Al­though bet­ter known for his elec­tric gui­tar wiz­ardry, the Queen gui­tarist is a so­phis­ti­cated acous­tic player too. Stuart Ryan re­veals all.

Guitar Techniques - - CONTENTS -

Stuart Ryan ex­am­ines the acous­tic play­ing of a fan­tas­tic elec­tric player - the great Brian May.

Brian May is such an iconic fig­ure in the world of rock that it al­most feels like sac­ri­lege to pic­ture him with an acous­tic gui­tar, rather than the famed Red Spe­cial blaz­ing through a wall of cranked AC30s. How­ever, while the elec­tric gui­tar un­de­ni­ably drove Queen’s big­gest hits, the acous­tic has been key to some of their finest bal­lad work that has had crowds singing along in sta­di­ums across the globe. Brian’s most fa­mous acous­tic tracks in­clude Love Of My Life (check out the spine-tin­gling live duets with Fred­die) and Is This The World We Cre­ated. How­ever, post-Queen his Guild 12-string has be­come an even big­ger part of his live shows and you’ll of­ten hear sem­i­nal Queen hits like Some­body To Love per­formed in a solo acous­tic and vo­cal con­text.

Born in Lon­don in July 1947, Brian May’s ear­li­est in­flu­ence was Cliff Richard and The Shad­ows, which of course fea­tured the leg­endary Hank Marvin. Later on he was heav­ily in­flu­enced by the pi­o­neer­ing rock bands of the 1960s and early ‘70s; The Beatles, The Who, Led Zep­pelin and Jimi Hen­drix all loomed large on his radar. His early for­ays into mu­sic as a child in­cluded learn­ing the ban­jolele, ukulele and clas­si­cal pi­ano (it’s tempt­ing to al­ways pic­ture Fred­die at the keys but Brian was also a com­pe­tent pi­anist and he would oc­ca­sion­ally take that role in the stu­dio). Gui­tar be­came his pri­mary fo­cus in his teens and at the age of 16 he built the leg­endary Red Spe­cial with his fa­ther’s as­sis­tance. How­ever, this home-made in­stru­ment was not the only idio­syn­crasy within May’s play­ing – he quickly de­vel­oped a love of us­ing six­pences in place of plec­trums, a fea­ture that certainly con­trib­uted to his bright, clear tone. On acous­tic he is both a strum­mer and fin­ger­picker, of­ten fin­ger­pick­ing on a 12-string, which is no mean feat.

For this study we’ll take a look at May’s fin­ger­pick­ing style, which is typ­i­cally used to back up a vo­cal line. How­ever, he is by no means a sim­ple ‘three chord trick’ mer­chant and his acous­tic parts fea­ture de­tailed, al­most clas­si­cally-in­spired mov­ing lines along with a plethora of chord voic­ings and so­phis­ti­cated har­mony. This study isn’t too chal­leng­ing for the pick­ing hand and your stan­dard pima ap­proach will work well. The real work is for the fret­ting hand, which will be mov­ing around var­i­ous triad and larger chord shapes so when you come across chords that are new to you take some time to in­ter­nalise and mem­o­rise them for fu­ture use.

the gui­tar has been key to some of queen’s finest bal­lads that have had crowds singing along across the globe

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