Sound Like Queen: Brian May Amp Settings Guide


If you want to sound like Brian May, then you’ll need to dial in the perfect amp settings to get that unique Queen tone.

In this article, I’ll be going through the basic amp settings to help you sound more like Queen on the guitar, and how to make the adjustments to really get the sound just right. So let’s get started.

The Quick Answer

Queen’s guitar tone was usually overdriven and had moderate to high treble to give it more presence. The bass and mids should also be moderately high to smooth out any harshness.

Quick Guide to Sound Queen’s Like Brian May (Amp Settings)

  • Gain: 5
  • Treble: 8
  • Mids: 8
  • Bass: 5

The Basics

It is very difficult to give a one-size-fits-all amp setting preset to sound like Brian May for a couple of reasons.

1. It really depends what rig you’re using. If you’re not using the exact same amp, pedals and guitar, then you’ll need to make some adjustments.

2. Queen’s tone changed in every song. So although there are some characteristics that run through the different albums, you’ll need to make adjustments to suit each song you’re trying to play.

So in this article, I’ll be giving you some basic amp settings to start with to help narrow things down a bit. Then I’ll explain how to make the changes based on your equipment, to get closer to Brian May’s tone.

It’s worth noting that Queen had a more overdriven tone than a distorted tone. What I mean by this, is the tone was more saturated and crackly than a metal band that would use distortion instead.

This overdriven tone can be achieved in two ways.

  1. If you have a tube amp (valve amp), then turn the volume up until it starts to sound crackly and the tone breaks up. This is called an overdriven tone.
  2. If you have a solid state amp, then you can either use an overdrive pedal, or try to balance the gain setting so it has enough grit, but doesn’t sound too heavy.

You’ll know if you have a tube amp, because it needs to warm up before you play, and it can get very hot. Most beginner amplifiers, or those designed for home use will be solid state amps. Simply search the amp model and brand online if you’re unsure.

We can also break down Brian May’s sound into a clean and overdriven tone. Now let’s go through some basic amp settings to achieve them both.

I’ll be talking about the following controls: gain, treble, bass and mids. If your amp has slightly different controls, check out this article I’ve written explaining the different amp controls to quickly translate the information.

Clean Tone

The clean tone Brian May used was usually quite bright and sharp. Think of the song “Under Pressure”. The clean picking throughout was quite bright, but also fairly smooth. Here’s where to start.

  • Gain: 0-1
  • Treble: 7
  • Mids: 8
  • Bass: 6

If the sound is a bit too harsh, then turn the treble down a bit. If you need it to sound a bit fuller, consider increasing the mids or bass setting. This will help you to achieve the smooth and bright clean tone.

Overdriven Tone

Queen’s overdriven tone did differ a little bit in each song. Some songs are on the smoother side, whilst others can sound quite gritty. I’ll go into some specific amp settings for each song later in the article.

If you’re using a valve (tube) amp, then you’ll probably want the volume around 3/4 the way up to achieve the overdrive effect. If you’re using a solid state amp, then you could either use an overdrive pedal and set the drive setting to around midway.

If you are using a solid state amp and don’t have an overdrive pedal, then try setting the gain to around midway to achieve some crunch, but stop it getting too heavy and sounding more “metal” instead.

Here’s where to start with your amp settings.

  • Gain: 5
  • Treble: 8
  • Mids: 8
  • Bass: 5

Brian May played a lot of lead guitar riffs and solos, so to give the tone enough presence to cut through the mix, the treble should usually be fairly high.

Then when you want to dial it back a bit for the other sections of the songs, simply turn down the volume control on your guitar. Or switch to a middle/ neck pickup, instead of the bridge pickup to make the sound more mellow.

The tone was not bass-heavy in the majority of songs, so aim to have it on around 5 to give it enough substance, but stop it sounding “boomy”.

The mids should be reasonably high to give the tone plenty of presence and stop it getting lost amongst the bass, piano and vocals.

