Forums > Queen - Serious Discussion > How did Brian's guitar-playing improve and/or change over the years?

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Posted: 25 Sep 06, 11:27 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

I am not a musician - just curious to get some expert opinions.


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Posted: 25 Sep 06, 12:27 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

Well you know.... this won't be an expert opinion mind you....

I think he maintained a pretty fair whack of individuality over the years - and when he did appropriate different styles from other guitarists, he kept his own stamp on them.

Fretboard tapping, for instance, wasn't something he nicked from Eddie Van Halen like a million other guitarists - he actually came upon it in much more interesting circumstances, and to his credit it doesn't sound at all like a 'cloned' skill when he does it.

His speed and accuracy (if such things are important?) were pretty consistent over the years - observe the fast descending runs in Jesus, for instance.

I suppose a lesser guitarist would get penis envy in the late 80's when you have guys like Jason Becker sweeping like janitors all over the joint... it's interesting to see Brian dabble in sweeping in "Was It All Worth It" without going overboard and trying to do what every other guitarist was doing in those days.

Yah, you know - I think he's been pretty level-headed, creative, a little adaptive.... pretty true to his own style. But I may be wrong, as I said this ain't an 'expert' opinion - just the words of a fellow player!


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Posted: 25 Sep 06, 12:45 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

There are many details that subtly changed over the years ... but I'm sure many people in this forum can illustrate that better than me.

My general observations: frequent tapping in the 85-92 era compared to other periods, more use of the little finger in the later days than early days, more obviously Hendrix influences in the beginning.

But yes, from Smile up to Another world (which is what I've heard, of course there's much more before and after), his style was relatively stable, and so were his licks.


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Posted: 25 Sep 06, 13:13 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

As Sebastian already pointed out, Brian did use his little finger more from The Works on. I remember an interview where he mentioned it. He said he was trying to use it a bit more, particulary in tracks like Hammer to Fall, if I remember correctly.

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Posted: 25 Sep 06, 16:21 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

to be honest ...because of old(er) age, Brian isn't the same guitarist as he used to be ...

He simply forgets about the guitar solo's (either the "intended" one, or even the timing)... And I am not referring to the Queen + PR tour too much, even before on the Another World tour I saw his mind wasnt in tune with his fingers ...

He definately slowed down regarding his capabilities ... and I know that he would not be able nowadays to play the "AKOM" solo as he played on wembley ...

But I don't mind ...guitarists age, and their playing as well...Still he is a great guitarist, but for the last 5 to 10 years, he is really getting older and not as good (technically) as he used to be ...

I don't mind (again), it's just what I have seen and heard over the last decade ...

Stefan



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Posted: 25 Sep 06, 23:41 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

Completely disagree.

Brian was in absolutely top shape this year.

He prefers to bend and hold notes a bit longer these days than he used to. But his overall style has always been fantastic. I have never heard him play a bad show. Some are better than others, but Brian has always been a fantastic and very unique player. He is truly under-appreciated in the mainstream as a guitarist, songwriter, lyricist, and arranger.



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Posted: 26 Sep 06, 00:32 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

I gotta say, I haven't noticed Brian slowing down at all! One has good nights and bad nights... I haven't heard anything that'd convince me he's more sluggish than he used to be, but eh - that's just me.


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Posted: 26 Sep 06, 01:11 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

Clearly a lot of good points have been established here. I think in the beginning he was solid and breaking through into new things as Queen begun its career, on News of the World (It's Late), we hear him tapping (Which actually is the first recording of tapping on an electric guitar contrary to popular belief that Eddie Van Halen did it first on record)...like people have said before; As time has gone on, he's experimented a little with new techniques...however I think he's gotten to be a lot like Eric Clapton. In the sense that age has made him much more of a finesse player then a fretboard technician. He's enjoying playing more probably now. I think however between 1992 and 2004 he got a little rusty because he played at his own discretion with his solo career and other rare appearences. However with this European, Japan, and North American tour...he's shook off most of his rust. He still is in my opinion one of the most grossly underrated classic rock guitarists...its always Jimmy Page that's heralded as the best. To be honest Jimmy Page is grossly overrated...his licks are nothing more than post-depression (1930-1960) delta blues licks incorporating Middle Eastern scales. There's nothing original about his soloing or songwriting.


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Posted: 26 Sep 06, 05:58 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

Sir GH<br><h6>ah yeah</h6> wrote:

Completely disagree.

Brian was in absolutely top shape this year.

He prefers to bend and hold notes a bit longer these days than he used to. But his overall style has always been fantastic. I have never heard him play a bad show. Some are better than others, but Brian has always been a fantastic and very unique player. He is truly under-appreciated in the mainstream as a guitarist, songwriter, lyricist, and arranger.



