There are a lot of iconic rock guitarists – but very few are still rocking stadiums in their senior years. Brian May is an exception to this, a star who rose to fame in the music industry in the early ’70s and is still going strong today.
An astrophysicist and activist as well as a singer/songwriter, May is often acknowledged as one of the greatest guitar players of all time.
May has several distinct signatures as a guitar player, including his habit of using a coin to play the instrument rather than the traditional guitar pick – and in a 2021 interview, he discussed why he prefers using a coin, revealing that he likes the distinct sound that it produces.
Brian May is a founding member of the rock band Queen
In his teens, May developed an intense interest in music and started playing in the rock band Smile. In 1970, he formed his own band, dubbed Queen, alongside his good friend and bandmate Roger Taylor and lead singer Freddie Mercury.
As Queen, the group toured the world, releasing songs like “Killer Queen,” “Somebody to Love,” and “We Will Rock You.” Widely regarded as one of the all-time great rock bands, May deserves a lot of the credit for Queen’s success.
His incredible, distinctive guitar riffs helped to give the group its unique sound, and he contributed several popular songs to the band’s catalog, including “I Want It All” and “Hammer to Fall.” After Mercury’s untimely death, May helped the group persevere, reinventing Queen and hitting the road for stadium tours.
What did Brian May say about why he uses a coin to play guitar?
May loves talking about his love for the guitar whenever possible – and in an August 2021 interview with Radio X, the iconic musician revealed why he prefers using a coin to play guitar over a pick. “I use a coin to play guitar because it has a particular sound and feel,” he admitted.
“I found when I was learning that I was using soft picks to begin with, and I gradually liked them harder and harder because I liked to feel what was happening at the string in my fingers. Eventually, I thought, ‘well, I don’t want it to bend at all, I want it to be completely rigid.'”
“I just picked up a sixpence and it worked for me, it just fit in my hand nicely. It also has a bonus because if you turn it sideways, at an angle to the strings, you get those serrated edges [which provide] a sort of articulated sound … sort of like having consonants in your speech.”
What is Brian May doing these days?
May is unique in the music industry for many reasons, not just for his very individualized way of playing the guitar. Known for his handmade guitar, dubbed “the Red Special,” May has as much love for rock and roll music as he did the day that he joined his very first band.
These days, Queen is still going strong – although bass player John Deacon has long since retired, and Mercury died in 1991. May and Roger Taylor have worked hard to keep the legacy of Queen alive, and to this day, the group is still playing shows around the world, fronted by their vocalist, Adam Lambert.
Although he is now 75 years old, May is showing no signs of slowing down, either with his conservation activism or with his musical endeavors.