If these settings sound a little off, then try the following adjustments:

  • If the tone is too thin and weak, increase the mids and bass
  • If the tone is too harsh and sharp, decrease the treble
  • If you’re struggling to get enough presence and “bite”, then increase the volume if you have a tube amp, or the gain on a solid state amp to give the tone a bit more overdrive and crunch

Tip: Use a Coin or Metal Pick

It’s also worth mentioning that Brian May rarely used a normal pick, and instead used a coin to pluck the strings. This helps achieve a piercing tone and give the sound a brighter quality. So grab a coin, or a metal pick if you want to really dial in the tone.

If you’d rather not use either of these, then you may want to increase the overdrive or the treble to compensate.

Amp Settings for Specific Songs

Now we’ve been through the basics to sound more like Brian May, I thought it would be useful to go through some of Queen’s most popular songs.

Again, these amp settings are just a rough guide and you’ll probably need to make some adjustments to really get it spot on. Check out this article I’ve written about amp settings and controls to learn more about which adjustments have certain effects.

Bohemian Rhapsody

Brian May’s tone in this classic rock song is quite overdriven and sharp sounding which allows it to cut through for the solos effectively. However, there’s also plenty of punch and substance to the tone to stop it sounding thin. Here’s where to start with your amp settings for Bohemian Rhapsody.

  • Gain: 6
  • Treble: 8
  • Bass: 7
  • Mids: 9

Don’t Stop Me Now

“Don’t Stop Me Now” features quite an overdriven guitar tone. The tone is slightly gritty, but not heavy. The treble should be moderately high, as well as the mids. The bass is a bit higher in this song on most amps than it is for their other tracks. Here’s a quick guide to start with for “Don’t Stop Me Now”.

  • Gain: 6
  • Treble: 6
  • Bass: 6
  • Mids: 7

Under Pressure

The tone in “Under Pressure” sound clean and not overdrive, like the previous two tracks we’ve discussed. It’s quite a sharp and smooth tone so you’ll need enough treble backed up with the mids to give you that right qualities. Here is a quick guide to the amp settings for “Under Pressure”.

  • Gain: 1-2
  • Treble: 8
  • Bass: 4
  • Mids: 7

We Will Rock You

“We Will Rock You” has one of the heaviest and grittiest guitar solos at the end of the track. You’ll need plenty of gain, as well as mids and bass to give you this quality. If you’re struggling to achieve enough clarity, then increase the treble. Here’s a quick guide to the amp settings for “We Will Rock You”.

  • Gain: 8
  • Treble: 5
  • Bass: 6
  • Mids: 7

We Are the Champions

This song has an overdriven guitar tone, however, it’s much smoother sounding than in “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Don’t Stop Me Now”. To achieve this, you can use the mids and bass to balance out the treble and also don’t turn up the gain too high. Here are the amp settings to start with for “We Are The Champions”.

  • Gain: 4
  • Bass: 7
  • Mids: 8
  • Treble: 5

I Want to Break Free

This song also has a smoother overdriven tone, compared to a grittier sound. You should increase the mids and bass to again smooth out the treble, and avoid having the overdrive/gain too high to prevent it sounding too crackly. Here’s a quick guide to the amp settings for “I Want to Break Free”.

  • Gain: 4
  • Bass: 7
  • Mids: 8
  • Treble: 6

Killer Queen

The solos in “Killer Queen” sound very melodic and smooth, and are definitely not gritty and crunchy like the tones in Queen’s later songs. Aim to have the gain as low as possible before you lose the presence so that it doesn’t sound too aggressive. If you’re struggling to get enough presence with the low gain setting, then increase the volume.

Here’s a quick amp setting preset for “Killer Queen”.

  • Gain: 3
  • Bass: 6
  • Mids: 6
  • Treble: 6

Crazy Little Thing Called Love

This song has a few smooth sounding clean riffs throughout. They can be achieved with high volume and low gain, and enough mids and bass to smooth the harshness of the treble out. Here’s a quick guide to the amp settings for “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”.

  • Gain: 2
  • Bass: 6
  • Mids: 6
  • Treble: 7

Thanks for reading! I hope you’ve found this article helpful. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the website to learn everything you need to know about dialing in the perfect tone.

Heather

Hey, I'm Heather. I started playing an electric guitar when I was given a Squier Strat for my birthday around 15 years ago. I now own an acoustic guitar and several electric guitars including my personal favourite, a PRS SE Custom 24.

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