Mister Bigs

Here's a B3, a B6 and a B7 Bigsby-all vintage plus the "short" hinge 3 screw hinge piece. I don't have a B5-that's the 'horseshoe' type you see on solid bodies. Only the B7 is correct Bigsby for a 335/345 and 355.

Does it make sense to anybody that a Stratocaster with a hardtail is less desirable than one with a trem but an ES-335 with a trem is worth 15%-25% less than a stop tail? Those of you who know me know I don’t like Maestros on a 335 but I kind of like the sideways as long as you don’t touch it. It looks cool, OK?  But a Bigsby, if you have the right one mounted is a pretty functional item. It makes a decent tailpiece so even if you don’t use it, it doesn’t crap up your tone. It changes it a little perhaps but not much. It makes it harder to string and it weighs 11 ounces which is a lot but it’s still a pretty durable invention considering how long they have been in use. Trems or vibratos as they should be called really weren’t all that popular until the early 60’s. The majority of 335s and 345s were stop tails. A lot of them got converted to Bigsbys later but by 1962, it seems that the Bigsby/Custom Made configuration was the default. A little Bigsby history:  It was invented, of course, by Paul Bigsby who designed guitars (and, arguably, the six on a side headstock) and a lot of other stuff as well. He received the patent in August of 1953 for the Bigsby Vibrato System and it is pretty much the same today as it was in 1953. There have been refinements along the way but the basic principle is still the same.  The four main models (with all sorts of variations) can be confusing. There is only one that is correct for an ES-335 and only one that was used by Gibson for the semi hollow line. That’s the B7 with the “ex short” mounting bracket. It says that right on it. It always attaches with 4 screws, although I had a factory 59 with a B7 that had a three screw attachment, so don’t freak out if your early 335 has the same thing. There should be a fifth hole under there for the ground wire if it was installed at Gibson. There are two screws that go into the top of the guitar that any 335 aficionado knows to look for when inspecting a prospective purchase. The B7 has a tension bar that the strings go under which gives the strings an acceptable break angle. You sometimes will see a B3 on a 335 but it is always an aftermarket mod and it will always have a shallow break angle because the unit is too short for the 335. A B6 would work better but so will a B5 “horseshoe” but they will look totally wrong so don’t but these on your 335. If you’re looking for a vintage Bigsby for your  vintage ES, try to get one that is era correct. There are a couple of things that will help you tell the newer ones from the older ones. First, look at the string posts. On the older ones they go all the way through the shaft. The newer ones don’t (see photo). Also, look at the holes drilled in the unit for the two screws that go through the top. The older ones aren’t countersunk whereas the newer ones are. I don’t know what year the changes were made but I believe it was in the 70’s. Also look at where the Bigsby name and patent number are. The older one has the Bigsby name and the patent number left unpainted. The newer one is entirely black except for the name Bigsby. I’m not sure when they made that change or if it is consistent-I have a factory Bigsby 63 with the patent number painted black. The ones from the 50’s often had no black paint there at all. Also, the arm attachment changed somewhere around 1960 from a big Phillips screw to a stud with the screw on the underside. You’ll see gold ones with the screw until ’63 or so. The aluminum ones transitioned in 60-61, although I’ve seen two from late 59. So, if whammy you must, a Bigsby B7 is the ticket. Now you know what to look for. And don’t forget, that’s almost three quarters of a pound of added weight.

Here's the bottom side. The designation "ex short" should be on the mounting bracket and the letters "LP" on the plate. I'm pretty sure they don't stand for Les Paul but actually stand for "long plate". But I could be wrong.

60's on the right, 70's on the left. Note the shaft where the strings wrap is different as are the screw holes and the paint of the plate.

One Response to “Mister Bigs”

  1. RAB says:

    Charlie, wow, all this Bigsby trivia is amazing and cool! Since I am not a tremolo-user I never paid much attention to Bigsbys but it is interesting to learn a bit about them! I recall the story that Paul Bigsby was also somehow involved in the motorcycle business and used a motorcycle engine valve spring on his tremolo? Yes, re the added weight, this aging git-slinger is glad to be playing guitars as light as possible especially on those long, 4 set gigs! My 355 and Riviera are 8 lbs or less, the ’56 LP conversion is a “load” at 8 lbs, 11 oz!

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