Brian May reveals the unlikely way the Red Special got its name

The guitar was nearly just called the “Old Lady.”

Alongside the release of an updated edition of his book The Red Special – co-written with Simon Bradley – Brian May has unveiled the origin of the name of his iconic guitar.

May famously built the guitar by hand alongside his father, when he was just a teenager. Back in the 1960s when he built it, he didn’t know how it would feature on every single Queen album and at historic concerts, including Live Aid and the closure of the 2012 London Olympics – among countless others. The updated version of the book includes two new chapters, exploring the guitar’s repairs and its role in the film Bohemian Rapsody.

It also notably features the revelation of how the guitar was named. Writing in the foreword, May explains: “Why the name ‘Red Special’? It goes back a long way. In the early days, she was always just ‘the Guitar’, and I think it was Jock, one of my first guitar techs, who, in a moment of what one might call over-familiarity, likened his burden of taking care of it to taking care of a spouse, referring to my treasure as the ‘Old Lady’. The appellation had an appeal, and kind of took root for a while. But, to me, this very personal instrument, with her humble beginnings in the minds and hands of my Dad and me, was worthy of a bit more respect than that.

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“I remembered that at the time we finished the topcoat of varnish, my Dad had wanted to christen her as the Brian May Special, and I had poo-pooed the idea; now I realised that it wasn’t so uncool to give her a proper name. So one day in a radio interview, when someone asked me what I called the guitar, the words Red Special just tumbled out before I’d had time to think. And from then on, that was her name. There are now a few thousand Red Special replicas in the world, but my first love still keeps some of her mystery. She is, after all, a one-off!”

May also gave an in-depth talk on the guitar, diving into its design and history – take a look below.

The 2020 edition of The Red Special is available now. Find out more about the book at theredspecial.com. For more guitar news, click here.

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