BRIAN MAY, BRAD GILLIS, And JOHN MYUNG Excerpts From New Book, Iconic Guitar Gear

June 29, 2022, a month ago

By Greg Prato

feature hard rock riff notes iconic guitar gear

BRIAN MAY, BRAD GILLIS, And JOHN MYUNG Excerpts From New Book, Iconic Guitar Gear

In addition to yours truly interviewing your favorite metal musicians for BraveWords, you may also be familiar with some of my books – as quite a few of them are metal-based, including such titles as Survival of the Fittest: Heavy Metal in the 1990's, Iron Maiden: '80 '81, Shredders!: The Oral History Of Speed Guitar, etc. And just recently, I issued my 36th book overall (!), entitled Iconic Guitar Gear.

As the title states, the book is comprised of over 150 guitarists discussing their tools of the trade, and the set-up  is simple – for each guitarist listed, an intro paragraph kicks things off, followed by quotes by either the guitarist themselves or an expert detailing or talking about instruments, amplification, or effects (and in some cases, all three). And there are countless metal six-stringers: Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, Tony Iommi, Gary Moore, Brian May, Steve Vai, Alex Lifeson, Jimmy Page, Dimebag Darrell, Zakk Wylde, Kim Thayil, etc.

Intrigued? Well, you're in luck! Below are three excerpts from the book (which is available as paperback, hardcover, and Kindle editions, with an audiobook coming soon), including Paul Crook chatting about what it's like to play Brian May's homemade Red Special, Brad Gillis discussing his red Strat, and John Myung conversing about his Ernie Ball Music Man Bongo bass, as well as the set-up he used for the recording of Dream Theater's classic Images and Words album.

Brian May (as told by Paul Crook)


Few guitarists can say they actually played Brian May’s legendary/homemade “Red Special” guitar. But long-time Meat Loaf/ex-Anthrax guitarist Paul Crook can indeed stake this claim – as he was also once upon a time the guitarist in the We Will Rock You musical, and worked closely with May to recreate the guitar parts just right.

The Red Special

“I’ve had the pleasure of playing Brian’s guitar several times, that it doesn’t even phase me anymore. I’ll never forget this – I was at his house in Surrey one time. I was in the UK with Meat Loaf, and I drove out. And the guitar was laying on the couch in his living area – like a library. I think he went into the kitchen to get some tea, and he said have a seat. And his guitar...I just picked it up and moved it! I mean, I’m not saying it’s special, but it’s the man that’s special. I guess I’m just numb to the instrument now. It’s so funny to feel that way about it. The guitar is awesome, but it’s not Brian. It’s him. It’s his hands.

“The guitar sounds incredible, even acoustically. The neck is really fat. It feels like a baseball bat. It is also a ‘fretless wonder.’ My stupid hands can’t play it. I can’t bend on it. Watching Brian bend on it is mind-blowing. I asked him how he approaches his vibrato (in his head) because it looks incredibly strong up close. Frightening. Intimidating. He actually presses into the fretboard. Most players push up. He imagines a tiny spring as he presses. I asked him about the neck profile. Why he kept it so big. He mentioned that he got tired of sanding it down! [Laughs]

“That being said, it was one of the best decisions he could’ve made. He’s NEVER had to adjust the truss rod. That is insane when you think about it. The guitar has been around the world countless times, through all kinds of climate changes. Not one single adjustment. Also, all that sustain is coming from it. The guitar rings. The tremolo system is badass. I believe he built it using parts from a bicycle seat and a sewing machine. It feels great! What I find incredible is that even at such a young age, he incorporated a straight-pull system. Meaning the strings run in a straight line from the bridge to the tuning pegs. Brilliant. The last time I played it, it was at a Queen soundcheck. It was really fun playing through the ‘AC30 wall’ with the guitar. It was pretty fuckin’ exciting.”

Brad Gillis

Night Ranger, Ozzy Osbourne

Ozzy Osbourne has a knack for locating previously unknown guitar talent. And after the tragic death of Randy Rhoads in 1982, Brad Gillis admirably filled his shoes for a spell (including playing on the all-Sabbath set, Speak of the Devil), and afterwards, with melodic rockers Night Ranger. And throughout it all, he played a unique red-colored Strat – which has an interesting backstory.

