Bigsby Help

Steve Holt

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I'm looking for some advice on a Bigsby. If I wanted to add one to a Tele, what should I get? This will be a new build. One condition is that it has to be available in gold.

I'm just a complete novice when it comes to Bigsbys. I did some looking around, but I thought I'd ask the experts here. Are there any that work with an ashtray bridge, or work well with an ashtray bridge?
 

AndrewG

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The Bigsby B5 (best quality) or B50 are what you need. Installation is fairly involved; here's a brief overview of what is involved:
 
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Boreas

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Fender installed their B5s (NOT B50s) along with rocking Jag/Jazz bridges. I have found that has worked the best for me WRT tuning stability. The Jag/Jazz bridge is fairly low in profile and can be installed usually without any neck shims. Taller, roller bridges also work, but usually require a neck shim and raising the pickups to the new string height. To me, choice of bridge design is the biggest consideration.

As owner of several B50s, I would advise against them. Their Achilles' heel is the nylon bushings for the tension bar. They have just enough friction to keep the unit from returning to pitch. I replaced all of mine with ball bearings. I would spend the extra cash for a B5.
 

glenlivet

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Most bigsby tele kits will come with an install plate to replace the ashtray bridge.
IMO...that's the way to go.

but... options exit. You can always just file / Dremel notches in the existing plate for the strings to pass through (people do it all the time), or buy a new plate that is pre-notched.

I would stick to either :
a) A fender branded bigsby
b) A real bigsby

You might have a hard time finding a Fender branded one in gold....not even sure if they exist....but seems like I've seen them before.
 

KokoTele

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Either the rocker bridge or a roller bridge are the way to go with a Bigsby installation. You can get away with notching a standard bridge (lots of people do it), but tuning stability isn't nearly as good. If you use the Bigsby a lot, you'll wear grooves in your saddles.
 

bender66

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As owner of several B50s, I would advise against them. Their Achilles' heel is the nylon bushings for the tension bar. They have just enough friction to keep the unit from returning to pitch. I replaced all of mine with ball bearings. I would spend the extra cash for a B5.
Can you get needle bearings to replace the nylon?
I just removed the outer sleeve on the tension bar that was recommended elsewhere to help with potential severe break angle. I'm gonna stick with the ashtray. Dont like the look of those Mustang type bridge assemblies.
 

Boreas

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Can you get needle bearings to replace the nylon?
I just removed the outer sleeve on the tension bar that was recommended elsewhere to help with potential severe break angle. I'm gonna stick with the ashtray. Dont like the look of those Mustang type bridge assemblies.
I suppose. I just use ball bearings. Cost about a buck apiece when bought in packs of 10 from FastEddie Bearings. I have to ream the frame hole just slightly to get them to fit. The frame material is really soft, so it is very easy with a reamer.

This mod was made on a cheap Chigsby. Then I usually remove the larger part of the roller and just use the axle. This is to reduce the break angle and lessen friction even more.
 

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Steve Holt

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any great Bigbsy Techs in the House- I'm up a Creek with four Bigsbys here - they all need a good Techs help - and I'm not good yet - I lack the INFO - the inside skinny - maybe I just need to view 10- more Youtube Vid's - I watched a few but I'm still up the Bigsby- will not stay in tune for nothing! Creek-ola~A-RAMA

What problem are you having?
 

SixStringSlinger

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will not stay in tune for nothing!

Something that shouldn't be moving is, or something that should be moving isn't. Anywhere from the tuners to nut to bridge to Bigsby, or the strings' contact with these points, or the strings themselves. It's a long list but careful process of elimination may help pinpoint the cause of the problem(s).

Either that or you're trying to treat a Bigsby like a Floyd Rose, which is just asking for trouble (although a well set-up Bigsby can take more than people might assume).
 

CalebAaron666

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I have much experience with Bigsbys and Bigsby’d teles, both B5 and B16.

