Over the years we’ve seen artists produce some incredible songs, with the instruments they use as iconic as the artists themselves.
As experts in music transport we thought we’d shine a spotlight on some of history’s most famous musicians, and the legendary instruments they used to bring their music to life.
Brian May’s Red Special Guitar
Brian May is a man with many strings to his bow. He’s most famous for his work as Queen’s lead guitarist, as well as writing the likes of “We Will Rock You“, “I Want It All” and “The Show Must Go On“. But his achievements don’t stop there. He’s earned a PhD in Astrophysics, worked as Chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University, and—most fittingly—built his own electric guitar from scratch.
The Red Special, also known as the Fireplace or the Old Lady, was hand-made between 1964 and 1966 by Brian and his father.
A bizarre assortment of materials went into its construction; the guitar’s neck uses mahogany from a Victorian-era fireplace mantle, while an old oak table became the centre body. The guitar also uses valve springs from a 1928 Panther motorcycle, with a bike saddlebag holder and part of a knitting needle forming the tremolo arm. May famously uses a sixpence to strum the strings, taking its homemade sensibility to new levels.
The guitar was also unique in that it was designed to feed back—something many musicians and audio engineers work to avoid.
Queen fans can hear the guitar prominently on tracks like “Procession”, “Stone Cold Crazy” and “Bohemian Rhapsody”.
Although many replicas exist, May continues to use the original in many shows. It stands alone as a unique instrument in the rock music scene; it was lovingly restored in 1998, ensuring we’ll enjoy its unique sound for many years to come.
Paul McCartney’s Hofner Violin Bass
Rising to prominence as songwriter and bassist for The Beatles, Sir Paul McCartney has won 18 Grammy awards and been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice.
Famously, McCartney plays the Höfner 500/1 violin bass, both during and after his time with The Beatles.
However, the instrument came to the musician thanks to a twist of fate.
McCartney didn’t plan on becoming The Beatles’ bassist. He started out on piano and guitar, and moved to bass when the original bassist, Stu Sutcliffe, left the band to pursue painting instead.
McCartney found a Höfner in a music shop in Hamburg, and the instrument became indelibly associated with his time in The Beatles.
It’s also been used in his solo material, though a Rickenbacker bass—gifted to him in 1965—was used, as well, particularly during his time with Wings.
The original Hofner bass was stolen at some point in the late 1960s, but Hofner gifted McCartney a new one in 1963; listen out for it in The Beatles’ 1969 rooftop concert, or any of McCartney’s recent performances.
BassPlayer.com claims it still has the setlist from a 1966 Beatles show taped to one side.
Jonathan Davis’ Mic Stand
Most people not in the music industry or even the music transport industry don’t really think about microphone stands.
Of course, Swiss artist H.R. Giger is not most people, and he’s responsible for one of the most unusual microphone stands we’ve ever seen.
H.R. Giger is well known for his sinister artwork, which blends organic and mechanical elements in bleak, otherworldly landscapes.
He’s most famous for his work on Ridley Scott’s 1979 film Alien; his paintings inspired the film’s art direction, and he worked on the film as part of its award-winning design team.
Around the year 2000 Giger was contacted by Jonathan Davis, lead singer of nu metal band Korn and a fan of Giger’s work.
He wanted Giger to create a microphone stand inspired by his artwork, whose aesthetic at the time was well established.
Davis gave Giger plenty of creative freedom on the design. He merely asked that it be fully functional as a mic stand and easy to move.
Visually, it also needed to be biomechanical. The mechanical details were created from bullets, tubes and wires, and the mic stand is still used in Korn’s performances today.
The result is something humdrum transformed into something striking, unnerving and unforgettable.
A total of five mic stands were created using Giger’s design, with the moulds used to make them destroyed shortly after. Two are in Davis’ possession, with the others kept in museums and gallery exhibitions.
If you’d like to see the mic stand in person you can see Korn live in concert, or visit the H.R. Giger Museum in Switzerland.
Tom Morello’s ‘Arm the Homeless’ Guitar
As guitarist for Rage Against the Machine, Tom Morello is famous for his intense, politically motivated music. He’s often seen in the company of his distinctive, graffiti’d guitar, but its relationship to his music is more complex than you might expect.
In an interview with Guitar World, Morello disputed the idea that great instruments are important for great music.
His guitar—which features four smiling hippos and the “Arm the Homeless” message—was specially constructed for him in 1986.
However, since he didn’t know much about guitars at the time, the resulting instrument didn’t sound great.
Morello would go on to replace most of the components over the next two years—the neck alone has been replaced about ten times—and today, only the body is original.
The final version of the Arm the Homeless Guitar was established around 1990.
That instrument led to Morello writing many of Rage Against the Machine’s songs. Morello spent many of his early years chasing the perfect sound for his instrument; after a while, he decided to stop chasing perfection, and work with what he had.
The result is an impressive discography, covering songs like “Killing in the Name”, “Bulls on Parade”, “Guerrilla Radio” and many, many more.
To learn more about the band, you can visit their official website.
Harry Chamberlin’s Mellotron
First manufactured in 1963, the Mellotron is a curious instrument similar in appearance to a keyboard.
It worked as an early sampling machine; each key plays a short music sample stored on a strip of audiotape.
This allowed musicians to easily incorporate unusual sounds into their music, like church organs, mandolins and so on.
The Mellotron is actually a newer version of an old instrument called a chamberlin, named for the man who created it.
Early models of the Mellotron were prohibitively expensive; the Mk 2 Mellotron would cost about £17,000 in today’s money.
However, since each key could produce 18 different sounds, and the unit incorporated reverb options, pitch options, speakers and stereo amplifiers, it could hardly be accused of doing too little.
According to Reverb, the Mellotron thrived in an era of music hungry for innovation.
On that front the mellotron was an unqualified success; bands such as The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Oasis all incorporated it into their music.
Listen out for the Mellotron at the start of “Strawberry Fields Forever”, in the cellos of “Wonderwall” and the flutes of “Stairway to Heaven”.
Although the mellotron seems to have fallen out of favour, the spirit of sampling lives on in bands like The Avalanches and artists like DJ Shadow.
If you’re looking to make music history yourself, Stagefreight is here to help. Our team of drivers are all experts when it comes to music transport.
We know how important it is for the right trailers to arrive at the right time. That’s why our lead driver will take control of the planning of trailer arrival. Upon arrival, our drivers will help you with lighting choices, and even help build the stage with your team.
Our drivers are experts at journey planning as well. Before we set off we’ll plan the most cost-effective and fuel-efficient route to the event.
If you’re ready to go on tour with your band, give us a call on 0113 797 898.
Or if you’re after other event transport options, have a look at our service page.