If you were to look at records sold alone, then the figures accredited to Queen reign supreme over the majority of the British rock scene. The band, comprised of Brian May, Freddie Mercury, Roger Taylor and John Deacon, remain rooted at the top of the pile of rock and roll bands. Despite having a bittersweet reputation among musos, there can be no denying their universal appeal and ability to transcend boundaries.
Unfortunately, this ability to haul huge sales has often seen many commentators and music fans negate the band’s critical work. It also means the band’s guitar player, May, is given the same treatment, regardless of his musical prowess.
In reality, May is one of the most gifted guitarists rock and roll has ever seen. A technically proficient player, May put all of his cerebral proclivities to use when he worked with Queen, delivering lead lines and solos that most can only dream of penning. Who can forget his contribution to some of the band’s finest such as ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ or, his personal favourite, ‘Killer Queen’, to name just two?
Not only did he build his own iconic guitar, but, similarly, May cultivated a sound like no other, opting to use a coin instead of a plastic plectrum as one of his innovative affectations. In many ways, he’s a guitar-playing iconoclast who is often overlooked in favour of rock’s more tedious and overhyped guitarists, who think that playing scales rapidly is an indicator of artistic aptitude. May is a brainiac, and when he’s not saving the badger population from existential annihilation, he’s tearing it up on the fretboard.
Given that he is such a brilliant guitarist, those who are disciples of May’s playing have long wanted to understand just how he developed artistically and who influenced him. Luckily for them, during a 2020 interview with Total Guitar, the Queen axeman discussed his favourite guitarist of all time, and his choice may come as something of a surprise.
In a discussion, after being voted the ‘best rock guitarist of all time’ by the readers of the publication, May was asked to reflect on the players who came behind him. Duly, much attention was placed on the man who came in second place, Jimi Hendrix.
The typically modest May said: “Oh my god! Well, it is very humbling. Jimi is, of course, my number one. And I’ve always said that. To me, he’s still something superhuman. It’s like he really did come from an alien planet, and I will never know quite how he did what he did.”
May explained: “And every time I go back to Hendrix, I’m thrilled and stunned, and I get that feeling all over again, like either I’m going to give up playing guitar, because I can’t face up to this, or I’m gonna really have to get into it in a big way and try and do what is in my own body and soul. I never stop learning from Jimi. Strangely enough, these days, I very seldom play his stuff, but it’s kind of inside me anyway.”
When you stop to think about it, it makes a lot of sense that Brian May’s favourite guitarist is Jimi Hendrix. Emotive riffs, powerful solos and a love of overdrive, May makes his guitar sing in a way that is not dissimilar from Hendrix. He places passion over technical peacocking, and that is something that Hendrix was the master of.
Watch Brian May talk about his guitar below.