Brian May’s Red Special: The Story Of The Home-Made Guitar That Rocked Queen And The World

In the history of rock and roll, there have been a few classic guitars that have captured the public’s imagination. Stevie Ray Vaughn’s Fender SRV Stratocaster, Jimmy Page’s Gibson SG double-neck, Jerry Garcia’s Rosebud and Neil Young’s Old Black are but a few of the popular axes that match player with instrument. Brian May’s Red Special is also one such classic rock instrument, one he actually built with his father as young man in 1963. It’s also at the heart of a Hal Leonard Book called Brian May’s Red Special: The Story Of The Home-Made Guitar That Rocked Queen And The World.

Centered around interviews with May about the building of the guitar and his years playing it in Queen and the Queen + incarnations he has continued to perform with, this book provides all the information about the Red Special you could ever want…or imagine. May seems to be one of those people who reveres his past and as such he has kept original notes he and his father Harold made.
The beginning of the book reveals a very detailed accounting of how the Mays worked in the family workshop to construct the Red Special over a period of two years.

May wanted more from the electric guitars than what was available at the time, and he talks about how he was to trying to amplify his first guitar, an Egmond acoustic, which he still has. In due course, as father and son worked together, the love and respect they had for one another shines through.

The first few chapters have some great pictures from May’s childhood. In fact, the photos in the book are incredible throughout. There’s lots of the guitar, of course, some x-rays and various shots of the Red Special dismantled — something May allowed especially for this book.

I would have liked a bit more about the guitar and how it precisely figured into specific Queen recordings, but this is not a book covering a rundown of Queen songs. There is an “On The Roof” chapter chronicling, in May’s own words, his experience at the Queen’s (the lady, not the band) “Golden Jubilee” on the roof of Buckingham Palace in 2002. It is a hair-raising account to be sure, showing that even Brian May can still get plenty nervous!

The final chapter, “Red Special Production,” is 14 pages of photographed guitars from Brian’s collection. By some strange coincidence, these are a handful of guitars built over the years by various manufacturers emulating and influenced by the Red Special. For those interested in rock and roll, Queen and Brian May, Brian May’s Red Special: The Story Of The Home-Made Guitar That Rocked Queen And The World, co-authored by Simon Bradley, is a sumptuous meal to feed your appetite.

~ Ralph Greco, Jr.

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