Brian May Red Special Review

manufacturer: DigiTech date: 02/10/2011 category: Guitar Effects
DigiTech: Brian May Red Special
Seven signature tones that rocked the world. The Brian May Red Special pedal lets you bring your own personal creations to life using one of rock's most distinctive guitar tones.
 Sound: 9
 Overall Impression: 9
 Reliability & Durability: 8.3
 Ease of Use: 7.7
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reviews (3) 19 comments vote for this gear:
overall: 8
Brian May Red Special Reviewed by: UG Team, on march 30, 2007
9 of 9 people found this review helpful

Ease of Use: I wouldn't say the Red Special is difficult to use, but it takes a bit to get used to the controls. The pedal itself is a wah/volume case (finished in a sexy faux wood grain) with knobs across the top: Gain, Level, Treble, Bass, Control, Guitar, and Model. Gain, Level, Treble and Bass are self-explanatory. Model allows you to select models 1 through 7, and you can select two tones (red or green) for each of these settings by stomping on the toe or heel switch. Control has a different function for each model; for some settings it is the Midrange control, but it may control an effect level or speed. Keep the owner's manual handy to keep these straight, also to tell you which sound each setting is modeled after. Another unusual knob is the Guitar knob. The 12 o'clock setting is for those rare players Who have either a Brian May guitar or Burns Tri-Sonic pickups. Left of center is labeled "SC" for single-coil users, and right of center is "HB" for humbucker users. The aim is to make any guitar sound like a Brian's guitar, and there is some flexibility depending on how the knob is set. I took a point off for the expression pedal, whose short throw is difficult to control. For example, when using it to control delay level, it is difficult to set it at a middle point between no delay at all and so much delay as to be unusable. // 6

Sound: Brian May's guitar tone is one of the most unique and recognizable in rock music; at the heart of it is his home built guitar and Vox AC30. Scrolling through the presets shows a surprising amount of diversity based on these pieces of gear, and the sounds were incredibly realistic. One very cool and overlooked facet of Brian's rig is his use of a treble booster, and DigiTech went so far as to include this circuitry in the Red Special's input section. For those Who don't know, a treble booster does exactly what it's name implies; when placed before a preamp section or distortion pedal, its overall effect is to boost the gain and smooth it out. I don't know how to play all that many Queen songs, but I am certainly familiar with their catalog and many of Brian's signature riffs. I had a great time playing with each preset, especially comparing the sometimes subtle differences from one to the next. The "Bohemian Rhapsody" setting had me banging my head "Wayne's World" style as I played the heavy riff after the a capella section, and the "We Will Rock You" setting catapulted me to arena-rock bliss as I played the simple-yet-uber-cool outro. A big surprise was the "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" setting, which had one of the most realistic acoustic simulators I've yet heard. The Guitar control bears another mention in this section. Take a listen to the sound clips with this in mind: I recorded them with a home-built, EMG-equipped Explorer clone! I would say the pickup modeling was pretty successful. // 9

Reliability & Durability: I can't say much about this, as it is a brand-new pedal, but I have heard very few complaints about the Red Special's reliability, and DigiTech's customer service is excellent should you run into difficulties. It seemed well-built and ready to stand up to some abuse. // 8

Overall Impression: I had fun putting this pedal through its paces. It is not meant to be a piece of stage gear for a professional player; it is meant to give weekend warriors and bedroom-only players a peek into Brian May's unique guitar tone. At this, it passes with flying colors. I was particularly impressed with the "woodiness" of the amp/cabinet simulation, which made it sound like I was playing through an amp rather than a microchip. Whether you're a Queen fan or not, there are some great rock, blues, and even metal tones to be had with the Red Special. It even comes with a British sixpence, Brian's plectrum of choice. // 9

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overall: 8
Brian May Red Special Reviewed by: Samsky, on december 25, 2007
1 of 1 people found this review helpful

