To Bigsby or Not to Bigsby

In the collectors world, at least the 335 and 345 collectors world, the addition of a Bigsby means a drop in the value of your vintage piece. Most folks will tell you a Bigsby (or Maestro or Sideways) will lower the collector value by 25%. Some say more.  I think 25% is probably about right but why? Just about every Stratocaster ever made has a trem (really a vibrato since it changes pitch but that’s another entry) and they are worth all kinds of stupid money-in fact a hardtail is worth less on a Strat. Go figure.  SG’s all had Maestros and while they may not be quite as collectible as a 335, nobody gives it a second thought. But on a 335, well, that another matter.  What’s wrong with a trem on a 335?  I don’t use one so I don’t see any reason to add an extra half pound to my guitar but if it saves me that much money maybe it makes some sense. If you’re collecting as an investment, don’t buy one with a Bigsby. The best investment is going to be the most desirable incarnation in the best most original condition possible.  Everybody likes to talk about the “mojo” of the guitar they’re selling but we all know it just means wear and tear. Back to the Bigsby…sorry the ADD kicks in a lot-we’ll cover mojo later.  If you use a Bigsby or other trem, then by all means, save some money and buy one with a trem.  Better yet buy a “convertible one” you know, the ones I wrote about a few days ago with the “Custom Made” plaque covering the stop tail studs.  This advice doesn’t apply to the ES 355 because nearly all of them were factory equipped with one sort of trem or another.  I’ll go a step further-if you’re going to get a 335 or 345 with some kind of whammy bar, I would suggest you go with the Bigsby rather than the sideways or the Maestro.  First reason-the Bigsby leaves fewer holes in the top of the guitar should you want to remove it. Second, it just works better as a unit. The sideways version looks a lot cooler but the guitars just don’t stay in tune very well and the thing is just about worthless as a tremolo.  The Maestro, to my eye, just looks wrong. It works OK and the simplicity of the design is kind of interesting but it looks like it belongs on an SG.  Even the Epiphone “trem-o-tone” looks better on a big guitar like a 335 (or a Sheraton or Riviera) than a Maestro. If you thought I was going to solve the mystery of why some guitars are worth more with a tremolo and some less, I can’t. It makes no real sense. But a lot of guitar collecting makes no sense. Things like rarity are almost irrelevant, but I”ll discuss that another time.

Below: Bigsby on a 67

Right: Sideways on a 62 ES 355

Below: Maestro on a 64

5 Responses to “To Bigsby or Not to Bigsby”

  1. nisird says:

    I have a 345 and every time I use the Bigsby, the guitar goes out of tune. I thought it was the tuners but it still does it even with new tuners. Any ideas? I love the site and would hope that you would broaden it out to include other models and maybe some Fender stuff as well

  2. cgelber says:

    I’ll bet you anything that when you tune the guitar you hear some of the strings binding in the nut-that squeak and then the string “pops” to its changed tuning. That’s happening every time you use the Bigsby and the string is sticking at its wrong tuning. There are a couple of fixes but try this one first. take a pencil and “write” in the nut slots. The graphite from the pencil is a good lubricant and will help the string move smoothly through the nut slots. This works particularly well on the plain strings-less so on the wound strings. There are preparations made that do the same thing-one is called “nut sauce” and there are a few others. I’m not sure they will work any better than graphite but if the graphite doesn’t do it, then it’s worth a try as the products aren’t that expensive. Finally, you can widen the nut slots of the sticky strings with a nut file. If you don’t know how to do this, take it to a good guitar repair guy or luthier. It won’t cost you that much and that should fix the problem. If it turns out to be the tuners (which I doubt) then you could consider the locking type if it isn’t a vintage piece.

  3. ocie says:

    I recently traded a LP Goldtop ’57 RI for an early 2000s ES-335 (I can’t remember the date, but it was before they moved factories). I have been contemplating putting a bigsby on it and stumbled upon your post. I really can’t decide! I love the thought of having a Bigsby, but the idea of having the old stop tail holes showing bugs the hell out of me. I could probably live with a “Custom Made” badge, but good luck finding one of those. If I had two 335s I could probably live with installing it on one, but who has the money for two lefty 335s! Even if I did, finding them is hard. Do you have any resources for lefty 335s (or guitars in general)? I always ask this trying to expand my network as it has served me well so far.

  4. OK Guitars says:

    You have a couple of options-There are repro “Custom Made” plaques and I have a source for originals but they run around $150 so that’s probably not a good option. What I would do is get some pearl dots to cover the holes. They can be glued on with a non permanent glue and cause no harm. And they look better than the plaque, IMO. Check they’re a good source for stuff like that.
    I don’t have a good source for Lefty guitars other than the usual few shops that specialize in them (Southpaw, Jerry’s Lefty and a couple of others).
    I don’t do much with 335s from the 90’s on but I’ll probably get to it eventually. I’m not a fan of flame tops at all-I don’t mind a little but I think big flame belongs on a Les Paul-not a 335. I’ve owned a few from the 80s with big flame but they just don’t quite look right to me.

  5. Jonne says:

    I might be in minority but I’ve always like Maestros. I agree the angle can be quite shallow but luckily I also like high action. But the main thing is looks – I can’t picture BB King playing ES-355 without Maestro! It’s also lightest vibrato and works pretty good too. Have any of you guys had a chance to weigh Sideways in your hand? Pheew…

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