Brian May Red Special Specifications

The table below compares the specifications of Brian May’s original Red Special guitar with the two official commercial replicas: the high end BMG and KZ Super and the budget range BMG Special. Read on for some facts and insights into the original guitar and two YouTube videos in which Brian talks about building the guitar and its unique design and features. The information presented on this page is accurate to the best of my knowledge or indicative where original data is not known or specifications vary (e.g. pickup electromagnetic characteristics). It was compiled primarily from official sources such as the Brian May Guitars website and the Red Special book and cross-checked against guitars I currently own (2004 Burns Special, serial no. BHM 4787, Guyton RS Transporter), or previously owned (2009 BMG Special, serial no. BHM 09644, RSCG 64 Supreme) and information I gleaned or elucidated while conducting background research to support my Red Special build project.

Original Red SpecialBMG Super & KZ SuperBMG Special
Body designTwo bout, acoustic chamberedTwo bout, acoustic chamberedTwo bout, acoustic chambered
Body constructionPine core 3/4″ thick blockboard; upper and lower sections reinforced with reclaimed oak inserts, glued and screwed, veneered with 3/128” (0.6 mm) mahogany marquetry veneerMahogany main section with 5 mm thick ‘lid’, glued only, veneered with book-matched quarter sawn veneerMahogany main section with 5 mm thick ‘lid’, glued only
Body depth1 9/16″ (40 mm) veneered 1 9/16″ (40 mm) veneered 1 9/16″ (40 mm)
Body finishFurniglas Red Mahogany wood stain
Rustins Plastic Coating brush-on, two part clear gloss lacquer
Gloss polyurethane clear lacquerVintage cherry tinted polyurethane lacquer
Manufacturer, Country of OriginBrian and Harold May, Feltham, Middlesex, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandKZ Guitarworks, Japan (KZ Super)
New Bohemia Electric Corp., Czech Republic (BMG Super)
World Musical Instruments Co. Ltd, South Korea
Neck styleDovetail mortise and tenon joint secured with one 5/16” x 1 1/2” bolt and two large (#12 x 1 1/4”) slotted wood screwsSet (glued) mortise and tenon jointSet (glued) mortise and tenon joint
Neck materialMahogany timber reclaimed from a Victorian fireplace surround (likely Swietenia mahogani)Quarter sawn mahogany tonewood (Swietenia macrophylla)Swietenia, Khaya or Sapele timber
Neck pitch1.5-2.0°1.5-2.0°0.0°
Truss rod typeSteel compression type, 18 1/4” long, 3/16″ diameter steel rod, hand madeDual action, length not availableDual action, 17 5/16” (440 mm)
Headstock styleLozenge shape, 3” (76 mm) wide, no inlays, 1993 “Back to the Light” sixpence adornment, rear voluteLozenge shape, 3” (76 mm) wide, mother-of-pearl “MayStar” & Super signature inlays, rear voluteLozenge shape, 3” (76 mm) wide with Brian May signature decal, no rear volute
Headstock angle
Neck width at the nut1 13/16″ (46 mm)1 13/16″ (46 mm)1 13/16″ (46 mm)
Neck width 12th fret2″ (51 mm)2″ (51 mm)2 3/32″ (53 mm)
Neck width 24th fret2 1/16″ (52.4 mm)2 1/16″ (52.4 mm)2 1/4″ (57 mm)
Neck thickness 2nd fret1 3/64″ (26.5 mm)1 3/64″ (26.5 mm)7/8″ (22 mm)
Neck thickness 14th fret1 11/64″ (29.8 mm)1 11/64″ (29.8 mm)15/16″ (24 mm)
Fretboard radius7 1/4″ (184 mm)7 1/4″ (184 mm)9″ (229 mm)
Scale length24″ (610 mm)24″ (610 mm)24″ (610 mm)
Number of frets242424
Fretwire gaugeGibson style medium standard: 3/32” (2.4 mm) crown width x 3/64” (1.2 mm) crown heightJim Dunlop 6130 18% Nickel/Silver: 0.106” (2.7 mm) crown width x 0.036” (0.914 mm) crown heightMedium jumbo 18% nickel/silver
0.106” (2.7 mm) crown width x 0.036” (0.914 mm) crown height
Fretboard material and finishReclaimed oak, black painted, lacqueredDiospyros genus (ebony), unlacqueredMacassar ebony, unlacquered
Fretboard inlays1/4” diameter discs hand made from mother-of-pearl buttons at 3rd, 5th, 9th, 15th, 17th and 21st frets (single central dot), 7th and 19th frets (two dots), 12th and 24th frets (three dots)Mother-of-pearl discs at 3rd, 5th, 9th, 15th, 17th and 21st frets (single central dot), 7th and 19th frets (two dots), 12th and 24th frets (three dots)6 mm mother-of-pearl discs at 3rd, 5th, 9th, 15th, 17th and 21st frets (single central dot), 7th and 19th frets (two dots), 12th and 24th frets (three dots)
Nut arrangementZero fret with Bakelite string guideZero fret with Graph Tech Black TUSQ-XL string guideZero fret with graphite string guide
StringsOptima Gold Brian May 2028BM
(0.009, 0.011, 0.016, 0.024, 0.032, 0.042)
D’Addario EXL120 Nickel Wound Super Light plain steel
(0.009, 0.011, 0.016, 0.024, 0.032, 0.042)
D’Addario EXL120 Nickel Wound Super Light plain steel
(0.009, 0.011, 0.016, 0.024, 0.032, 0.042)
String spacing at nut1 9/16” (39.7 mm)1 9/16” (39.7 mm)1 15/32” (37.5 mm)
String spacing at bridge2″ (51 mm)2″ (51 mm)2 1/8″ (54 mm)
Tuning machinesOriginally Teisco banjo tuners
Now Schaller M6 locking, chrome 3L3R
Gotoh Magnum Lock 3L3RGrover 406 Mini Locking Rotomatic 3L3R
Tuner buttonsGotoh small pearloid ‘butter bean’ styleGotoh small pearloid ‘butter bean’ styleChromed brass ‘half moon’ style
