Friday, 4 January 2013

Hand made

The original "Red Special"

After last year's DIY experiences, the Christmas period set me to thinking about what I would like to do in 2013.

I had a terrific home-brewing set-up two houses ago, and have always wanted to get back to that. The shed here in Bendigo, however, is far from thermostatic, and only really fit for brewing in Autumn and Spring - very similar to traditional brewing seasons, if the truth be known. But no, I needed a project to fire the synapses now and feed the soul.

Ever since I was evangelically fed early Queen recordings by my friend Greg, at St Hilda's College, Melbourne University, I've been a big fan of the guitar stylings of Brian May. Now, I am by no means any kind of proficient guitarist myself, more a hacker who's been paid for my talent for faking proficiency better than most. However, that doesn't prevent me from dreaming of greatness, and of playing wonderful guitars. So, I have also held an ambition for some time of owning a Brian May "Red Special".

For the uninitiated, Queen's guitarist, Brian May, built his own guitar in cooperation with his Dad, because he couldn't afford to buy one. The "Red Special" is itself now a rock icon, with its unique sound and place in many of the rock/pop milestones of the 70's to 90's. To have a copy would, to me, be just wonderful.

About a year ago I cottoned on to the idea that it was possible to buy electric guitar kits. You get a raw wooden guitar body, a raw wood neck with the top and frets preset, all the electronics necessary to make it work, and instructions to put it together. I thought to myself how great it would be to be able to build myself a "Red Special". I enquired with the company I'd found, and they said they could do special orders of the things, so I quietly rejoiced and set myself a private timetable to get around to acquiring and building such a thing.

As always, life intervened. The now-famous kitchen reno took over the last half of last year, and by the time I got around to catching up with the guitar kit guys, as far as I can tell they'd gone out of business. Despair! And abandonment.

Around Christmas 2012 I decided to go looking again, and still couldn't find a supplier of "Red Special" kits. So I thought to myself I should back off the gas a little and start small. Build a Fender Telecaster copy as a first step. After all, starting with the thing you really want to work is rarely a good idea, right? I chose a Telecaster because, of all the classic electric guitars, it is the simplest. Only two pick-ups, so the wiring is simpler. But it's a versatile sound, used by guitarists from the vanguard of Rock to contemporary Country. A "Tele" can be a guitarist's workhorse and, built well, will just improve with age.

Thankfully I found a terrific supplier of Tele kits in Perth, and my first one arrives sometime next week. I've made some enquiries with these guys and it turns out they can do a "Red Special" kit as a special order.  Whoo-hoo! However, I'd like to build my own Tele first, then I'm on a promise to build two more, one for a gigging friend in Canberra, and one for my brother in Wodonga. Once I have those three under my belt I reckon I should be ready for the big one.

It should be a really great year. I'm very much enjoying the discovery, comparatively late in life, that I like building and making things. I had been channeled into very internalised, intellectual pursuits from midway through high school, and therefore didn't get exposed to a lot of this stuff until I went looking. I'm finding it very satisfying, and it should be so much more so with things that I can pick up and play.

Look out for the guitar updates!

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