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Stop Tail vs. Trapeze

No, it’s not the latest Japanese monster horror movie, it’s two distinct ways to mount strings on a 335. From 1958 to early 1965, all 335s and 345s either came from the factory with a stop tail or a Bigsby (Vibrola, etc.)Part of the idea of a semi hollow guitar was to capture some of the qualities of a solid guitar, most notably, sustain. Everybody wants their guitar to “sustain for days” as the ads always say. By anchoring the strings to a metal bar that is set very deeply into the solid block of wood that runs down the center of your 335, you are able to take advantage of the resonant quality of solids-specifically wood.  Try this sometime-while playing your electric guitar without the amp and sitting in a wooden chair, lean the body against the chair so that the chair picks up some of the resonance from the guitar body. This is very easy in a big wooden armchair. You’ll hear the guitar get louder and probably hear some added bass tones. Pretty cool. Physics 101- a solid transmits energy in the form of sound waves better than a liquid or a gas which I guess explains why a solid body guitar actually works.  So, why did Gibson stop using the stop in 1965? Frankly, I have no idea but I’m guessing it had something to do with the number of steps involved in the manufacturing process. For a stop, you have to drill the holes, insert the sleeves and thread in the studs and the tailpiece.  For a trapeze, all you have to do is drill three little holes and screw it in.  But there’s a problem. The trapeze basically allows the string to be suspended in thin air above the guitar top. The only connection it has with the guitar body is from three very small and very shallow screws. The stop tail studs go more than an inch into the guitar and they are essentially big, fat screws. The trapeze is held by little teeny screws that don’t go much more than a quarter inch into the bottom of the body.  That’s why you get a different tone from a stop tail than you will from a trapeze. The body doesn’t get to vibrate as much with the trap. You could argue that perhaps the strings are a bit freer to vibrate above the hollow portion of the guitar and that probably changes the tone in other ways. When these little tonal differences and sustain differences are amplified you would expect to hear them more clearly. Well, I can’t. I can perceive a difference in sustain with a stop-which I prefer- but the tone? It’s pretty close. I don’t think I would drill a nice 66 ES 335 for a stop if it sounded good with the trapeze but I wouldn’t hesitate to buy one that someone else had done as a player. I also like the way the stop looks better than the trap but that’s pretty subjective.  The fact that I’ve never heard of anyone putting a trapeze on a 58-65 ES 335 tells me a whole lot.

Trapeze tailpiece as used on an ES 345 (gold) 1965-1980 (or so)

 

 

 

Stop Tail or Stop Bar with Studs and Sleeves from a 345 (gold)

 


23 Responses to “Stop Tail vs. Trapeze”

  1. musicaine says:

    Hi,

    I have a Gibson 335 from 67, very difficult to bend notes, maybe because the originals frets and low, but I wonder if it’s the trapeze ? Do you think the stop tail makes the guitar easier to bend ? What about a bigsby ?

  2. OK Guitars says:

    There are all kinds of theories about this. I think there is a post about it done last year. I don’t find an appreciable difference. If the strings are hard to bend, try a lighter gauge. Tens work great on 335s and are easy to bend. I have no trouble with 11s on 335s either.

  3. Dave Jeremiah says:

    Hi, in my experience the stoptail and trapeze 335s are radically different guitars. The stoptail behaves more like a regular solid body guitar, whereas the trapeze guitar has a far more open, acoustic sound. The stoptail 335 was originally introduced because guitarists found the Les Paul too heavy and wanted a lighter alternative: so Gibson tried (and succeeded) in making a guitar which sounded and behaved very much like a Les Paul, but was noticably lighter. The switch to the trapeze tailpiece happened around the time that Gibson stopped making the Les Paul – hard to believe today, but in the mid-sixties (pre overdriven rock) gitarists simply weren’t buying them. The trapeze tailpiece was possibly an attempt to adapt the sound of the 335 and win back customers who had gone over to Fender. At the time most guitarists were playing “clean” and the trapeze 335 is certainly a better guitar for clean styles: it is more expressive instument – it’s more responsive and has more overtones (to to the extra string length behind the bridge). However, these qualities can become negatives when playing overdriven sounds: the extra harmonic content makes the guitars sound les focussed and you have to wind back the tone controls and use a lot of damping to get the guitars to sound good. So, if you want a rock machine the stop tailpiece is the way to go. If you’re into clean styles and prefer a more acoustic sounding kind of instrument the trapeze 335 is hard to beat.

