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:
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:
Another party’s over, so let’s take a relaxing look inside my Brian May Red Special spare parts box accompanied by one of my favourite Queen songs: My Melancholy Blues. I can show you some good merchandise including Adeson Brian May specification pickups and some replicas of the original pickups that Brian made from Eclipse button magnets. I’ve also got a number of vintage items including Bulgin jack sockets and TCC Metalmite capacitors. There are numerous items of custom made hardware including bakelite nuts, aluminium ‘top hat’ style control knobs, tremolo springs and a tremolo arm.
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.
Brian May made the unique design of roller bridge for his original Red Special guitar from a piece of aluminium bar using hand tools. In my latest YouTube video I illustrate the process of making this intricate item by CNC milling using a hobby class CNC machine, in my case a 2016 model Stepcraft 2/840. The main sequences are all speeded up and the longer sections are considerably shortened so that they are only illustrative of the full process. The background music is Brian’s guitar solo from Queen: A Night at The Odeon.
I prepared a section of 6082 T6 aluminium bar to 84 x 16 x 10 mm using a hacksaw and abrasive paper and mounted this onto a levelled, square section of aluminium plate on my CNC machine bed using cyanoacrylate superglue. I then use three single fluted solid carbide cutters to mill the roller bridge: a 3 mm one for the thicknessing operations then a 2 mm cutter for the outline and roundover toolpath and cutting out the individual blocks and finally a 0.8 mm cutter for milling the roller axle channels (see note below).
I designed the general appearance such as the edge roundovers to resemble the Guyton Red Special bridge with the exception that the channels cut to accommodate the 1/32″ (0.8 mm) diameter axles of the roller saddles are drilled to 0.8 mm deep on those pieces whereas I only milled them to half-depth (0.4 mm) for this video. Embedding them to the full diameter of the axle goes some way to ensuring that the won’t pop out during string fitting.
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.
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 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.
After a two year hiatus enforced by the global Covid-19 pandemic restrictions, the annual U.K Red Special meet-up will be held once again at Theale Village Hall near Reading, Berkshire on Saturday, 9th October 2021. The event is organised by Jon Underhill, host of The Red Special Guitar Podcast. Tickets are on sale for £15 from Eventbrite at the link below; the admission price covers the hire cost of the venue.
In 2017, 2018 and 2019, those who required local accommodation enjoyed a comfortable and welcoming stay at the Best Western Calcot Hotel, a short drive from the event venue with after hours discussions over a meal and later in the bar being a highlight of the weekend. However, due to uncertainty regarding ownership of The Calcot which has been closed since January 2021, guests are recommended to book into the Hilton Reading for the Friday and/or Saturday nights.
I have booked my admission ticket and will shortly be booking accommodation when our family plans for the weekend are finalised. I look forward to seeing regulars and some new faces. As in previous years, the meet-up is a great opportunity to see, hear and try out commercial and home made Red Special replicas and variants, vintage and modern effects pedals and Brian May rigs, none of which can generally be bought in high street shops or from online retailers. The regular cohort of attendees, both amateur and professional are friendly, approachable and highly knowledgeable on a range of topics from luthiery through guitar effects and rig electronics to Brian May’s musical style and playing technique.
To get a flavour of what to expect, please take a look at my reviews of the previous TVH events:
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.
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: