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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

Before addition:

Below
L: 2000 Heritage Millennium Limited Edition
R: 1973 Gibson Les Paul Recording

After addition:

Click on a picture to enlarge it for a closer view
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...

Right:  This was the original location of the  Kalamazoo factory 
at 3521 E. Kilgore Rd 
in Kalamazoo, Michigan
.

Bigsby's 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.

It just doesn't get
any better than this


Made With Pride In 
Kalamazoo, Michigan   USA

Additional information 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 VIBRATO 
ONTO MY HERITAGE GUITAR
without drilling any holes!
Click on a picture to enlarge it for a closer view - The bigger your window, the bigger the picture

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... 
(see below)
     
The original Heritage bridge
Hard to keep the guitar in tune with Bigsby
The new Schaller Roller Bridge
is a highly recommended addition
The installed bridge
It came pretty well set for the octaves but may need some fine adjustment
The finished guitar ready to play
A piece of cake to do this with no holes!
The finished guitar ready to put into the case 
(must fold the arm back)
My Heritage 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
The original case is about 4.25 inches tall... which is about the same as the guitar now with the mounted Bigsby This case aquired in a trade has the appropriate amount of room Horse trading cases at the third annual Heritage "Parson's Street Pilgrimage"
     
     

Click on a picture to enlarge it for a closer view - The bigger your window, the bigger the picture

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 (sand-cast) in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Part of the Bigsby handmade "Kalamazoo Line."

CLICK HERE or on the picture to see how the real thing is made: 
CLICK HERE TO SEE HOW BIGSBYs ARE MADE IN THE USA

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.


This is deceptive advertising... It should read Bigsby B70 signifying it was made in Korea and not the USA

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).

Click on a picture to enlarge it for a closer view - The bigger your window, the bigger the picture
Below:  An actual Bigsby B7g handmade in Kalamazoo, Michigan

This is the bag that a USA-made Bigsby comes in This is the bag that a USA-made Bigsby comes in
  NOTE:  Says "LP" and  "Ex" "Short" in casting Complete unit weighs in at 12.9 oz.  

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  

Click on a picture to enlarge it for a closer view - The bigger your window, the bigger the picture

Below:  A "Licensed" B7 look-a-like replica 
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.

Click on a picture to enlarge it for a closer view - The bigger your window, the bigger the picture

Below: The two Bigsby tremolos side-by-side
(USA-made B7g   and a   Korean-made B70g)

LEFT: Shiny smooth Korean diecast  RIGHT: American cast unit
 



Click to see the Bigsby web page about each one

Hand Made in Kalamazoo, MI USA Mass produced in South Korea
B5 B50
B7 B70
   
   
   


Click on a picture to enlarge it for a closer view - The bigger your window, the bigger the picture
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 A. Bigsby
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. 


ROLLER BRIDGES

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.

Locking Roller Bridge
After extended use of my roller bridge, I do recommend the Locking Roller Bridge when using the Bigsby.

Low-friction grooved locking roller bridge saddles roll freely with the tremolo so your strings always return to pitch. 
Adjustable for precise intonation, with locking allen screws for stability.

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.

Schaller Rolling Bridge for use with Bigbsy


OTHER OPTIONS: 

The 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.

L.R. Baggs T-Bridge
Acoustic output from a Tune-o-matic style bridge!
Rich acoustic tone is now available in a Tune-o-matic style bridge! 
Each saddle has a built-in high-output piezo pickup.
Circuitry is supplied to send the output from the pickups as a mono signal to a stereo output jack, with a separate volume control for the acoustic sound.
This Nashville-style bridge has 2-1/16" string spread, and includes threaded mounting studs and bushings (2-15/16" post spacing).
The Baggs Control-X Mixer/Preamp can be used to blend the T-Bridge signal with the guitar's magnetic pickups in mono.
• We recommend the Stereo Y Cable to allow the two signals from the guitar to be routed to two separate amplifiers or channels.

MORE ON AUTHENTIC BIGSBY IMPLEMENTATIONS: 

Bigsby Instruction Sheet:
CLICK TO SEE ENLARGED 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).
 


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Contact WOODY for questions or comments about this page via  email. 
All personal comments, pictures copyright 1996-2013 - R. Linwood (4L RANCH)
LAST MODIFIED:


Since 21 May, 2011:


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