He has played a range of guitars, most often the Red Special, which he designed with his father, Harold May, and built from an old fireplace! His comments on this instrument, from Queen In Their Own Words (ed. Mick St. Michael, Omnibus Press, 1992, p62) are:
"I like a big neck - thick, flat and wide. I lacquered the fingerboard with Rustin's Plastic Coating. The tremolo is interesting in that the arm's made from an old bicycle saddle bag carrier, the knob at the end's off a knitting needle and the springs are valve springs from an old motorbike." In addition to his homemade guitar, he also prefers to use coins (especially sixpence pieces) instead of more traditional plastic plectra, on the basis that their rigidity gives him more control.
May's early heroes were Cliff Richard and the Shadows, whom he says were the most metallic thing out. Many years later he gained his opportunity to play on seperate occasions with both Cliff Richard and Shadows lead guitarist Hank Marvin. May was also proud when hearing that Cliff Richard had mentioned in an interview that he would have Brian May in his personal fantasy band. As well as recording with Hank Marvin, May also contributed to the 1996 album "Twang!: A Tribute to Hank Marvin & the Shadows", playing FBI. The album featured other greats such as Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits), Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath), Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple), Pete Green (Fleetwood Mac), Neil Young, and Francis Rossi & Rick Parfitt (Status Quo).
He had been part way through a PhD course when Queen took off, and never completed his astronomy doctorate. He was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Science in November 2002 by Hertfordshire University.