Back to Main Page
Woody's BIGSBY VIBRATO Page
The goal here was to add a Bigsby
onto my Heritage Millennium Limited Edition guitar
without drilling any holes!
A vintage Bigsby B5 had been previously mounted onto
my 1973 Les Paul Recording (below right) decades ago
One of the choices of life is to add a quality vibrato ("tremolo" or "whammy") bar onto your quality guitar.
There are several options out there but, in my humble opinion, there is only one top-dog solution.
The Bigsby remains at the top of the hill: History, Tradition, Quality, Performance.
I had wanted an American-made Bigsby to go onto my American-made Heritage guitar.
I did not want to drill any new holes.
Using a fairly new invention, the Vibramate, I was able to accomplish the no-new-hole installation.
This actually would make it totally reversible
if one of my grandchildren were to ever remove it some day (but that's not likely)
A Bigsby B7 was tried first but, unfortunately, it didn't match
the factory-drilled tailpiece installation holes (off by about 1/2-inch)
so I went with the Bigsby B5 (see below for more).
During this effort I also learned the differences between
the American (hand) made sand cast B5 and B7 and
the Korean (mass produced) die cast B50 and B70 models.
- See below for more details about this issue -
From a now defunct link at the Bigsby web page
Question: Where are Bigsbys’ made?
Answer: Our ‘Original’ line is sand-cast in Kalamazoo, MI.
Our ‘Licensed’ lines are die-cast in South Korea.
NOTE: BEWARE of the mass-produced
"LICENSED" versions (see below).
Beware of goofy marketing
In a Summer, 2011 sales catalog (#83) published by Sweetwater.com
they had listed (on pages 14 and 15) a Gibson "Les Paul Traditional with Bigsby"
This guitar had come mounted with a mass-produced imported "Licensed" Bigsby B70 and not the real thing.
So... for this to have been actually "Traditional,"
it would have needed to come mounted with an authentic Kalamazoo-made Bigsby.
So - Let the buyer beware...
This was the original location of the Kalamazoo
at 3521 E. Kilgore Rd
in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Adam Seutter had confirmed in August 2010 that the US-made units
were still cast at a foundry in Kalamazoo
although the headquarters for Bigsby is in Savannah, Georgia.
In April 2011, Jim Wendell of the Quality Castings Company
had confirmed that they were still hand-casting the Kalamazoo-made Bigsbys.
So if hand-made quality still rings your bell
make sure to get buy the authentic (non-"Licensed" version) Bigsby.
related to Kalamazoo Bigsby's
was provided by Heritage Owner's Club member BlueOx in April 2011:
Ted McCarty bought out Bigsby Accessories with John Huis (60-40) in the latter part of 1965,
totally moved it to Kalamazoo, and began producing Bigsby vibratos in January 1966.
Eventually, McCarty bought out Huis' 40% share when Huis' retired.
The Bigsby headquarters were at 3521 E. Kilgore Rd., as shown in the photo above.
Bigsby was sold to Gretsch in 1999,
but the U.S. versions are still made in Kalamazoo at Quality Castings,
northeast of the downtown area, within blocks of Heritage.
I understand that they are making more Bigsbys now than
when Gibson was in town, owing to their popularity.
INSTALLING A BIGSBY B5
ONTO MY HERITAGE GUITAR
without drilling any holes!
|The Heritage Millennium 2000 Limited Edition guitar before the B5||The Heritage Millennium 2000 Limited Edition guitar before the B5||The B5 / V5 will add perhaps 16 ounces to your guitar weight|
|The US-made B5 comes wrapped like this||When removed from the bag, it looks like this||On the bottom is stamped "Made in USA"|
|The American-made Vibramate V5 comes wrapped like this||This is the back of the Vibramate V5 package||When opened, these are the parts.|
|To install: Remove the guitar strings||Slide off the tailpiece||Make sure to keep the tailpiece - for a future owner or just in case|
|Remove (and keep with the tailpiece) the original screws||Set the Vibramate V5 over the holes||The Phillips
("plus") screws are metric.
