There is no mistaking Brian May’s style, an idiosyncratic approach characterized by manic vibrato and steeped in classical influences. Despite this, May has avoided strict categorization by changing his tone from thick to thin to skull crushing to mellow as the mood takes him.
The excellent Burns Brian May Signature ($799) is an obvious choice if you’re trying to capture May’s sound. It features a trio of TriSonic pickups and the same switching system found on May’s homebuilt guitar. Unfortunately, it’s no longer available in the U.S., so be prepared to buy second hand. As an alternative, check out the PRS SE EG ($658), which, like May’s guitar, has three single-coil pickups and a trem. For the best results, switch the bridge and middle pickups on together, set in phase, and whack the volume up full.
Most of May’s tone comes from driving the shit out of EL84 power tubes. However, as a Vox AC30 is not economically plausible for everyone, consider the next best choice: the Vox Valvetronix ADV100VT combo ($799). For true all-tube tone, consider Vox’s small but perfectly formed AD30VT ($340). You shouldn’t need any extra drive, but you could opt for the V-Stack BHM Edition Guitar Preamp pedal ($199) to be accurate. In addition, Vox has also released the VBM1 Brian May Special amplifier ($199), but while it has the perfect tone for recreating May’s multilayered guitar orchestrations, it isn’t loud enough for live use.
To approximate May’s rich chorus tone, go for the Boss CH-1 Stereo Super Chorus ($135), and set the rate to 5, the depth to 7 and the level to a maximum of 3. For the final touch of authenticity, use a metal pick. The best in our opinion is the Dava Master Control Nickel Silver pick ($2.95).