I just received my long-awaited Red Special Classic guitar from RS Guitars! Being that mine is the first production RS Classic ever produced, I thought that you might benefit from a review of this beautiful instrument.
Since I was about 15 years old (many years ago) I have always wanted a replica of Brian May’s guitar. When I finally decided to pursue the Brian May tone I thought that buying a Guild from someone on Ebay was my only option. I was not too eager to take this path, as Guild BM models usually sell for about $3,000, far too much for me to pay for a guitar that may have had more hands on it than Pamela Anderson. Thankfully, I stumbled upon the RS web site in December 2000 and another option presented itself. After trading emails with Steve Turpin (RS Guitars’ brainchild) for about 3 hours I placed an order for the Classic; without even seeing pictures of the prototype! Why did I do this? I did it because after speaking with Steve (via email), I was absolutely convinced that RS Guitars were devoted to creating a great replica of the original Red Special. Imagine my excitement when I saw the pictures of the prototype when they were posted in late February. I knew I made the right decision and I was so happy that I placed my order.
The production of my guitar took a bit longer than I originally expected (about 14 weeks in total), but there were good reasons for the extended production time: the original headstock design (similar to the Guild) was scrapped in exchange for a more accurate headstock design, as was the original neck joint. In addition, the Mustang style trem (which is on the prototype) was retired in favor of a beautiful replica of Brian’s original trem. The white switches were also difficult to obtain, but worth the wait, as many replicas use black switches, which didn’t really appeal to me. The end result is that I have a guitar that is, by far, the best replica (except for Greg Fryer’s replicas, which would sell for much more) of the original Red Special.
Fit & Finish
This guitar is breathtaking. The finish is absolutely flawless and the entire guitar oozes quality. From the binding to the tuners to the pickup surrounds, each piece has been crafted/installed with care; and it really shows. I can’t really say enough about the high quality craftsmanship. The switches are nice and tight, the tuners are fantastic, and the knobs have a great feel to them. This is guitar making at its best (in my opinion).
This is one thick neck. I was curious as to how it would feel and how long it would take to get used to the fatter neck. In fact, I was considering changing the neck to make it more like that of a Gibson Les Paul. Thankfully, Mark Reynolds urged me to go with the original neck dimensions and I am glad that I took his advice.
Right out of the box it was obvious that the neck is quite different from the Gibson and Strat necks that I normally play. It is a handful and has a bit of a slippery feel, but the shorter scale and wide nut make it really easy to bend the strings. After about 10 minutes I was blazing all over the neck and loving it. The craftsmanship of the neck and fingerboard will blow your mind.
The trem is a thing of beauty. It is well crafted and faithfully recreates the look of the original. The tension is quite different from that of a traditional Strat trem or a Floyd Rose. As expected, I was able to drop down really, really low to produce a nice growl…very nice indeed. I am still experimenting with the nut and zero fret to ensure that the strings don’t bind. I applied a bit of Silicon spray which seemed to do the trick. After the strings were well stretched I was amazed at how the trem stayed in tune.
After staring at and holding my guitar for about ½ hour, I finally plugged it in to my new rig, which is as follows: Fryer Brian May Treble Booster > Fryer Brian May Mayhem Distortion > Boss CE 1 Chorus > H & K Replex Delay > Vox AC30 TBX.
The array of tones that one can coax out of this guitar is amazing. From slightly overdriven to over-the-top saturation; it’s all in here. The body cavities contribute to a nice round, full-bodied sound. With the distortion set low, I was able to dial in a nice, mid-range tone similar to that used on the “You’re My Best Friend” solo. I was also able to get a fierce overdrive that is reminiscent of the intro lead to “Death On Two Legs”. During my tests, the Tri-Sonics did not produce any microphonic squeal or buzzing at all. I had my amp really cranked (about 1/3 volume- which is very loud on a Vox!) and the notes launched into a nice feedback tone with little effort. I was also having fun with the “cello” sound that can be produced with some heavy saturation and the neck pickup.
The real test for me was the light “tinkling” sound. It was a breeze to hit that sound, which was treated with a bit of the CE 1 chorus. I think a tear came to my eye when I heard it.
I don’t know what else to say about this guitar (I’ve run out of adjectives). It is everything that I expected and really takes the Red Special to a new level. The only problem that I see with this guitar is that I may never put it down!
I hope that this review helps you decide if the RS Classic is the guitar for you. I’m sorry for the long review, but I felt that I should cover all of the bases for those of you who may be interested in RS Guitars. I also wanted to detail my experiences with RS Guitars because the service that I received was a very important part of the whole buying process. A great guitar with bad service always leaves me cold and I have received enough bad service in my life to really appreciate when someone goes the extra distance to please a customer.
Also, please know that I am not affiliated with RS Guitars in any way. I am simply a very satisfied customer who will be ordering another guitar from RS as soon as my budget allows (maybe a solid body version of the RS Classic).
Thanks to Steve Turpin, Jon Harper, and RS Guitars for a great experience and a great guitar.
