Bigsby vs. alternate vibrato for flat-top, solid-body electric

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Bigsby vs. alternate vibrato for flat-top, solid-body electric

Postby Ben Castellana » Thu Feb 07, 2013 7:57 pm

Hi All,
I am planning to build a solid-body electric with a Gretsch Corvette vibe, and I was considering a vibrato tailpiece. I want to build it left handed and as light weight as I can. Gretsch uses a Bigsby B5, but these are heavy and very difficult (and expensive) to find left handed.

I'm also considering a Jazzmaster-type tailpiece - they are cheaper and weigh less, but I have no experience with them. I'm open to alternatives, as long as it's not a strat-type - the guitar is not going to be thick enough, and I don't think the redwood body I'll be using will support the springs.

I would be interested in hearing suggestions (as well as sources, virtues and pitfalls, if you can) for Bigsby and alternative tailpieces. Again I will likely need something left handed.

Cheers,

Ben
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Re: Bigsby vs. alternate vibrato for flat-top, solid-body electric

Postby Chris Richards » Fri Feb 08, 2013 3:01 pm

Hi

I'm certain I'm not going to be the most "qualified" person to have a go at answering this but here goes....

The problem with the Jazzmaster set-up is that there's very little break angle over the bridge most people with these guitars have to set them up with heavy strings, at least 11s to get the downward pressure on the bridge and hence the strings tight enough to stop them buzzing on the bridge, also the bridge is kind of set up to rock with use of the trem. With the Bigsby the strings go under a bar in front of the trem to get a good break angle, I guess it would depend upon what bridge you're using and how high it is.... Out of the two I'd go for the Bigsby. There is also the simple Gibson one that relies on a bendy plate but again the bridge is quite high compared to the string anchor point unlike the Jazzmaster/Jaguar.

Don't know whether that'll help!
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Re: Bigsby vs. alternate vibrato for flat-top, solid-body electric

Postby Mark Swanson » Fri Feb 08, 2013 5:06 pm

I've just become aware of the "Bladerunner" bridge made by SuperVee. I have one no and it looks great but I haven't got it installed yet...I have to finish the guitar I will be using it on first, but it sure looks good.
    Mark Swanson, guitarist, MIMForum Staff
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Re: Bigsby vs. alternate vibrato for flat-top, solid-body electric

Postby Dave Locher » Wed Mar 06, 2013 5:22 pm

I think Ben is after the look as much as the actual trem? (I can relate - I owned a 335 with a Bigsby that I never once used on stage but loved the look!)

Ben, the Jazzmaster/Jaguar setup leaves a bit to be desired, to say the least. If the Bigsby is too heavy for your taste you might want to take a look at the Gibson Maestro bar-style (not the complex one, the one that is just a bent piece of metal, a bar, and a handle like my '62 SG Special had) or the Fender Mustang-style.

What did Vox guitars come with? I had a '60s Bulldog (sort of like a Strat and a Mosrite had a baby), and it had a trem very similar to a Bigsby B-5 but perhaps a bit lighter frame?

I can't post photos of any of these things but if you Google Image search "Gibson Maestro tremolo," "Vox Bulldog" and "Fender Mustang" you will see the three styles I am talking about.

Any tremolo adds weight, and the three styles I'm talking about all add it to the front of the guitar which tends to make the guitar want to tilt away from you if you let go. Maybe you just need to make a fancy-ish solid tailpiece instead? Casting aluminum isn't rocket science, or so I am told by the people who do it.
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Re: Bigsby vs. alternate vibrato for flat-top, solid-body electric

Postby Greg Robinson » Wed Mar 06, 2013 11:34 pm

Dave, you can post links to the pictures, so long as they're not on your own commercial website.
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Re: Bigsby vs. alternate vibrato for flat-top, solid-body electric

Postby Paul Rhoney » Thu Mar 07, 2013 3:10 am

I'm surprised at the misinformation in this thread.

First of all, Bigsbys aren't heavy. A quick Google search tells me that a Bigsby B5 is about 10.1 oz. and a vintage style Strat trem is about 14 oz.. They might be heavy compared to an aluminum stop tailpiece sure, but do you want a vibrato or not?

