The Ultimate Bigsby Guide
The Bigsby Vibrato created by Paul Bigsby has been a staple for many players for many years. When the guitar is set up correctly it will stay in tune and give you that lovely warble of vibrato. We love them here and we install quite a few of them. We have a series of videos on our YouTube channel about setting them up and making them work right. One question we get is, What one should I get, and why are there so many? The other question is, Is a "licensed" Bigsby any good? What is the difference? Let's break it all down.
The Bigsby B3 and B6
We lump these together because they are basically the same except for the length. They both are meant for arch top hollow body guitars such as a Gibson 335. The B3 is 7 5/8" long and the B6 is 9 1/4" long. Two things determine which one you choose. The physical length of the guitar, and the desired break angle of the strings. A higher angle of the strings over the saddles increases the downforce and affects tuning stability and tone. Many people who retrofit either the B3 or B6 to a 335 or similar guitar will use a pull-down bar to increase the string break angle. I think these add too much friction so I choose to use a different vibrato instead.
The Bigsby B5 and B7
These vibratos add an idler bar to increase the break angle of the string. It has a roller to alleviate friction. The B5 is meant for flat top guitars like the Telecaster and the B7 is meant for the arch top guitar.
The Bigsby B11 and B12
These are very similar to the B3 and B7 with a bit different lengths and a cutout and a bit different look as well. The B1 is 7 11/16" long without an idler roller and the B12 is 8 3/8" long with an idler like the B7
The Bigsby B16
This is my favorite of all the Bigsbys. It is specifically designed for the Telecaster. It houses the Telecaster bridge pickup right in it. This places the pickup almost completely on top of the body. It requires a higher neck angle using a special shim and a taller Bridge. It takes a bit to set up, but it is oh so good. We have a video on this vibrato HERE.
Are The "Licensed" Bigsbys Just As Good?
This is the BIG Question. People always ask, What is the difference between a B5 and a B50? These vibratos both look the same but the B50, being the imported one is cheaper. Is it just as good? First off, the B5 and B50 are not interchangeable. The hole patterns are just a bit different. This really comes in to play if you want to use a Vibramate to avoid drilling holes in the guitar. This requires the B5. The other differences are in the quality of the build. The B5 is a sand cast piece made in America with bearings and bushings in the shafts. The B50 has plastic sleeves. This results in a little more "slop" in the system. These pieces are die cast rather than sand cast resulting in a different weight and feel.
Hopefully, this little rundown has helped straighten out what all the Bigsby Vibratos are and which one goes where. Check out the video below for more.