A Murphy Lab Red Special from the Gibson Custom Shop? “It’s not out of the question,” says Brian May

Brian May live onstage with his iconic Red Special
(Image credit: Miikka Skaffari/Getty Images)

Brian May has revealed that he has spoken with Gibson about the possibility of a US-made version of his iconic Red Special, the electric guitar that he and his father designed that became his go-to instrument for his career.

Speaking to Guitar World, May said it was “not out of the question” that we might see the Red Special manufactured in the USA, perhaps even including a forensic replica from the Gibson Custom Shop’s Murphy Lab.

“We have spoken about such things, and it would be lovely to have an edition of the Brian May guitar based in the States,” says May. “After all, that’s where I started with Guild.”

Brian May’s relationship with Gibson came out of the blue when he joined Jimmy Page and Tony Iommi at the opening of the Gibson Garage London

At first blush, the Queen guitarist was the odd man out. Besides occasionally using a Flying V during the 1982 Hot Space Tour, and a Les Paul Deluxe, May has remained faithful to his own design. But the Gibson president and CEO Cesar Gueikian announced at the time that May had joined the Gibson family. That could potentially mean a signature acoustic guitar, but a Gibson-made Red Special would be a no-brainer.

Brian May Guitars presently makes all of its BMG Specials in South Korea. But when the first commercially available replica Red Specials were built, it was in the USA with Guild’s name on the headstock. By the sounds of it, May believes it is high-time there is another USA model.

“Guild made the first Brian May models, and then I went with Burns in [the UK],” he said “And then things changed, and I just wanted to do it myself. Now we have our own Brian May Guitars company here, but to have the facility to have some made in the States would be wonderful.”

To have the facility to have some made in the States would be wonderful

Those Guild BM01s from circa ’93 were serious guitars, equipped with Schaller tremolo systems; Seymour Duncan provided the replica Burns Tri-Sonic pickups of May’s original b build. The Burns Red Special later made its debut in 2001.

May describes his relationship with Gibson as “great” but gives no indication as to when we might see these guitars. These days, when Gibson gets something lined up,  it tends to act fast.

If this TBC Gibson-made Red Special replica is a Murphy Lab high-end electric guitar, priced for collectors, you can bet it won’t meet the same fate that befell the first ever Red Special replica, made by John Birch.

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

Gibson Garage London: James Bay, Tony Iommi, Jimmy Page and Brian May (Image credit: Gibson / Dave Hogan)

As May told MusicRadar, that Birch replica, built as a spare to the original, ended up in pieces at a Queen show in New Jersey, in 1982. Coincidentally, the very same year that May was playing the Flying V.

“I suppose you know the story of its demise? Did I throw it over the amps in a fit of pique? Well, obviously I would never do that,” said May with a laugh. “But yes, I think that’s what happened.”

The Birch replica was restored by English luthier Andrew Guyton in 2006. But it was never going to eclipse the original.

“There were problems,” he said. “It turned out that the pickups didn’t have the warmth that mine had and the guitar was made of different materials, so it really didn’t have the sustain. The tremolo wasn’t as accurate and the neck was a lot thinner, because it was regarded as insane to make a neck as thick as mine.It was closer than the Gibson or the Fender to sounding like my guitar, but it didn’t really fulfil the job very well.”

Brian May might be working with Gibson but the chances of seeing him a Les Paul are slim. He told Guitar World that the Les Paul Deluxe he used as a backup was a beautiful guitar but it just wasn't his style, and he ended up giving it away.

“I had a Les Paul Deluxe for a long time,” he said. “It’s a long story, but sort of a rich sugar daddy of a fan gave it to me. I used it for a while. It was a beautiful instrument, but it was never quite right for my gear.”

You can read the full interview with Brian May in the latest issue of Guitar World, available at Magazines Direct.

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.