Second of all, Jazzmaster vibratos sit down about as low to the body as you can get, the reason every one thinks there's not enough break angle behind the bridge is not the vibratos fault, it's the bridge and general methods Fender has always attached their necks. Fender necks typically have no angle to them, so you don't normally jack the bridge on a Fender way up to get good action. On some of the newer Fender Jazmasters and Jaguars, they are putting an angle in the neck pocket. A lot of guys shim the necks too. Either one of those methods lets you put whatever gauge strings you want on there and they'll stay put.

Now the bridge on a Jazzmaster does leave something to be desired I will say that. It was a well-though-out concept I think, but just didn't work in practice. For that I highly recommend the Mastery Bridge. Not only is it an elegant and complete solution, but it's just a fantastically machined and finished piece of hardware.

So in short, go with whichever one you want (I love them both, but prefer the feel and sound of the Jazzmaster vibrato most), just be mindful of your neck angle.
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Re: Bigsby vs. alternate vibrato for flat-top, solid-body electric

Postby Dave Locher » Thu Mar 07, 2013 12:36 pm

Ouch! Dang, Paul, go easy. :shock:
I was thinking of the B7 style Bigsby, which is heavier, but the B-5 still adds a fair amount of weight.
10.1 oz doesn't SOUND heavy but when it's bolted the face of a guitar it changes the balance considerably. That flat steel arm hanging out front even makes a difference. And remember that the B5 is mounted in addition the bridge, while the Strat trem includes the entire bridge. So a typical TOM bridge AND a B5 probably outweighs the Strat bridge/trem unit.

But even if the Strat trem weighs more, most of the weight is INSIDE the body of the guitar with the springs next to one's body. Having the extra weight inside the body of the instrument doesn't alter the balance of the guitar nearly as much.
The problem with the Jazzmaster/Jaguar trem is not that it's too high, it's too far away from the bridge. The B-5 and Gibson Maestro both hold the strings down much closer to the bridge, resulting in a noticably sharper angle of the strings behind the bridge.

I've owned a Bigsby-equipped 335, a Jaguar, a "wonderbar"-equipped SG, a B5-style on a Vox, a Strat, and a couple oddball hollowbodies with Bigsby knockoffs and a sort-of Jazzmaster/Jaguar trem knockoff. There is a noticeable tendency for the guitars with surface-mounted trems to tilt away from one's body while playing or if you let go. It takes some getting used to. And on a couple of those guitars I took off the surface-mounted trems at one time or another and the balance of the instrument definitely changed. Even taking off the steel handle makes a difference. Let go of an SG and it'll hang there. Let go of an SG with a Bigsby or Maestro on it and it'll tilt forward away from the player.
I've never owned a Mustang but I've played a couple and they seem to balance just fine as well.

So if Ben is building something heavy like a Les Paul it probably won't matter. But if his guitar is chambered and/or thin and light like an SG it really does make a difference in the way the whole instrument feels.
That isn't just a random misinformed opinion on my part, it is based on personal experience with dozens of guitars I've owned over the years with and without surface-mount tremolo units.

I liked the look and feel of the Bigsby enough to learn to cope with the balance issue on the Vox, the 335, and the oddballs I owned, but I took the Maestro off my 1962 SG Special for the several years I played it on stage because it wasn't worth the tradeoff on that particular instrument, which was very light and balanced without it but awkward to handle with it.
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Re: Bigsby vs. alternate vibrato for flat-top, solid-body electric

Postby Paul Rhoney » Thu Mar 07, 2013 1:57 pm

Good post Dave, I don't disagree with anything you said, and you bring up many good points. My intent was to address what I was seeing as bogus information, not so much bring up additional problems with either the Bigsby or Jazzmaster vibratos.

The issue of balance and the guitar's tendency to tilt away from the player is an especially interesting one.

I think we can all agree that there are pros and cons to nearly anything the OP can choose to use, but that we wouldn't be here if we couldn't help him make the most of his choice.
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Re: Bigsby vs. alternate vibrato for flat-top, solid-body electric

Postby Dave Locher » Thu Mar 07, 2013 3:00 pm

I thought maybe it was a bit defensive, but I'm glad you didn't respond in kind.

Personally I like the looks of the B5 Bigsby enough to put one on just about any guitar, but the tilting/balance issue can be really annoying to some on a lightweight guitar body.

I definitely agree, though, that whatever Ben likes best is the one he should go with. Good recommendation on the bridge to go with the Fender unit - I never liked the bridge much on my Jaguar or on my friend's Jazzmaster.
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Re: Bigsby vs. alternate vibrato for flat-top, solid-body electric

Postby Ben Castellana » Mon Apr 01, 2013 11:44 pm

Hi All,
Thank you very much for all of your input. It was great to read all of your comments and opinions about Bigsby B-5s and various other options. I finally settled on a Jazzmaster tailpiece simply because I could not find a left-handed B-5 anywhere (except on vendor who wanted over $225 US for one, and they never wrote me back to say whether it was actually in stock). I ironically installed a right-handed Jazzmaster tailpiece, because I really couldn't see the difference in placement of the arm once I bent it in the configuration that made most sense. I bought the tailpiece for $25 from GFS, along with the pickups.

I did take the comments about buzzing into consideration, and bought an after-market roller called a "Buzz Stop." It cost more than the actual tailpiece, but it does the job pretty well. I still don't know if I made the "right" choice in bridge, since I've never actually played a guitar with a left-handed Bigsby.
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Re: Bigsby vs. alternate vibrato for flat-top, solid-body electric

Postby Ben Castellana » Mon Apr 01, 2013 11:47 pm

This guitar also has a bolt-on neck, but the bolts go through the tenon and into the body. The body is redwood with a canary wood cap. The redwood is pretty soft, so I epoxied nuts into the body for the bolts to screw into.
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Re: Bigsby vs. alternate vibrato for flat-top, solid-body electric

Postby Ben Castellana » Mon Apr 01, 2013 11:48 pm

And here is a view of the body with the neck removed.
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Re: Bigsby vs. alternate vibrato for flat-top, solid-body electric

Postby Ben Castellana » Mon Apr 01, 2013 11:50 pm

And a view of the back - no bolts or ferrules.
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Re: Bigsby vs. alternate vibrato for flat-top, solid-body electric

Postby Ben Castellana » Mon Apr 01, 2013 11:57 pm

And here is a view of the tail piece, the Buzz Stop, and the roller bridge before installation.
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Re: Bigsby vs. alternate vibrato for flat-top, solid-body electric

Postby Jason Rodgers » Tue Apr 02, 2013 4:31 pm

I've totally missed this discussion: very interesting points from Dave and Paul that I've never considered.

Ben, I like the guitar. That neck looks really clean, like it's a glued-in tenon. Interestingly, the right-hand trem unit with a left-hand bar looks like it would angle into your hand more comfortably (at least it would in my hand). Maybe that's why Satriani had the straight bar on his Ibanez signature model, and Stevie Ray had a left-hand trem on his Strat.
-Ruining perfectly good wood, one day at a time.
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Re: Bigsby vs. alternate vibrato for flat-top, solid-body electric

Postby Ben Castellana » Thu Apr 04, 2013 1:22 am

I got the idea to install a right-handed Jazzmaster tailpiece instead of a left-handed one when I started looking at photos of vintage Fender Jazzmasters, and realized that Fender installed right-handed tailpieces on their first couple of runs of left-handed Jazzmasters. The right-handed tailpiece was half the cost of the left-handed one, and the arm is really long, unlike a strat trem arm. The older Jazzmasters with the original right-handed tailpieces are apparently highly sought after by lefties.

Again, I really appreciate all the lively discussion about the pros and cons of the various options. The Bigsby would have been more consistent with a Gretsch guitar, but I think it looks a little oversized on a flat top. The Jazzmaster and Buzz Stop are stamped steel, so I think they probably weigh as much as the Bigsby's cast aluminum, but live and learn.

So far I'm pretty happy with the set up. The pickup configuration is really twangy, which is what I was going for. It's still going to take a bit to temper my amp rig, since all my other stage guitars are standardized with Seymour Duncan JBs and '59s. The guitar balances well, and I pre-doweled the strap button locations so I won't have to worry about the screws tearing out of the redwood.
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Re: Bigsby vs. alternate vibrato for flat-top, solid-body electric

Postby Dave Locher » Mon Apr 08, 2013 2:26 pm

It looks cool and you're happy and that's all that matters.

Nice job on the guitar, Ben. I like it.
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