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Harold May's Red Special Legacy


Brian May playing his iconic Red Special. Taken from Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Special. License found at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/.


I am a father of five who worries about the legacy he will leave for his children. When I'm gone and my children are older men and women, how will they remember me? Will they find my life and their relationship with me inspiring, or will I be forgotten or, worse, remembered as a less-than-ideal patriarch? To what iconographs and iconoclasts will they look for pleasant memories of their "old man"? A photo? A poem? A sermon? A diploma? A military shadow box? What legacy will they hold in their hands?


For Harold May, father of Brian May, the lead guitarist and one of the founding members of the rock-n-roll band Queen, this concern has been nullified. When Brian was 17 years old, Harold wisely decided to support his son's musical passions in a rather unorthodox way. Because the Mays were of humble means, Harold could not afford to purchase Brian a Gibson or Hofner guitar, so he resolved to build one out of whatever the two of them could find lying around their home and property. And two years later, Brian was able to hold in his hands the fruit of his father's innovation. A truly special guitar that the two of them appropriately named the Red Special.


This story is so very inspiring to me because it demonstrates first and foremost the love of a father and his unselfish desire to see his son explore music. So many fathers--including myself at times--think more of their own wants and desires than those of their children. Not so with Harold May! He put his son first. In addition, the story is a wonderful example of legacy making. So many parents never consider the ways they will be remembered. They negotiate life with a vague sense of duty to family and/or some short-sighted commitment to simply meeting today's needs. But what their children will hold in their hands and in their hearts...these important matters often go unrehearsed.


I make guitars. The feel of a rounded Les Paul body, the aesthetic pleasure of a Telecaster neck, the shiny brilliance and precision of a new Tune-o-matic bridge, and the sense of satisfaction that comes when the final buff is made to a custom-made guitar...these are some of the things that make life good. But what makes life great are the intangibles of fatherhood and family: my daughter's sweet voice in the morning when she walks down the stairs and says, "Hi, Daddy," throwing football with my boys, laughing around the dinner table, and putting my arm around one of my children when he/she has had a rotten day. It's when I fully grasp these aspects of life--take them in my hands and taste them--that I find the most satisfaction and peace. I can only assume that Brian May feels similar emotions every time he plays a lick on the Red Special, not because the guitar possesses any magical qualities or is inherently different from other electric guitars, but because its notes express a melody of love, family, and selflessness. Every chord is a communion of father and son! I can only pray that my children will, in some metaphorical way, hold me as in their hands one day and hear my melody with every strum of the strings.

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