“The direction I was given was, ‘We want to encompass the history of the guitar’”: The guitarist behind Back to the Future’s Johnny B. Goode scene says he used a Strat copy with a Floyd Rose

The Gibson ES-345 and Valley Arts Strat guitars used in Back To The Future's Johnny B. Goode scene
(Image credit: Universal Pictures / Getty / Vertex Effects / YouTube)

The studio pro who played guitar for Back to the Future’s iconic Johnny B. Goode scene has revealed he used a Strat copy for the sessions.

Vertex Effects founder Mason Marangella has developed a fine sideline in chatting to session guitar legends over on his YouTube channel. 

In his latest clip, Marangella talks to LA-based pro Tim May – the man who recorded, among many other things, the guitar work behind Back to the Future’s most iconic scene. 

“It was me and on this very guitar,” says May, pointing to his prized Valley Arts S-style electric guitar, complete with Floyd Rose [around 22.46]. 

“I chose this guitar, because I had my choice of my Les Paul or my 335, [but] the direction I was given was, ‘We want to go in this performance from Chuck Berry ’50s-style to the current,’ which was like Van Halen sort of thing. ‘We want to encompass the history of the guitar from there to there.’”

As we reported earlier this year, the Johnny B. Goode scene almost featured a Fender Stratocaster instead of the Gibson ES-345, so there is a sense of poetic justice in the idea that May used his own S-style for the recording.

“I just did whatever I did and it seemed to work,” says May. “But I chose this because I was doing the hammer-ons and I needed the Floyd Rose for that. And it worked out good. It covered all the bases for me.”

It certainly did. Indeed, May’s playing and Michael J. Fox’s convincing performance –aided by guitar lessons with tutor Paul Hanson – played a defining role in cementing virtuosic guitar talent front and center in ’80s culture.

On the flipside of ‘virtuosic’, in the same clip, May shares another anecdote from the Back To The Future sessions, recalling the time when a budding guitarist, Mark Carter, asked to sit-in with him and watch a session.

“I said, ‘Oh, here's another Back to the Future date coming up,’” remembers May. “I thought, ‘That should be guitar-heavy, again… a good one for him to watch.’”

May recalls an excited Carter coming to watch his first major session – only to witness the session legend sat alone in a room, performing sound effects for the scene with Doc Brown’s mega-amp.

“They're going, ‘Okay, now first thing you need to do is take out your guitar cord and go ‘buzz buzz’ [by touching the end], now bang the reverb,” laughs May. 

“I'm like, ‘Well, you know, there's usually much more we have to do – and you have to actually play!’”

Watch the full Vertex interview with May above. Then find out why the Gibson ES-345 Marty McFly played in Back to the Future was actually from the future

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Matt Parker

Matt is a staff writer for GuitarWorld.com. Before that he spent 10 years as a freelance music journalist, interviewing artists for the likes of Total Guitar, Guitarist, Guitar World, MusicRadar, NME.com, DJ Mag and Electronic Sound. In 2020, he launched CreativeMoney.co.uk, which aims to share the ideas that make creative lifestyles more sustainable. He plays guitar, but should not be allowed near your delay pedals.