"You can get in a terrible mess if you play the wrong things": Watching Queen's Brian May discuss his Red Special guitar, his sixpence 'plectrums' and secret "tasty guitar techniques" in this rare British TV interview from 1976 is guitar nerd nirvana

Brian May on Pop Quest, 1976
(Image credit: Pop Quest)

Once upon a time in Great Britain, it was possible to turn on a popular piece of domestic electrical equipment called a 'television' and watch what were called 'music programmes', typically 30 to 60-minutes-long shows on which pop and rock stars could plug their latest single\album releases, and talk at length about their music with presenters who not only had knowledge of the music in question, but also were genuinely interested to hear what the artists in question had to say. Such a radical concept would never catch on these days, obviously, but in a simpler time, it made for entertaining, generally wholesome, viewing.

Take this rare footage of Queen guitarist Brian May talking in unashamedly geeky detail about the making of his homemade guitar, the soon-to-be-iconic Red Special, and his the secrets of his trademark sound and techniques in the 'Feed Back' section of popular Yorkshire TV show Pop Quest, back in 1976.

Guesting on the seventh show of the programme's third series (that's 'season', for anyone under 30), May is asked by host Mike Read to speak about "a few tasty guitar techniques", an invitation he clearly relishes.

Read opens the interview by astutely commenting that May's "amazing" guitar doesn't look as if it was purchased in a regular music shop, giving May the opportunity to revisit his creation of the Red Special with his father ten years earlier, "when I was at school." Fans of Spinal Tap's Nigel Tufnel will particularly enjoy May's demonstration of the instrument's capacity for sustain, which the guitarist explains is an important aspect of his trademark sound. Read then goes on to ask May about his decision to use a "sixpenny" coin instead of a plectrum, and gets to hear how this unique approach is part of the guitarist's mission to explore the full tonal range of his bespoke six-string. And so it goes on, with a discussion of "slack strings", echoplex units, and then May's tasteful closing run through an instrumental version of popular French nursery rhyme Frère Jacques.

Wonderful stuff.

Watch the full interview below:

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.