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Could I Make My Own Bigsby Vibrato?


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In a couple of weeks I plan to start building a basic guitar from all my leftover wood & parts. I aim to make all the hardware I dont have myself, eg bridge, tailpiece etc. (I have tuners.)

Anyway the bigsby design looks really simple, and I was thinking I could probably make something similar myself, from aluminium tubing, etc. I just need to find the right sort of spring.

Any thoughts, comments, or anything I may be overlooking?

I might start a poll soon to help me decide what body shape to build too, because I cant decide. I'm thinking something simple like a LP JR.

Heres a diagram:

bigsby239rt.jpg

I'd just fiddle with the distance between the sping and the pivot until the moment of its force was enough to keep the strings in tune, yet not too much to make it hard to push the bar down.

I know it would be dive-only too, but I rarely use them for anything else.

I'd also use some sort of pin in the join between the arm and aluminium tube, since I wouldnt be confident that glue alone would suffice.

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Any thoughts, comments, or anything I may be overlooking?

Yeah, very cool!

Only thing I see missing is the tension bar --but that depends on whether you're making a flat top or not.

For a flat top, you'd need some way of adding tension to the strings over the bridge. But if you make an archtop, or just carve out a cavity for the trem (like Rickenbacker does), then it should be okay.

For the spring--you can just buy a Bigsby spring, they only cost a couple of bucks.

Can't wait to see this one!

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For the spring--you can just buy a Bigsby spring, they only cost a couple of bucks.

Great! I didnt know that, I'll look into that one.

Only thing I see missing is the tension bar

I noticed that on some of the designs on the bigsby site. Shouldn't be a difficult thing to add.

There we go :

http://www.axesrus.com/axehardware.htm

£4.20 for the spring, with free postage too. Great!

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Its both really.. £29 is £25 more than it would cost to make my own (I already have aluminium tubing etc, I only need a spring) but a large part of it is for the experience.

I'm wanting to make this guitar from all the scrap parts I have, so other than this spring there should be almost no other expenses. I have enough wood, tuners, a spare magnet and an excess of wire that I can use to make another pickup, plenty of finishing materials, etc.

I also think that having all the hardware self-made would be pretty cool.

Body shape wise I'm thinking most likely a LP or LPJR, or maybe a carved top... I dont really know yet. I like flying Vs too...

Exams finish in a couple of weeks and I'll then get started.

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Ben, you might want to seriously consider mounting that aluminum tubing into a set of ball bearings so that the trem works more smoothly. The more friction you can take out of the design, the more in tune your guitar will be after using the trem. That said, a roller/rocker bridge and a graphite nut might also be in order. Best of luck to you.

peace,

russ

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I'm wanting to make this guitar from all the scrap parts I have

I think that's called the Jehle-nomics school of guitar-building. But I think he spent more on his --you might just get the record, if you can pull it off. :D

Heh. I do similar stuff from time to time, although I do spend on hardware (one was headless, one was a short-scale Les Paul. Both were fun to do).

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I think that's called the Jehle-nomics school of guitar-building. But I think he spent more on his --you might just get the record, if you can pull it off. tongue.gif

Didn't know what you were talking about so I did a search, his cost $150 right? I can beat that! :D

You finish exams? Me too!! I have GCSE's. Nxt wk I have calculator paper, chem, phy, bus St. then done for the holidays!

I have lots of maths and physics A levels left, which are as fun as they sound. Good luck with your exams!

Ben, you might want to seriously consider mounting that aluminum tubing into a set of ball bearings so that the trem works more smoothly. The more friction you can take out of the design, the more in tune your guitar will be after using the trem. That said, a roller/rocker bridge and a graphite nut might also be in order. Best of luck to you.

I was thinking about ways of reducing the friction, and ball bearings do sound like a good idea. I'll do some experiments when I get round to building it. I could maybe even try to make a roller bridge from a metal rod and some string ball ends... hmm....

The arm will be a nicer more ergonomic shape than in the diagram BTW.

I quite like the idea of making it from wood, I could try to carve it nicely. I'd keep it plenty thick enough though to keep it strong.

Just 2 more weeks and I have 100% free time untill october...cant wait! :D

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I was thinking about ways of reducing the friction, and ball bearings do sound like a good idea. I'll do some experiments when I get round to building it. I could maybe even try to make a roller bridge from a metal rod and some string ball ends... hmm....

