Red Special replicas
-Burns reviews-


4 additional reviews

review by Steven Atkin (UK):

Burns Brian May Signature Guitar
S/Number : BHM0068

Price Paid: £100 deposit + £399.99 (Case was £50 extra)

Body: Basswood
Neck: Hark Rock Maple
Fretboard: Ebony
Frets: 24
Tuners: Grover locking tuners

User Rating: 8 out of 10

The overall construction of the guitar is good with the wood well covered with paint and varnish.
The finish is well applied and even with no overspill onto the binding on the top and bottom face of the guitar.

The body is constructed of basswood and shaped to resemble Brians exactly, and seeing as everybody's read the Guitarist review of the Burns Brian May I dont want to rehash the British Airways X-ray story here.
The back is similar to a Strat in terms that the guitar is strung through the body with a plastic plate covering the springs for the tremelo.

The neck is made of a single piece of  maple and quite wide (well wider than a stratocaster's) although the neck is slimmer than Brian's guitar and doesn´t thicken too much towards the heel.
The neck joint fits seemlessly into the body and is glued in rather than bolted, a glued neck always gives more resonance to an instrument I am told.

Finish note
The guitar is finished in nitro cellulose and is susceptable to dings and scratches from belt buckles and jean buttons so be careful when playing the guitar, minor scratches can be taken out using guitar polish though.

The electrics on the whole are good and theres no rustle from the volume or tone potentiometers, however I have had to have three new jack sockets installed on the guitar but this is no longer an issue with it and it works fine now.
The phase reversal switches work just great however they are black, why Burns could not have put white switches on them is beyond me?

The pickups are Burn Tri-Sonics made by Burns (Kent Armstrong) actually and sound very close to Brian´s.
The pickups are wired in series as apposed to in parrallel and are height adjustable and do not suffer from much  interference from computers and moblies etc.

The tremelo assembly is well made although quite hard to setup.  It doesnt look like Brian's although we can´t  have everything, the whammy bar comes hand bent apparently in a vice.  I have recently taken the whammy bar tip off my Strat and applied it to the Burns guitar to make it look more like Bri's.  The travel on the trem is smooth and precise and the combination of the trem and the tuners, the guitar holds its tuning well during violent bends and even just mild vibrato work.
The Burns Brian May Signature sounds possibly the most like Brian May's guitar that I have heard, and I have heard a couple of Guild copies.
I use a Vox Valvetronix AD60 VT set on the AC30 setting using a treble booster peddle and a touch of chorus as well.  The Vox has some cool built in Brian settings including settings that sound very similar to tie your mother down and keep yourself alive.  The Vox Valvetronix sounds good compared to an original AC30 that I have also played through but the price difference is what drew me to the Valvetronix.

The guitar setup on opening it was to say the least 'not very hot' . I was dissapointed so I took it to the local guitar shop and had it setup nicely and the electrics checked and the setup altered.  The result is a highly playable instrument that sounds as good as it looks.  Brian May tones just ooze from every pickup combination when the amplifier is cranked up, Queen songs become second nature with a touch of tape delay.

Guitar Case (Additional)
The guitar did not come in its case as the cases were still being manufactured when my guitar was shipped in November 2001.  The case fits the guitar well although it does look quite tiny for the guitar.  The case is a dark blue colour and has room for the tremelo bar as the guitar does not fit in the case with the trem on (I know) and there is enough room for a couple of plectrums or sixpences and a strap.  The case is lockable but also a touch on the heavy side and not very well balanced.  However it offers good protection and you cant really get another  guitar case to fit this type of guitar.

The Burns Brian May Signature model is an excellent all round guitar and the sheer choice of tones is brilliant.
The price is good for those not willing to part with thousends over the Internet, and this Burns guitar is joy to play.  The cosmetic differences are not really noticable but why Burns London couldn´t change the phase switch colours to white is unbelievable as I have already highlighted earlier.  The trem is different but obvoiously Brian May decided on that choice instead of a more authentic one.