Price paid: $ 150

Purchased from: Guitar Center

Ease of Use: It's very simple to use, except for a few things. It's a little bit tough to press down the heel setting on the pedal. It's not easily usable in a Live situation, either. You either have to bend down to switch the tone model (and in doing so, you will probably want to change the gain or bass/treble setting) or you use a footswitch. The footswitch is great, but it becomes a pain to keep track of which model you're currently using. However, once you get used to the little quirks of the pedal, and know which setting is which, it becomes rather simple to use. // 8

Sound: I'm using a 2007 Red Special from Brian May Guitars (formerly manufactured by Burns). I use a Vox AD15VT Valvetronix amplifier, set to 'AC30', since that's what Brian May uses. The Valvetronix amp can also be set to Clean or to AC15, both have interesting tonal possibilities to play with. I actually feel like if you set it to AC15 or Clean, the noise of the pedal, which I will cover next, is decreased a bit. The pedal is loud. There's a pretty constant 'hiss'. It's unfortunate, but as Pete Malandrome once said referring to treble boosters, 'That's the nature of the beast.' It's got a treble booster in the circuitry, which is great for that Brian May tone, but this thing is loud. There isn't always a major difference between the toe/heel settings. Keep Yourself Alive's settings (Model 1) hardly make a difference, the heel setting is just a tad louder. Things like that. The acoustic simulator for Crazy Little Thing Called Love is hard to set up to sound good. It's either very mellow, or very piercing and bright, and it's hard to find a happy medium. The acoustic simulator also crackles a bit. I like the Deacy tone. I know a lot of people don't really like the deacy tone this pedal delivers, but if you don't want to spend 150 bucks on JUST a Vox deacy practice amp, then this pedal will do the trick. The Bohemian Rhapsody, We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions, and especially the Brighton Rock settings are amazing. The pitch harmonizer is fun to play with, and the expression pedal rocked forward makes a major third chord, rocked backward to the heel makes a minor third. Brighton Rock's delay is amazing, you could solo for hours and hours with it. // 8

Reliability & Durability: I believe it's reliable. The thing's built like a rock. No problems yet! I would use it in a gig without a backup, but I don't know if I would want to use it in a gig, too much of a pain to switch between models. I suppose it's doable, but it's not always practical. // 8

Overall Impression: I play a few artists more heavily than others. I love the Arctic Monkeys, The Strokes, The Beatles, and of course, Queen. This is certainly a great match for Queen, but you could use it for other things. You'd have a Brian May-type sound, but if you wanted to apply this sound to another song, there's nothing stopping you. I've been playing for about a year now, and I must say that this effect pedal is probably the most interesting concept, and it's well executed, except for the few problems I mentioned above. It's really great, overall. If it was stolen, I don't know if I'd buy another one. It's 200 dollars, normally. I happened to recieve a 25% discount from my sister's boyfriend, an assistant manager at guitar center. I don't have another 150 dollars to shell out for the pedal again. If you want more customizable features, go find a Vox AC30, a Red Special replica of your choice, set the amp to max volume, and throw a germanium treble booster on. If you don't want your windows to shatter, throw a hotplate in the mix to dumb down the volume without losing tone. Or, if you want to be realistic and still get that Brian May tone, get this pedal. // 8

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overall: 9.5
Brian May Red Special Reviewed by: MikeP91, on february 10, 2011
0 of 0 people found this review helpful

