The annual meet-up for enthusiasts of Brian May’s music and equipment was once again held at Theale Village Hall near Reading in Berkshire, U.K. on Saturday, 8th October 2021. The organiser, Jon Underhill, assisted by several other co-ordinators this year helped grow the event by increasing the numbers attending and stage-managing a series of talks and demonstrations. These included Martin Pitcher covering Brian’s Starlicks set-up, talks by Arielle and Queen’s Sound Engineer Justin Shirley-Smith and a 25th birthday present by Andy Guyton to Luke Timmins of his Guyton Time Warp Red Special. A raffle for some superb donated items including a KAT BM Mini Rig and a KAT Groundbreaker raised £530 for the Save Me trust. Click the link below to see additional content on the events section:
I cover some background information and restrict the discussion to three treble booster variants related to Brian May and Queen, the current 3-in-1 BMG Treble Booster Classic unit developed by Nigel Knight of Knight Audio Technologies for retail by Brian May Guitars, Brian’s KAT RED-18 strap-mounted treble booster and the Fryer Sound colour series (TB Touring, TB Plus, TB Super and TB Deluxe). There are embedded videos from Jamie Humphries demonstrating the Fryer treble boosters for Guitar Interactive and Frank Campese demonstrating the 70s setting of the BMG TB Classic.
The second edition of the coffee table book on the story of Brian May’s Red Special – “the home made guitar that rocked Queen and the world” was published on 1st October 2020 with two new chapters included. One explores technical repairs and maintenance and the other, the Red Special’s role in the Academy Award-winning movie Bohemian Rhapsody, revealed in Brian’s own words and Gwilym Lee who played Brian in the film. The book, written by Brian and Simon Bradley is a celebration of the iconic guitar that Brian May built with his father and has treasured and played all over the world for over 50 years.
The embedded video below is a 35-40 minute presentation by Brian at the original launch. He demonstrates the capabilities of the Red Special by playing it through three Vox VBM-1 practice amplifiers. You can get your copy of the book mail order through the London Stereoscopic Company or via the usual outlets such as Amazon.
IK Multimedia of Modena in Italy has released a Brian May collection for their industry-leading AmpliTube Custom Shop guitar amplifier and effects PC, MacOS and iOS modelling software in August 2019. Costing £99.99, it is available as download direct from the IK Multimedia and Brian May Guitars websites or the Apple stores.
This emulation software is one of the cheapest and most straightforward ways to recreate many of Brian May’s tones, especially the complex three amplifier, twin delay Brighton Rock solo. It is ideal for quiet practice when used with a suitable interface such as the iRig HD2 and monitor headphones and as a travel outfit. Renowned professional guitarist Jamie Humphries helped develop the tone patches and you can watch him demonstrate the software on this official video:
Made in the U.K. and engineered by Brian May’s electronics guru, Nigel Knight, this compact, multi-mode treble booster pedal combines three uniquely-voiced circuits that faithfully replicate Brian’s most recognisable tones from the 1970s, 80s and 90s. The tones representing each decade have been meticulously modelled on the actual vintage equipment used by Brian during each period of his career – his germanium transistor Dallas Rangemaster from the 1970s, the silicon BC149 transistor powered Cornish TB-83 installed on his pedal board throughout the 80s, and an original 1998 Greg Fryer strap booster.
Nigel Knight analysed every nuance of the original circuits to realise an authentic reproduction of their tonal responses and output profiles. This 3-in-1 treble booster provides amateur enthusiasts and professional guitar players alike the opportunity to select the distinctive sound of their favourite Queen era using a switch and level control based on the lathe-turned aluminium control knobs fitted to Brian’s Red Special guitar. Whether you seek to replicate the heavier Queen tracks such as Stone Cold Crazy, the live sounds of the 1986 Magic Tour or explore your own ‘New Horizons’ with Brian’s more recent works, this will be the only treble booster you will ever need. Available now from Brian May Guitars and Knight Audio Technologies:
Last night (1st November 2018) my wife and I took our son to see the Queen Extravaganza at the Clyde Auditorium (SEC ‘Armadillo’) with an overnight stay at the Glasgow Hilton to celebrate his ninth birthday. Queen Extravaganza is the official Queen tribute band put together by Roger Taylor. The band line up for the current U.K. tour consists of: Alírio Netto (lead vocal) François-Olivier Doyon (bass guitar) Nick Radcliffe (lead guitar) Darren Reeves (keyboards) Tyler Warren (percussion) On the 2018 tour, the band play a large selection of songs from Queen’s Greatest Hits catalogue to packed auditoriums around the U.K. There was a lively atmosphere and an appreciative audience at last night’s concert.
I doubt that Nick ‘Radish’ Radcliffe will remember me, or thank me for posting this image cropped from our whole school photograph in 1987, but he was in the year above me at St Bees School in Cumbria until he left. I remember him distinctly due to an altercation we had in my first year (1985) on Eaglesfield house… Public schoolboys… It’s a small world.
After studying music at Middlesex University, Nick has built a successful career as a respected session and performance guitarist. He has played with Gabrielle and M People and performed in the West End with “We Will Rock You”, “Rock of Ages” “Motown The Musical” and “Jersey Boys”. You can read more about him here: https://about.me/nickradcliffe
See some examples of Nick’s guitar tuition work at FretHub’s website or the Facebook page and YouTube channel:
For those readers who are not Brian May enthusiasts, I’d like to draw your attention to this innovation by Nigel Knight of Knight Audio Technologies (KAT): the BM RS Superpot. It is a dual-ganged stereo 250 kΩ potentiometer fitted with a 1 MΩ resistor and a 2.2 nF capacitor. It was designed by Nigel to serve a specific purpose: that is to linearise the response of a standard audio (logarithmic) taper volume potentiometer to increase the range over which Brian can control the transition from ‘sparkly cleans’ to sweet overdrive while performing on stage. Nigel flew out to Portugal to fit it to the Red Special before the Lisbon Queen + Adam Lambert concert on 7th June 2018.
Nigel explains: “When you cascade potentiometers you end up with a super-log pot, so the effective end result is a ‘forced’ log taper. Secondly, because after about halfway round the volume sweep of the RS, the pot is no longer really being used as a volume control, but more of a distortion drive which requires a more linear taper. So the new pot is more log at the bottom and more linear at the top. This allows better control over the cleans and smoother transition through the various stages of distortion. In fact, there is no discernible point where the distortion comes in with this configuration. It just slowly feeds in from the cleans.”
“The function of the capacitor is to compensate for high frequency losses while the resistor is there to pull the bottom leg of the pot to ground. The pot (short for potential divider) can’t ‘divide’ the level if it has no reference to the two points it is dividing between. The new pot gives Brian an array of tones that used to reside within about half a degree of pot movement (if you could find the sweet spot in the dark)”
Nigel has published a diagram of the pot shown in the image above. You can download it here:
My first foray into the world of Brian May Red Special ownership in 2013 was a model year 2009 BMG Special conversion carried out by an amateur luthier in Portugal. I then further modified the guitar myself including a reshaped pickguard. It played well and looked acceptable. Nevertheless, I don’t recommend attempting conversion work on the commercial Burns and BMG Special guitars yourself. It’s a great deal of painstaking effort and you will still have an attractive but non-authentic deep burgundy red colour guitar which has evidence of the original tremolo system on the back (if cosmetic details concern you).
While unmodified BMG and Burns Brian May Red Special replicas sound authentic played through a BM signal chain and are excellent value for money, if you seek an more authentic instrument, Woody Thomas at RS Conversions in the USA has carried out conversions for a number of satisfied customers: