All things lead to Brian May

Vox Valvetronix AD50VT, Vox Brian May Special amp and Burns Brian May guitar
From left to right: Burns Brian May guitar, Vox Valvetronix AD50VT 50W amplifier and Vox Brian May Special amplifier and treble booster (VBM-1).

This evening I’m playing again in the Powerpoint worship band at St Thomas’s church, Glasgow Road, Edinburgh. Powerpoint is a monthly Christian youth event overseen by Scripture Union Scotland. It will be my first live gig with my new amplifier, the Vox Valvetronix AD50VT which I bought a couple of days ago from Guitarguitar on St John’s Road.

I didn’t have much time to play around with it on Wednesday evening before taking it down to St Thomas’s for the band rehearsal, but I’ve since brought it back home and spent a few hours both yesterday and this morning trying to get a good, usable Brian May-like sound from it, and to good effect.

This month I’m omiting my Digitech GNX2 from the setup and focusing on a more simplified setup: Burns Brian May guitar into the Vox Brian May Special (VBM-1), used as a treble booster, into the Vox Valvetronix AD50VT set to model the Vox AC30TB, and with a bit of compression and chorus.

Just like BM’s setup I have the gain, volume and master volume controls all cranked up full on my amp, and the treble booster up full on the VBM-1, which allows me to control the overall tone with my guitar volume knob.

I got this advice from the Brian May World website:

The Treble Booster is always first in line, and both it and the AC30 are set on full volume, thus giving maximum presence and sustain, with the overall volume controlled from the guitar. This gives a flexible range of tone and distortion choices, starting low down on the guitar’s volume control with sparkling clean tones and as the volume is increased, sliding smoothly into the creamy compressed overdriven sound that Brian is famous for.

I found the advice on the Brian May World website really helpful, particular this article on The Brian May Sound and this section on the Red Special. As a website it’s a great resource, but it could now do with a good bit of updating and rationalising the design to make it much easier to find the material there.

One of the great things about the Valvetronix AD50VT — apart from the fact that it is about £1,000 cheaper than a Vox AC30TB — is its adjustable output wattage:

The AD50VT let[s] you adjust the output wattage from 1~50W … so you can lower the volume without losing the sense of drive that’s unique to tube amps. You can get the great distinctive tube sound at a volume that’s appropriate for any location.

And it really works, it’s great! So I’ve got the guitar, the treble booster and if not the actual amp, one from Vox that models the AC30TB, and I even have an old English sixpence. All I need now is the curly wig, the curly lead, a pair of clogs and the ability to play like a guitar legend! I’d better go and practice now.

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Gareth Saunders

I’m Gareth J M Saunders, 52 years old, 6′ 4″, father of 3 boys (including twins). Enneagram type FOUR and introvert (INFP), I am a non-stipendiary priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church, I sing with the NYCGB alumni choir, play guitar, play mahjong, write, draw and laugh… Former Scrum master at Safeguard Global, Sky and Vision/Cegedim. Former web architect and agile project manager at the University of St Andrews and previously warden at Agnes Blackadder Hall.

5 thoughts on “All things lead to Brian May”

  1. great news gareth, hope you enjoy(enjoyed) the circuit. infact i have just perchased the vox valvetronix ad100vt and am not allowed to play it until christmas, i am crying (kidding).

  2. Damn… nice set up.

    I’m trying to achieve a sound similar to Brian May with not much luck.
    I have the Burns Red Special Guitar, the VBM-1 amp, a Vox Valvetronix Amp (AD15 – I think) and also the Digitech Red Special Pedal…. you’d think I would manage to get something but I just cant seem to manage :s


  3. Hi Gareth

    I know this is a rather belated enquiry…but

    how did the gig go? did you get that sound you were seeking? it is a challenge…

    coincidentally i have the same amps and guitar (burns), but have found the AD50VT to get a tad muddy at higher volumes. I am reliably informed the newer VT series have solved this issue. I ended up using an EQ ahead of the amp to smooth the sound towards the middle. Apprently there is a mod you can do to improve this, but I am weighing this against just getting an AC30..but this does not have the attenuator (divorce protection!)

    How did the VBM work as a TB? I have the Fireplace and the Electrolead RSB, both of which are pretty darn good.


    1. Hi Steve, yeah – the sound was great. I haven’t noticed the sound getting muddy, to be honest … are you also running the Burns Brian May guitar through a treble booster?

      I have since acquired (a gift from a really good mate) a Laney VC30 which sounds amazing … but really does need an attenuator to be able to crank out BM-style riffs.

      The Vox Brian May Special amp/treble booster worked great, although I’ve since replaced it with a wee treble booster pedal (in a sweetie tin) as I don’t have to plug that one in.

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