Many musicians have a certain instrument they have become very attached to, for various reasons. Brian May, the brilliant guitarist of Queen, does too, and his guitar is named the Red Special. In a new book, “Brian May’s Red Special,” he tells all about the guitar, the design, the construction of it and what makes it so unique. This is not just a technical manual, though. It is the story of Brian’s relationship with his father, the history of the Red Special and its role in not only Queen and their music, but in influencing other guitars and guitar manufacturers. In addition, a chapter highlights Red Special’s (and Brian’s) role in one of the most famous appearances of Brian May and the Red Special at the the 2002 Queen’s Jubilee.
The first part of the book describes the birth of the Red Special. There are plenty of technical details to delight the most knowledgable guitar aficionado, but for most readers, the first part is an unusual story, that of a boy who wanted his own electric guitar and who had a father that not only supported his dream, but as an electrical and aircraft engineer and craftsman, set out with his son to build a guitar that he could be proud of. It is a testament to his father who lives on in the fact that, thirty-odd years later, Brian May still only plays one guitar, affectionately named the Red Special. Over the years, there have been some modifications and restorations, but it is the same now as when he and his father started making it in the family’s garden shed.
The photos are superb and form a major part of the book’s appeal. The second part, which details the Jubilee show, the queen years and his solo uses of the Red Special, is very interesting. The end of the book has photos of the various versions of many of the one-offs and copies of the Red Special made by Brian as well as authorized by him and made by famous companies and luthiers. For many, it is a fascinating study in the ‘theme and variations’ that are part of the guitar maker’s art.
If there is any shortcoming to the book, it is that the first part sometimes seems too dry and technical if the reader is not familiar with details of the instrument making process or instrument electronics. It is worth hanging in though, for the sections where he describes the homebuilt parts of the guitar, described as “Spitfire fighter electrical parts left from my father’s work in the war.” For fans of guitars and also of Queen, this is an intimaate portrait of something usually ignored in most books. It is the story of a musician’s closest friend, his instrument and a nice testament to the man who helped create it also, his father.
“Brian May’s Red Special” by Brian May with Simon Bradley 2014, Hal Leonard Books