Brian May explains why he uses a sixpence coin instead of a plastic guitar pick

The pick – or in this case, the sixpence – maketh the man…

Brian May of Queen

Image: Jim Dyson/Getty Images

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Queen guitarist Brian May has once again proclaimed his love for sixpences over traditional guitar picks, and the reason behind his less-than-conventional, ahem, pick of choice.

In a new interview with The Guardian, May answers a series of fan questions, including one which asked whether he still uses a sixpence coin as a plectrum. He replies: “Pretty much always – sixpence, or the fingers.”

“I used to play with those little plastic picks but I always found that they were too bendy,” May says. “I couldn’t really feel what was happening as the thing touched the strings. I went into harder and harder picks, until they were too stiff. Then one day I picked up a coin, which happened to be a sixpence, and I thought, ‘That’s all I need’.”

He adds, “Sixpences are very soft metal, which doesn’t hurt the guitar strings, but if I turn that serrated edge at an angle to the string, I can get that kind of articulating, percussive consonant sound – I call it graunch. Before about 1950, they had a high content of nickel, which makes them really soft, so I especially like a 1947 sixpence – the year that I was born.

Elsewhere in the interview, May also touches on the reasons behind former bassist John Deacon’s exit from Queen after Freddy Mercury’s death, saying “All I can say is that, historically, John was quite sensitive to stress. We all found it hard, losing Freddie, but I think John particularly struggled.”

“We did do a couple of things together, in 1996: the recording of No One But You – the song I wrote about Freddie when we were putting up the statue to commemorate him in Montreux [Switzerland] – and one show in Paris. It was to open the ballet season with an amazing new work by Maurice Béjart, about Mozart and Queen.”

“We played with John on bass, and Elton John sang with us. At that moment, John just looked at us and said, ‘I can’t do this any more.’ We knew that he at least needed a break, but as it turned out he never came back.”

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