You'll Never Forget Your First Guitar

Source: Daily Telegraph August 1997

Submitted by: Richard Orchard

The attraction of rock 'n' roll led to desperate measures on the part of Britain's youth as they sought to own the types of guitars they saw their new heroes playing on television. Good guitars were expensive, but those with construction skills and/or helpful parents were able to approximate the real thing. Sometimes the results were disastrous, whereas the efforts of former Queen guitarist Brian May (right) and his dad led to a legendary instrument which was crucial to the Queen sound and, more than 30 years after its creation, remains an icon of British rock.

Brian, noteworthy for his use of old silver sixpences as picks, says: "I drooled over John Garnham's gleaming Hofner Colorama and Watkins Copicat reverb chamber; coveted Woolly Hammerton's V3, cherry red with a chrome tremolo arm; and spent hours poring over catalogues that showed the Fender Stratocasters, Telecasters, Gibson Les Pauls and such like, which we all played only in our dreams. Not being able to afford all this stuff was, I guess, the main impetus behind me and my dad deciding to make a guitar."

The neck was part of an old fireplace that was lying around a friend's house, while the rest of the body was blockboard glued and screwed to oak.

"I built the guitar with small acoustic pockets in it and rigidly mounted the pickups to the body so that the whole thing interacted with the air. Originally I made the pickups myself but found that they were too uneven in their response, so I bought some Burns Tri-Sonics and rewound them to get the sound I wanted. We designed a knife-edge tremolo unit with almost no friction, I fashioned a system of rollers for the bridge, which could be adjusted in position for intonation, and we designed our own system of switching, to give a wider range of sounds than anything else out there.

"By some miracle the guitar even survived being beaten to death all around the world several times, as I toured with Queen, and now with the Brian May Band. Still, it hangs in there, and looks like it will just about see me out."