An in depth study and review of the Burns Brian May guitar
by Dmitry Przhedetsky with comments by Greg Fryer
BURNS BRIAN MAY GUITAR
(serial number 39)
I decided to split my review in four parts, as it would reflect my opinion
not only about the Burns Guitar, but also about the Red Special business
Part 4 contains Greg Fryer’s advises on Burns Brian May Setup.
Part 1 Personal
Part 2 Technical
Part 3 Commercial/Logical
Part 4 Professional – Greg Fryer’s Recommended Settings for
Burns Brian May guitar.
Part 1 Personal
Hereinafter I am referring to my studies: “The Pros of Red and Cons
(c) Dmitry Przhedetsky Sydney 2001.
I was about 22 years old, when during a rock-group rehearsal one of
my friends in the band mentioned to me that Brian May of Queen established
production of his signature guitars. Having thought for a minute I decided that probably the guitar with the Brian May sound would be one of the best
options for me to play. That day my salary was equal about U$8.00- per month on the black market. Russia was still isolated by the famous Iron Curtain. There were no guitars of any kind available in the local shops. However, something forced me to vow that one day I’d buy the guitar.
Now I’m 36. I live in Sydney. I’ve got not only a master’s degree in mining engineering, but also a diploma of the Arts University in Classic Guitar. I also studied Jazz Guitar and I have been playing rock for over 20 years. I recorded one CD so far and all my life I have been a guitar man. You know what I mean. I am able to write this in English just because I learnt it by listening to British & American Rock Bands. True!
During the last year I became deeply involved in trying to solve for
myself one of the biggest mysteries of the modern guitar manufacturing.
I was trying to buy a Brian May Guitar.
After many days spent on the internet, personal inquiries and finally a few meetings with Greg Fryer I became equally obsessed and disappointed with the fact that at that moment there was no Manufacturer in the entire world who would be able to offer an exact authorised replica of the Red Special.
I even put together a report on feasibility of mass production of the Red Special and sent it to Queen Fan Club, attention Mr Brian May. I received no reply.
Nevertheless, the spent time was worth it – I learnt many interesting things.
While doing this research I came to the following conclusions:
The Red Special has been one of the most outstanding and one of the most unavailable guitars on the market for years. The guitar was something really special from day one. Having become one of the most popular guitars in the world due to the unmistakable Queen Sound it still is an object of desire of many guitarists from young amateurs to mature professionals.
It has been proven that the guitar is very wanted on the market. No other electric guitar draws so much attention of the Internet users. Despite the overwhelming variety of the guitars offered to an average customer, there is no “official” authentic Brian May Guitar being produced or distributed today.
There is no other electric guitar inspiring so many enthusiasts in many
The guitar truly has become a product desperately wanted, but commercially unavailable. The absence of the wanted product on the market for years has lead to a growing number of unprofessionally home made, pirate or hybrid copies. This drastically compromises the idea of the Red Special Guitar and leaves the main problem unsolved: where and how people could buy the Brian May Guitar?
On the Internet I could find nearly everything about the Red Special and other components of the Brian May sound. It’s absolutely amazing the diligence the people present the information with. I could feel a passion to the Old Lady, sometimes without even understanding the language the site was designed in!
Guitarists all over the world were willingly sharing their knowledge with me. From the United States to the United Kingdom, from Italy to Spain, from Russia to Japan, from Sweden to Australia something was pushing people to build their web pages dedicated to the Red Special. I could find the colours of Guild prototypes, photos of Grekos, brands of the pick-ups, wiring diagrams, wood selection, dimensional drawings, tuners angles, and so on, and so forth. Most of the information would have been very useful, if I were a luthier. Alas, I am not. All I wanted was just to buy a guitar from anyone, who can professionally build it.
There was no light in the end of the tunnel. About a year ago I started
hearing some rumors Burns were going to produce Red Specials in September
The final date was being postponed a few times. There were two photos of prototypes and very sketchy information.
