3/4 Scale Brian May Red Special Project Part 1: Introduction

On 30th June 2012 I bought a BMG Mini May from Guitar Guitar for £163.95. I knew very little about 3/4 scale guitars in general or this one in particular. I also bought a Vox Valvetronic VT20+ practive amplifier with the naive objective that this would be a fun outfit for me to get Brian May Red Special tones at home and as an introduction to guitars for my young son. However, I could not get the guitar tuned to open E so I took it to Bob at Guitar Guitar in Edinburgh for a set-up which cost an additional £65.99. Bob had to ream three bridge saddles to alleviate the acute string bend angle. He fitted a set of 0.013 gauge strings to allow higher tension tunings. Even then, he could only tune it to open F, one semitone higher than normal tuning. He also reported that the bridge was set too far forward by approximately 5 mm by design which required the lower string bridge pieces to be at or near their limit and the lowest individual bridge length adjusting screws to be shortened.

I fed this back to Barry Moorhouse at House Music/Brian May Guitars who, to give him a lot of credit, took three actions. Firstly he called me personally to thank me for the constructive feedback. Secondly, he sent me a signed photograph of Brian playing on Buckingham Palace roof at the Queen’s Jubilee Concert on June 3rd 2002 which he had “lying around the office”. Thirdly, he also progressed some design changes to the BMG Mini May in the intervening years, including one in which the scale was lengthened considerably. The gallery below illustrates some images from the original Mini May upgrade project which was Genesis for me in terms of modifying guitars.

I then carried out a ‘stage 1’ upgrade to include a new pickguard, replica BMG aluminium control knobs, a single Adeson Tri-Sonic pickup, Bourns potentiometers and a Sprague VitQ capacitor. Ultimately I sold this upgraded 2012 BMG Mini May on eBay and after acquiring a used replacement in April 2013 I started a project to upgrade it with the following modifications:

  1. Authentic roller bridge and “conversion” style tremolo system.
  2. Three Burns mini Tri-Sonic pickups
  3. Reshaped pickguard and tremolo set to fit the above.
  4. Stripping the original finish, staining and lacquering red/brown as per the original guitar and re-coating with lacquer.
  5. Upgrading the hardware generally (i.e. Schaller locking tuners and authentic strap buttons, etc.)

Unfortunately when I started stripping off the polyester finish and thick layer of grain filler, expecting (hoping) to find a single piece alder body, I found that it consisted of five individual blocks glued together, illustrated in the images below. Because there were diagonal joins and the hue of each block varied from fawn through light brown to red/brown, it would have looked odd even if I could get the stain to balance out the hue variation in the individual wood blocks.

Since I had past the point of no return with it anyway, I decided to design an entirely new replacement body and have this CNC cut from a single piece mahogany guitar body blank. This was the first example of what turned out to be substantial scope creep on this project which I eventually dubbed the ‘1975’ Red Special because it had a 19″ scale with a 75% sized body.

Next article:
Part 2: Hardware
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