I am overjoyed with the guitar and owning it for a year now I dont think I could ever part with it.
I have been told that these guitars have been changed now (I dont know how) and that the first batch were the originals as I like to think.
Getting one of the first one hundred was an honour.

review by Mark A. Barnett (UK):

This is one of the very first batch of 200, of the new Burn Brian May Guitar, number 0157. Although this is due to be a 'mass production-run instrument', according to Burns themselves it is still a limited number guitar that will not be made indefinitely. At present they are making 200 a month, with a very long waiting list. Thus, having one of the original batch is a great honour.
It has many, if not all of the features of Brian May's iconic homemade by him and his father 1963 Red-Special Guitar, but I'll do a features comparison:

Guitar: Year 2001, Number 0157, Burns Brian May Red-Special Guitar, in Red-Cherry Colour, made in Korea, but with very close Burns supervision.

1 Piece of Basswood, transparent red-cherry showing softly grained wood with white pin-stripe binding on both top and bottom  (Original Red Special, Oak Centre with wings and blockboard wings and finally a thin mahogany veneer on top and bottom).
The Burns guitar body also features the hollow body chambers, the largest of which runs along the whole bottom length body, to the same size and location as the original Red-Special, making this guitar in fact only a semi-solid.
The actual 'style' of the body you could probably just call 'Red-Special', as most people are familiar with at least the look of Brian's guitar. It is unlike either the Strat or LP, but is closer to the former as it possesses a double-cut away design, although without any body chamfering and top shaping becomes closer to the LP.

Glued-in Hard-Rock maple, transparent stained to match red-cherry body colour, with A-grade Ebony fingerboard. 24 frets, with zero fret as per original. (Original Red-Special has a bolted (!) mahogany neck with black-stained Oak-fingerboard).
Fret Position markers identical to Original Red-Special, but also slightly different to many other guitars with 'triple-dots' marking 'octave' positions, and 'double-dots' marking 'perfect-fifth above octave' positions.
Neck-width at zero-fret is 45mm, same as the original Red-special and slightly larger than the typical 41-42mm on almost all other 6-strings instrument, and quite similar to some 7-strings. However, at 24mm thickness under the first fret, and a bending friendly 24 inch scale and 7.5 inch fingerboard radius it is no baseball bat (unlike the original Red-Special, possibly the thickest neck anybody every conceived. Brian had to compromise the neck-thickness, as simply to copy his guitar would not have made the guitar easy to play for guitarists used to Strat/LP guitars. However, the fingerboard radius and nut-width were kept as per original).

The biggest compromise Burns and Brian have had to make, to keep costs down is the trem. Instead of the knife-edge/roller-ball unit on Brian's instrument (which is apparently outstanding in feel, response and stability for a non-locking unit), Burns have opted for a 'modified-strat' type (but with enough back-routing for Floyd-type pitch drops). This looks very neat and tidy, with the pivot points not visible on the guitar surface, but hidden under the trem base plate. As stated above the range is outstanding, everything a Floyd can do without the additional hassles.
The trem-arm shape itself has been modified by Brian so although the trem is different to his guitar, with this modified arm it 'feels' the same. The arm has been bent so that it can be kept in the picking hand at all times; bringing it up close to the strings, and can be made to be both parallel to the string direction up the body towards the neck (as with all trem arms), but also parallel to the top of the body (and also to the strings, in the other perpendicular plane, to be precise), and this is unlike any other trem-arm arrangement I am aware of. It takes a little to get used to, but then begins to feel normal and all other trem-arms begin to feel strange.
The only downside to this trem I can see, is that it no longer requires the additional small semi-circular black-cover plate visible on the guitar top that Brian's has for the covering of the trem-springs. Although the original Guild copies also missed this feature, the latest Guild did have these, and this omission means the guitar is not quite visibly identical to Brian's. A little shame!

Tuners are special locking Grovers, with the lock on the shaft, similar to PRS. They look very neat, and work very well.

