ~ 1992
Queen on Fire - Live at the Bowl ~ 2004
Queen rock Montreal ~ 2007

Compilation Albums.

Greatest Hits ~ 1981
Greatest Hits II ~ 1991
Queen Rocks ~ 1997
Greatest Hits III ~ 1999
The Platinum Collection ~ 2000

Some videos.

Bohemian Rhapsody.

Fat Bottomed Girls.

I'm going slightly mad.

Those were the days of our lives.

Related Lessons.

In the style of Brian May by David Wallimann.

--Sensible Jones 19:48, 15 October 2009 (CEST)