10 Famous Guitars


2
Brian May's 'Red Special'
Brian May of Queen performs on one of his "Red Specials" at The Prince's Trust Rock Gala 2010 at the Royal Albert Hall in London, England. Ian Gavan/Getty Images

Brian May's dad was a highly skilled electronics engineer who handmade all of the family's household appliances from toasters to TVs. The Mays were also poor with no extra pocket money to spend on expensive gifts. So, when, in 1963, his guitar-mad son wanted to graduate from an acoustic to electric, the two of them decided to build the perfect instrument from scratch.

They carved the neck from an old fireplace, repurposed mother-of-pearl buttons for the fret inlay and crafted the tremolo arm from a bicycle saddlebag holder and one of Mrs. May's knitting needles. "The Red Special" as it became known due to the color of its wood, never left Brian's side, even when he went off to London to get a Ph.D. in astrophysics.

But the instrument that brought father and son together in the making, soon tore them apart. It was in London that Brian met a budding rock star named Freddie Mercury and formed the band, Queen. To his father's intense disappointment, Brian's Ph.D. bit the dust, so to speak, as Queen took off. (He did finally earn that Ph.D. in 2008, and has even worked at NASA with other astrophysicists analyzing data from the Pluto New Horizons probe [source: Biography.com].)

Brian and his father finally reconciled years later when the young guitar god flew his parents to New York to see the band play Madison Square Garden. The Red Special, which also goes by the handles "Fireplace" and "Old Lady," has been the guitar-star of almost every major Queen song, and remains May's favorite [source: Huntman].

More to Explore