I am not sure how many people know that Brian May’s iconic and signature “Red Special” guitar, was built by him and his father (who was an electronics engineer) when May was a teenager. So songs such as Bohemian Rhapsody were recorded on a guitar that was built with wood from an 18th century fireplace, had a fingerboard lacquered with Rustin’s Plastic coating and a tremolo arm made from an old bicycle saddlebag topped with a knob off a knitting needle.
It would be disingenuous to conclude that the “Red Special” is just cobbled together. May and his father (according to May) spent many hours hand shaping and sanding the guitar body until it was just right. As his father was an engineer by trade, he set high standards and the guitar had to be just right. There are other personal touches, as the dots on the fret board are old mother of pearl buttons and you will notice that on the headstock there is a sixpence.
This leads on to another interesting fact about May – he doesn’t use guitar picks, he uses sixpences. When I first heard I was skeptical – however when I saw them in concert recently and one of the film cameraman zoomed into his hands in close up… sure enough, he plays with a sixpence. In fact if you look at his shoulder strap, he has spare sixpences lined up in case he drops one.
The sixpences are not accidental – because they have a serrated edge, this changes the way that the string is picked and introduces a rasping sound that is quite unique. In fact if you listen to Queens songs carefully, the guitar sound is very unique to them. As there was only ever one “Red Special” the sound can’t be copied either… noting that May has had copies made (so he has a black semi-acoustic version for example).
So where is all this leading us? Firstly, despite helping his son with his passion, May’s father didn’t want him to be a musician. Brian May is an intelligent man, he has a Mathematics degree from Imperial College, London (noting that he also gained a Doctorate in Astrophysics many, many years later) so you can understand that his parents were anxious that he do well in life and in the 60’s and 70’s a career as a rock musician obviously felt a little way “out there” for them.
However music was May’s passion and dream and he stuck with it. After meeting Roger Taylor, one thing led to another and the history of Queen is one of rocks great success stories.
May fell out with his father over his career choice, but many years later, May paid for his parents to fly to New York, stay in a top Hotel and watch Queen play Madison Square Garden. His father was immensely proud and realised his son was living his dream – they were reconciled after this.
So what is your dream and are you living it? As you’ll know from my previous posts, if you aren’t taking action, it IS only a dream… What are the obstacles getting in your way? Are they real or are they an excuse?
Brian May might have had a little luck along the way, but he pursued his passion and the rest is history. When you look back on your life, will you have lived the dream or suffered the disappointment? If you are living the dream, fantastic, enjoy. If you look at yourself in the mirror and say something has to change, perhaps it is time you spoke to a coach? Take the first step of the first day of the rest of your life.
As you will tell from my posts, they aren’t the usual “15 ways to succeed” – people don’t need cookie cutter solutions and if life was as simple as following a list, we’d all be rich and famous. As a coach, I like to help people reflect… so motivational success stories like Brian Mays help us to think about the art of the possible. If you know someone who’d benefit from such reflection, why not share this post with them?