The "minus" screws are English
The Heritage uses English. Make sure to leave the screws slots as pictured otherwise you will see them later after the Bigsby is seated
|There are four
small screws for mounting the Bigsby to the Vibramate
Two shorter, two longer
|Set the nylon washer onto the mounted Bigsby||Set the spring atop the washer|
|Almost finished... Just add strings||Here is the finished product||Note that there is some space under the B5/V5 which is expected when mounting onto a carved top guitar such as this one|
|Converting the standard bridge to a Rolling Bridge||Schaller STM-453
Keeps the guitar in tune much better
|The guitar would
often go out of tune after adding the Bigsby.
A roller bridge is highly recommended to resolve that concern.
- If I were to ever replace this bridge it would now be with a "Locking" Roller Bridge as an even better choice...
Hard to keep the guitar in tune with Bigsby
|The new Schaller
is a highly recommended addition
It came pretty well set for the octaves but may need some fine adjustment
guitar ready to play
A piece of cake to do this with no holes!
guitar ready to put into the case
(must fold the arm back)
Millennium 2000 Limited edition (left) and
My Gibson 1973 Les Paul Recording (right) now both sport the Bigsby B5 vibrato tailpiece
|The original case
is now a tight squeeze with the additional height of the Bigsby.
It does fit if you push hard enough.
|The better solution is to get a deeper case (with "more ground clearance.")||At the Third Annual Heritage "Parson's Street Pilgrimage" Woody horse traded his original case for a deeper one|
HOW DO THE CRAFTSMEN HAND MAKE THESE?
Take a rare trip through the Bigsby Vibrato manufacturing process.
See how Bigsby Vibratos are handmade using the same sand-cast molds as originally designed by Paul Bigsby in the 1950’s.
Aluminum ingots are melted and poured into the preformed sand molds to shape the Bigsby castings.
Then they are trimmed, polished and assembled into finished products for your guitar.
The B7 series vibrato is hand-made
Part of the Bigsby handmade "Kalamazoo Line."
CLICK HERE or on the picture to see how the real thing is made:
BELOW AN eBAY AD THAT IS PERHAPS MORE THAN A BIT DECEPTIVE
After shopping the Internet, I had purchased one off eBay listed as a Bigsby B7 Licensed (below).
It turns out that this "Licensed" edition is not a B7 at all
but rather a B7 knock off copy (actually, a Model B70) that is licensed to and made in a Korean factory.
Technically, there is no such thing as a "Licensed" B7.
The "Licensed B7" is actually a Korean-made knock-off called a Bigsby Model B70.
So use caution here:
If you buy an US-made guitar equipped with a Bigsby,
you might want to confirm that it is an authentic Kalamazoo-made unit.
Perhaps having a handmade American Bigsby doesn't mean much to some people
but, to me, "Kalamazoo handmade" still means the best musical equipment.
The Bigsby B70 ("Licensed" B7 replica look-a-like) is die cast mass produced in South Korea.
- Both units add about 13 ounces to the weight of the guitar.
Here are two vibratos
side by side
The sand-cast USA made B7 and the mass produced die-cast Korean made B70
If you have any thoughts on this issue,
please CLICK HERE to email me (Woody).
Below: An actual Bigsby B7g handmade in Kalamazoo, Michigan
B7g: Note that Bigsby Patent D169120
is a bit hard to read from the sand cast mold.
On the hinged tailpiece there is a hole for the strap pin and there are four screw holes.
The bottom reflects the sand cast mold that the hot metal had been hand poured into.
Scrawled into the bottom of the unit it reads: Ex Short and LP
Below: A "Licensed" B7
The Bigsby B70g -- mass produced in South Korea
B70g: Note that the "Bigsby
Licensed" knock-off copy is easy to read
On the hinged tailpiece there is no strap pin hole and there are only three screw holes.
The bottom of the unit is flat and shiny from Korean die-cast mass production techniques.