I disagree with you a little bit. Off course Brian was in shape but as he refered on Brianmay.com he could have done better.
I think now these days he pushes the strings way up to often. I miss the fast licks like he used to do on the back to the light tour and the magic tour. And often he messed up the guitar solo on the Queen+Paul Rodgers Tour. I dislike the harmonizer sound. Way much noise without doing anything. Personally give me the solo's he played on the wembley 1986 DVD


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Posted: 26 Sep 06, 07:28 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

So is there any definitive answer? One guy who's a very good guitar player was persuading me that Brian's recent guitar playing was just CRAP, absolutely not comparable to his skills in the 70's and 80's. Brian apparently makes a lot of mistakes, is slower and I don't know what else. Now I read some of your opinions about how Brian still kept his skills. So where's the truth? Do opinions of experienced guitar players about Brian's guitar playing differ so much? Why?

Btw. I also disliked his recent guitar solos - VERY loud and too simple. Love the Wembley 86 solo!

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Posted: 26 Sep 06, 07:44 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

Mr. Scully wrote:

So is there any definitive answer? One guy who's a very good guitar player was persuading me that Brian's recent guitar playing was just CRAP, absolutely not comparable to his skills in the 70's and 80's. Brian apparently makes a lot of mistakes, is slower and I don't know what else. Now I read some of your opinions about how Brian still kept his skills. So where's the truth? Do opinions of experienced guitar players about Brian's guitar playing differ so much? Why?

Btw. I also disliked his recent guitar solos - VERY loud and too simple. Love the Wembley 86 solo!


Your very good guitar player friend needs to yank their earplugs.

We all have good days, and we all have bad days. Clearly this person was unlucky in what he was listening to.


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Posted: 26 Sep 06, 08:19 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

I saw 4 concerts from the 2005 tour and I could not believe how many mistakes Brian made. You do not need to be a guitar player to notice but if guitar players are more trustworthy... I spoke to two guitar players who saw the tour, too and they both agreed. Mainly in Brixton Brian played like a total beginner, he was a nervous wreck. In Frankfurt he left the stage in frustration because he was unable to play the solo (and it was NOT a broken string). In Japan he made loads of mistakes,too.

I would not say Brian is a worse player than he used to be - he just seems to be more nervous these days and maybe he was stressed out physically, too. After all, he had not played a tour for 7 years and was clearly lacking practice and maybe some self confidence, too. People who saw concerts in Europe, Japan and USA say he played better on the US tour.


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Posted: 26 Sep 06, 09:02 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

Brian's in an interesting place in his life as a guitarist. His peers who are on the road aren't really ripping guitarists (Clapton is blues based and has slowed down, Townshend still rocks but isn't in Brian's league as a soloist, and Keith Richards is primarily a rhythm player), so he's really one of the very few (Joe Perry?) pushing 60 and playing fast solo guitar. I always thought Brian took elements of new stuff, but still made it his, for example, everyone tapped in the 80s and sounded like Eddie Van Halen, but the tapping solo in One Vision sounded like Brian May tapping.

For the record, It's Late was released before the first VH album, but Brian and others say that the first recorded piece of tapping was by Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top on Beer drinkers and hell raisers in 1973, albeit it's a far cry from It's Late, which is a far cry from the VH debut in terms of technique.


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Posted: 26 Sep 06, 09:04 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

Well I have been paying guitar for 15 years now and Brian has been my bible, he was the reason I picked up a guitar and although I would never say that I could play as well as him, if you watched me play you would struggle to tell the difference (without seeing our faces). I have became trapped in being only able to play and think exactly like Brian May, it has held me back a bit but I am now too lazy to practice enough to take it to another level.

Anyway thats my credentials to answer the question.

No, I dont think that Brians playing has improved over the years, i think his live playing peak with Queen was around '77, after this period I think he became a little lazy when playing live, as did the rest of the band, or maybe he was just bored with touring.

I really liked his playing on the BTTL tour, if you watch the versions of NIH and HTF they beat pretty much any version he done with Queen, maybe it was because he had not been out on the road for a while and felt revitalised.

I was really looking forward to seeing him go out last year but found him quite dissapointing and his playing boring. If Brian ever got lost in previous years doing a solo he would bend up to a note and hold it until he found a point where he could come back in (probably because he does'nt know his scales well enough), now he does this note bending thing all of the time, it seems as if there is nothing he loves more than to run to the front of the stage and have the crowd expect some wonder solo, and then bend a G at the 18th fret up to an A whilst at the same time pulling a guitar hero face. I wonder when he will notice everyone looking back with 'is that it' looks on their faces.
But if thats what he wants to do then so be it, maybe he knows he no longer has to prove himself.