This is one area of no compromise, unlike even the best of the Guild models. The three passive single-coil pickups are exactly the same as the original Red-Special guitar, Burns-Tri-Sonic Pickups. That both Brian's original pickups were Burns and Burns were to make the new reproduction meant that the original plans and specifications for these 1960s design pickups could be found, and put back into production, also in Korea. They are wired identically to Brian's, in series (unlike a Strats parallel wiring), through single volume and tone control and 6 black-flip switches, each pickup having an individual on-off switch and a phase-reversal switch for 18 (!) different pickup combinations, and possible pickup combination (including all off for full mute) being possible. How do these modern reproductions sound compared to the originals? See below!

Finally, but again quite original, are the volume and tone knobs through which the sound is routed. These are quite exquisite machined and polished solid alumnium, and have both a beautiful feel and look, unlike anything else I am aware of.
 They are positioned quite away from the picking-area, making violining quite tricky. First time I played the instrument, I naturally went for the volume in the usual place and was at first very confused. After an hour though you do adapt to the new position.

I specified the fitted-case with mine, which although quite ordinary really, fits this guitar quite well. As the guitar is an unusual shape, I would recommend this fitted case as being the best way to keep it.

Although I was a huge Queen fan during my teens (their, I have admitted it), my other Guitars were much more expensive than this one and I was somewhat skeptical of both the build quality and sound.
After reading the Guitarist review (to be found on along with sound samples), I was tempted enough by listen to the 10 minute demonstration and direct comparison to the original Red-Special. And amazingly, despite the slightly different construction woods, the closeness of sound is remarkable!

I then got out my Queen collection, and listened more closely to the tonal colours Brian could coax from this guitar over the years: to the humbucker sound of Brighton Rock, One Vision, Stone Cold Crazy, to that cutting solo sound on Bohemian Rhapsody, the thick creamy sound of the We Will Rock You Solo, the exceptionally thick sound of the Dreamers Ball, the synth like sound of Procession. I could go on! I was intrigued that although some of my guitars (PRS, Music Man, Ibanez JEM - shows you what music I normally play) could produce similar sounds, not one could do all of the above. Also, how could a single-coil guitar sound like humbucker guitars? Well, the answer I finally realised is simple. The Tri-Sonics have quite a high output on their own, a little under a PAF, but use two of them together in series, and their outputs add together to make a humbucker sound because you have indeed a humbucker, two coils together in series. Not only that, but all the normal single coil noise also disappears, and the output doubles!

Brian's demonstration showed clearly what pickup selection to use for these, and I was thrilled when my guitar arrived, and guess what - all the above tones are their and so easy to find when you are used to switches.

For an example:

Bridge Pick only :
- Quite thin, sharp and decisive sound, very Stratty

Bridge and Middle, in phase :
- Brian's favorite sound, similar to LP and SG, powerful humbucker tone. Very crunchy and defined for chord work, but also surprisingly creamy for soloing work. Think 'One Vision' and 'Tie your Mother Down'

Bride, Middle and Neck, all in phase :
- Very fat, and very high output(all three pickups in series, output current higher than Dimarzio Evolution(!), creamy soloing sound.

Middle and Neck, in phase :
- What Brian calls the Cello sound. Creamy and smooth, suitable for harmony work like 'Procession' or 'God Saves the Queen'

Middle and Neck, out of phase :
- Quite thin, highly defined sound, similar to a vigorously attacked high-register played violin. This is perhaps the one sound that defines Brian's solo work, and one of his favorites -: Middle Break solo in Hammer to Fall, Bo Rap Solo, Somebody to Love solo and many others. The most distinctive soloing voice in any guitar I own, and becoming one of my favorites.

Maybe a solo voice, but also used with volume violin action for very original synth-like sound.