  4. OK Guitars says:

    Sorry Dave, I don’t agree. Very little vibration is generated beyond the bridge. I’ve listened to dozens and I trust my ears over conventional wisdom. Try this…completely wrap the strings in some kind of damping material behind the bridge all the way to the end of the trapeze so they can’t vibrate or generate any overtones or harmonics. Then listen to the difference. There won’t be any. A stop and a trapeze don’t sound identical but the differences aren’t glaring. The trapeze was utilized because it was cheaper and it didn’t require drilling 2 holes, inserting two bushings, installing 2 studs and a tailpiece. All it took was 3 screws. And you’re wrong about them not selling. Sales shot up after 64, it’s true but not because they put on a trapeze but because everybody wanted to be a guitar player. I was there as a 12 year old in 64 and I saw it for myself. After the Beatles appearance on Ed Sullivan, we all wanted to be them. All it took was a guitar (and some hair). Also, they stopped making the Les Paul in ’60 (unless you count the 61-63 Les Paul which they continued to make as the SG). The trap went on the 335 in 65. So, I don’t see your point in regard to the timing.

  5. Roberto says:

    Hi, good discussion, I putted a trapeze on my Lucille and sustain remain the same, but playability, attack, expression is better. This guitar is like a solid body and I don’t like distrortion my sound is absolutely clean and I need balancing string dynamics and harmonics for rytmics.
    The Beatles example is right but I whant underline they used epiphone thin hollowbody whitout centerblok and only trapeze muy be used.
    Finally, trapeze have not only tre small screw but also the big one for the strap (I used only this one), I think the longer resonance path in the wood modify the harmonics mix , string trasmit vibration not only perpendicular but on the axis by tension variation, trapeze transmit it at the edge og the body.

  6. William says:

    As far as any difference in sound, it depends on the type of guitar. With a solid body the sound is from how the strings affect the magnetic pickups and has little if anything to do with the size of the screws in the stop-bar. With a hollow body, the sound is transferred from the strings to the body through the bridge and in many case the bridge is floating, thus has no screws. What can make a difference however is the amount of down-pressure on the bridge which is determined by the angle the strings break over the bridge and the string gauge.
    So far no one has commented on one of the most important differences between a stop bar and tailpiece. With a tailpiece, or a single roller Bigsby (i.e B6/B60) you have a longer NET string length. This makes it much easier to BEND strings and makes the strings feel at least 1 gauge lighter than they are.

  7. cgelber says:

    There is lots of controversy about this. Why isn’t there a physicist around when you need one?

  8. William says:

    Actually when you eliminate the speculation, misinformation and un-researched opinions, there really isn’t much controversy. With all the information available on the web, it’s pretty easy to educate oneself on the basics of how acoustic and electric guitars work. Once you know how the sound is produced, you’ll be able to weed out all that chaff from the wheat.

  9. Archtopper says:

    There is not that big of a difference to muck around with here. I really prefer to stick with the original equipment that the box was originally set up with.With a true archtop you do not have a center block,you have to use a trap and a floating bridge.And they do work best with heavier strings,And the thought of drilling holes and inserting studs,that sounds pretty traumatic to me.If you are a rock guy why not just buy a rock guitar?Then you can modify it to your taste without ruining things.You have to realize that hollow bodies need to breathe and adjust.There is your physics question answered.They are much more delicate yet they fit the rock mode well because they have more tone.They were made for jazz guys.And don’t think that jazz guys don’t bend,It is all good my friends,If she is your girl and you dig her,then she is your pretty little thing.WTF do you care?

  10. LOOSEBRUCE says:

    Now add a whammy bar to the mix on a 330 hollow body Univox with a floter wooden bridge with two adjuster turn knobs…. strings are Ernie Ball 10-46 any suggestions on getting it all to come together ?

  11. Robin says:

    I have what I have been told by a vintage dealer is a 1964 ES-335 TDC (It has the original Kalamazoo sticker inside.) It also has the trapeze tailpiece. Here people are saying the trapeze didn’t come on the guitar until ’65. So WTF? I came here with a universal question of basically what’s the difference between the stop tailpiece and the trapeze? Why are there two different ones? Which one is better? which one is more popular? Is either more valuable than the other? I think You guys have answered all those questions but now I’m hearing it may not be a 64 but a 65 or later. The serial number is 853322. OK The googling is more complete now than it wa the last time I checked so it looks like it’s a 1966. It’s the wine red I think. A shade darker than the “Cherry” finish. As far as sound quality I have an odd Gibson Gold Chorus amp. mfg. at Gibson Labs in Hollywood, CA. It’s a solid state twin so not THAT vintage but when I plug the 335 into it the sound is so totally reminiscent of Eric Claptons guitar on some of the early Cream albums, songs like Badge and I Feel Free come to mind. I DEFINITELY would never consider drilling into it or installing a different tailpiece. Oh it has the “tuneomatic” bridge. Is that standard on all of them from that era? Cheers ~R.

  12. cgelber says:

    Find a new vintage dealer. Yes, the tune-o-magic is standard for the era. There were no wine red 66’s but the cherry can be quite dark. 66’s can be excellent guitars.

  13. Simon says:

    Interesting discussion. Let’s not drift away from the original topic.
    Charly, do you have any listening experience with a trapeze or stop tail compared to a bigsby? I could imagine a solid bigsby (b7) adds more mass to the body. The must effect the tone, does it?