Price paid: £ 130

Purchased from: eBay

Ease of Use: For a pedal with 7 nobs/dials and 3 pedal-related controls (more on that later), the Brian May Red Special Pedal is suprisingly easy to get a good sound out of (its almost impossible to get a bad sound out of it). I had the benefit of having watched the video review posted on YouTube by leebaguk which goes through every setting (basically its the more fun way of reading the manual) before purchasing it, but I got on well with this pedal from the word go. Because I was short on cash (but still eager to buy this pedal), I decided to buy it from eBay which saved me around 30 but cost me the manual and complimentary sixpence (Brian's Pick of choice) that it comes with first-hand, but the good fellows at DigiTech provide a manual on their website which explains everything in clear detail. Controls are as follows: 1st Nob - Outer Ring - Level (Volume) Inner Dial - Gain (Amount of Overdrive) 2nd Nob - Outer Ring - Bass (controls level of lower frequencies) Inner Dial - Treble (controls level of higher frequencies) 3rd Nob Outer Ring - Guitar (adjusts tone based on pickups to "re-voice" the pickups into sounding like Brian's) Inner Ring - Control (adjusts effects such as Rate of Flange, Phaser, Delays, Amount of Reverb or if there are no effects in the current Model, the Mid-range - the level of middle frequencies) 4th Nob - Model (changes the effect(s) based on the song it is modelled after) // 9

Sound: My current setup is a Yamaha ERG-121 Guitar (a real cheapie), plugged into the Brian Box as I call it, plugged into a Boss CS3 Compressor (more on that later), plugged into a Marshall 45w effects amp. Noise is hardly an issue at all, the only noise it inherently makes more prominent is that found from boosting the gain and in effect the noise generated by the pickups of my guitar. In fact having compared the noise experienced with and without the pedal in my chain, it's safe to say this isn't a noisey pedal at all. I originally bought this pedal because I wanted to be able to play my Queen licks more authentically. I've since been convinced that the way forward in being your own guitarist is by making your own sound rather than attempting to be someone else. If you do want to sound like Brian, then these effects do the job perfectly. If you don't, you'll be pleased to know that this isn't just a one-trick pony - it's a decent, relatively cheap all-in-one effects pedal. If you're looking for complete control over every effect under the sun, you won't find it here but it does a lot of things very well. If you want to know in detail what every Model does effects-wise, then I'd recommend watching the above-mentioned video and referring to the manual available on the DigiTech Website. To summarise the effects and sounds, the pedal features a Flanger, a "Screaming" sound with some phaser, ideal for soloing with, an all-around generic rythm and lead, easy-to-switch sound (I use this most often), a generic Phaser sound, an Acoustic simulator, a Telecaster Simulator with reverb and slight delay - a great rockabilly sound, a subtle chorus with 2 ping-pong delays allowing for 3-part harmonies to be formed (note: the chorus and delay effects work together but the delay can be cut out, leaving just the chorus), a pitch-shifter set to major or minor 3rd and a deacy-amp simulator (look it up if you're not familiar, its an interesting read) with an option for the addition of reverb + delay, making a very moody and dramatic sound. With the Control dial, you're able to control the rate of Flange, Phaser, amount of Reverb and rate of Delays whereas with the expression pedal (which works like a wah/volume pedal in that it sensitively reacts to the exact angle its positioned at) controls the mix of Flange, Phaser and Delays and whether the pitch-shifter is in major or minor key. If you press down firmly, it also allows you to Switch between the two modes available in each Model. Despite its lovely range of effects, I don't tend to use this pedal for many of them (although it is comforting to know that if I ever wanted to add some Flange to my riffs, Phaser to my licks or have an Acoustic sound handy for when I can't carry my 6-string along with me, I could do). The main 2 settings I use are 3 (Tie your mother down, a generic rock guitar sound) and 6 (Brighton Rock, the 3-part delay with chorus) with the expression pedal backed off, leaving only the chorus. It also works great at generally improving your tone - I don't strive to sound like I'm playing through Tri-Sonic pickups so I tend to ignore the guidelines of how the Guitar dial "should" be set based on my current pickups (rather, I just move it around till I like what I hear) but it makes my 150 guitar sound like a 500 one - thats a relatively accurate estimate by the way, I've compared a 500 guitar to a 150 guitar with this pedal in front of it. The real beauty of this pedal however lies in something that the DigiTech guys don't advertise AT ALL: it's a very organic pedal in that if you back the volume pot of your guitar down, it gradually cleans up. This means that you can control the level of distortion your sound produces manually without needing to toy around with the pedal or whatnot. It's also sensitive to the intensity of your picking, meaning that if you want to for instance add some soft, clean chords to a song without having to turn the Brian Box off, all you need to do is play more softly - what could be easier? For this reason, when people ask me if I use my amp or a pedal to control my distortion, I explain that I use the Brian Box to provide it, but its all controlled from the volume pot of my guitar, which never fails to impress! With the subtle chorus effect, this means that you can go from a real glassy, shimmering tone to bluesy or full on distortion, depending on how you set your gain and volume pot - making you an incredibly dynamic player with little required effort. I often employ this technique and so when I roll the volume pot from 10 to around 2 or 3, I'll often want the volume to remain at the same levels (otherwise I can't be heard over the drummer in a live situation) so I'll use the Boss CS3 (Compressor & Sustainer) after the Brian Box in the effects chain mainly to bring the volume back up but also because it smooths out any harsh picking on my part, making me sound like I can actually fingerpick competently. It also allows me to do a neat litte signature move where I'll play something soft, hold a chord and roll up the volume, gradually bringing in the distortion without making it overly loud. Overall, whether you're looking for a VERY convincing Brian May sound at a great price or some great effects to start you off in your search for an Original sound, the Brian May Red Special pedal delivers an incredible sound that for a wide variety of Queen-related genres (of which there are many) can only improve your sound! // 10

