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Sir Brian May battles to play the ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ guitar riff on stage

Sir Brian May struggles to play the complex ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ guitar riff on stage.

The Queen guitarist said the lick of the band’s 1975 hit is so “unusual” he finds contorting his hand into the notes and chords when his adrenaline is pumping in front of fans.

Speaking after the North American Leg of Queen and Adam Lambert’s ‘Rhapsody’ tour finished at the BMO Stadium in Los Angeles, he said one of the reasons the riff is so complex is that Queen’s late frontman Freddie Mercury wrote it on piano.

Brian told Total Guitar magazine: “(The riff) was more Freddie’s idea. Freddie had that riff in his head, and he played it on the piano, which is quite difficult because he plays in octaves.

“I just worked off that and slightly adapted it to the way a guitar needs to play it.

“And I was able to do a lot of interesting stuff with sounds because in ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, I pretty much use every sound that my guitar can create and different pickup combinations.

“So… the sound is changing because there are different guitars coming in with different pickups sections.”

The riff starts on the sixth fret of the A-string and climbs up from the third fret, and includes a tonal shift – and Brian said it’s testament to Freddie’s skills as a musician and love of “heavy” rock.

He added: “It’s funny – Freddie was a good riffmeister, really.

“He was a devotee of Jimi Hendrix. People think he was just concerned with the lighter stuff but it’s not true, he did enjoy the heavy stuff, too.

“It’s not a riff that a guitarist would naturally play.

“And that’s a double-edged sword.

“It’s difficult for the guitar to get a hold of it, it’s very unusual.

“And to be honest, I still don’t find it easy!

“I can play it at home okay, but in the heat of the battle, if you like, when we’re paying it live, and there’s huge adrenaline, it’s the climax of the show and that riff comes along, it’s not the easiest thing to play.

“I’m excited and I’ve got to keep the passion, but I’ve got to keep a part of my brain cool just to handle where the fingers have to go because it isn’t natural.

“It’s one of the most unnatural riffs to play you could possibly imagine.

“But that’s the joy of it, really, because it’s so unusual.”

In the wake of Freddie’s death aged 45 in 1987, Queen were touted as ‘Queen Plus’ with singers including Paul Rodgers and Adam Lambert.

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