"I own a lot of high end and vintage guitars, but the quality of these guitars always amazes me"
Queen enthusiast and guitarist Phil Murray (MD of Fingerprint Digital Media and designer of the first iteration of the Brian May Guitars website) met with Mike Casswell in August 2007 while the highly acclaimed guitarist and educator was playing in We Will Rock You, for an interview about his experiences with Brian May Guitars. Mike was kind enough to take some time out from his busy schedule to offer some great insights into how he enjoys playing the BMG Special.
Given the fact that this model of the Brian May Signature guitar was designed initially as an affordable, sub-£500 replica of the Red Special, how do you find playing the BMG in the heat of battle of 'We Will Rock You' as a working guitar?
On the show there are a lot of the Brian May Guitars to choose from, and I have two or three favourites that seem to suit my playing better than some of the others, particularly in terms of how the tremolo is set up and the stability of the tuning. At some points in the show we don't have much time to tune up in between songs, so I'm always looking for the guitar that stays in tune the longest and gives me the best usage of the tremolo system. The answer would be to have a couple of my own guitars set up to my exact specifications, but as a whole they are consistently good, always comfortable to play, and - through the treble booster & the Vox cranked full blast - you instantly get that BM sound. I own a lot of high end and vintage guitars, but the quality of these Brian May guitars always amazes me, given the price of them.
Did you have to adapt your normal setup to get close to Brian May's tone for the show? If so what pedal setup and amps do you use?
We don't use our personal systems for the show; we use a scaled down version of the one that Brian uses, which is simply a BMG guitar into a battery-only Fryer treble booster, a Boss chorus pedal, and a Boss tuner straight into a point-to-point wired Vox AC30 at full blast. Doing this gig is a case of adapting your own playing in order to be as authentic as possible.
How versatile did you find the Brian May Guitar in terms of handling the wide range of musical styles featured in We Will Rock You?
I'd have to say that there isn't a wide range of styles covered in the show, due to it being a representation of Brian's very distinctive style. There is, however, a wide range of tones, which comes down to you being able to control the volume pot on the guitar with the right pickup selection, just as Brian does. Inherently the guitar would actually be suited for a wide range of styles because of the large range of tones you can get out of it.
There is a new higher spec version of the Brian May Signature guitar due for delivery later this year, but are there any improvements, in terms of build of playability, that you would like to see in future versions of the current guitar?
There are just a couple of tweaks that would be nice; locking machine heads might be a good idea, as this would take some of the worry out heavy tremolo use. Also, I would recommend some higher grade volume and tone pots, with a more gradual sweep, much like a quality American Strat. Apart from that, the guitar is a great working tool. Oh, and it might be a bonus if there was some real pretty wood on show.
Do you think the Brian May Signature guitar would lend itself to playing non-Queen related material and how would you compare it to a Gibson or Fender or any other guitars in the Special's price range?
This guitar can be used for all sorts of styles of music, and there is nothing in this price range that is this good. We all love our Strats, Teles and Gibbo's, but they are very specific sounding guitars, which is great, but you can get a lot of these sounds from the BM guitar.
I can't think of anything on the market that is this good quality for this sort of price bracket. I've had the pleasure of playing Brian's original Red Special, and these guitars capture everything that is right about that iconic one-off.
Michael Casswell (18 June 1963 - 30 September 2016) was a solo artist, session musician, songwriter, singer and producer, whose credits included We Will Rock You, the Brian May Band, Joe Bonamassa, Steve Hackett, Wang Chung, Ronan Keating, Rose Royce, drum legend Cozy Powell, ex-Kajagoogoo singer Limahl, Tony Hadley, Go West and Rhino's Revenge Band. He also performed on numerous TV Ads, jingles, theme tunes and soundtracks, including the cult 1985 William Friedkin crime drama “To Live And Die In LA”.
As a tutor, Michael was active in coaching a new generation of up-and-coming guitarists at both the Brighton Institute of Modern Music and the Academy of Contemporary Music in Guildford. He was also a regular contributor to LickLibrary's excellent series of online guitar lessons and instructional DVD's and the presenter of three titles dedicated to Queen and Brian May.
In late September 2016, we learnt the tragic news that Michael had drowned whilst on holiday in Spain, with Brian May paying tribute as follows : "Very sad news of gifted guitarist. Mike was part of first incarnation of the Brian May Band (South American Tour). Many have benefited from his Lick Library videos."
Bandmate, bassist Neil Murray commented: "Remembering a good friend and brilliant musician, Mike Casswell, who played with me in the Brian May Band in 1992, on Cozy Powell's final solo album "Especially For You" (for which Mike co-wrote all the songs) and recently was a friend and colleague at the Academy of Contemporary Music in Guildford. He died in a tragic accident on holiday, and will be enormously missed by friends, family, students and anyone who knew him. Shocking news. R.I.P. Michael."