Learn to play electric guitar like Brian May from Queen – lessons in the techniques that made Killer Queen such a classic – with tab and chords
Brian May explained the Queen songwriting philosophy to this very magazine all the way back in our Christmas 1991 issue. ‘In Queen we try to walk that line between being absolutely sure of what you’re doing and not being sure at all, because if you have a feel for something, you should follow it,’ he offered. ‘It’s good to be analytical afterwards, but if you’re too analytical from the beginning you can stop yourself doing weird stuff… which is bad. That’s why it’s sometimes nice to write on an instrument that you don’t know very well because strange stuff that might sound good can come out. And if it sounds good, it is good, in my opinion.’
May often uses multiple harmonies in his guitar parts and was able to create similar effects live using a modified Echoplex. ‘We discovered the Echoplex, and I took one of those to bits and added a long rail along which you could slide the pickup to vary the delay time. I put the return from the head into a different amp so it was completely separate.
‘Our first proper tour was with Mott The Hoople, and by then I could experiment with different riffs. I could play a rhythm part and play a lead on top, or just work noises into rhythms. Eventually we got two so I could make three-part harmonies, which was a very unusual sound in those days. I’d always wanted to do that, and I knew it would sound good. It’s not like playing a chord on guitar, because each part can have some feeling. It’s more like an orchestra or a chorus of singers.
‘The middle section of Brighton Rock came about from fiddling with the Echoplex on the Mott tour. I used to do that solo in Son And Daughter. Since we had already recorded that song it became part of Brighton Rock, which had evolved from the same style of playing.’
One of May’s favourite solos is the Killer Queen solo, which is enhanced by multiple guitar parts. ‘When it gets to the main solo, it starts off as a single guitar, and then the other guitar parts come in – not in parallel or in an obvious harmony but as “bells”, as we called it. I got that idea from listening to jazz bands such as the Temperance Seven, building up chords in arpeggios. We used this technique on voices as well. In Killer Queen each part has its own melody, but they also interact together.’
May displayed notable versatility in Queen, cutting his musical cloth to suit the song – a rock’n'roll solo in Crazy Little Thing Called Love, a funky part in Another One Bites the Dust and, suitably enough, a slightly mad-sounding solo in I’m Going Slightly Mad.