Brian May Shows You How to Play Licks & Solos from 18 Queen Songs, and Reveals the Joy of the Guitar Riff

In the world of rock gui­tar, gear is king. And tech­nique, one might say, is queen. Both rule, but the equip­ment can receive an unfair share of roy­al treat­ment. There is good rea­son for this. Elec­tri­fied instru­ments play­ing elec­tric music require heaps of wires, cir­cuits, spe­cial­ized effects, and ampli­fiers to make the sounds we’ve come to asso­ciate with hard rock and heavy met­al. But those sounds didn’t come about by acci­dent. They were designed at par­tic­u­lar times by par­tic­u­lar gui­tarists and engineers—serious gear­heads. Per­haps the most obses­sive of them all is Bri­an May, whose flashy but taste­ful play­ing with Queen set the bar for pyrotech­nics artists and fel­low gear­heads like Eddie Van Halen. Maybe it’s his work as an astro­physi­cist (no, real­ly!) that inspired his sci­en­tif­ic approach to mak­ing music. Wher­ev­er it comes from, no one plays, and sounds, quite like Bri­an May.

In the video above from 1984, May gives lessons on how to play his famous licks and solos from eigh­teen Queen songs. But first, he gets into the tech­ni­cal specs of his ampli­fiers, effects, and his gui­tar, “Red Spe­cial,” an instru­ment of his own design and build that func­tioned like no oth­er at the time. Even today, no gui­tar but a Bri­an May sig­na­ture gui­tar—now mass-pro­duced—sounds like a Bri­an May gui­tar. At one point, May says, “I’ve had this gui­tar for 20 years, and it’s pret­ty much the only thing I can play to get the right sound.” He still feels the same way, as you can see in his much more recent “Rig Run­down,” that peri­od­ic delight of gui­tar geeks every­where in which famous gui­tarists show­case the gear that gets them “the right sound.”

May’s full immer­sion in the tech­ni­cal details of elec­tric gui­tars and ampli­fiers is rivaled only by his com­plex and intri­cate gui­tar lines. If you can keep up with him in the instruc­tion­al video at the top, you might just learn a thing or two about the so-called “lick.” Just above, how­ev­er, May helps guide us through an explo­ration of a much more direct and prim­i­tive means of expression—the riff. The BBC spe­cial also fea­tures such mas­ters of this repet­i­tive, rhyth­mic motif as Joan Jett, Wayne Kramer, Nile Rodgers, Tony Iom­mi, and Dave Davies, as well as—in archival footage—riff pio­neers Chuck Berry and Link Wray, each of them demon­strat­ing the ear­worms they’re known for. Bri­an May’s riffs—in “Bohemi­an Rhap­sody” for example—may be more clas­si­cal than most, but they’re no less mem­o­rable. And after watch­ing his extend­ed les­son, you now know exact­ly how he built them, piece by piece.

via Men­tal Floss

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

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

Queen Doc­u­men­tary Pays Trib­ute to the Rock Band That Con­quered the World

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • phil aunesis says:

    Many years ago , anoth­er gui­tar play­er showed me a nice clever blues gui­tar lick, which I’ve used many times, and record­ed it as part of a gui­tar solo I did on a song which sold as a down­load or with the cd album. Does that mean I am moral­ly and/or legal­ly oblig­at­ed to pay him a roy­al­ty? (that’s if I can find him). If I did how does one work out what it’s worth?.
    I have found many gui­tar licks ‘bor­rowed’ from some­one else in record­ings.
    My guess is, if there is such thing as roy­al­ties for gui­tar, every gui­tarist would be receiv­ing roy­al­ties from some while pay­ing out roy­al­ties to oth­ers.

  • megha yadav says:

    This is the amaz­ing arti­cle and nice video.

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