Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Brian May's Red Special - A Fabulous Book For Every Guitar Fan

Brian May's Red Special: The Story Of The Home-Made Guitar That Rocked Queen And The World is unquestionably the guitar book of the year.

Who knew that Brian May and his father actually built a custom winding machine with which to construct the pickups (later replaced with Burns Tri-Sonics) for the famed Red Special? Or that Brian actually let co-author Simon Bradley, and his longtime guitar technician and right hand man Pete Malandrone dismantle the Red Special for the purpose of photographing and documenting details for this spectacular book?

For the three of you who don't know, the Red Special has been Brian May's main guitar since he and his father Harold designed and built the instrument way back in 1963 in the senior May's workshop in a converted bedroom in Feltham, Middlesex, England, when May was just sixteen years old. This is truly one of the most famous guitars on the planet, and it's worth is inestimable. It is featured on every hit Queen ever recorded with the exception of 'Crazy Little Thing Called Love', and has been a fixture at every advertised performance the guitarist has made.

Almost as cool as the near endless details and photos is the chapter that describes May's growing up, and his relationship with his father, an electrical engineer who had built the family's TV, radio, record player, a high quality tape recorder, and his own custom 'co-ax' input amplifier which was the first to translate the Red Special's tones. There are loads of photographs that depict everything from fret positioning to external body and neck shaping to bridge block and vibrato arm design. It took May and Bradley three years to complete the book, but May has been working on the project on his own since 1990, and when you see the book you will understand why.

There is no part of this famed guitar that isn't special and unique - the switching system for the guitar's three single coil pickups is incredibly complex, and yet simple in use, and that's something that most guitar makers are still chasing and few have equalled. The bridge and tremolo system are equally marvels of engineering, and the trem, which is devised utilizing two motorbike valve springs will allow the low E string down a complete octave and yet return to pitch when released. Even the volume and tone knobs, vibrato arm, and truss rod were tooled by the ingenious father and son team. Remarkable is every sense.

There is a chapter dealing with the complete restoration of the Red Special done in 1998 by Australian luthier Greg Fryer, who supplies not just the fascinating story, but also some incredible photographs including some tremendous x-ray shots, some of which have never been published until now. A set of stereoscopic images by The London Stereoscopic Company that show not only the camber and the shine of the fingerboard, but also of the significant freeware at the time is simply amazing. The beauty is in the details, and the details in this book are as inclusive as any I have ever seen in a guitar book.

The guitar and May even made an appearance at the Queen of England's Golden Jubilee in 2002, and the guitarist tells the story of how he came to be perched atop Buckingham Palace playing 'God Save The Queen' for the first time. And, there are, of course, pictures galore.

The book wraps up with an exhaustive exhibit of the various commercial remakes and recreations by luthiers and guitar companies with many photos from May's personal collection.

Brian May's Red Special is indeed the guitar book of the year, and I couldn't more highly recommend any guitar book for your library. It is as full of great text as it is full of fantastic photographs, and Hal Leonard Books has pulled out every stop to make this a truly special project. Massive congratulations to all involved.

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