Brian May’s Original Home Made Red Special Pickups

Before he fitted the three Burns Tri-Sonic pickups to his Red Special guitar which feature in all Queen recordings and live concerts, Brian made his own pickups with his father Harold’s guidance. He discussed them in an interview with Simon Bradley for the Red Special book in which they featured in Chapter 6: Revisiting The Past. You can read the transcript on the official Red Special website which is maintained by Simon:

Brian and Harold’s original design sketch for the pickups dated 28 November 1962 survived and you can see a high resolution image on the official Red Special website. The sketch shows that this is design No. 3 and consists of a paxolin base, three cylindrical button magnets measuring 1/2″ diameter by 3/8″ height and a white melamine top cover. Each pickup measures 2 5/8″ wide × 1 1/16″ × 1/2″ high.

The coil itself is wound onto a cardboard former which fits around the magnets. The two ends of the coil pass through the base and are attached to two tinned brass solder tags set flush into the base. The magnets are secured into the base using 6BA (British Association) thread brass machine screws. The outer part of the coil is protected by wrapping black plasticard (thin styrene sheet) around the edge (I used white plasticard in the video above). The pickups are mounted onto the guitar body by two central brass screws which mate with 6BA Hank rivet bushings inset into the neck tenon and blockboard to give an electrical contact. Short sections of wire pass into the control cavity where they are soldered onto six polarity posts made from the threaded section of brass machine screws.

Andy Guyton fitted a set to the Red Special replica that he made to Brian’s original specification for his 70th birthday in July 2017. These was made by Ade Turner of Adeson Pickups. Julian Hemingway made a similar instrument some years previously and he demonstrates them in a video on his YouTube channel:

Some aspects of the design are not clear from Brian’s original sketch. Specifically, how many turns are in the coil. The sketch just states “3,000 to 6,000” which is a very wide range. Brian revealed that the pickups made an unacceptable swooshing noise when he bent the strings and he suspected that this was because of the alternating N-S N-S N-S poles arrangement. To get a uniform magnetic field with the six poles of all three button magnets north on top, you would either have to cut a quantity of magnets in half and reassemble them which is what Julian Hemingway did with his, or repolarise them by applying a strong magnetic field.

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