Contrary to popular belief, a B16 is much easier to install, even if the neck has to be removed to install the shim.
It works much like a B6 you’d find on a Gretsch. It does change the feel of the instrument because of the change in string angle and the bar bridge.
However, it’s still a tele, and the tuning stability is incredible.
325EC055-1342-4520-BF14-3BA53194AFF6.jpeg

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Edit: both of these teles had B5 Bigsbys and I replaced them with B16s, and I couldn’t be happier. I never have to tweak or problem solve. It just works beautifully.
 

glenlivet

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Check every place a string touches. String tree, nut, bridge etc...
Then make sure the strings are stretched and wrap around the tuners without any slipping.
Are specific strings going out of tune ? or is it across the board ?
Make sure the bigsby is returning to the exact same position.
A little lithium grease can do a lot.
 

Peegoo

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@Don Mare

You have some 3-in-1 oil, right?

Put on some magnifying glasses and use the point of a toothpick to apply a teensy dot to every spot on the guitar where a string makes contact, EXCEPT the string tuner posts and the Bigsby anchor bar.

This means you lube each string at the roller bar (if equipped), bridge saddle, nut, and string tree (if equipped).

Very little oil is necessary. Once you apply the oil, exercise the Bigsby bar up and down about 10 times and check tuning. Give the bridge and nut a swipe with a paper towel or a cloth to keep the oil off your hands.
 

CalebAaron666

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will not stay in tune for nothing! les paul has usa bigsby , and wild cat epiphone has? and the vibra mate on tele is the worst - never returns to pich sames as les paul -- aslo revrand soft spring multiplied tuning issues
What size strings you using?
Larger the better (11s or bigger) and make sure the nut slots are wide enough that the strings don’t get hung up.
Another thing to check:
Next time the strings are off, with the guitar flat on a table, lift the handle up perpendicular to the guitar.
If the handle falls back down, good.
If it stays up on it’s own, it’ll never stay in tune. You gotta loosen one of the back screws on the bigsby that mount the bigs to the guitar, just a lil’ turn, until the handle falls.
Here’s a video about it.
 

Boreas

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will not stay in tune for nothing! les paul has usa bigsby , and wild cat epiphone has? and the vibra mate on tele is the worst - never returns to pich sames as les paul -- aslo revrand soft spring multiplied tuning issues
Start at the tuners and work toward the Bigsby.

1. TUNERS. You don't need lockers at all, but any tuners you use must be solid and able to hold tune on their own. I have rarely found tuners to be an issue - even on the cheapest guitar. But old, WORN, sloppy, vintage tuners could be an issue.

2. Lubricate string trees - especially the vintage round ones with the slots underneath.

3. NUT. Make sure your nut is cut properly and there is no pinching of strings. This is usually an issue on a new guitar. If only one or two strings keep acting up, it is almost certainly a sticky nut. Lubricating the nut is like a combover. It can work, but is no cure. Properly cut and polish the nut slots and you can eliminate the nut as a cause of friiction - ESPECIALLY on a 3X3 peghead. Adding a Bigsby to a guitar notorious for staying in tune needs special care and a perfect nut.

4. SADDLES. Now we can skip two feet down to the saddles. Strings sliding over saddles - whether pointed or round - is THE recipe for all 6 strings not returning to pitch. So obviously, avoid those saddles in favor of rockers or rollers. But if you are FORCED to use a slider system, you MUST MINIMIZE DOWNWARD PRESSURE on the saddle. This and lubrication is all you can do. This is a complex combination of string gauge and type, arch of the body, saddle radius, sloppiness in saddle attachment, and mostly, BREAK ANGLE.

5. Boreas' Law. Break angle is absolutely critical in a Bigsby. It needs to live in a narrow range, and is dependent on the various factors mentioned a couple sentences ago. Go back and review if need be. It takes a while to sink in sometimes. There is no "proper" or accepted range of break angles that will work for all bridge types and playing styles. But generally, the steeper the break angle, the more downforce is imparted by the string to each saddle. More downforce = more friction. Usually true with heavier string gauges as well. IF FRICTION OF THE STRING/SADDLE INTERFACE OVERPOWERS THE BIGSBY SPRING TENSION, IT CANNOT RETURN TO TUNE BY ITSELF. This is the "LAW of Boreas". Learn it and you will know more than 95% of people wiggling Bigsbys.

