How to play guitar like Queen's Sir Brian May

Brian May
(Image credit: Carlos Muina / Getty)

This week, Queen guitarist Brian May was officially made a Sir as he was knighted by King Charles in a Buckingham Palace investiture ceremony. 

May was named a Knight Bachelor in the 2023 New Year's Honours List but officially went under the sword yesterday, later posting a photo of himself with the caption "No words!".



(Image credit: Phil Dent/Redferns)

5 songs guitarists need to hear by… Brian May

One of the more nimble-fingered guitarists to emerge from the '70s, Brian May has a razor-sharp understanding of harmony and melody.

Here, we're examining his lead style, which draws from blues, metal, classical and even trad-jazz. These licks cover a bunch of different techniques. 

First, we reveal Brian's metal side, with single-string tapping similar to that used in One Vision. His accurate and focused alternate picking is all the more impressive considering he uses a coin as a pick.

Brian is also well known for his scalar picking approach, as heard in tracks such as A Kind Of Magic, and for his soulful melodic sense, as in Bijou and Who Wants To Live Forever, all delivered with emotive vibrato and pitch-perfect string-bending.

Finally, we're looking at Brian's use of delay and his amazing trad-jazz and Dixieland-inspired arrangements.

1. Tapped lick

Play the initial bends with your first and third fingers using alternate picking, then move your picking hand into position to tap the 17th fret with your middle finger. This means that you can keep hold of your pick/sixpence. The descending notes are from the E blues scale, so this lick should work over most E-based rock riffs.

Tapped lick tab (fullscreen)

2. Alternate-picked scale lick

Start with a downstroke and use alternate picking to keep time. If you want to play a harmony part, use diatonic 3rds or 5ths in the key of C major.

Alternate-picked scale lick tab (fullscreen)

3. Pre-bend lick

Brian uses pre-bends a lot, most famously in the Bohemian Rhapsody solo. The idea is that you bend the string by either a semitone or a tone before you pick it.

Pre-bend lick tab (fullscreen)

4. Delay effect lick

Set a delay pedal to add one or two repeats at a quarter-note speed. This means that you can self-harmonise as you play along with the repeating notes.

Delay effect lick tab (fullscreen)

5. Sequenced rock lick

This is a descending B blues scale pattern inspired by Brian's solos from tracks such as Headlong and Dead On Time.

Sequenced rock lick tab (fullscreen)

6. Melodic lick

Brian was a skilful studio engineer, and he pushed the recording studios of the 70s to the limit with his heavily arranged, layered sections. Inspired by The Millionaire Waltz, the trickiest parts of this melody are triplet arpeggios. Alternate picking as you cross strings is tough, especially at the high speed of these tricky triplets, so sweep-pick instead.

Melodic lick tab (fullscreen)

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