Fender Stratocaster

"Back in 1978, a friend of my older brother’s showed up at my door. When I opened the door, he had a box in his hand, and said, 'Hey Brad, I know you play guitar and I have this ‘62 Strat that I sanded down and took apart. I don’t think I’ll find time to put it back together. Would you like it?' And I said, 'Well…sure. I’ll take it.' And back then, I was about 21 years old and was into building up guitars and doing my own thing to it. So, I grabbed the guitar and had some leftover paint from my Datsun 24Z – that was an orange-red Imron paint. And my brother said, 'Take it to my buddy’s body shop in Oakland and he'll spray it for you.' So, I took it to the body shop, and he hung it in the paint room and actually sprayed a grey auto primer on it, and then put my orange-red paint on the guitar.

"So, once that was done, I thought, 'Well, I’ve got to get the neck done' – as that was sanded down, too. I found out there was a luthier out of Oakland named Mr. Kamimoto – I called him up and he said, 'Bring it down. Let’s see what we can do.' So, he actually painted the neck black, found the original ‘62 Fender logo to put on the headstock, and added a 22nd fret on the guitar.

"Right about then is when Floyd Rose came out with the new tremolo system. And having problems playing my other old Stratocasters and not staying in tune, I went on a search to find one of the original Floyds. There was a store in San Francisco called Don Wehr’s Music, and I called them up, and they told me they had the third Floyd Rose ever built in stock at their store. And I found out that Eddie Van Halen had the first one, Neal Schon got the second one, and I had a chance to buy the third one. So, I ran down to Don Wehr’s and not having a lot of cash on me, I definitely wanted that Floyd. I ended up trading a Les Paul Custom for that third original Floyd Rose and a new fret job for my Stratocaster I was building. So, at that point I had a nice, freshly painted neck and body, installed the Floyd Rose, and a humbucker, and had the original two ‘62 single coils on the guitar, also.

"At that time, my brother Greg was fiddling around with wireless systems, and he had emulated a Nady wireless system, had built it, and we had installed it in my guitar. At that point, I set it up and I was ready to go. About a year or so later is when Night Ranger got together and we started recording our demos – which I used that Stratocaster on 100%. And I started this band, the Alameda All Stars in my hometown, and started playing that guitar four nights a week, five sets a night. While Night Ranger went out to pass our demos out to get a record deal, right around ‘82 is when the tragic death of Randy Rhoads came – in March. And in April, I was called on to join Ozzy’s band and use that guitar exclusively on tour – along with my ‘71 Les Paul Custom, which I also put an original Floyd Rose on and built-in wireless. And a few other guitars on that tour."

John Myung

Dream Theater

There is seemingly no piece of music too tricky for bassist John Myung (or for that matter…any member of DT!). Here, he discusses both his current preferred instrument, as well as what he utilized on the recording of Dream Theater’s breakthrough release, Images and Words, way back when.

Ernie Ball Music Man Bongo

"I’m playing a Bongo bass. And exciting things are happening, because I’m actually working on a custom model with them at the moment. So, hopefully within the next year or so, it will be available. I’m back to playing Music Man basses. I did the first album with a Sting Ray, and for the past ten years now, I’ve been just playing the Bongo basses, and working with them on a custom level. There is something about the Music Man basses that have always made sense for me to play – it stylistically works, because I play with a strong attack. If you’re a finger player, and playing that sort of 'Steve Harris style' – where you have a rhythmic aspect to the attack, and how you get tone out of the instrument – it seems like the Music Man basses compliment that stylistic playing the best for me.

John discusses his set-up for Dream Theater’s Images and Words album…

"I used a red Spector 4-string. In the studio, I left it up to the producer, David Prater, to get the bass sounds. It was a real kind of simple thing – a lot of it was direct, just through a DI. And then he had me going through...I think it was a Bag End cabinet. He may have had it going through part of a Marshall combo head. I don’t really recall exactly, what the set-up was for my tone. But I do have the bass. It was more or less just a direct signal – it was more of a line level thing. There wasn’t a lot of processing going on.

Order Iconic Guitar Gear (and check out more excerpts by using the 'Look Inside' feature on the page) by clicking here.




(Photos by - Bill O'Leary)

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