Neck pickupBurns Tri-Sonic, 7.0 kΩ DCR, inductance 1.6 H, magnet north polarity, baseplate removed and coil potted with two part epoxy resinArmstrong Pickups made replica vintage spec. Burns Tri-Sonic, 7.0 kΩ DCR, inductance 1.6 H, magnet north polarity, baseplate removed and coil potted with two part epoxy resinBHK made Tri-Sonic, 6.5-7.0 kΩ DCR, inductance 2.0 H, magnet north polarity
Middle pickupBurns Tri-Sonic 7.4 kΩ DCR, inductance 2.3 H, magnet south polarityArmstrong Pickups made replica vintage spec. Burns Tri-Sonic 7.4 kΩ DCR, inductance 2.3 H, magnet south polarityBHK made Tri-Sonic, 6.5-7.0 kΩ DCR, inductance 2.0 H, magnet south polarity
Bridge pickupBurns Tri-Sonic 7.1 kΩ DCR, inductance 2.2 H, magnet north polarityArmstrong Pickups made replica vintage spec. Burns Tri-Sonic 7.1 kΩ DCR, inductance 2.2 H, magnet north polarityBHK made Tri-Sonic, BHK made Tri-Sonic, 6.5-7.0 kΩ DCR, inductance 2.0 H, magnet north polarity
Bridge hardwareHand made aluminium saddles and grooved rollersWilkinson roller bridgeFender style adjustable chromed bridge saddles
Tremolo (vibrato) system hardwareCustom made mild steel floating tailpiece, steel fulcrum plate, carbon steel valve springs, slotted hex head mild steel set screws (1/4” thread, 2 3/4” long), custom made brass spring cupsMild steel floating tailpiece, steel fulcrum plate, carbon steel springs, slotted hex head mild steel set screws (M6 thread)Wilkinson WVP knife edge tremolo bridge, three springs/claw plate anchor
Tremolo (vibrato) armCustom made from a bicycle saddlebag holder (3/16” diameter chromed steel bar), brazed to a brass mounting bushing, tip turned from a grey plastic knitting needleCustom authentic style arm 5 mm stainless steel bar brazed to a brass mounting bushing, Fender style plastic tipCustom style short arm, 5 mm chromed steel bar, Fender style plastic tip
Strap buttonsBurns vintage style, chromed brassBurns vintage style, chromed brassChromed brass standard style
Volume controlOriginally 220 kΩ nominal value, (actual value 237 kΩ) log taper Omeg rotary potentiometer, replaced by an equivalent modern Bourns rotary potentiometer in 2013 then a dual gang KAT ‘Superpot’ in 2018
Lathe-turned, aluminium ‘top hat’ style control knob with straight knurl pattern
250 kΩ log taper rotary potentiometer.
Lathe-turned, billet stock aluminium ‘top hat’ style control knob with straight knurl pattern
250 kΩ log taper rotary potentiometer.
Lathe-turned, billet stock aluminium ‘top hat’ style control knob with straight knurl pattern
Tone controlSimple treble cut circuit, originally a 220 kΩ log taper Omeg pot, replaced by an equivalent modern Bourns potentiometer in 2013 and then deleted from circuit in 2018 when the KAT ‘Superpot’ was fittedSimple treble cut circuit, 250 kΩ log taper potentiometerSimple treble cut circuit, 250 kΩ log taper potentiometer
Tone capacitorTCC Metalmite PIO (paper-in-oil), nominal value 22 nF, (actual value 31 nF) ‘Orange drop’ 22 nF polyester film22 nF polyester film
Selector switchesOn/off switch and phase reversal switch for each pickup
Double pole, double throw (DPDT) Jeanrenaud parallel slide type, white actuators mounted on a custom made folded aluminium frame
On/off switch and phase reversal switch for each pickup
Double pole, double throw (DPDT) Switchcraft 46200 LRX series parallel slide type, white actuators, mounted on an aluminium control plate
On/off switch and phase reversal switch for each pickup
Double pole, double throw (DPDT) Switchcraft style generic parallel slide type, white actuators, mounted directly on the underside of the pickguard
Pickguard set1/8” thick gloss black acrylic (Perspex) pickguard and semi-circular tremolo cavity cover with a semi-bevelled outer edge
1.75 mm thick pickup surrounds and truss rod adjuster bolt cover
1/8” thick gloss black acrylic (Perspex) pickguard and semi-circular tremolo cavity cover, 45° fully bevelled outer edge
2.0 mm thick pickup surrounds and truss rod adjuster bolt cover
3.0 mm thick black ABS (acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene) plastic pickguard and semi-circular faux tremolo cavity cover, truss rod adjuster bolt cover, no pickup surrounds
CaseOriginally a plywood rectangular flight case with foam inserts, now a carbon fibre contoured case so the guitar can be personally conveyed by Pete MalandroneBMG branded fitted Hiscox Liteflite hard case (BMG Super)
Leather covered rectangular flight case (KZ Super)
BMG branded gig bag standard, optional BMG branded fitted Hiscox Liteflite hard case
Mass8 lbs (3.6 kg)8.7 lbs (3.9 kg)7 lbs (3.2 kg)
Cost when new£17.45 in 1963 (“Queen and I: The Brian May Story”, Laura Jackson, 2007)
Equivalent to £374 in 2020 (average 5.5% inflation)
£2,950 inc. 20% U.K. sales tax, 2021 price (BMG Super)
£2,495 inc. 17.5% U.K. sales tax at launch in January 2008, ¥550,000 or ¥577,500 in Japan (KZ Super)
£745 inc. 20% U.K. sales tax, 2021 price
Body widthApproximately 13 7/8” (352.4 mm)14” (355.6 mm)14” (355.6 mm)
Body length 16” (406 mm) 16” (406 mm) 16” (406 mm)
Brian May Red Special Guitars Specifications Comparison Table

