Brian May Red Special Builders Update

Discussion in 'Guitars in General' started by docsmith, Jan 23, 2012.

  1. docsmith

    docsmith Member

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    There is some interesting info pertaining to the high-end builders of the Brian May Red Special guitars. Brian May Guitars sells an inexpensive copy of Brian's legendary Red Special guitar. I've heard these guitars are alright and are made in Indonesia. For the money, they're awesome.

    Then there were three high end builders:

    1. RS Guitars out of Arizona (now out of business).

    2. KZ Guitars out of Japan (now out of business).

    3. Guyton Guitars out of UK (I read they're still around, but no longer building Red Specials).

    Now there's an outfit out of Nashville, Tennessee who are building high end Red Special guitars (Red Special Custom Guitars). http://www.rscustomguitars.com/

    They're no cheap (they're $4500 to $6900). But it seems they're the last boutique builder who make reproductions of Brian's guitar. I'm a big fan of Brian May & Queen and always wanted a Red Special type guitar. Unfortunately for me I didn't pull the trigger back when the Arizona based company was around cause that would've "only" cost me $2500. LOL


    Kevin
     
  2. BedroomRockStar01

    BedroomRockStar01 Supporting Member

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    You may need to educate me on the finer points of the Red Special, but at quick glance, I can't imagine how anyone justifies charging more than $2k for that guitar, boutique builder or otherwise.

    Am I missing something?
     
  3. batsbrew

    batsbrew Member

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    i built my own customized 'version' of this guitar, for under 2 grand.

    it's described as a 'strat-paul-explorer' hybrid, with a 24" scale set-neck, 3 single space pickups and a Kahler Trem.

    it is weight relieved, with sound cavities, and has a similar wiring scheme.
     
  4. midwayfair

    midwayfair Member

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    Brian May's guitar was an inexpensive (even pawnshop quality) guitar that he put some elbow grease into and created a new wiring scheme for. Spending $4500 on a copy of it seems counter to the spirit of the original.
     
  5. Smakutus

    Smakutus Member

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    Just find a used Burns version and buy it.. They were as good or better than the fancier Guild version I owned back in the 90's. Paying that much for that guitar is silly to me unless you play in a Queen tribute band and make money doing so.

    Jeff
     
  6. docsmith

    docsmith Member

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    I spoke to the guy at the Tennesse shop. He told me everything needs to be hand made. They don't outsource anything. The labor to do that must be pretty incredible. That's what you're paying for (as opposed to these giant Chinese and/or Indonesian factories who have bins of cheap parts ready to do for the assembly line).

    For those of us who are huge Brian May fans, this kind of thing seems worth it. BTW Midway, I don't mean to be argumentative, but the history of the Red Special indicates it anything but pawnshop quality. From my understanding of it, it came from a very old fireplace mantle (300 years old?). Brian and his father hand crafted the whole thing, using draw knives to carve the neck and utilizing whatever they had available back in 1963.

    Interesting he used that one guitar his entire career - while people in here change guitars on a daily basis.
     
  7. docsmith

    docsmith Member

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    $2,000 isn't a lot of money for a guitar these days. Off the rack Fenders (which are mass produced) sell for $1500. Gibsons sell for $4k. Tom Andersons & Suhrs are $4k.

    This is a very small production, hand-made tribute to a rock icon.


     
  8. GibsonLives

    GibsonLives Member

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    Whether the original was "pawnshop quality" or not, I have no clue, ut: Fenders of the '50s were designed to be easy to produce and affordable for the average working musician, and now, they command five-to-six-figure prices.
    Steve
     
  9. vortexxxx

    vortexxxx Member

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    The one that costs nearly 7 grand is the most vintage correct but for that much money I would rather get a couple of custom shop guitars instead.
     
  10. ghoti

    ghoti Member

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    It seems strange to me to try to copy exactly something another person designed purely for his own preferences / playing style.

    I played one of the new Red Special copies in a store about a year or two ago, and I don't think I'd try to copy Brian May's design exactly even to get a sound like Queen.

