Tri-Sonic Pickups: General Information, Brian May Red Special Pickups, Coil Winding and Assembly

I made the embedded video below in June 2022 to accompany the FAQ on Tri-Sonic pickups. It is 22 minutes long and covers Tri-Sonic pickups in depth. I take a look inside an early 1960s vintage pot magnet style Burns Tri-Sonic pickup and compare and contrast vintage and modern variants. I discuss the characteristics of the specific set fitted to Brian May’s Red Special guitar with reference to a replica set made by Ade Turner of Adeson Pickups.

I demonstrate two methods for engraving the chrome plated brass cover then wind a bobbinless Tri-Sonic style coil on my Stepcraft 2/840 CNC machine using a custom made former to my own unique design. Finally, I assemble all the component parts of a Tri-Sonic pickup and measure its DC resistance and inductance using a Peak Atlas LCR45 meter.

Brian May’s Original Home Made Pickups (BHMOHM)

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:

https://www.theredspecial.com/2018/01/brian-may-interview-the-red-specials-original-pickups/

I recently completed a project to make a replica set of these pickups following Brian’s original design sketch but winding them to try to achieve similar DC resistance (7.0-7.4 kOhm) and inductance (2.0-2.3 H) to a typical vintage Tri-Sonic pickup. I made a 17 minute video covering the project in which I discuss the pickups and wind one using my Stepcraft 2/840 CNC machine and small AC industrial milling spindle. The only additional piece of equipment I bought was a magnetic wire tensioner.

There is more information and some images in the article in my FAQ section here:

https://dsgb.net/faqs/bhmohm/

2022 US Red Special Meet-up (Phoenix, AZ)

The second US Brian May Red Special Enthusiast meet-up took place at the Linger Longer Lounge, 6522 N 16th Street in Phoenix, Arizona on Saturday, 26 March 2022. As in 2020, the event was again arranged by Luke Holwerda, supported by Jon Underhill of The Red Special Guitar Podcast. The video below is a ten minute compilation video of some of the highlights of the day and includes demonstrations by Ricky Peraza of his CQ Red Special, a modified BMG Special owned by Andrek Hernandez and a 1994 Guild Brian May owned by Gonzalo Plaza. Check out the story in the Events section.

A ten minute compilation video of some of the highlights of the day

dsgb.net Website 12 Month Progress Update

dsgb.net has now been fully populated since late December 2020 with all the content I originally planned and consists of 108 pages and 63 blog posts (including this one). As you can see from the WordPress statistics shown in the images below, the website is receiving 700-800 visitors per month and has settled to around 5,000-6,000 individual content views per month; the results for December 2021 are representative. The website has attracted over 8,600 visitors and over 64,000 content views since being fully populated, the bulk of which are from the USA and Western Europe. However, I am more fascinated by the small number of views from exotic locations, whether or not somebody on holiday or serving on a military base clicked on the wrong Google search result!

A huge thank you from me to everybody around the world who has shown interest in Doug Short Guitar Blog; I hope I have inspired and helped a few people around the world to launch their own guitar build or modification projects. The highlight of 2021 for me was attending the U.K. Red Special meet-up at Theale Village Hall. I am looking forward to the following Queen and Brian May related activities in 2022:

  • In January I will be a guest on Jon Underhill’s Red Special Guitar Podcast where we chat about how Curiosity Killed The Cat helped get me into Queen, the day I met Brian May and the challenges of building a Red Special replica.
  • In March (Covid-19 constraints permitting) Jon and I will be attending Luke Holwerda’s second U.S. Red Special meet-up in Phoenix, Arizona.
  • In June, I am looking forward to attending the Queen + Adam Lambert Rhapsody Tour postponed from 2020 at the O2 Arena in London with my wife and children.

I have a few more RS build videos planned and I will obviously post content from the enthusiast meets but workload permitting, I anticipate moving on to other guitar related projects including one I have wanted to attempt for some years: a 1959 Gibson Les Paul replica build.

Brian May Red Special Guitar Neck Full CNC Cut Video

I recently revised my Brian May Red Special guitar neck design to correct some original sin errors and incorporate a significant number of improvements (‘kaizen’), most notably to the thickness of the mahogany in the main section and the headstock. I also reinterpreted the region where the headstock lozenge shape meets the elliptical profile of the main section to improve the fidelity. Having improved my TurboCAD techniques in the five years or so since I began this project, I also took the opportunity to simplify the methods I use to design each part of the neck (tenon, main section and headstock) to achieve a better result.

I sourced more mahogany timber (from Manuel Angelini in France), prepared it using my Makita table saw and CNC cut the neck over several sessions in August 2021, over four years since I made my original neck. I recorded highlights of each session in full HD, 60 fps, speeded up the sequences and mixed them into a 13 minute long YouTube video illustrating each stage of the process. This is embedded below; further details are available in the YouTube description with time indexed titles.

