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.
Two years after the original Seiko 5 Red Special themed wristwatch offered 9,000 Brian May enthusiasts a chance to own a timepiece of history, a new limited edition version has been released. The dial has the same red and black color scheme as the Red Special and features a delicate wood-like pattern like the body of the guitar. Special markings on the case back.
The watch is offered as a limited edition with Brian’s signature on the case back alongside “LIMITED EDITION” and the serial number 00001/12500 – 12500/12500. As with the first collaboration model, the dial recreates the fine details of the legendary guitar with a pressed pattern reminiscent of the texture of the wood, its glossy finish and graduated colouring.
The case is a special gold colour, requested by Brian himself, inspired by the newly released ‘Gold Series’ reissues of his solo albums. The presentation box is reminiscent of a guitar case and comes with a replica of the sixpence coins which Brian uses instead of a guitar plectrum.
Seiko Watch Corporation will donate a proportion of the sales proceeds from this wristwatch to The Mercury Phoenix Trust with Goal 3 (Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages) of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations in mind. The MPT is a charity organization founded by Brian May, Roger Taylor and Queen manager Jim Beach, in memory of Freddie Mercury, to help fund the fight against HIV/AIDS worldwide.
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.
Luke Holwerda has just announced the second US Red Special Meet-up on Saturday, March 26 2022.
It’s time to go “Back to the Light” of Phoenix, Arizona to showcase, discuss and celebrate Brian May’s homemade guitar, which has inspired so many of us to pick up our first musical instrument… and in some cases, even build it! Bring your Red Special, your Vox AC30 and accompanying gear and join us for a day of rock-n-roll fellowship… in-person! Covid-19 vaccination will be required for entry. Look out for updates on Facebook and Instagram with information on the venue, etc. in due course. Please share with anyone who may be interested. #RedSpecialMeetup2022.
Red Special Guitar Podcast host Jon Underhill and I will be visiting to Phoenix from March 24-29 to support Luke, hang out and maybe check out visitor attractions in The Grand Canyon State. We are looking forward to meeting new and familiar members of the US Brian May enthusiast community such as Woody Thomas of RS Conversions and Ron Smith, proprietor of The Cybershop, supplier of high quality, authentic Red Special guitar hardware.
Take a look at my reports from the 2020 meet-up and brief US road trip taking in Hollywood (including Guitar Center on Sunset Boulevard), Disneyland Resort, Anaheim and Grand Canyon West here:
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:
Driven by you, me and millions of fans, Brian has re-released his acclaimed 1992 solo album: Back To The Light (enthusiast code BTTL), re-mastered in multiple formats including vintage physical media such as compact disc, audio cassette, vinyl LP and digital formats. There is a limited edition box set for collectors. I chose the audio cassette version to play on my vintage Sony Walkmans.
The album originally reached No. 6 in the U.K. album chart and features the singles Too Much Love Will Kill You and Driven By You, used by the Ford Motor Company in their advertising programmes. Brian played most of the instruments on the album and it features guest appearances by Cozy Powell and Deep Purple’s Don Airey, as well as John Deacon. The re-issue was supervised by Brian, along with co-producer Justin Shirley-Smith and Kris Fredriksson, long-time Queen art designer Richard Gray, and Bob Ludwig, who re-mastered the entire collection.
Check out the video Brian made to promote the re-released version where Brian plays alongside his younger self:
Those of you who were fortunate enough to obtain the special edition got a signed art print in a 12” box and two CDs in separate card wallets. The first CD contains the original album while the second, entitled “Out of the Light”, contains alternative versions, B-Sides and live tracks. Highlights include Tie Your Mother Down (enthusiast code TYMD) featuring Slash recorded live on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, 5th April 1993. The vinyl LP is presented in 180 g heavyweight white vinyl. Also included is a 32-page booklet containing photos and album notes, along with an enamel “Gold Series” badge.
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.