Reliability & Durability: It's really hard to fault this pedal for its build. I wouldn't jump off it for a stage-dive (like I stage-dive at all...) but I've stood on it with all my weight (I'm of average build for someone 6"5 tall) before for the sake of proving that it's not made of flimsy material so it'll handle your foot-stomping without breaking. This is just as well because the main problem I have with it is how hard you need to push down on the pedal to turn it on/off and Switch between the toe and heel positions, especially when sat down. Expect to need to put some visible momentum into it on-stage. Another problem is the reliability of the rubber grip attached to the bottom of it: when I moved into my university accomodation a few months ago, I found a random piece of rubber amongst all the clutter I'd accumulated on my floor in the first few weeks. I threw it away thinking it was some random bit of turned out to be the heel-part of the grip from the glue having worn off, but this would be fixed by using superglue to re-attach it (unless like me you lose it...then you'd need to find a replacement piece). I've gigged with it a good few times now without a backup and not had to worry about it cutting out or breaking. As with all my equipment though, if someone gave me a backup for free, I'd definitely carry it around with me. // 9

Overall Impression: I mainly play rock which this pedal excels at, but also indie, some basic funk, rockabilly, pop, metal, blues and a little folk and country. This pedal handles all of these genres very well. I've been playing for around 3 or 4 years now and so my sound still has plenty of time to change completely but for the meantime, I can't see myself phasing this pedal out of my effects chain. If it was stolen or lost, I'd cry about it for a few minutes but I'd definitely buy it again, there's no pedal like it. There's nothing that I really dislike about it other than the amount of pressure needed to turn it on/off and Switch between toe and heel positions as well as the less-than-perfect strength of the glue applied to the rubber grip under the unit. A pedal that's been accurately modelled after a bunch of high-end and Vintage guitars, effects and amps can't really go far wrong, even at a price that you'd expect something of this standard to be at least twice of. But hey, not complaining! It's tough to compare this pedal to many others, it's quite unique (and not just in how generally good it is), but for a kind of all-in-one effects pedal, it's not for you if you want to be able to mix any number of effects together (and control them as accurately as you'd probably want to). It does get on fine with other pedals however and true to Brian's style, the idea isn't for it to smother your sound in massive amounts of reverb or an erratic chorus that will hopefully hide an otherwise poor-sounding/bleak solo, its to provide effects that complement your sound, should they need complementing! This pedal's easily revolutionised my playing style and sound. The beauty about it is it not only allows you to sound convincingly like the man himself, but it provides for a great range of effects at a cheap price. If you're considering buying one, I'd strongly recommend it. // 10

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