Below: The two Bigsby tremolos side-by-side
(USA-made B7g and a Korean-made B70g)
Click to see the Bigsby web page about each one
If you have additional thoughts on this issue,
please CLICK HERE to email me (Woody).
From a web page at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bigsby_vibrato_tailpiece
The Bigsby vibrato tailpiece (or Bigsby for
short) is a type of vibrato
device for electric
guitar designed by Paul
The device allows musicians to bend the pitch of notes or entire chords with their pick hand for various effects.
The Bigsby was the first successful design of what is now called a whammy bar or tremolo arm, although vibrato is the technically correct term for the musical effect it produces. In standard usage, tremolo is a rapid fluctuation of the volume of a note, while vibrato is a fluctuation in pitch. The origin of this nonstandard usage of the term by electric guitarists is attributed to Leo Fender, who also used the term "vibrato" to refer to what is really a tremolo effect (see vibrato unit).
The Bigsby vibrato unit is installed on the top of the guitar and works in conjunction with a rocker bridge. The arm of the Bigsby is spring loaded and attached to a pivoting metal bar, around which the strings of the guitar are installed. In the neutral or unused position, the pressure of the spring counterbalances the pull of the strings, resulting in constant pitch when the strings are played. When the arm of the Bigsby is pushed down towards the top of the guitar, the bridge rocks forward causing the strings to loosen, lowering their pitch. When the arm is released, the strings return to normal pitch. The arm may also be lifted slightly to raise the pitch of the strings. The Bigsby is highly controllable within its range of motion and usually requires little force to operate. Lifting the arm too much, however, will result in the spring falling out of the unit making the Bigsby more suitable for downbends, rather than upbends. It is ideally suited to musicians who use slow, subtle, or extended bends. It has limited range compared to tremolo units using longer springs contained internally. Competing units, like the Floyd Rose and the Fender synchronized tremolo (or strat-style) are therefore preferred by some players.
Bigsby vibratos are still factory installed on a variety of electric guitars, including certain instruments branded as Epiphone, Fender, Gibson, Gretsch, Guild, Hamer as well as luthiers companies such as Motor Ave. Many electric guitars can also be retrofitted with a Bigsby (requires no routing of the body), and there are different varieties of the unit designed to fit different styles of guitar, such as a hollow body or solid body guitar.
Although standard bridges that come with
the Gibson and Heritage guitars do work with the Bigsby, a Roller Bridge:
- Will tend to stay in tune better than with a conventional bridge and
- Rollers reduce rub on the strings, thus reducing incidence of breakage.
- After using the Schaller now, I would probably recommend a
Locking Roller Bridge (below) to maintain octaves better over time
There are various manufacturers of Roller Bridges.
Schaller Roller Bridge
From Stew-Mac: Schaller's unique variation of the Tune-o-matic bridge features low-friction roller saddles for smoother tuning and tremolo action.
These intonation-adjustable brass saddles allow adjustable string spread, and are angled slightly for correct alignment with the offset mounting studs and threaded bushings.
The bridge can be used with standard Gibson-style tailpieces.
Gotoh 510 Tune-o-matic Bridge is designed for absolute stability.
Allen screws lock the individually adjustable saddles, height adjustment studs (this bridge uses no thumbscrews) and the overall bridge intonation angle.
The result is better sustain, rock-solid intonation and improved string energy transfer.
The saddles have helpful starter grooves to guide your notching files. Made of zinc.
MORE ON AUTHENTIC BIGSBY IMPLEMENTATIONS:
Bigsby Instruction Sheet:
Bigsby On Fender:
Do you have
a photo of your Bigsby B5 or B7 equipped guitar?
please CLICK HERE it to email me (Woody).
CLICK HERE FOR THE MAIN 4L RANCH WEB PAGE
Contact WOODY for questions or
comments about this page via email.
All personal comments, pictures copyright 1996-2013 - R. Linwood (4L RANCH)
Since 21 May, 2011: