Fitting a Bigsby tremolo system to my Gibson Les Paul – dismantling a valuable guitar!
This is a regular series of blogs which will interest guitarists. But more importantly, perhaps, also empower the spouses, Significant Others or anybody else involved with guitarists, so they understand what guitarists are talking about.
These articles could even give my non-guitarist readers the confidence to proffer expert-sounding opinions or comment, with of course a high risk of the conversation becoming even more geeky. I assure you, however, that your reputation can only be enhanced by showing such interest.
The Vibramate plate is a cute invention to get around having to drill any new holes. (Their logo is a naked woman with a devil’s tail.)
I’ll be able to return my Les Paul to its original condition. They’re very sought-after guitars, and a tremolo wasn’t part of the original specification.
Bigsbys are one of those things that guitarists either love or loathe. They allow you to make the pitch go up and down by waggling the bar – as in those early surfing songs.
They’re not however what metal guitarists call “whammy bars” – like the Floyd Rose system – which allow you to drop the pitch half an octave or so until the strings lose all their pitch, then raise it back up again. A Bigsby is a more subtle, shimmering, steel guitar sort of effect.
You’ll have seen (and heard) The Shadows’ Hank Marvin doing this with his red Fender Stratocaster. They have their own built-in system using long springs underneath the guitar.
The Bigsby is very much an additional customisation, although some makes like Gretsch have included them as standard in many models. They require special care lest they put the guitar out of tune. This is the main reason why some guitarists hate them.
As a result, a whole sub-industry has grown up of inventions (like Vibratrem), to customise the Bigsby; e.g. graphite nuts, bridges with roller bearings, and all sorts of special add-ons to the Bigsby itself.
Oh, and as we’re now well and truly in guitar-geeksville, here are a few more facts: there are 13 different sorts of Bigsby – for each shape and type of guitar, including for acoustic guitars.
I fitted a standard B7 to my Les Paul, for arch top guitars. The B5 or B50 are primarily for flat top guitars and have a distinctive horseshoe shape. They are heavy – some 290g.
Bigsby is a company, named after Paul Bigsby, who started off making guitars as well as tremolos. Hexagonal core strings – for example, D’Addarios, are stiffer than round core strings won’t stay in tune with a Bigsby.