I think Bigsby uses some kind of tubing--I'm pretty sure there's no ball-bearings, but there's a plastic sleeve inside the aluminum tube housing the axel. As long as the sleeve can turn freely, I don't see any problem with friction at that end. Especially if you used teflon washers or something similar.

Have a look in the kitchen drawer --if you have one of those black plastic spatulas, then you've got a source of teflon/plastic composite, similar to Graph Tech's stuff. That will make fine washers. And I'm pretty sure there's a whole range of kitchen utensils using this plastic --you might even find something in tube shape already.

One thing: Bigsbys have these little pins for the string ball ends --they're a total pain in the butt. It's a lot easier just to feed the strings through the tubing.

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One thing: Bigsbys have these little pins for the string ball ends --they're a total pain in the butt. It's a lot easier just to feed the strings through the tubing.

I wondered what they were! I was just going to feed through as you suggest, althought I guess the pins might be there to help with string breakage? I'd imagine that by feeding through I'd be creating a pretty sharp angle where it contacts the edge of the hole.

The teflon idea also seems good.

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BTW, how much can a Bigsby change the pitch?

1/2 a step down? a full step? more?

I'd guess using an aluminium tube with a larger diameter would allow it to change the pitch even more... but then I'd probably need to either move the spring further from the pivot too to counter the extra turning force from the strings, or maybe use a stronger spring/ more than one spring...

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BTW, how much can a Bigsby change the pitch?

1/2 a step down? a full step? more?

I'm not sure how much you'll get...the Bigsby sound is supposed to be pretty subtle, just a shimmer really, with that occasional trademark end chord. Although I've seen statements from people who say they get pretty extreme with them--you could always save that for the last song of the set. :D

Like the garenhanman says, you'll want to control the entire chain --for me that includes locking tuners (you can do an Ez-lok mod for that though, which will keep you on budget).

I don't think there would be a big problem with string breakage going through the tube --if you're worried about that, you could add ferrules, or just sheath the strings in surgical tubing. Adding the pins would be a lot more difficult anyway, I'd think.

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If you want a haiwaiian sounding guitar a bigsby is about as close you'll ever get to a hawaiian sounding electric guitar.

I can't explain it any better but if you want to hear how a bigsby sounds go to launch yahoo and search for rancid, watch the video for the song "Fall Back Down".

Edited by PunkRockerLuke
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ike the garenhanman says, you'll want to control the entire chain --for me that includes locking tuners (you can do an Ez-lok mod for that though, which will keep you on budget).

I was thinking about trying to build my own locking nut...one that isnt as much of a PITA as the commercial ones.

I want something that you can open/shut by hand instead of needing an alan key. I havent put much thought into this yet, I'll get around to it later. Maybe something involving wing nuts.. or some sort of latching mechanism.

I probably couldnt easily do the EZ-lok mod because I dont have a drill press. For this reason the pins on the bigsby actually sound like they may be preferable too. I could maybe use a block of wood inside the aluminium tube and (carefully) hammer some small nails through the tube and into the wood.

I have a handheld drill, plenty of aluminium tube and plenty of nails so I can easily experiment.

Thanks

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I wouldn't worry about a locking nut. With locking tuners(or something simular to ez-loks or sound-locks) and a graphite nut, you'll be in excellent shape.

I wouldn't worry about the sharp break angle that you'll get from feeding the strings through the tubing, just look at any wraparound bridge :D.

You really should consider the bearings though. You can get bearings for almost nothing at a hardware store, and it'll be way smoother than teflon sleeves, guarunteed. Oh, and if you need teflon, delrin, or something odd like that, don't go cutting up a spatula. Just go to smallparts.com . They have tons of oddball tiny parts from all different kinds of materials.

Oh, and I think you've got your physics wrong with the bridge. I saw you mentioned using a bigger tube and putting the spring farther away to counter the extra pressure. You need to put the spring closer to the pivot for it to counter more force.

peace,

russ

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I like the bearing Idea, and if they're cheap enough I'll definitely try it.

