Gibson’s Classic Tone Tip: Brian May
The next in a series of step-by-step guides to home recording
Have you ever tried to play like one of your guitar heroes, but weren’t able to get your tone quite right? Allow us to lend a hand. Straight from the Gibson archives, “Gibson’s Classic Tone Tip” can help you sound just like some of music’s biggest stars and greatest legends. Today, we’re featuring astrophysics whiz and Queen guitar hero Brian May. Follow this guide (and use a coin for a pick) and you’ll be able to recreate the a-May-zing solos on “Killer Queen” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Brian May ? the man responsible for the guitars in Queen ? has a distinctive guitar tone. From the very beginning, he’s stayed true to his roots and the gear that made up his sound.
I must admit that I wasn’t always a fan of May’s tone. That may offend some of you, but it just seemed kind of thin for my liking. Over the years, that’s changed; I’ve come to appreciate his tone.
Brian May is a diehard Vox amp user. It’s no wonder he stuck with Vox over the years. That sound has become a staple of rock music and one that is instantly recognizable.
The guitar that May is most associated with is the custom-built “Red Special,” which he has played for years. He also has a Gibson Les Paul, a Gibson acoustic and a Flying V in his collection.
May used effects sparingly, relying on his guitar and amp to shape the majority of his tone. There is certainly nothing wrong with that approach. When working to emulate May’s tone at your home computer, you can always add on Overdrive or Chorus once you have the sound you’re looking for.
There is more to May that being one of the greatest guitar players of all time. He is also an astrophysicist. That’s right ? an astrophysicist. In case you don’t want to go look it up, an astrophysicist deals with the physics of the universe.
I think I’ll stick with May’s guitar tone and leave the physics to someone else.
Back to the guitar. I’ll be using Native Instruments Guitar Rig 3
to build May’s tone, focusing on songs in the era of “Fat Bottomed Girls” (see video above).
I did something a little different with May’s tone. We’ve never done this in this series before, but I used two amps and separate cabinets to set up the guitar tone. I think it ended up working better for us than the alternative.
I used what Native Instruments calls the “AC Box,” which as you probably guessed is a modeled AC30. Settings for the first amp are: Normal 9; Brilliant 10; Treble 10; Bass 4; Tone Cut 3; Speed 5; Tremolo 0.
You’ll have to make some changes in the cabinet, too. Usually I’m a fan of using the 4x12 cabs because they give some depth to the tone, but this time we are going to stay with the 2x12 AC Box model. What we do is put the mic slider all the way over to “B” and the Dry/Air slider to about 55% Air.
This is where I struggled with what to do next. Originally, I used a screamer with very low settings and a Treble Booster to achieve the higher gain tone that May gets in some of his songs. And it worked. The problem was that in order to really get the tone of the other songs you would have to turn off the booster and screamer. That didn’t seem like an optimal solution, so I added a second amp with a completely different cab setup than the first.
The second amp I added was also an “AC Box” with the following settings: Normal 6; Brilliant 10; Treble 6; Bass 4; Tone Cut 2; Speed 4; and Depth 0.
When you add an amp in Guitar Rig it automatically adds the matching cabinet, but you can easily remove it. Just click on the “X” button on the top corner of the cab and it will go away. Now you will need to go to the amp component section and click on the “Cabinets and Mics,” which will add a generic setup to your preset.
I went through and picked the settings that worked best for Brian’s tone. They are: a 2x12 Custom cabinet, On Axis microphone and a Dynamic 57 mic. I also used Volume 6; Bass 4; Air 5; Pan 5; and Treble 7.
The last thing I put into the preset is a Chorus pedal. Again, this has very low settings because we already have the majority of what we need with the rest of the gear. The settings on the Chorus are: Speed -5, Intensity 1 and Width 2.
That does it. You should be able to plug in and play “Fat Bottomed Girls” and sound just like Brian May!