How Did Brian May Design His Red Special Guitar?

In 1963, because they could not afford to buy a suitable instrument, Brian May and his father Harold took an innovative and practical approach to designing a new type of electric guitar. Later dubbed “The Red Special”, neither of them could have predicted that ten years later it would become as famous as Brian himself. In this video, I explore an urban myth in the Brian May Red Special enthusiast community that they drew around various household objects to form the basic outline and features of the guitar. Like all good urban myths, it might have an element of truth to it so watch the video and decide for yourself.

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.

Vox VBM-1 Brian May Special Amplifier

Launched in 2003 and retailing at US$199/£149, the Vox VBM-1 Brian May Special amplifier remains a popular choice for guitarists seeking to replicate Brian May’s signature tones at low volumes and on a limited budget despite being discontinued in 2005. It was designed to fulfil a specific purpose: to replicate the distinctive sounds of the legendary Deacy amp. Check out my latest musical equipment section article on this unit:

https://dsgb.net/gear/vox_vbm-1/

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.

DigiTech Red Special Pedal

The fourth article for my musical equipment section covers the DigiTech Brian May Red Special pedal. It contains original photographs and PDF user manuals of this, and the other two DigiTech Artist’s Series pedals (Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton Crossroads), some additional photographs of the rack mounted version of this pedal that Nigel Knight built into Brian May’s back-up, touring and guesting rig, and an embedded demonstration video by Frank Campese.

https://dsgb.net/gear/digitech/

Brian May Deacy Amp Replica

Check out the third article in the musical equipment section of this website which covers the Brian May Deacy Amp replica made by Knight Audio Technologies (KAT):

https://dsgb.net/gear/deacyamp/

It contains the original pictures shown below, technical specifications for the amplifier, hyperlinks and four embedded YouTube videos, including Jamie Humphries‘ review for Guitar Interactive magazine and some demonstrations recorded by Martin Pitcher at the 2018 and 2019 Brian May Red Special enthusiast meets.

Take Your Pick

Thanks to Dan at http://www.mybadges.co.uk/ in Southampton, U.K. for these lovely purple celluloid metallic hot foil printed custom guitar picks. I have had a passing interest in graphic design since school, having studied art at GCSE level so launching this website offered the perfect opportunity to design a distinctive and meaningful logotype for myself. This is not as straightforward as it seems but it was the first activity I engaged in after registering the domain name with WordPress in October 2020.

My original idea was to use a simple circular theme to suggest an acoustic guitar sound hole and the decorative ring that usually adorns it. I also wanted to suggest guitar strings somehow so I selected a rounded, bold sans serif typeface that would work well with the circular theme and lend itself well to the filled double outline style. I realised that if I used the lower case four letter abbreviation for Doug Short Guitar Blog, the letters “d” and “b” would confer some symmetry on the logotype. Given that the letters “g” and “b” also represent Great Britain (U.K.) where I am based, I hoped that the overall appearance would evoke the roundel style thematic element used on the most iconic urban transportation system in the world, the London Underground.

I chose the colour simply because I find a wide range of hues on the purple part of the visible spectrum to be the most appealing. I actually prefer lilacs but not many objects (including clothes, cars, guitars, walls in your home) look tasteful in those hues!

The initial scoping was done using the excellent software utility Logo Design Studio Pro from SummitSoft. I then transferred to TurboCAD to design simplified and negative variants of the logotype for scaled down applications such as printing onto small items and for internet avatars. Although the simplified “white-on-purple” design loses the double-outlined suggestion of guitar strings element, I now prefer the boldness and simplicity of it to the original.

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:

Fender Stratocaster Pickguard Assembly and Wiring

I recently completed assembly and wiring of a replacement pickguard for my 2012 Fender American Standard Stratocaster pending arrival of an EMG DG20 loaded pickguard in early February when new stock arrives. I converted it in 2018 to Brian May specification and you can read about that project here:
https://dsgb.net/projects/maycaster/

I recorded some parts of the process and compiled the embedded video below which has sections speeded up either 4x or 8x. It is intended for curiosity value only and not instructional purposes because there are many detailed videos with commentary on Youtube to show you the various methods of wiring a Strat pickguard. The components I used are as follows:

  • genuine Fender 11 hole modern style White Moto pickguard for three single coil pickups
  • Oak Grigsby 5-way blade switch
  • Three Fender supplied CTS 250 kOhm log/audio taper potentiometers measuring 202, 220 and 259 kOhm
  • Vintage specification single coil pickups hand made by Ade Turner of Adeson Fenton Weill in Burbage, Wiltshire, U.K. DC resistances 6.29, 6.30 and 6.31 kOhm, inductances 2.20, 2.34 and 2.26 H
  • 22 nF tone capacitor supplied with the pots instead of the standard 47 nF variant.