  14. cgelber says:

    Not as much as you might expect. Mass is a factor but if it was the only factor, I’d be putting the heavy zinc stop tails on 335’s that have the aluminum stops. Mass alone isn’t a huge factor. Great tone is typical. Exceptional tone is a bit more elusive. I’ve had a dozen or 15 truly extraordinary 335’s that simply sound bigger and better than the usual great sounding ones. Most have been stop tails but you could argue that I get more stop tails than I get Bigsbys (or sideways or Maestros or trapezes). Most of the action takes place between the bridge and the nut and that is pretty much the same no matter what tailpiece is on it. I have had Bigsby/Custom Mae 335’s that I have set up with a Bigsby and then with a stop tail. The big revelation? It doesn’t make much difference tone wise.

  15. Simon says:

    Hex Charly,
    thanks again for sharing your sound knowledge.
    The phenomenon of great sound of these guitars is not new to me.
    I once owned a epiphone dot which sounded better then a Memphis Gibson (direct comparison). So it always depends on the individual workmanship, wood, age etc…

    You say that bigsby’ s dont change the sound “MUCH”.
    Can you put into words what kind of LITTLE sound changes you experiencef After adding one?

    The overall opionion is, that a stop tail Sounds better because 2 fat bolds run straight into the wood -> this causes a more direct Transfer of tonal oscilations.

    A Bigsby (b7) is installed with 2 extra screws that also run straight into the solid block of wood, plus the 3 mounting screws at the strap.

    Wouldnt that theoretically be an advantage over an trapez tail piece?

    Iam asking so precise because I still dont know I should ad a bigbsy to my 335.

  16. Tag says:

    Dave….. I know it’s an old post, but I had the chance to play several vintage 335s with stop and trapeze tail pieces side by side. They sound totally different. Trapeze tail is far louder and sounds much woodier acoustically. A much better feel in the strings both acoustically and plugged in. The down side is with a lot of gain it can sound buzzer, but for me, I prefer the Trapeze by a long shot

  17. cgelber says:

    The only way to actually tell for certain if the tailpiece is making all that difference is to set up the same guitar with a stop and then a trapeze (or vice versa). I hear “woody” tone with plenty of stop tails and I hear variations in volume on every 335 I play. There is some difference acoustically for sure but most of that doesn’t seem to translate to the amplified tone.

  18. nopedals says:

    I have a tailpiece that I am told was from a 60s ES-335. It is chrome, not nickle. It has three raised parallelograms and pointy ends, like the ones you see on L7s and early ES-175s, but the screw holes and the hole for the end pin look more appropriate for a thin body guitar. I have looked for pictures of 335s on line, and they all seem to be single diamonds like the one shown above. Were triple parallelogram tailpieces ever used on 335s?

  19. cgelber says:

    All trapeze tail 335s had the raised diamond unless they were a custom order. I have a 60 ES-355 that has a factory Byrdland tailpiece. It was, according to the Gibson shipping logs, a custom order (S400 inlays and bindings as well)

  20. FER says:

    watch ..this trapeze sound so good with overdrive… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OtR7MZLQquQ

  21. Frank Cuellar says:

    Thanks for the extensive explanation of the differences between trapeze and the stop tail, it really helped me understand and make my choice. Now can you tell me what the letters after 345 mean, TD, TDC, etc.? And what do they mean by “Figured”? And, what is the functional differences between a 345 and a 355? And finally, what is V.O.S. ? I know I’m asking a lot, but I’m getting ready to buy (or order from the Memphis factory) a brand new ES-345 with the varitone. I just want to be as confident as possible if I’m gonna spend over $4500.00 it’s what I really want, since it will probably be my last guitar that I will ever buy. Thanks for your time. P.S. Do you think they would do a “Slash Anaconda Green burst paint job on a 345?

  22. cgelber says:

    TD is thin line double pickup. TDC is thin line double pickup cherry finish. Figuring is the natural pattern (flame/birdseye/burl/blister/quilt) that can exist in certain woods. VOS is a fake aged finish made by Gibson I think it stands for vintage original spec. whatever that means. They’ll do just about anything you want if you pay a premium for it (and you are willing to wait)

  23. john says:

    The vibrola/trapeze contact patch isn’t a few screws… It’s the tension of all the strings together pulling towards neck which will most likely cause the metal plate that touches guitar to exerts fair bit of pressure where it contacts nearest the pivot/hinge… The wee screws are just to keep in place but defo don’t form the main contact patch…

    The reason I reckon some find a larger difference and some very small? Could it be some have a full length tone block inside and some have one that stops 3/4 was along body? So one has a more direct path for any vibrations where as other has to pass any vibrations into the more resonant top and bottom.

    Listen to ziare video of BB playing Why I Sing the Blues and tell me his tone suffered having a vibrola (best I’ve heard him, he also played same guitar on what he called his best performance).

    Like i say I’ll bet internal design of tone block is probs why some have a more noticeable change.

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