We kick off our first unit with an awesome Brian May style solo, based around some of his more theatrical Queen solos. We focus in on his vibrato style, flowing lead, behind the beat playing as well as his tone. This is a great place to start as well don't need to dive into too much theory at this point, so we can really work on getting his sound using the various techniques that we have available to us as guitar players. Don't worry, that doesn't involve playing with a coin, Brian May can keep that for himself! Check out the first video to get started and click here to check out the Materials Section below to access backing tracks and interactive tab!
To get started, we feel it's important to get you set up with the tone you need to sound a little like Brian May, using the gear you have available. The key element is being able to boost the mids. How do we do that? Well, it can be as simple as using the EQ on your amp! Whatever amp you have, find the "mid" knob, which stands for middle, and turn that dial-up nice and high. Take it all the way to 10 and adjust from there, keeping the bass and treble around 5. From there, be sure you have a nice overdriven sound, either from a pedal or on the amp itself. Finally, add a touch of delay and reverb to complete the sound and get the right ballpark sound.
Sweating the Finer Details...
If you want to invest the time to get even closer to the tone, Dion uses a Line 6 HX Stomp, which had a great Vox style amp (Vox amps typically use EL84 style power tubes). In fact, most amp sims (for example GarageBand, BOSS GT range, Kemper, BIAS Amps, Axe FX, Amplitube) will have a great Vox AC30 style amp that you can quickly dial in. From there, take the mids up even more and dial in a lovely smooth sounding overdrive pedal or just use the VOX simulated amp cranked up. Otherwise, use the basic ideas above to get in the right region.
Let's get cracking with the first 2 licks from our solo! The song is based around the key of D major, so when in doubt, use your D major pentatonic! Digging in a little deeper though, here are the first 4 bars of the chord chart:
The first lick is based over the D major chord and A major chord, so we highlight the D major arpeggio (D shape) and the A major arpeggio (A shape). This really helps bring out the sound of those chords, whilst still playing in the key of D major.
We will now tackle lick 3 and 4, and we begin with the G major pentatonic scale over the G major chord. The cool thing here is that the notes of the G major pentatonic fit very nicely over the key of D major. G A B D & E are the notes, and all of those fit perfectly in D major (D E F# G A B C). The key that is realising that we are thinking that way, and looking for the g major chord, and pentatonic that works with it. In this position, that is the C shape CAGED chord and the Pentatonic Box 4. Check out the fretboards to see that nice and clearly! Here are the chords we are playing over now:
then back to D major...
We then move back to the D major position we used before for the 4th lick. The cool thing here is that we are playing an A major chord underneath the D major, which means that we get a cool Mixolydian vibe, as Mixolydian is the 5th mode in the major scale. It sounds awesome, as you'll soon find out.
In lick 5 & 6 we pull out some awesome melodies utilising the D major scale shape that we have now found ourselves very comfortably working with (see the fretboard diagram again). Notice how Dion really highlights the playing behind the beat element to Brian May's playing style. It kind of feels "dragged" or "loose" compared to playing more strictly on the beat. This is a huge part of that Brian May experience!
We are also now playing over the D major and A major chords again, as the chord progression loops back to the start. Here are the next 4 bars.
For our final, epic, lick we are using some simple triad arpeggio ideas to navigate through a particularly non-diatonic part of the track. The chords are as follows:
As you can see, although A and G are in our key of D major, F definitely isn't. It's being used to create a more dramatic, theatrical line, and this means we have a little bit more work to do navigating through it. We use notes from the A major triad over A, then from the G major triad over G, then from the F major triad over F, before returning to the overall key of D major to finish up the solo! Epic fun!