Brian May has officially teamed up with Gibson – but what will their collaboration involve?

Brian May playing a Gibson Flying V onstage during the Hot Space Tour 1982
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Gibson was not messing around at the launch event of the Gibson Garage London, flexing its convening powers to summon the three kings of rock guitar to celebrate the opening of its new flagship retail store. 

There they were: Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi, Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, and Queen’s Brian May, all gathered to mark the occasion. All legends of guitar. Immortals. 

But there was an odd man out in May, a player who was so unconvinced by the existing electric guitars on the '60s market that he was compelled to build his own, famously hacking up the fireplace and, with the help of his father, building the Red Special. The rest is history. He has rarely been seen without it ever since.

Something was afoot, or rather something is afoot, because as Gibson president and CEO, Cesar Gueikian announced, May had joined the Gibson family – and it wasn’t just for occasions like this, lending his ceremonially regal poise and bonhomie to gala events and catching up with old friends – “a couple of promising young guitarists” – in the process.

Gibson, which used yesterday’s event to announce an epic “multi-year partnership” with Jimmy Page, with signature guitars incoming, has been uncharacteristically coy when it comes to May, sharing no details. But the Nasvhille guitar giant and the Queen guitarist are definitely cooking up something. The question is what?

Is it a new guitar? Over the years May has drafted some pinch-hitters to stand in for the Red Special. On the 1982 Hot Space Tour that was a Gibson Flying V, pictured at the top of the page. It’s a little weird seeing May with a Flying V, but this was the ‘80s, when he even used a Washburn V-style back then, notably in the video for Princes Of The Sea. That said, May does wear the Tobacco Burst Flying V well.

Gibson Garage London: James Bay, Tony Iommi, Jimmy Page and Brian May

(Image credit: Gibson / Dave Hogan)

He has also used a Les Paul on occasion, and defers to a Fender Telecaster when playing Crazy Little Thing Called Love. And yet, although it is not that strange to see him something other than the Red Special, the unique pickup switching system on his own design is integral to his sound – there is no way, zero, that he is going to be changing now. 

He did also use a nylon-string Gibson Chet Atkins acoustic electric guitar in the ‘80s, particularly for Who Wants To Live Forever.

“I have a feeling that’s the guitar on the record too, but I wouldn’t swear to it,” May told MusicRadar. “It has that lovely mellow, gut string sound. When we came across that guitar it was quite a revelation as trying to mic up acoustic guitars on stage is a nightmare, and it worked really well.”

But with May a long-standing fan of Ovation acoustics it seems unlikely that he would be developing a signature acoustic and leaving it at that. A more tantalising prospect would be a partnership that saw May’s Red Special manufactured under license by Gibson in the USA, offering it as a complementary high-end option to his current range of Red Specials, presently made under his own brand, Brian May Guitars. 

May’s BMG Specials are all made in South Korea, and are sensibly priced for amateurs. A US build, particularly if it involved the Gibson Custom Shop, could offer a something extra special (the Gibson x Brian May Red Extra Special?) for the collector’s market, and the Queen super fan with deeper pockets. Time will tell. 

Gibson Garage London: Jimmy Page cuts the ribbon in the company of Brian May, Tony Iommi, Cesar Gueikian and Mark Agnesi

Gibson and Page have announced a partnership. May has joined the family, too, and that means product is coming. But what have Gibson and the Queen guitarist got cooking? (Image credit: Gibson / Dave Hogan)

What is for sure is that May enjoyed Gibson’s new hang out space and offered his stamp of approval, describing it as a dream guitar shop.

“The new Gibson Garage London will be just what we all used to dream a guitar shop should be,” he said. “A place where a young player can feel welcome and mix with the finest instruments, amps, and ancillary gear – and NOT be told to keep their hands to themselves! It's a new era in Rock – and the Twang is still the Thang!”

The Gibson Garage London opens tomorrow, 24 February. We'll let Gibson president and CEO Cesar Gueikian tell you what guitarists can expect inside.

Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.