Finally, just before Christmas I received the long-waited Red Special
from London. I am very grateful to Dave Good at House of Music for his
excellent support, courtesy and taking care of his customers.
Part 2 – Technical
This is my technical review of the Burns Brian May Guitar as a guitarist.
All right. I unpacked the cardboard box and pulled out the case. Case is well done, though it is rather small for the guitar. One can predict that the guitar will earn a few scratches from the metal sideboards as it takes some effort to put the guitar in without rubbing them. There is an accessory pack with two Alan keys, extra spring, spare tremolo arm bushing and the tremolo arm as such. The case is deep enough though. – See below.
Here is the Red Special! Welcome to Australia! Assuming that the guitar has come from the European winter to the peak of the Australian Summer it is remarkable, that it still was almost perfectly in tune. (This does not apply to the 6th and 5th string above 12th fret and the harmonic links in general – see below.)
The guitar looks solid. It does give you a feeling of the Red Special.
Before I played only two Red Special replicas: Greg Fryer’s Paul and Guild
– late 90th European Export. It’s fair to say that I played both guitars
only for about 5 minutes each at maximum. Now I received mine.
Now let’s put aside all the emotions.
The finishing is quite impressive. Suffering from perfectionism, I can
easily find equal imperfections reviewing any Gibson. Overall finish is
very well balanced. The only thing is a few cracks through the lacquer
where the neck joints the body. Cracks appear on the topside. The bottom
side is OK. (I’d prefer it to be opposite!) The basswood shines trough
the lacquer and looks quite cheerfully.
In general I like it. Alan Chow has already mentioned some cosmetic
imperfections of the fret markers. It’s very minor on mine copy. Frets
are well seated. Second string sometimes produces a few squeaks over the
first fret while bending. This does not get amplified, though.
Below I’m talking about authenticity. Nonetheless, I do like the tuners
placed parallel to the frets, unlike the original. Also, it was a good
idea to put Brian May signature under the Burns logo. I think it adds some
spirit to it.
Tuners are very good. They stay in tune long enough. Tremolo required
fitting extra spring (came with the guitar as an option.)
As a player I prefer bending much more than using tremolo, so I opted to fit the extra spring. As a problem of many guitars with floating tremolo – if you bend second string the pitch of the first goes down. Fitting of the 5th spring helps a bit.
Potentiometer knobs look cheap. For sake of a couple of bucks, some
better could be found. The slide switches work all right so far. Black
colour may be a good idea. Pickups look good. Tremolo bridge does too,
however might have had slightly better polishing.
Unamplified sound good. A good indicator of the build quality. The 6th
& 5th strings do have some wolf-tones above the 12th fret. – See below.
Amplified. – See below.
I like it. I enjoy it. I’m still missing a tiny little bit of something…
This is not about some imperfections – one could find them everywhere.
For justice sake, the Canadian Godin Multiac I bought new had also plenty
of imperfections and required some serious set up too.
There was a right point put forward by Alan Chow from the UK in his
review. How PRS Santana SE compares to this guitar? This is exactly what
I was thinking when I decided to order my guitar over the Internet! In
general, each guitar has its individuality and I would have preferred to
buy it from a dealer, but it was not available in Australia. So, I went
to a shop and played a couple of PRS Santana SE. I decided so, because
of many parallels between two guitars.
Both are designed to be an affordable Korean version bearing the famous name.
It’s interesting that Australian Guitar Magazine named PRS Santana SE – a student version of PRS.
The difference is that PRS do have two more Santana models. Let’s see how they have been nursing their Santana Signature! Please note, that with the Santana SE onboard they have covered ALL THREE main segments of the market, i.e.: Luxury Professional/Collectible - Santana II; Professional - Santana III and Amateur/Budget Santana SE. They have exceptional marketing approach and do not seem to be arrogant! I dealt with the company twice – once with the US headquarters and once with the Australian distributor. Both times I had no problem with obtaining some information and brochures. Quite unusual for the music instrument producers, especially in Australia. It’s remarkable that Guitarist Magazine gave the first year 2001 award to The Burns Brian May and the second to The PRS Santana SE!
