Passing Notes

Note: This is taken from the Total Guitar ‘Passing Notes’ column, which is a slightly tongue-in-cheek look at famous guitarists.

Born: 19th July 1947, Twickenham, Middlesex

Recorded work: No less than 18 glorious harmonised albums with Queen in their 20-year history.

A busy lad then?: Too right – he also found time to record a solo album, plus the soundtrack to children’s TV series Starfleet, and that bloody car advert (Driven by You)

Greatest success?: How many guitarists have played a solo that 90% of the population know well enough to sing? Yep, Bohemian Rhapsody has to be his finest hour.

An influential guitarist?: Too right. This is Brian May, inventor of the Brian May sound. His harmonised guitar textures have influenced just about everyone, from Extreme’s Nuno Bettencourt to Jeff Beck.

So is he any good then?: Brian’s playing does rely more on melody, harmony and phrasing than flash widdle, but he has his moments of genius – there’s a bottleneck in Tie Your Mother Down, layered delay lines in Brighton Rock, some terrifying pull-offs in Gimmie the Prize, even multi-fingered taps in It’s late. And this was two years before EVH ‘invented’ tapping on the Van Halen I album. Brian’s also pretty nifty on the Genuine George Formby Ukelele Banjo (check out Good Company from A Night at the Opera).

Is he uncool in any way?: Well, he uses .008 gauge strings – a bit on the wimpy side. And he was absolutely the last guitarist to give up using curly leads. And then there’s the hair…

Favoured guitar?: Brian May, ex-astrophysics student, and all-round clever bastard that he is, built his own guitar for £8 out of a bit of mantlepiece.

Uses a weird plectrum?: Oh yes. Our Brian, not satisfied with playing a mantlepiece, had to play it with a sixpence, too. Just to make his tone even harder to copy. Bastard.

Most likely to say?: “I think it needs another harmony line in there – can we go for take 93?”

Least likely to say?: “Short back and sides, please.”