The Brian May Signature model I ordered arrived yesterday as scheduled and as luck would have it, I have the day off today due to a nasty blizzard that's enveloped most of the Mid West United States. Whee! So for anyone that's interested, here's my review of the Brian May Signature guitar.
FIT AND FINISH
For a Korean made guitar, overall the fit of the parts and the finish are really good. The metallic gold finish is very well done and clean. I gave it a once over and no flaws jumped out at me. That's about as much scrutiny as I will give an $800 Korean guitar. I did notice the finish doesn't quite match up with the binding around the body right near the neck joint. There aren't any gaps but rather the finish fades away to reveal another bit of black and white in the binding. Again, for a Korean guitar in this price range, it's not a big deal to me.
The single ply cream colored pickguard is cut well except for a slight gap (1/16") around the treble side at the heel of the neck. For some reason (cost most likely), the trem cavity cover is black. This didn't really strike me until I went to add a spring to the trem and I was like "WTF?". Seriously though, it's not a big deal but considering the fact that the pickguard, truss rod cover and fake trem cavity cover (behind the trem) are all cream colored it's kind of weird. I don't know if a standard Start trem cover will fit but if it really bothers me, I'm sure I can get it replaced.
The ebony fingerboard is as smooth as glass and as dark as night. The fret dots are off white plastic dots, just like the original. For an off the rack guitar, the fret work is smooth and clean. I should also mention that this guitar features a zero fret which is very unusual nowadays. The zero fret sets the string height for the open strings whereas the nut guides the strings to each of the tuning machines.
BTW, this guitar is now being made by a company that Brian owns so hopefully the quality will remain consistent and up to par with what I've seen in this one.
The guitar's metallic gold finish is complemented by all gold hardware, right down to all the screws. The overall look is very posh.
The tuning machines are locking Grovers which seem to work fine. I haven't changed the strings yet but from looking at the instruction tag that was attached to the low E tuner, they look like they will be easy to work with.
The bridge is standard 2 point fulcrum Strat style bridge with the name "Sung Il" stamped on the sustain block. While this is nothing like the tremolo that Brian designed and built (from a set of kickstand springs) for the original Red Special, it's also considerably less expensive and gets the job done. I don't both using trems, locking or not, so I added in a 4th spring to stabilize the bring until I get it blocked off with wood.
The pickups (Burns Trisonics) and the switching arrangement (on/off and phase reversal for each pickup) are just like Brian's own guitar. These 2 sets of components are key to reproducing the wide array of tones heard on all of Queen and Brian May's recordings. All totaled, there are 13 different sounds available from the different switching combos, not including the standby (all pickups offs) mode. The volume and tone pots are smooth and quiet in their operation. The switches are a little stiff but not overly so. I imagine that they will become smoother over time.
Although the guitar comes with no manual, it's easy to find documentation on the Net for this pickup and switch arrangement. Being a big Queen/Brian May fan, I'm pretty intimate with the different tones Brian uses so it's been easy for me to flick a few switches and nail some of those classic May sounds even just running through my ADA 3TM MP-1. I can only imagine how good it will sound through my Digitech Red Special modeling pedal.
The sustain this guitar is capable of is unbelievable. It really sings and this is due in part to the body being hollow. Everyone that has picked up this guitar is amazed at how light it is. I haven't tried playing it with a strap but it doesn't feel unbalanced without one.
One a side note, just trying this guitar and going through all its different sounds can really open one up to what is possible with various wiring arrangements.
The neck is pretty fat and wide, especially for anyone who's used to the wizard type necks. For my medium sized hands, it's very comfortable. The fingerboard radius is 7.5", sort of like an old Strat. This makes chord work easy all the way up and down the neck. Now, while you think the 7.5" radius and medium sized frets might make bending a little difficult, the 24" scale length pretty much offsets those 2 factors so bends are pretty easy.
The relief in the neck was good so all I had to do to get it playing pretty well was to lower the entire bridge (via the 2 screw posts at the bridge) a few millimeters and I was ready to go. I'm getting a little buzz at the 9th fret on the D string but nothing horrible. Besides, I'll bring it to the local music shop at the end of week and have them set-up it up right. The guitar is shipped with 9s on it and I'll probably stick with 9s, at least for a little while.
Overall, the guitar plays great and is very responsive. It doesn't take much effort to play. As a matter of fact, you really don't have a heavy picking hand on this guitar when it's strung with 9s. You'll cause the strings to vibrate a bit too much which will lead to fret buzz/slap the cause the notes, especially on the lower strings to go a bit sharp initially.
$799 for the guitar and official gig bag. I bought a Burns Brian May Guitar case for it (made by TKL) that fits like a glove for $140.
When all is said and done, I'm really glad I bought this guitar. For the money it's a good deal. I'll be able to get some interesting and different tones for recording. If you're a Queen/Brian May fan or you're just looking for something different, this guitar is definitely worth checking out.