    What I WOULD do is a chambered body with a similar design to his, three hot single-coil pickups wired in series, with a switching system just like he uses, and probably the dots on the fretboard like he does.

    Everything else, I'd do to my own specs, not his. MOST of the sound is from the electronics and switching on the guitar and the amp setup he uses. The rest of it comes from his technique and feel on the instrument, which is something he can get and some of the rest of us might be able to copy.

    Considering how he originally made the thing, I think my approach might be the more true to the spirit at least. :munch
     
  11. docsmith

    docsmith Member

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    As I understand it, Brian and his father built the guitar because they were poor and didn't have enough cash to buy a Fender Stratocaster (which is what Brian really wanted). His father was some kind of engineer and could fabricate stuff. It was more out of necessity due to financial limitations moreso than anything.

    At any rate, one of the interesting things about the Red Special is it is semi-hollow and is designed for feedback (rather than attempting to suppress feedback). That probably contributes to the overall tone.

    I wonder how close those cheap import Brian May guitars are. And I wonder to what extent the playability, tuning stability & overall tone could be improved through aftermarket upgrades.

    I'd like to get my hands and ears on these new ones and see for myself just how good they are.

    Agreed re: the significance of the tone coming from his amps, treble boosters, etc... That definitely is a key component to that magical sound.

    Check out this video. This guy hand made his own Brian May Red Special. But listen to that tone. It's spot-on! Amazing stuff.

    http://tinyurl.com/87px2y9
     
  12. shallbe

    shallbe Deputy Plankspanker Gold Supporting Member

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    I would not want a painted oak fingerboard on any guitar.
     
  13. rrhea

    rrhea Member

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    I personally know Everett from RS Customs (http://www.rscustomguitars.com/) and apart from being a great guy, he really does build a fantastic guitar. His BM replica is a stunning instrument and I even got to play one with a scalloped neck (a customer special request). I have never played Brian's original so I can't possibly know how exact it is, but when you play one of Everett's replicas they feel very special.

    He told me that he has gotten hold of some certain documents on Brian's original that ensures he has the most accurate replica you can buy.

    I really, really want one!

    RR
     
  14. superrock

    superrock Silver Supporting Member

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    the machine, of course...
    I also made friends with Everett a couple years back and can attest to his good craftsmanship and character. Good dude who builds a hell of a guitar. I am priced out sadly until I buy that winning lottery ticket too. He does have very special documents much to Brian's chagrin I suspect... I tried one before I converted to big necks and it was huge to the point where it put me off a bit. Now I would likely love it.... I was playing a skinny tele for years when I did...
     
  15. batsbrew

    batsbrew Member

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    The Williams Special.

    The Williams Special;Paul-Strat-Mustang-Explorer hybrid



    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    back of body/neck:
    [​IMG]

    (semi-related: my first guitar was a '75 Fender Mustang.)

    This guitar was commissioned in 1986.

    It is a Gibson Les paul-Fender strat-Fender mustang-Gibson explorer HYBRID.
    -built by Stan Williams, Rome Georgia.

    -based on the Fender Mustang scale length....this design is also similar to brian may's red special.
    -honduras mahogany body, with air cavities carved in the body below the maple top.
    -flame maple top, 3/8" thick.
    -blueprint-scaled strat body.
    -2-piece flame maple neck, with ebony fingerboard.
    -no truss rod! there are (2) rectangular pieces of aircraft aluminum running the length of the fretboard.
    -flame maple veneer on headstock, front, sides, and back.
    -24" scale length.
    -jumbo frets.
    -custom inlays: mother of pearl, diamond shape, with a split diamond around the center pickup.
    -Kahler 2300 pro tremelo.
    -(3) off/on switches
    -master volume, master tone, 3rd switch now unwired-
    it was originally equipped with a EMG SA assembly, and the 3rd knob was the presence control.
    it now has (2) bill lawrence L-280's, and a duncan Little 59 humbucker in the bridge.
    -explorer headstock shape, true to scale.
    -long tenon set neck
    -13 degree tilt back headstock
    -graphtec nut, with locking kahler nut behind it.



    the Flame maple used on the top and neck, and veneers, was from a large timber (136 years old as of 2011) salvaged from a barn in Illinois.
    The honduras was acquired long before there were conservation laws on that particular wood (blank dates back to pre-1980).