Also interesting, that PRS had to compromise the shape of the original Santana signature. Neither the guitar is a replica of any PRS model, though looks similar to McCarty.
Let me quote a few sentences from the PRS Santana SE review published
in Australian Guitar edition # 25 (reviewer Dan Lander):
“Ironically, the SE doesn’t take much from the Santana signature model – the body shape is much closer to PRS’ two main designs, the Custom and McCarty…
…Again, despite a very nice cherry finish, the look of the mahogany top some how seems wrong with the distinctive body shape, a reminder that, while this might be a beautiful guitar, it’s not the real thing.”
Obviously, the Burns Brian May seems to be closer to the Red Special
by its look, but still bears some inevitable cost-cut compromises. Well,
Burns London have realised this by themselves simultaneously offering a
cheaper Korean made Bison and its luxury British brother for BP2K+.
Are they going to do it with the Red Special? I think this is what it’s supposed to be!
Part 3 – Commercial / Logical
Concluding all the above: yes, I do like my Burns Brian May Red Special s/n 39, especially after it has been setup by Greg Fryer. Yes, it does have very similar sound to the original Red Special. Yes, I am very much grateful to Burns for resuming or I should say resurrecting mass-production of the Red Special. I would not have had the Red Special otherwise. Nevertheless, there are some things to address.
I always wanted to see Fryer Guitars mass-produced and still think it
should happen one day. Manufacturing guitars in Australia may be a very
good option. The guitars will be more affordable than American made and
still much more reputable, comparing to cheap Korean built.
In particular, the Brian May – Fryer Guitars will have superior quality.
Even if mass production of Fryer Guitars will never come to fruition, I still may consider buying one day a closer replica of the Red Special. Whether it will be Burns Custom Series, RS Guitars or something else. There still is a market niche for a more authentic, better built and consequently more expensive replica.
As per affordability… Many of the potential Red Special buyers would be people like me – professionals, playing guitar as a hobby or mature professional musicians. Both groups would not mind spending extra money on authenticity and some better quality. There is a market for Ritchie Blackmore Fender Signature (~U$4K). There is a market for Gibson Steve Howe Signtare (~U$3.5K). RS still offer an original Red Special replicas for U$2.5K. (As far as I remember Birch were offering they Red Monster for similar type of money.) Whether Brian May wants it or not, there will be some Red Special copies circulated in this price range.
Also, it seems that Burns do not have a clear international policy at
the moment. There was a distributor in Australia before but it looks like
they do not deal with Burns anymore. I would not like to buy my second
guitar from that distributor anyway. Instead of the marked price – BP499:
-Burns put an option – contact them for price. My friend when contacted
Barry Gibson was quoted a strange price, about 25% higher than I bought
my guitar for. In particular this is because his price included 17.5% VAD.
But it should not, as it goes out of the country and we pay GST (=VAD)
here! If you add up the cost of individual shipping by UPS and setup (not
necessarily by Greg Fryer), the guitar does not seem to be very cheap.
This is when you can buy a whole bunch of different Korean guitars (including
Squier) for a third of the Burns Brian May price. Bear in mind, that many
would prefer buying a plug-and-play guitar for more, rather than spending
extra money on setup.
Part 5 – Professional: Greg Fryer’s recommended settings for Burns Brian May Guitar
It was not easy for Greg Fryer to fit this job in his busy schedule. Finally, a month after I received the guitar, Greg allocated a day for me. That was a special favour, as currently Greg does not make any repairs, alterations or setups.
Greg verbal comments were as follows:
1) The guitar is well built overall. This is becoming typical for many
latest Korean models. (There is a guess that this is because most of them
are coming from Samick factory.)
2) The pickups are good as well as are potentiometers and electrics in general.