Their are 16 overall selections of in-phase and out-of phase sounds, and I have just put down my favorites. But you can get the idea, and see their is plenty of variety. Generally the in-phase sounds (apart from the bridge pickup on its own, which I would just call thin!) are quite thick to very thick, whilst the out-phase sounds are quite-thin to very thin.  Playing with a heavy metallic pick, similar to Brianís use of sixpence does seem to add some brightness and attack to the very thick sounds. Think of a sound - this probably has it!
After experimenting with various different amplifiers, I seem to think that it does like British type amps (Brian designed the Guitar around the class A Vox AC30) more, and I enjoy running it through an Marshall JCM2000 DSL201. Despite having the ability to produce extremely thick creamy tones, running it through a similar type of mid-rangey thick amplifier, the Carvin Legacy, I was stunned at how well this match also went. Finally, I tried a MesaBoogie Rocket 44. Unsurprisingly, the sound took on a very Boogie type tonality, but was still a perfectly good match.

This is probably not a shredders guitar, in the sense of the Ibanez's, but more of the Fender mould which lest we forget anybody from Y. Malmsteem to E. Johnson to H. Marvin finds perfect. And this guitar is far more versatile than a Strat, and because of its humbucking capability can sound like a Gibson.  Just a thought!
It is of course a little noisy when using one of the pickups singly. I only do this rarely, and normally add a second pickup (normally my middle pickup is almost always on) to provide a little more output and the noise reduction benefits of now being in humbucking mode; it then becomes very quite.
My only dislike of the sound and its production is simply the location and complexity of the switches. Naturally to arrive at such a versatile guitar means some complexity, but sometimes you can get completely lost with your settings! Also, unfortunately, the trem-arm tends to get in the way of the switches a little. Not a major problem though.

Looking over the whole instrument, the build quality that Burns have achieved for this price is quite extraordinary.
Pickups height was a little irregular - they were neither at correct height for sound balance relative to the other pickups, but were not in themselves parallel to the top surface of the instrument. This adjustment is in some ways a personal adjustment for each player, and of course easily adjusted.

I was a little annoyed to find, on the very first opening of the case after delivery that the quite-heavy machined aluminium tone-knob was no longer attached to the tone-potentiometer and was now resting on the guitar body. Prepared to see a body damage because of this, I was relieved to see none; obviously this body-finish is quite tough.
On the rear of the body, by the neck pocket, the rear-pin stripe binding from both the top and bottom faces comes together and has to join back together, close if you like. The method of closure seems to be to get the two edges of binding themselves as close as possible, and 'fill' in the remaining space with a little white paint. This is hardly visible, being on the rear of the instrument behind the neck join, but is a little messy.
The initial action was quite low; on first playing you will probably not notice this though, and you will be wallowing in just how different to play this instrument this is (i.e because of the shorter scale length, large nut width, volume control position). When you get used to all these, you'll find the action can indeed be set very low. Intonation, apart from a little out on the bottom E string was also fine.

Tuning stability on my particular instrument was a little poor initially, and I was very disappointed, as on Brian own demonstration of his Burns guitar the stability seemed excellent for a non-locking unit. However, as shipped this guitar struggled. Despite locking tuners, the break-angle of the strings over the nut is not quite straight. So, if you struggle with tuning problems first stretch the strings, then apply liberally silicon grease to both the nut and the first fret (remembering to wipe of the excess). Help to distribute the grease by indulging in some trem-tricks, after a day or two all should be well.
I suppose finally the trem is fine, but with some manufacturers it ships well from the factory. However, for this price we shouldn't complain and be thankful that overall the unit they fitted, when well set up, is superb!

The paint finish is quite stunning - a beautiful Ferrari red colour, although having seen a sunburst model, these are equally as good. The paint is well applied and smooth on both the body and neck, and the overall feel is much better than the price suggests.

Neither the pickup selection switches nor the pots show any sign of atypical noise, and feel solid and reliable.
Despite the hollowed out body, the guitar feels very solid and substantial. Tuning stabilty, after the little adjustment given above is now excellent. Despite a month playing, the chrome hardware is yet to show serious staining (contrary to the Nickel Pickup covers on my PRS), and wipe clean very easily.
The supplied strap-buttons are now quite PRS size, but are larger than typical Fender/Gibson units, and quite capable of providing support.

