Brian May Artist Study: Gear & Tone

His unique tone starts with his self-made, home-built electric guitar, the Red Special, which had 3 single coil pickups, but wired to be combined in a wide variety of configurations. These Burns Tri-Sonic pickups sound fatter than regular single coils, but not quite as fat as P90s.

That said, I’m using a Stratocaster for this tutorial, and that will get me in the ballpark of the tone coming from his guitar.

Next, the guitar was plugged into a treble booster to tighten the bass by cutting the low end flab, also boosting the mids & treble register & providing more sustain & bite.

May would often employ a wah pedal, and set the pedal in a static position to boost a particular middle frequency range when recording
solos - especially harmonized solos.

Sometimes he would kick in a chorus effect for a fuller sound.

He also used various modified tape echoes for his guitar orchestra effects, eventually replaced with the more reliable modern digital delay. Finally the guitar & FX were plugged into several Vox AC30s
cranked with the top boost on. The combination of treble booster into a
pinned AC30 provided loads of gain and crunch - perfect for hard rock
riffing and sweet soloing. Also notable is that to get a cleaner sound,
May would simply roll down the volume on the guitar.

He also famously used a British coin for a pick; a sixpence which
has a serrated edge.
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