These two interviews for Premier Guitar and Absolute Radio respectively, in which Brian talks about building the Red Special and discusses its design and features are the most insightful and show the guitar in the best detail in my opinion:

Red Special Trivia

  • The original Red Special has been refurbished twice having been given a significant overhaul and repair for the first time in 1998 by Greg Fryer and then again in April 2016 by Andrew Guyton. Along with other enthusiasts attending the 2017 meet-up at Theale Village Hall, I was fortunate to see a video detailing the repairs Andy carried out. I hope one day that he has time to edit a final version and release the video.
  • The case was originally a plywood rectangular flight case but is now a bespoke carbon fibre contoured case so Brian’s tech, Pete Malandrone can carry it around (it gets its own seat on flights!)
  • The Red Special has never been refretted, although the zero fret was replaced by Andrew Guyton in 2005 (see discussion at Haze Guitars regarding the zero fret)
  • The mother-of-pearl ‘MayStar’ inlay on the main pickguard was made by Greg Fryer in 1998 to cover up the hole for the red plastic switch actuator of the Vox distortion unit which Brian originally fitted to the guitar. Prior to this adornment, Brian simply covered the hole with a red paper disc and then a square of black reinforced ‘gaffer’ tape.
  • The Red Special isn’t red… it’s an orangey brown. It used to be redder but the redder chromophores in the Furniglas Red Mahogany wood stain have broken down/faded over the years. The chatoyancy (‘cat’s eye’) effect of the mahogany veneer causes incident light to reflect off the surface at different angles which accentuates redder or browner hues.
  • The body construction method is reminiscent of cabinet making techniques: two sections of 3/4″ (19 mm) thick are blockboard glued and screwed together then veneered over with 3/128″ (0.6 mm) marquetry veneer. The neck/body fit is a dovetailed mortise and tenon joint.
  • It is well known that the main part of the neck was carved from a section of mahogany fire surround. If you examine the close up shots around 4m 33s in the Premier Guitar video, you can clearly see that an additional piece of wood has been glued on to the heel where it meets the body. This feature and the thicker piece of plastic there were used to make up for the mahogany being thinner than required (compare the same region on a Gibson Les Paul).

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