I took every opportunity to improve the cutting and drilling processes including CNC cutting two large 2 degree and 4 degree wedges for drilling machine heads holes in the headstock and fixing screw and bolt holes in the tenon. I also made an extended bed for my mini drill press from 19 mm plywood to accommodate them. To maintain precise axial alignment for both the upper and lower side toolpaths, I fitted a “L”-shaped alignment bracket water-jet custom cut from 20 mm thick aluminium to the T-slot machine table. Credit to Jon Underhill for providing this. This was the first cut in which I deployed direct dust extraction by means of a Delta dust shoe and Dyson DC39 Animal vacuum cleaner.

To make subsequent assembly easier, I CNC cut a slot for the brass plate which the truss rod tensioner bolt butts up against and corrected the position of the rebate which accommodates it. I also drilled six dowel locating holes to mount a perspex template which I will use to align the fretboard precisely to the the mahogany.

Brian May Red Special Build Tips & Techniques Videos

I generally did not film any of the work involved with building my Red Special replica at the time, other than some of the early CNC routing attempts. This footage was neither edited in a way which best illustrated the processes nor contained any spoken commentary. As and when I have time, I will address this shortfall by publishing a series of videos with distinct segments and narrative to demonstrate key processes and offer tips for building a Brian May Red Special replica guitar from the perspective of an amateur luthier.

The first of the two embedded videos below illustrates some aspects of mahogany timber preparation for making the neck while the second entitled “Fretboard Techniques” covers making a stencil to paint the fretboard side marker dots. I also compare and contrast the side marker dot pattern on my 2004 Burns Red Special and Guyton RS Transporter and show two techniques worth considering for ebonising the oak fretboard: Liberon spirit wood dye and black cyanoacrylate superglue. Future videos will cover other important techniques including veneer work, grain filling, staining and working with Rustins Plastic Coating.

In the third video I demonstrate using a 5 mm diameter brad point wood auger to drill the short section from the underside of the tenon through into the main channel routed out to accommodate the truss rod itself. All wood routing was previously done using my Stepcraft 2/840 CNC machine. This neck cutting was recently completed and the cut object remains attached in its surrounding frame. I took the opportunity to rout a rebate for the auger shaft to pass through.

The fourth video illustrates all the equipment required, and processes involved in making a single action compression style truss rod for a Red Special replica guitar with only basic workshop equipment and limited facilities.

The next video is an introduction to a series of videos which illustrate all the techniques required to finish the Red Special body including veneering, grain filling, staining and lacquering with Rustins Plastic Coating (RPC).

The second video in the series on finishing the guitar body covers the process of veneering.

The third video in the series on finishing the guitar body covers grain filling and staining the mahogany marquetry veneer with black Jecofil and Rustins red mahogany wood dye.

The fourth and final video in the series on finishing the guitar body covers all aspects of Rustins Plastic Coating (RPC) including making up batches, applying it to mahogany veneer, flatting back with graded abrasive papers then burnishing/polishing to a gloss finish.

Treble Boosters

For the 100th distinct web page on dsgb.net and the 50th site blog post, I have published an article on one of the perennial topics of conversation in Brian May enthusiast circles: treble boosters:

https://dsgb.net/gear/trebleboosters/

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.

Burns Tri-Sonic Pickups: General Information

I have written a short (<1,500 word) article intended as a primer on Burns Tri-Sonic pickups for general interest within a Brian May Red Special context:

https://dsgb.net/faqs/trisonics/

The article is illustrated with a number of original photographs, CAD renders and a few ‘library pictures’ like those depicted below:

Christmas Presents 2020

What did you all get for Christmas? I got a number of genuine Fender parts, Adeson vintage single coil pickups and a Jamie Humphries instructional DVD from the excellent Lick Library series. I intend to return my red Strat to original Fender specification as I prepare to put Brian May guitars and gear on the shelf and move in a new direction in 2021. I got into Pink Floyd in my first year at Durham University in 1992 when my then room-mate Phil Malone at Grey College played The Wall constantly. I listened to Brit Floyd and The Australian Pink Floyd Show (TAPFS) a lot recently while developing this web site.

It goes without saying that David Gilmour is revered amongst guitar players for his unique sounds which, unlike Brian May tones, are surprisingly challenging to nail down at home. I have ordered an EMG DG20 loaded pickguard from Andertons which is due back in stock at the end of January 2021 but this standard Fender Stratocaster outfit will do the job along with RAT 2 and Big Muff Pi distortion pedals and a TC Electronic G-Major 2 effects unit. Nigel Knight has built himself a custom KAT-DG HiWatt 50 Special amplifier with Fane Crescendo speakers and is willing to explore a lower-powered custom HiWatt project for chasing Gilmour tones at home… unless I splash out on a HiWatt Little Rig DR20/0.5 first! Check out the details on his website:

http://www.deacyamp.com/index.php?route=information/information&information_id=35

One of the leading internet resources for Gilmour information is the excellent Gilmourish site founded 2003, designed, written and hosted by Bjorn Riis:

https://www.gilmourish.com/