Following is from a 1973 interview of Brian May that was in “a guitar magazine” (unnamed) shortly after Queen’s self-titled first album came out: Thanks to BrianMayWorld.com for preserving it. In the first part of the interview he talks about his Red Special guitar, but then he talks about his AC30s and effects. Here are the excerpts:
He built the very clever tape echo unit he uses with Queen, and has made several amplifiers. But doesn’t use them. “I never much liked the amps I made. I suspect you can’t really design the sound of an amplifier – you just try and try till you find something that’s exactly right. I find the old AC30s are just right for me. I use two of those on stage, three if it’s a big place, straight, coupled together. They’re miked into the PA, so I can vary the sound a bit there.
“I really love the AC30s very much. I bought two of mine for about twenty quid each five years ago. When I tried to get another one last year, they were asking about sixty for it! It’s incredible how popular they’ve become again. But they are really good – and the older they are, the better. The really old ones were built more solidly, and the old speakers seem to respond better.
“A transistor amp doesn’t really work for this sort of thing: it doesn’t distort in the right way. It’s designed to give a perfectly linear response up to a certain point, then it distorts catastrophically. Whereas a valve amp goes smoothly into distortion and you know exactly where you’re sitting.”
What does it do that other tape echoes can’t? “The problem with conventional echo units is getting them synchronized with what you’re playing. I wanted something I could synchronize without thinking. So this repeat box has the usual record head and playback head (both stereo heads, by the way) and erase head. The trick is that the playback head moves along a rail, to give greater or less delay in the playback. And it moves at exactly the same speed as the tape: it starts to move when you press a foot-button, and it stops when you press another one. So the time delay between when you play and when the echo comes can be exactly what you want, up to about 8 ½ seconds. Then you can use the stereo to feedback from one half to the other, for instance an eight-second delay on one channel and sixteen seconds on the other.”
Their album “Queen” released last month, features the Brian May repeat box on several numbers. The guitars he uses on the record are the hand-made special and an old acoustic, which, needless to say, Brian has been unable to leave alone. “I put a new bridge on it and touched it up here and there, and it sounds very nice on the record. I’ve found, in common with a lot of other people, that you can spend an enormous amount of money on an acoustic guitar which may sound great on stage, but records like a lump of old socks. And yet some cheap old acoustic guitar might just have the sort of sound that records nicely. This one of mine has an amazingly crisp sound.”
Brian on the ‘New’ Album
“I’m quite pleased with it. But it’s been such a long time – the band’s been together for three years and most of the songs were written about three years ago. We just feel that, as a band, we’ve gone past what’s on the album. We put it down in order to progress to different things.
“We like some of the stuff on it, but we sometimes fell into the trap of over-arrangement. You know, the songs changed over the years and some of them probably evolved too much. You can get so far into something that you forget what the song originally was.
“On a personal level, it was frustrating for me to take so long to get to this point. I wanted to record things with, for instance, tape echoes and multiple guitars five years ago. Now I’ve finally done it, but in the meantime so have other people! Which is a bit disappointing. But you have to get away from the idea that playing music is a competition. You should just keep on doing what you think is an interesting thing to do.”