Brian May’s Homemade Guitar, Made From Old Tables, Bike and Motorcycle Parts & More

It’s called “The Red Spe­cial.” Or some­times “The Fire­place.” That’s the gui­tar that Bri­an May (gui­tarist of Queen and physics researcher) began build­ing with his father cir­ca 1963, when Bri­an was about 16 years old. Lack­ing mon­ey but not inge­nu­ity, the father-son team built the gui­tar using mate­ri­als found around the home. The neck of the gui­tar was fash­ioned from an 18th-cen­tu­ry fire­place man­tel, the inlays on the neck from a moth­er-of-pearl but­ton. For the body, they used wood from an old oak table. Then the bricoleurs com­bined a bike sad­dle­bag hold­er, a plas­tic knit­ting nee­dle tip, and motor­bike valve springs to cre­ate a tremo­lo arm. It’s a kind of mag­ic! But here’s per­haps the most amaz­ing part of the sto­ry. The result­ing gui­tar was­n’t a rick­ety nov­el­ty. May used The Red Spe­cial dur­ing Queen’s record­ing ses­sions and live per­for­mances, and he still appar­ent­ly plays a restored ver­sion today. If you find your­self inspired by this DIY sto­ry, you can head over to Bri­an­May­Gui­tars and buy your own Red Spe­cial repli­ca.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Lis­ten to Fred­die Mer­cury and David Bowie on the Iso­lat­ed Vocal Track for the Queen Hit ‘Under Pres­sure,’ 1981

The Mak­ing of Queen and David Bowie’s 1981 Hit “Under Pres­sure”: Demos, Stu­dio Ses­sions & More

Gui­tarist Bri­an May Explains the Mak­ing of Queen’s Clas­sic Song, ‘Bohemi­an Rhap­sody’

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.