As most music in the UK requires a guitar capable of many different styles, this guitar is the best guitar I know and own capable of meeting this criteria. It has recently started to become my main performance guitar, with the PRS in back-up. It can fit any style at all, the out-of-phase soloing sound will cut through absolutely anything like no other guitar I know. And finally, their is the look - especially in queen-conscious UK. This guitar just attracts everybody!
The biggest initial problem with live work was knowing what sounds to select for what work, and then how to quickly switch between them (and you can completely mute the instrument with no pickups at all selected to easily) during performance.

On the whole, this guitar is designed for live work. It was Brian's first design for his electric guitar in 1963, and to this day through all the Queen albums was his choice weapon. Draw your own conclusions on this!

Once again, we must bear in mind that this is not an expensive guitar. So, furniture-quality wood is out of the question, as are active electronics, graphite roller nuts, strap locks, leather plush cases, signed manufacturer documents etc. But, then again, it is very difficult to imagine how such a solid, well made and exciting sounding guitar can be made for such a relatively small amount

What you do get is one sonically extremely versatile guitar, a new generation non-locking trem without the additional problems of locking units but with almost the same degree of tuning stability and vibrato action, a highly resonant body which if required helps push the instrument into highly controllable harmonically rich feedback, highly 'slinky' playability due to the non-standard 24 inch scale,
To conclude, a very pretty guitar in the classic Strat/LP mould capable of sounding like either, or neither if you like. Perhaps this guitar fits better into the era in which it was used and designed, 60-70s early UK rock, but for these acts it is perhaps unparalleled in sound. A pleasure to own and play something as distinctive and original as this. Thank you to Brian and Burns - a wonderful job.

Bear in mind a production of only 200 a month for a limited period. Even if Queen were never your thing, this is such an original design, and so very versatile, you will definitely find something in it to use.

review by Alan Chow (UK):

The basswood construction of the guitar itself looks and feels well assembled, whilst the see-through cherry red finish is unblemished and compliments the guitar well.  With acoustic chambers and the strap button on a ďshortĒ upper horn, the guitar can feel slightly neck heavy for those used to a Strat style guitar.

The hardware is of decent quality: proper chromed metal tone & volume knobs.  The pickup switches are the wrong colour but more importantly, they function in the correct manner (upper three switches are the pickup on/off switches and the bottom three are phase reverse switches).  The Burns Trisonic pickups look the real deal however, Iím not sure if the pickup covers themselves are metal or chromed plastic Ė can anyone confirm this?  Burnís own trem unit is the feature that has had to be compromised in order to make this a cost-viable project; however, it does not let things down.  The trem arm, surprisingly, is a push-in affair without any adjustment screw to alter tension and fits snugly into its mount.  Will this become looser with time and wangling antics?

The frets have been dressed well on the wide ebony fingerboard (which sits nicely on the maple neck) and are nicely polished - no sharp edges, but just a tad over dressed on the treble edges leading to the top E slipping off on occasions. The edges of the fingerboard have been rolled, thus giving a played in feel.  The action was fine (light and low), so the guitar was playable right out of the case without any evidence of choking. The trem is fine - smooth action and nicely tensioned with 4 springs (a 5th is included should you require), and with the Grover locking tuners, the strings will return to the correct pitch.  You get a few clicks from the zero fret on bends but that is to be expected.

Sounds - acoustically, it is loud compared to my Epiphone Les Paul Studio.  The combination of woods and the acoustic chambers gives it that oomph over an unplugged Strat.  Unfortunately, I haven't had the chance to plug this into a real amp as yet (apart from when I tried it out in the shop), so my Korg AX1000G effects unit is the best I can do!  The sounds plugged in are great Ė tonal variations are immense.  I know I can't play like Brian but the fact that the available tones are so varied, it makes playing that much more interesting.  Chords are well defined and ring true, whereas lead playing can sound full.  This guitar also turns out to be great for finger picking with itís wider than usual string spacing.  One immediately realises how much meatier the sounds are compared to other single-coil loaded guitars - the mid's are more pronounced than that of a strat whilst being rich with harmonics.