    ___________________________________________________________
    design criteria:

    the les paul connection.

    the basics of the les paul (the obvious basics) are:

    slab mahogony body;
    maple top;
    strings on top of body;
    2 piece maple neck;
    glued in neck, long tenon;
    tilt back headstock, no string trees required.


    later, in 2008, they started weight relieving the standards, but remember, i built this in 1986.

    so, the Gibson nod starts there.

    mine has:

    Honduras mahagony body -- maple top -- strings on top of body via the Kahler -- 2 piece maple neck -- a glued in neck with long tenon -- tilt back headstock.


    it's really not hard to see the connection.

    but my design tried to improve on all of this, because it also was capturing the best ideas of other guitar designs.


    for example:

    the volute on the explorer headstock is inherently stronger than the les paul (commonly known over time for breaks at the neck), plus i liked the headstock shape;

    the weight relief is secondary-- the sound cavities i had routed strictly for that semi-acoustic property, making the guitar, at stage volume, extremely lively - this followed the basics of the Brian May Red Special, which was my starting point. his guitar is designed more like a 335 than mine, but i went there as much as i could without floating the top over a central beam;

    the ebony fretboard brings out more les paul-style tonal characteristics than, say, a rosewood fretboard would have;

    the glue in neck was a must, and unlike the les paul, which has that awkward heel, mine is smoothed out right into the back of the body, without so much as a line. the tonal effect with the glued in neck, and the long tenon is an obvious connection to the les paul lineage;

    the tilt back headstock was unnecessary with the kahler locking nut, but i added it anyway, feeling that the downward pressure of the strings still helps to maintain a strong connection to the neck, vibration wise, and this is very much in les paul territory;

    the strings on top, versus thru the body, is a very important link to the overall sound, and the use of the kahler is a great way to bridge the gap between a stop tailpiece and a floating trem.
    tho they didn't have them then, now kahler has a 'hybrid' tailpiece, that can lock as a hard tail, or float as a trem.
    best of both.
     
  16. The Melodyman

    The Melodyman Member

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    Just bought a Brian may Signature guitar last week. $700 and worth every penny. Its made in Korea but the fit and finish are better than the last Gibson I bought. The neck is fabulous and the sound is ... well different than any guitar I have ever played. You can obtain the Queen sound if you try, but played into my Marhsall JTM45 and used for regular playing, this thing rocks!
     
  17. Mrmarshallhead

    Mrmarshallhead Member

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    Interestingly, Brian's guitar owes more to the Burns Vibra Artist than any other guitar out there. It has a huge number of similarities.
     
  18. docsmith

    docsmith Member

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    I reckon it all depends on what your wants & needs are. Spending 7 large for an instrument isn't something many people are willing to do.

    That being said, there are instruments made by other companies that cost the same but aren't giving you this much of an exotic instrument...something that's a dead-on replica of Brian May's hand made guitar.

    My biggest obstacle isn't affording it (I can afford pretty most guitars). It's selling the whole thing to the wife. If I handle it wrong, I'm the couch indefinitely. :Spank

    This wouldn't be a daily player but rather an investment piece. Ideally I'd love to be able to get Brian to autograph it. 50 years from now...that'd be a million dollar guitar.



     
  19. docsmith

    docsmith Member

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    Why not? Have you tried one?
     
  20. Dashface

    Dashface Member

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    I had one of the Burns Brian May guitars a few years back and I have to say it was one of the best made guitars I've ever owned - and I have owned many. Really, fit and finish was outstanding, it had incredible tone, and it looked great (I got it in green :D). Burns apparently used some British Airways x-ray machines to get the chambering right - there was a lot of attention to detail. And it wasn't that cheap - I'm pretty sure I paid about $1800 for it new.

    Anyway, I'd suggest trying one if you get a jonesing for a Red Special - they really are excellent guitars. I would've kept it forever except that it was a 24-fret short-scale guitar, which was just a bit too small for my meaty hands.
     

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