Notes from Rick Beato’s Brian May Interview

A fantastic conversation with Rick Beato and Brian May. They talked about Queen’s music, music recording, and Brian’s approach to guitar playing.

Full interview:

Visualize playing a live concert when recording (7:00)

When recording guitar parts for a song in the studio, especially a solo guitar part, Brian seeks to achieve “a live performance in the studio rather than a studio performance”. He will visualize himself playing live on stage when recording in order to capture that energy and emotion in the recording.

On why Queen’s music is timeless (8:15)

Queen is a people’s band. They talk about everyday things that are relatable. They are the hopes of dreams of everyone, “I want it all”, “I want to break free”, it isn’t rockstar talk.

On the democratic understanding in the band (10:20)

The guy that brought in the song idea would be in charge of that song. That person would have the final say on songwriting decisions and the mix.

Brian May Guitar Rig 101 (17:45)

Rory Gallagher, an Irish blues and rock guitarist suggested that Brian look into the VOX AC30 amp and the Rangemaster treble booster pedal. Brian fell in love with both and for the last 50 years these pieces of gear have been the foundation of his guitar rig.

Recording Guitar & Miking Tricks (19:00)

When recording guitar Brian would turn amps to maximum volume (to 11) for maximum power. The amps would be in the studio turned up to full volume, and Brian would listen to them in the control room in headphones. The key is he wouldn’t play the guitar, he would just listen to the raw sound of the full volume amps. The mics would be placed in front of the amp and adjusted slightly. Brian was trying to get the broadest, what Van Halen would call “brown sound”. Mics would also be placed behind the amp for a more lively sound. A room mic would be placed in order to capture the ambiance of the room.

We were hungry for ambiance (19:45)

After the first Queen album, the band became into capturing the ambiance of a room in their recordings. They regretted not having it on the first Queen album, where the drums were recorded inside a drum booth and had very little ambiance. On the second Queen album they moved the drums to the center of a large room and put mics all around. This all the sudden captured the natural reverb of the room and made the drums sound massive. As Brian said, “we were hungry for ambiance”.

The guitar solo is a continuation of the vocal story (21:50)

To Brian, the first guitar solo in Bohemian Rhapsody was a continuation of the vocals. He could hear it in his head before even playing it. The solo became the next progression in the story Freddie was telling with the vocals.

The infamous Deacy Amp (24:00)

The Deacy Amp is a very unique amp that Brian has used on many Queen songs. It creates an almost violin like sound from the guitar. You can hear it on his solo on Queen’s song “A Winter’s Tale”.

Vocal harmony recordings on Bohemian Rhapsody (30:00)

When recording these parts the guys would sing in character. They would become the characters and dramatically sing out their parts (Bismillah!). They wanted the recording to sound spontaneous, like they were performing it on stage. 

They would also double the recordings. They would pay attention to not sing the double part too much in tune, because this would phase out with the first recording. In order to create a fat stereo sound you want the double track to be slightly out of tune with the original.