Brian May is certainly one of the most unique guitarists in history not only for his musical talent but for having built alongside his late father his guitar the “Red Special” from scratch, since they didn’t have enough money when he was young to buy a regular electric guitar. So they created a unique guitar that no one else in the world had and that gave him a unique sound that also was formed by using a coin instead of a pick to play, since May always preferred to use a coin.
He helped to form Queen in 1970, a group which would become one of the most successful of all time, with an estimated amount of more than 300 million records sold worldwide. Over the decades the musician talked about many of his peers and even revealed who is his favorite guitarist of all time.
The guitar player that Brian May said is his favorite of all time
Back in 2020, Brian May was elected by the readers of Total Guitar the best guitarist of all time and although he was flattered and happy for being remembered and chosen by so many fans he didn’t agree with the title. May praised many other guitar players and revealed that his favorite one was the late legendary Jimi Hendrix, who he belived it was the best the music ever had.
“Jimi is, of course, my number one. And I’ve always said that. To me, he’s still something superhuman. It’s like he really did come from an alien planet. I will never know quite how he did what he did.”
“And every time I go back to Hendrix, I’m thrilled and stunned. I get that feeling all over again, like either I’m going to give up playing guitar. Because I can’t face up to this. Or I’m gonna really have to get into it in a big way and try and do what is in my own body and soul. I never stop learning from Jimi. Strangely enough, these days I very seldom play his stuff. But it’s kind of inside me anyway,” Brian May told Total Guitar.
Hendrix was born in Seattle, Washington in 1942 and started his musical career in 1962. For years he was a sideman for many famous artists like Little Richard, for example. Even though Hendrix was American, his career with his own band really took off in the United Kingdom. Especially with the help of his manager Chas Chandler of The Animals.
Alongside his bandmates Noel Redding (Bass) and Mitch Mitchel (Drums) he released three praised studio albums. They are “Are You Experienced” (1967), “Axis: Bold as Love” (1967) and “Electric Ladyland” (1968). His final album was a live one called “Band of Gypsys” which he recorded with a new band formed by Billy Cox (Bass) and Buddy Miles (Drums). His career ended after he tragically died at the age of 27 in 1970. Although he only released a few albums and had a short career, he continues to be one of the most influential guitarists in the history.
May hired Hendrix to play in his college for £1000
Jimi Hendrix’s career with his band Experience was short. So not many people had the chance to see him playing live. But Brian May was one of the lucky fans who not only got the chance to watch him perform. He also hired him for only £1000 to play in his college.
That interesting moment happened in 1967, three years before Brian May helped to form Queen. He was a math and physics student at the London Imperial College and was a member of the Entertainments Committee. One of his main roles was to book bands to perform at the College and at the time he hired Spooky Tooth, America and even Jimi Hendrix.
He first saw Hendrix playing in January, 1967 when the American musician was The Who‘s opening act in London. He was so impressed by seeing the guitarist that he convinced his colleagues that they should book him for the upcoming student ball. The event was scheduled to happen in May that year. So the show coincidentally happened on the day after Hendrix’s debut album was released and his fee was £1000.
As the Queen member recalled in an interview with Classic Rock in 2023, they charge about one pound for the show ticket. “You had three or four groups playing in different parts of the building. We paid a thousand pounds for Jimi to come that night. There were a thousand people in that hall. Tickets were more than a pound, so the Imperial College Union made a profit.” During that conversation he also recalled that the only interaction he had with Hendrix. It was when they went to his dressing room telling him it was time to go on stage.
“They were in there, making some noise, smoking a lot of dope. It was getting near to the time when they were supposed to go onstage. So one of us knocked on the door and said, ‘It’s time, Mr Hendrix. It’s time to go.’ He came out with his guitar and said, ‘Where’s the stage, man?’ We all pointed in the direction without actually saying anything. (We were) just starstruck. And that was my conversation with him, if you can call it that,” Brian May said.
The musician said that he never had listened to such a incredible sound live before that and still haven’t listened again. He described the sound like a mix between an earthquake, an orchestra and a whirlwind.