Once the Boreas' Law is ingrained in your brain, you can start to understand a Bigsby and their Achilles' heel. Minimizing break angle minimizes string downforce and minimizes friction. With any given setup, a reasonable break angle is necessary for playability. If that break angle is at a minimum and still does not allow the strings to return to pitch on their own with the whammy spring, you either need to investigate a different setup or learn the "Bigsby Flick" - a brief touch on the bar up or down to help the whammy spring bring them back. Many people are fine with the "flick", as often it is the only way to use a Bigsby with vintage-style barrel saddles. Most players never give it a thought.

6. Alternate Setups. There are 20 or so options out there and all of them are the BEST. IMO, a rocker bridge that simply has enough rock or slop to it to allow the strings to move the saddle and not slip on the saddle. One slip, and tuning is lost. This is often setup, string, bridge and saddle dependent, which is why there are 20 BEST ones out there. I won't go into all of them except my favorite, and apparently Leo's as well - the oft maligned Jag/Jazz/Mustang rocker bridge. It rocks just enough to let the strings stretch and shrink without sliding on the saddles. The entire bridge assembly rocks on pivot posts buried in the thimbles. Crude as hell, but it is cheap and it works. That is why Leo liked them. Tune-O-Matic type roller bridges/saddles also work pretty well, but typically involve a neck shim on a flat body guitar. Not a big deal, but usually requires higher pickup heights to compensate. But many players like this added height - especially if they play many other T-O-M bridge guitars or like to fingerpick or play aggressively. But a good option.

7. Tension bars. Now to the ugly part. This is simply a Bigsby work-around to a flat-body guitar to create a playable break angle. They look pretty cool and sometimes even work as intended. But the devil is in the details - primarily break angle and internal friction in the tension bar. If the break angle with one of these is too steep on a particular bridge or saddle height, there isn't a lot you can do about it. Minimal adjustment to the bridge is possible unless you add a neck shim. Absolutely NO adjustment in the tension bar - the main defect in a Bigsby of this type. Why this has never been addressed by Bigsby is beyond be. Someone in a high school shop class could design a better tension system. It just needs to be adjustable up and down - a simple slot and set screw mount would probably do it.

Beside the lack of adjustment in the tension bar is the other mistake Bigsby made of switching from a bronze(?) alloy bearing in their original designs to a plastic/nylon bushing on their "Licensed" models to offer a minimally cheaper imported alternative. This simple design change sucks on every level, and is the creator of a great deal of Bigsby Hate out there. If you own an instrument with a B50 that returns properly to tune, you may own a unicorn. I have had to replace the nylon bushings with ball bearings to get proper tuning stability, decreased friction, and a sensitive whammy bar ready for a Reverend squishy spring. Heaven! Typically a B5 works very well. But keep this in mind if you are modding any guitar with a "Licensed" Bigsby.

8. Pivot Bar. Rarely an issue. BUT, if a frame is twisted at all when in place, it can cause binding in either the pivot bar or the tension roller - creating unwanted friction. Always something to keep in mind when chasing a gremlin out of a Bigsby. In rare cases, the friction is only apparent when the strings are under tension and it is virtually impossible to quantify. Also, if it is an ancient unit with worn bearings, they may sometimes be revived with proper cleaning and lubrication, but sometimes the bearings may need to be replaced. Think Neil Young. He has probably worn out the bearing on Old Black a coupla times!

So, we have taken a stroll down Bigsby lane. I am sure many people threw in the towel in the first few steps. That's OK. They aren't for everyone anyway. I have installed many Bigsbys on various styles of guitars, and have yet to find a guitar that rejected them. But some gave me grief until I got to the center of the issue on each one - FRICTION. It isn't always obvious, but it is always there - even in properly set-up rocker bridges. The total just has to be less than the ability of the whammy spring to return it to home pitch. This being said, a properly installed and functioning Bigsby - especially a model without a tension bar - is an amazing way to communicate with your guitar.
 
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