As I have said I dont think his playing has improved and as he has also said himself "There is nothing I can play now which I couldnt play when I was 16".


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Posted: 26 Sep 06, 09:06 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

He played fantastic at the Hyde Park concert I went to!!!!!! I loved it ALL. We all wanted MORE.

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Posted: 26 Sep 06, 10:39 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

I personally think that his solo's within the songs are still pretty good, but the actually solo spot in the live gigs has become... well "tired" really. Its got to the point where I think he should either ditch it all together and make space for another couple of songs or shorten it a bit so that its less of a bore. Sorry :(

That said though, I would still listen to Brians playing now (even though age might have dulled his ability a bit) rather than those "metal shredding 900 notes a second" yawnfest guitarists anyday...


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Posted: 26 Sep 06, 11:16 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

redspecial85 wrote:

I think in the beginning he was solid and breaking through into new things as Queen begun its career, on News of the World (It's Late), we hear him tapping (Which actually is the first recording of tapping on an electric guitar contrary to popular belief that Eddie Van Halen did it first on record)...like people have said before


You're partially right. Steve Hackett of Genesis was tapping on Selling England By The Pound in 1973. Not many people know that, because Genesis wasn't a commercial band then. This was released a month before the ZZ Top album referred to above.

The fact is this: the "innovators" are the ones who happen to be in the mainstream. With that in mind, I think Hendrix is horribly over-rated. Before Hendrix, Jeff Beck was doing stuff in the Yardbirds and on his own that Hendrix was doing, and much more. Beck, however, didn't do it on a commercial level, so that's why he isn't recognized or appreciated. But it still makes one wonder what directions Hendrix would have taken in the 70s, had he survived. Would he have gone the way of Santana, playing the same licks over and over again, or would he have tread new ground?

To be honest Jimmy Page is grossly overrated...his licks are nothing more than post-depression (1930-1960) delta blues licks incorporating Middle Eastern scales. There's nothing original about his soloing or songwriting.


I agree. Page did write a lot of fantastic songs, even though they weren't always completely original... but his genius is production. Listen to Led Zeppelin II, then listen to any other album from 1969. Nothing, with the possible exception of The Beatles' Abbey Road (it was George Martin, after all) matches it. The quality of sound and production is exceptional.



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Posted: 26 Sep 06, 12:06 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

Sir GH<br><h6>ah yeah</h6> wrote:

redspecial85 wrote:

I think in the beginning he was solid and breaking through into new things as Queen begun its career, on News of the World (It's Late), we hear him tapping (Which actually is the first recording of tapping on an electric guitar contrary to popular belief that Eddie Van Halen did it first on record)...like people have said before


You're partially right. Steve Hackett of Genesis was tapping on Selling England By The Pound in 1973. Not many people know that, because Genesis wasn't a commercial band then. This was released a month before the ZZ Top album referred to above.

The fact is this: the "innovators" are the ones who happen to be in the mainstream. With that in mind, I think Hendrix is horribly over-rated. Before Hendrix, Jeff Beck was doing stuff in the Yardbirds and on his own that Hendrix was doing, and much more. Beck, however, didn't do it on a commercial level, so that's why he isn't recognized or appreciated. But it still makes one wonder what directions Hendrix would have taken in the 70s, had he survived. Would he have gone the way of Santana, playing the same licks over and over again, or would he have tread new ground?

To be honest Jimmy Page is grossly overrated...his licks are nothing more than post-depression (1930-1960) delta blues licks incorporating Middle Eastern scales. There's nothing original about his soloing or songwriting.


I agree. Page did write a lot of fantastic songs, even though they weren't always completely original... but his genius is production. Listen to Led Zeppelin II, then listen to any other album from 1969. Nothing, with the possible exception of The Beatles' Abbey Road (it was George Martin, after all) matches it. The quality of sound and production is exceptional.


Definitely agree. But to state the extreme obvious (which you have clearly stated yourself) - being a great producer doesn't make him a great guitar player. I like Led Zeppelin, but unlike a lot of bands, I find some of their stuff (and I own all their albums) terribly unlistenable. I just can't get into it. I find that Page simply often does not play for the song, but seems to play for himself, which ruins it for me. Though, you get people like Brian who want to do the best for the song (most of the time at least, the odd bit of ego here and there never hurt!).

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Posted: 26 Sep 06, 12:24 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

Sir GH, on which song(s) did Hackett tap on Selling England by the pound?


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Posted: 26 Sep 06, 13:14 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

He's playing tapping on "Musical Box", the title track.