100 Greatest Guitarists
Probably the only guitarist to get a degree in astrophysics, Queen's lead guitarist (and frequent songwriter) is a brainy adventurer who's always seeking new effects. An early goal of his was "to be the first to put proper three-part [guitar] harmonies onto a record" – like the orchestrated squeals of his solo in "Killer Queen." Brian May layered dozens of guitar parts onto individual tracks, building palatial walls of sound. Appropriately, even his instrument sprang from his imagination: His main guitar, the Red Special, a.k.a. the Old Lady, is a homemade wonder, constructed by May and his father in the early Sixties out of components including wood from a fireplace (he has been known to play it with a sixpence coin rather than a pick). It's yielded everything from the pirouetting, trebly solo in "Bohemian Rhapsody" to the proto-metal riffing of "Stone Cold Crazy." "I can listen to any player and pantomime their sound," Steve Vai said, "but I can't do Brian May. He's just walking on higher ground."
Key Tracks: "Keep Yourself Alive," "Brighton Rock"
• Queen Rock You Like Never Before