QUEEN'S BRIAN MAY calls his new Red Special Signature pedal "Pure genius, for which I take no credit." May's humility is unlikely to sway anyone from appreciating his contribution to the pedal's creation: after all, he originated the pedal's tones over his almost 30-plus-year career.
Still, much credit for the Red Special pedal belongs to DigiTech's dedicated team of engineers and their proprietary Production Modeling process. The company even employed legendary recording engineer Eddie Kramer as the project's lead production modeling consultant. Brian May Red Special pedal, so named as a tribute to Brian's one-of-a-kind Red Special guitar, is the fifth installment in DigiTech's award-wining series of artist pedals. It offers 14 of the guitarist's best-known tones, including sounds that, until now, have never been available to anyone but Brian May.
THE PEDAL'S quartet of knobs gives it a deceptively underfeatured appearance. In fact, three of the four are space-saving concentric pots that govern gain/level, treble/bass and control/guitar. The last of these bears some explanation. The control knob (the concentric pot's outer ring) changes function according to the model selected. The guitar control is a rather ingenious circuit that lets you adjust your guitar's output to more closely match the signal produced by May's. It's further proof of how far DigiTech have gone to make the Red Special pedal representative of May's tone. If you already own a Red Special copy or, like May, use Burns Tri-Sonic pickups, simply set the guitar pot in the center "Red Special" position.
The fourth control is the model knob, and it's here that the fun begins. Seven models are on offer, each an emulation of May's performance tones on some of Queen's most loved hits: "Keep Yourself Alive," "Bohemian Rhapsody," "Tie Your Mother Down," "We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions," "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," the Wembley version of his "Brighton Rock Solo" and the Deacy amp tone from "A Winter's Tale." Among the equipment modeled are May's Red Special guitar and Deacy amp, as well as his customized Vox AC30, treble booster, Foxx Foot Phaser, acoustic and Telecaster guitars and more.
Now, here's the really cool part: each setting of the model switch includes two modeled tones from each of these recordings, which are accessed separately through heel and toe switches on the expression pedal. Once a specific model is selected, the expression pedal then allows the user to control a preset effect parameter within that model, such as the phaser level, midrange, delay amount, et cetera.
But wait-there's more! The Red Special pedal's Flexible Output Mode lets you choose from three output scenarios: mono, stereo to mixer and stereo to amplifier. In addition, the amp and mixer outputs are optimized for their respective uses, thus you can use the Red Special pedal, for example, as a direct injection device to record your guitar at correct mixing board impedance levels. The pedal also features an input for the optional FS3X footswitch, which gives hands-free access to each of the pedal's models.
I COULD WRITE five pages on the Red Special pedal's tones and still not describe all of its sounds. But I can say that every modeled tone was uncannily realistic, and I never felt like I was playing a simulation. Plugged into the Clean channels of my Soldano and Victoria amplifiers, the Red Special allowed me take advantage of the singing touch-sensitivity from May's "Bohemian Rhapsody" solo, the stadium-filling tone from "We Will Rock You" and the gigantic live solo tone from his 1992 Wembley concert, where May used three Vox AC30s, a ping-pong delay and three-part harmonization. Another standout from the pedal was the buzzing transistor-like Deacy amp tone, modeled from the battery-powered amp that Queen bassist John Deacon designed for May.
But what makes the Red Special pedal so unique and satisfying is the dynamic interaction between it and the guitarist's playing style. The pedal responds to how you play, allowing you to sculpt the tone in your own way. It's like plugging into May's rig and creating your own tones.
THE BOTTOM LINE
DIGITECH'S BRIAN MAY Red Special signature pedal reproduces 14 of the guitarist's most famous tones with remarkable accuracy. One can only imagine what pedal will be next in DigiTech's Artist Series.