I actually just like locking nuts because they guarantee perfect tuning (once the strings have 'settled'- new strings always need retuning for a while), regardless of the fact that it helps with the tuning stablility when you use the vibrato. I very occasionally tune to drop D, and if I manage to make a locking nut that can be more easily unlocked that shouldnt be such a problem.

I'll see if I can drill accurately enough for the EZ lok mod with what I have. I'll have practice on some metal rod to see if I really am accurate enough to do it on the tuner posts. I doubt it somehow, but it cant hurt to try. (provided I use a clamp to hold it, not my hand. Then it could hurt to try :D)

If I cant pull off the locking nut, then graphite nuts arent that expensive, so I could go that route.

Oh, and I think you've got your physics wrong with the bridge. I saw you mentioned using a bigger tube and putting the spring farther away to counter the extra pressure. You need to put the spring closer to the pivot for it to counter more force.

:D I'm not 100% convinced... if you wanted to pick up a wheelbarrow, its easier to use the end of the handle, (i.e. max distance from pivot) than it is to lift it closer to the wheel (pivot)

That smallparts site looks good, but it's in the US which is less convenient, and a spatula is more in-keeping with the DIY vibe B)

Thanks!

BTW, for the bridge I was considering simply using a block of wood with a bit of metal rod glued on top, then placing it under the strings to check the action, then gradually filing more and more of the bottom until its as low as possible without fretbuzz.

If I go to low I have veneer I could use to raise it a little.

I could also move it around (with it held in place by string tension) until the innotation is as accurate as possible.

Is that likely to provide acceptable innotation? I know acoustic guitar bridges are similar(ish) in design to this, and provide ok innotation, but then how often do you use the 15th fret on an acoustic?

Otherwise I'll probably have another design challenge on my hands... :D

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I'll see if I can drill accurately enough for the EZ lok mod with what I have. I'll have practice on some metal rod to see if I really am accurate enough to do it on the tuner posts. I doubt it somehow, but it cant hurt to try. (provided I use a clamp to hold it, not my hand. Then it could hurt to try :D)

Is that likely to provide acceptable innotation? I know acoustic guitar bridges are similar(ish) in design to this, and provide ok innotation, but then how often do you use the 15th fret on an acoustic?

Otherwise I'll probably have another design challenge on my hands... :D

I did the Ez-lok mod with a drill, a very small metal bit and cheap vise. If you tap a mark where you want to drill, it's pretty easy --practice up on beater tuners first, of course.

For the bridge, Danelectro pretty much did it that way on a couple of their guitars. They used fret wire.

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Checking with my tuner, with my bigsby guitar, I can drop the low E down to about halfway between C# and D. I can drop the high e down to around D-D#. I can raise the low E to about F#, and the high e to about F. I can get a little more drop if I put the spacer under the spring in when I'm stringing the guitar, but I don't like where the arm sits then.

Looking closer at my bigsby, it also appears that it does have bearings, at least on the rear bar. The pressure bar I can't tell if it has bearings, but it seems it does. Although that bar does seem to have a teflon washer or something.

Wish I had seen this an hour ago, I just had the strings off this guitar and the guts out (changing p'ups) - I would have popped off the retainers and found out more about what's going on in there. As it stands, I have a show in an hour, and I hate stringing this stupid thing . . . but next time I have the strings off, I'll can take a look (maybe take pictures too, if I can find a camera) if that helps.

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Checking with my tuner, with my bigsby guitar, I can drop the low E down to about halfway between C# and D. I can drop the high e down to around D-D#. I can raise the low E to about F#, and the high e to about F. I can get a little more drop if I put the spacer under the spring in when I'm stringing the guitar, but I don't like where the arm sits then.

Looking closer at my bigsby, it also appears that it does have bearings, at least on the rear bar. The pressure bar I can't tell if it has bearings, but it seems it does. Although that bar does seem to have a teflon washer or something.

Wish I had seen this an hour ago, I just had the strings off this guitar and the guts out (changing p'ups) - I would have popped off the retainers and found out more about what's going on in there. As it stands, I have a show in an hour, and I hate stringing this stupid thing . . . but next time I have the strings off, I'll can take a look (maybe take pictures too, if I can find a camera) if that helps.

Wow! thanks very much for that!

Thats all very helpful... I'd be satisfied with that much pitch variation, so I think I'll try to use similar specs for my design as for the real bigsby.

Bearings definitely seem advisable then.