Although this is generally a well made guitar; one canít help it when minor flaws are discovered (see below).  Playability for some may be a problem considering the wide width of the neck but this shouldnít take long to get used to.  This guitar will offer those guitarists of different styles and looking for a good variety of tones, the right tool for the job.  As I haven't played any other copy, I can't make direct comparisons, however, this is definitely a bonus guitar for any first time Brian May copy-guitar player!

Minor problems

The only problems I can tell are mainly cosmetic so wonít affect playability, and this is where I have my gripes!  The neck fit into body is fine - it does, however, have a few bumps towards the body-end of the fingerboard so doesn't feel completely even.  The other cosmetic issue is the fret position markers on the edge of the fret board - some of these look hastily applied.   And just where the top binding meets the neck, the paint has run onto a couple of millimetres on the binding.  If other Korean manufacturers can get little things right (just pick up an Epiphone Les Paul and you'll know what I mean) in quality control, then there's no excuse for Burns.  It will be interesting to pick up a PRS Santana SE to see how their QC compares!  Have other Burns Brian May owners discovered such discrepancies?

review by Ian Dugini (UK):

Over the years I have owned two Brian May guilds, an 83/84 model and one of the 90s models.
Also a custom built Brian May shaped guitar which was built by Johnny Kinkade, a really nice guitar but one that I found myself using less and less, and two that I built myself! All these guitars I have since sold apart from my two home made ones.
When I first read that Burns were going to produce a Red Special for under £500, I thought what on earth is this thing going to be like?
After all it is £1000 less then what Guild used to sell their version for.
The review in Guitarist magazine got me thinking and, on hearing what Brian could do with the thing, I was well on the way to ordering one.
House Music, true to their word, delivered the guitar in the second week of December (in a rather nice hard case, which only looked big enough for a Gibson SG!).
I unlocked the case, opened the lid and there it wasÖa beautiful looking dark cherry Burns Red Special.
On picking it up it seemed a little lighter than the 90s guild, the neck slightly wider and the balance of the instrument a lot better. The finish is amazing.
It looks and feels like a much more expensive guitar than it is. The fret board, frets and neck joint are all perfect. In fact you canít see a visible neck body join; something you couldnít say about the Guilds or my home made guitars! None of the pictures that I have seen of it do it justice.
The first thing you will notice (if you have never played a Red Special before) apart from the width of the neck, is the short 24-inch scale length.
If you go from playing a Strat to this you may find that there is not much room for your fingers above the 18th or 19th fret.
In reality you do get used to it and it isnít a problem. The other thing is that the strings wonít be as tight as a Strats would be.
Fun time! On plugging it in the scope of sounds that you can get from the pick up switching is amazing. Unlike the Guilds, but just like Brianís guitar,
it is fitted with three Burns trisonic pickups giving it a clearer sound at low volume and a richer creamier sound at high volume than either of the Guild models.
Any one who has listened to the Guitarist CD will know that the Burns sounds very close to the Red Special in Brianís hands.
However that doesnít mean that we can all pick up one of these guitars and sound like Brian May.
Through the years I have learned how to sound like Brian May. Any one listening would know it isnít him but its close.
Using the Burns I have found I can get even closer to that Brian May sound. At the end of the day I can use the Burns to sound like I sound.
Not all of us want to sound like Brian May every time we play something.
The guitar is very easy to live with. The biggest change that Burns have made is the tremolo system.
This is the only place where there has been any noticeable cost cutting. However the unit that is fitted has a huge range, despite some mental dive bombs,
it always returns to pitch. Iím sure this is helped by the Grover locking tuners. The whole package works so well.
I canít find anything bad to say about it.
Every one should own one!

another detailed review