I found RS Guitars while searching Gbase.com for Brian May style guitars. Choosing between the Classic and the Custom was a tough choice. I finally decided on the custom because I thought it would be nice to have something unique. If I was happy with the results I could always go back for a Classic model.
Deciding how to configure the Custom was also tough but I finally decided on the following:
Maple bolt-on neck
2 DiMarzio humbuckers direct mounted (standard with coil taps)
Phase switch (if you’re a Brian May fan this is the whole point)
Original Red Finish
(I asked for the tone knob to be omitted since I always keep it wide open anyway.)
The first thing that struck me when I opened the box was the appearance. It was gorgeous; just the shade of red I had imagined. I was happy to notice that the neck and headstock had also been painted — something I didn’t think to ask about. When I actually picked it up my first thought was “This is solid.” It immediately reminded me of a Les Paul I used to own. I inspected it closely for any defects but could find none. Frets, inlays, finish, etc. — excellent attention to detail.
So it looked good and felt good but the only real test was the sound.
Using the humbuckers alone (without coil taps or phase switch) I was very much reminded again of my old Les Paul. The sustain was excellent and it was so easy to “pinch” those harmonics. When I started messing around with the switches I was able to coax just about any sound I wanted out of the guitar. A neat feature that was unexpected was the fact that when the bridge pickup is selected and tapped you can use the phase switch to actually pick which coil is active.
Overall I am extremely satisfied with this guitar. I would recommend it to anyone who wants a solid, unique, quality instrument whether or not they are a Queen or Brian May fan. I will be coming back for more as soon as my budget allows.
John Esposito, PA USA
24 Frets, Solid Swamp Ash body.
Two Di-Marzio Humbuckers, Coil tap for each Humbucker, three way toggle and phase reversal switch.
Swamp Ash body, Maple neck and Ebony fingerboard
Transparent Blue finish showing Swamp Ash grain.
Wilkinson tremolo with locking Sperzel tuners.
All hardware is black.
Custom neck size.
Hard case and allan wrenches.
The guitar gives a great Les Paul feel to it. I play with an AC30TBX and a Marshall Valvestate 8080 and both amps work really well with the guitar. The guitar is very quiet, no buzzing. The out of phase sound and coil split creates some but that is expected when the pick-ups are not humbucking. Certainly nothing unuseable. The guitar has a good bottom end and a clean top end. Nicely balanced. The guitar has the traditional Les Paul three position toggle switch. Then you have a coil tap for each humbucker which gives real nice single coil sounds in the neck position and bridge position. Quite acoustic in some ways. Then you have a Phase reversal switch which will out of phase the humbuckers. That is real useful for a sort of Peter Green sound. Honky!
There is nothing I dislike about the sounds. It is very versatile and is exactly what I was looking for.
Action, Fit, & Finish: 10
The guitar was immediately playable. No setting up required. It had a nice medium-low action. The pick-ups had been set for a well balanced feel to them. The intonation was smack on and there was no buzzing on the fretboard at all. The frets were highly polished and having the locking tuners helped to maintain a stable tuning.
The guitar was flawless. The finish was like glass and the binding was absolutely perfect. I don’t think I have seen binding done so well on a guitar before. There were no scratches or dents. It was as new. The guitar was well packaged and the headstock was wrapped in bubble wrap to prevent any knocks. The guitar survived shipping to the UK. The guitar arrived in it’s hardcase in a tough, thick cardboard box.
The guitar appears to be bulit like a house. It feels very solid. The finish will suffer in the future but that happens on any guitar that you use all the time! The hardware is all quality so it should last as long as any other quality instruments hardware. The only thing I can see will need replacing before anything else is the zero fret but I wanted that option and I have other guitars with a zero fret so it is nothing for me to worry about. The strap buttons are quite wide and they are only as good as my strap. I always use some kind of strap lock on all my guitars. I would not trust ANY strap button. I always make sure the strap cannot come off.
The guitar is totally dependable. I have had no problems with it. I would never gig without a back-up. You snap a string, you stop the show to re-string it! It’s suicide! I always have a spare no matter how good the guitar is.
Customer Support: 10
I have had quite a lot of communication with RS Guitars and they have always been excellent. They reply to my E-mails promptly and they are always there to offer advice and information. I have never had to contact them for a fault with the guitar but I have no doubt that they would help me in any way should I have problems.
Overall Rating: 10
I have been playing guitar for about 28 years. This guitar is as good as any other quality instrument but is better because it is a guitar suited to my style. The guitar is a custom made model because it has what I asked for rather than a standard “this is what you get” type of guitar. If it was stolen I would do my best to replace it but each guitar has differences so it would be hard to get an exact replacement but I am certain that I would have another to the same specs. I wanted this guitar because I like Brian May’s guitar but I wanted something that resembled it but had a more modern sound. I wanted some different switching options though. It’s a fabulaous guitar and worht every penny.
Mark Reynolds, Dec. 2002