3) The tremolo bridge required a complex adjustment. The harmonic links required moving all saddles back and high adjustment.
4) Although the guitar does not rich Guild quality, it still is a good product and does produce the Brian May sound.
All together the job took 3 hours. I did ask Greg to be as meticulous, as possible and to fix everything that should be fixed/adjusted now or might need a fix in the future. I think Greg has given this guitar quite a fair judgement. He recommended not to replace the potentiometers as satisfactory. On the other hand he spent a fair bit of time adjusting the Tremolo Bridge. I rang Greg a few times during that day. When he was doing this operation I had a feeling that he had been slightly concerned how long this job would take. As probably some of the other Burns owners may face this problem, Burns should pay more attention to it in the first place. Eventually, there are still some wolf-tones on the 6th and 5th strings. They do not stay in tune very well above the 12th fret. It’s right, people play them there quite rarely. (I personally do not play there at all – so, why bother?) Nevertheless, I have played some guitars, which have this problem less visible. By the way, it does seem that the guitar sounds better with Maxima Gold 9-42 versus original Burns Strings. It cost me arm and leg to get Maxima in Sydney. One could imagine that these strings are simply not available in some other parts of the world, especially after Maxima had been taken over.
As per other minor things. We decided to leave the tremolo arm on all
the time, as the case still has some room for it.
Below I am re-typing what was written by Greg on the invoice word for word:
FRYER GUITARS 29th January 2002
Burns Brian May Guitar
1) Take completely apart: electrics out; bridge ass-y out; strings off.
Check electrics and test pickups. Re-solder some joints + re-do some wire
Next out fingerboard. Adjust truss rod. Re-fit bridge assembly, adjust pivot bolts underneath, fit extra tremolo spring and adjust tension.
Set bridge saddle lengths + harmonic links. Countersink body screw hole for scratchplate screw. Chisel large lump of glue from pickup cavity.
2) Re-string + adjust pickup heights. Lubricate nut slots and bridge
pivot bolt edges.
Continued, Page 2
Neck: DC Resistance 6.43 kW
Inductance 1.886 H, 1.46 Q
Middle: DC Resistance 6.44 kW
Inductance 1.902 H, 1.46 Q
Bridge: DC Resistance 6.65 kW
Inductance 1.961 H, 1.44 Q
For Burns Brain May Pickups Only
Height from underneath of Bottom E and Top E strings to pickup top.
Neck Middle Bridge
4.0 mm 3.0 mm 2.0 mm
5.0 mm 4.5 mm 3.5 mm
Greg recommended these settings for Burns Brian May guitars for the
best compatibility with Greg Fryer Brian May effect series.
We tried the following combinations:
Guitar 1st Effect 2nd Effect Amplifier
Burns Brian May Greg Fryer Brian May Treble Booster Greg Fryer Brain May Red Mayhem VOX AC 30 TBX
Burns Brian May Greg Fryer Brian May Treble Booster Greg Fryer Brain May Blue Mayhem VOX AC 30 TBX
Burns Brian May Greg Fryer Brian May Treble Booster Greg Fryer Brain May Red Mayhem VOX PATHFINDER
Burns Brian May Greg Fryer Brian May Treble Booster Greg Fryer Brain May Blue Mayhem VOX PATHFINDER
I liked the Red Mayhem more that the Blue one in both combinations (i.e. with AC 30 TBX and with Pathfinder), as it seemed to have produced more authentic sounds or at least the sounds I like.
I would assume the same settings would be valid for a Sunburst Special!
Once again I thank herewith many people who gave me the opportunity to have heard the Red Special, to obtain the information about the guitar and finally – to get the guitar. My personal gratitude to:
Jack Funk (Dustin McGinnis);
Now I’m withdrawing from further discussions about the Red Special, starting to work more seriously on my second CD. Now I’m certainly better equipped.
Good luck to everyone!
(c) by Dmitry Przhedetsky
read the other 3 Burns reviews