Pics would be great if your sure its not too much hassle...

Thanks again and enjoy your show!

I did the Ez-lok mod with a drill, a very small metal bit and cheap vise. If you tap a mark where you want to drill, it's pretty easy --practice up on beater tuners first, of course.

For the bridge, Danelectro pretty much did it that way on a couple of their guitars. They used fret wire.

That sounds promising as well.. I'll pracitse on some metal rod, because the only spare tuners I have are going on this guitar!

I might keep the bridge design as it is then, instead of overcomplicating it.

Thanks

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And if anyones interested heres a rough mockup of what I'm thinking of for the overall guitar design:

gtr9tm.png

Although thats far from certain.

The woods I have are oak and pine. I already have some oak ready for the neck, enough oak for the top-cap on the body (quite nicely figured too) and the back of the body will be pine.

I was thinking of usind pine for the hardware (pickup cover, bigsby arm, bridge) too, for the visual contrast.

I have wood stain to stain the oak, and I'll have spare tru-oil / danish oil to finish it.

I might carve the top or I might use a different body shape like a LP, im not 100% sure yet.

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By the way, I found that Rancid songs video mentioned in an earlier post on YouTube, and I didn't see nor hear any Bigsby action …

I'm tempted to post a YouTube video of my band, but uh, yeah. Ugh. It's embarrassing. But it does have at least two incidents of confirmed bigsby action. Maybe I'll record some soundclips.

But I'll try and get my hands on a camera (my drummers got one, and he owes me) and take some photos this week - any in particular parts you're looking for photos of? I'll try and do a full takeapart. But yeah, it's dependent on me getting a camera and having an extra set of strings in my house. Is there a deadline for this?

Wongster - As far as cheap bigsbys, I got a b50 or something like that (the "licensed" version, which is perfectly fine as far as I can tell) for like 60 bucks on ebay - they're up there rather frequently, just keep an eye out, you'll get a better deal if you don't buy from an ebay store or the "buy it now" option, but hold out an get a good price at auction. Often times theres enough up there that you can find one no one bids on and snag it low. Watch out on shipping though - there's no reason a trem in a small box should cost you 20 bucks shipping.

Also ask around - I know a guy who builds tele-style guitars and runs a repair business, and has an Allparts wholesale account and get a significant discount on things like that; if you know anyone like that, it might be worth owing a favor.

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A bunch of random observations:

I've got one of those cheap Chinese Bigsby clones. It has plastic bushings. That's where I'd start.

If you want to do rolling element bearings, use needle bearings. In ball bearings, the diameter of the balls are typically much larger than the diameter of the pins/rods/needles in needle bearings. That make the bearing outside diameter, and the housing that holds it larger, and the inside diameter, the tube holding the strings, smaller.

The other knock against ball bearings is that contact area on the inside and outside races are points. Needle bearing have a line contact, spreading the load out over a larger area.

Think about how this bearing is going to be loaded. Most of the time, the tremolo isn't moving. All the string tension is acting on the same couple of balls, pushing down on the same location of the races. When you use the trem, the balls move, but, go back to the same spot. You can wear spots into the races.

On bicycle headsets, they call that index steering. When you turn the handlebars, you can feel little detents in the steering, when the balls drop into the next worn spot in the races. High end bicycle head sets use ball bearings at the top, and tapered roller bearings at the bottom, to avoid that. In highly loaded, small excursion joints, they make special precessing bearings that move freely in one direction and then skate a little in the other direction, to distribute the work over more balls/rollers, and work different parts of the races. Naturally, precessing bearings are much more expensive.

In your pic, the pivot supports are separate. They're going to be screwed into wood and then support the tube and react string and trem loads. The wood isn't super rigid (especially through a screw) and it expands and contracts with heat and humidity. You might end up with more movement on either end of the tube than you'd like.

The loads you apply on those pivot supports are going to be different. When you press down on the trem arm, it's pushing down on the spring and trying to pry that nearest pivot off the guitar. The other pivot is going to be reacting string tension through the tube, pulling it forward.

Bigsby's design, where both pivots are part of the same casting, reduces relative motion between the two pivots and it react the trem arm load over more fastener.

None of the things I mentioned are fatal design flaws. You just need to pay attention to them and beef up your design where it's needed.

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