Vibramate – Aftermarket Bigsby

September 16, 2010 at 2:11 pm 13 comments

I have Bigsby vibrato tailpieces on a number of my guitars and very much like them. I much prefer them to the Fender-style whammy bars. They cannot inflect the pitch as much, but they are much more solid feeling and stable, at least in my opinion (I should note here that both Paul Reed Smith and Tom Anderson both make excellent Fender-style whammies — but correct adjustment is critical, wheras Bigsbys do not require fiddling).

My Gibson ES-347 left the factory and has spent its 30-some years with a fine-tuning stop tailpiece. The fine tuners work quite well, by the way. However, I’d really been thinking I’d like a Bigsby on there.

There is a 3rd-party product called a Vibramate (http://www.vibramate.com) that comes in a few variants and allows a Bigsby to be installed on guitars that originally came with a stop tailpiece — such as Les Pauls, SGs, and ES-335 types. For 335 type guitars, the adapter permits the installation of a Bigsby B-5, which was originally intended for installation on flat-top solid body guitars — like a Tele.

So, I bought the adapter and the Bigsby B-5. Installation was amazingly easy and fast, as the Vibramate website shows: http://www.vibramate.com/vibramate-v5-install.php — it actually took far more time for me to restring than to remove the old stop tailpiece and install the adapter & Bigsby. Everything fit perfectly; all screws aligned just right and were exactly the right size.

ES-347 with Vibramate & Bigsby

ES-347 with Vibramate & Bigsby

Here’s how it looks. Not too bad really. I’d actually have preferred a Bigsby B-7, as these were occasionally installed at the Gibson facory on ES-335 type guitars, but that would have required surgery — it would have left the old stud holes exposed and added new holes — not a reversible mod should I decide to go back. This is totally reversible. While I was at it, I also added a roller bridge to reduce tuning issues caused by the strings hanging up on the regular bridge.

The jury is still out. There is a substantial difference in feel between this and my other Bigsbys. I attribute that to the “tension bar” under which the strings go before they get to the bridge. This vibrato is much stiffer than my others.

But hey, if I decide I don’t like it, I can put it back to stock.

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Entry filed under: Guitar.

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13 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Zeek Duff  |  September 25, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    I put a B5 Bigsby on my Les Paul Elegant with a Vibramate V5 a couple months ago, and the original spring is also very stiff, compared to the B7 on my old ’62 ES-335. The springs are available on eBay from several sellers, haven’t gotten around to replacing mine yet, but I will. BTW, the 335 had the stud holes, and Gibson covered them with a plaque that said “Custom Made.” Alvin Lee also had the same configuration on his ax back in the early ’70s it’s pictured on one of Ten Years After’s album covers.

    Reply
  • 2. shufflocity  |  November 21, 2010 at 5:42 pm

    Update: returned this guitar to it’s stock stop tail setup on 11/21/2010.

    Reply
  • 3. Zeek Duff  |  November 21, 2010 at 6:58 pm

    Okay, I’ll bite. Why? 🙂

    Reply
  • 4. shufflocity  |  November 21, 2010 at 7:18 pm

    The Bigsby didn’t work all the well on there, and I felt it negatively affected the resonance & sustain of the guitar.

    Reply
    • 5. Zeek Duff  |  November 21, 2010 at 7:38 pm

      REALLY. Wow, that’s surprising man, since the only real change would be the length of strings behind the bridge. The tension was still pulling from the same place. I always mute the strings behind the bridge, old habit from studio work many years ago, those strings tend to vibrate enharmonically and can often be picked up as extraneous noises. That’s the case more on full-hollow archtops than semi-hollows, but I did it on my ES-335 w/Bigsby, also. I use a couple of 1/2″ wide strips of double-sided Velcro these days, and it’s on every ax I own that has a space behind the bridge.

      Reply
      • 6. shufflocity  |  November 21, 2010 at 7:46 pm

        Maybe it was my imagination. I just felt it changed the feel. In general, it is my understanding that stop tailpieces are “preferred” on 335 type guitars because of better sustain and resonance. Quite honestly, if the vibrato had worked better I might not have minded…it was stiff, and there were tuning problems as well. I put a roller bridge on there, so it had to be the nut. With the nut being brass, I didn’t want to go there. Likely as not I’ll sell this guitar before too long.

  • 7. Zeek Duff  |  November 21, 2010 at 8:08 pm

    Yeah, I understand the stiffness complaint. I think the newer Bigsbys have a different spring tension that the old ones had, I still haven’t changed mine yet, but I will. Tuning isn’t usually an issue unless you get too radical, it’s not a Floyd Rose, even with a locking nut and roller bridge it may not take too well to “dive bombs.” I use it for vibrato on double-stops or chords to imitate my single-string vibrato, so tuning is never a problem the way I use a whammy, even on my Strat, etc. I do change out nuts to graphite or the new Graph Tech TremNuts, I start with blanks ’cause I like my string spacing wider than any factory nut I’ve ever picked up. The TremNuts are hard to cut, even with high-quality nut files, the lube they exude makes it take a long time, but hard to cut too deep, and THAT mistake is impossible to repair, you have to just cut them all too deep and shim it up. BUT, they really stay in tune, much better than bone with pencil lead/graphite lube. Let me know if/when you go to sell that 347, *IF* I have some GAS $$… 😉 Oh wait, shipping from your crib to mine might be a bit cost-prohibitive. But, if the price is right… Eh, well y’neva know… Hahaha…

    Reply
  • 8. shufflocity  |  January 13, 2011 at 7:18 am

    Update, 1/13/2011: I put the Vibramate back on to give it another chance. This coincides with a pickup replacement. I removed the original, very high output “dirty fingers” pickups. The bridge position received a Dimarzio “Air Norton” and the neck a Dimarzio “Bluesbucker”. The new pickups seem a big improvement. The Bigsby still feels still and there are still tuning issues.

    Reply
  • 9. Zeek Duff  |  February 18, 2011 at 1:25 am

    Mine (on my Paul) settled in a LOT after about 2 months, but it’s still very stiff. The height of the handle end went down about 2″ though, and I’m sure the tuning is more stable, although I have a graphite nut on it, and tuning wasn’t really a problem anyway, if I remember to pull up on the arm slightly after doing more than a tremolo bend downward. I got a 7/8″ spring for it (the original is 1″), because the arm still a little higher than I want with .011s on, but I’ll probably have to wait for the new spring to settle again, too. I’m not ready to change strings on it yet, but when I do change ’em, I’ll change the spring, too. I’ll let you know if it’s any different…

    …z

    Reply
  • 10. shufflocity  |  March 11, 2011 at 9:39 am

    Update 3/11/2011. Vibramate/Bigsby is off again, probably for good. Any use at all left things out of tune. I really like the new pickups and want to be able to use the guitar, so the stop/finetuning tailpiece is back on. I’ve got enough guitars with whammys.

    Reply
  • 11. Peter  |  March 23, 2011 at 11:52 am

    It’s possible the sustain reduction you initially experienced was because of the roller bridge — many, but certainly not all, have reported that issue with rollers. The theory is that the very tiny slop in the roller mechanism takes some of the energy out of the strings and the contact patch might not be as sharp on the roller as a standard bridge.

    Are you lubing the nut and saddles with graphite or nut sauce? I think that is key. I’ve had no tuning issues with stock nut and TOM bridge on and LP. I subsequently upgraded to graphite nut and Graphtech bridge for tone reasons, but it worked fine with the stock hardware. Maybe the brass nut makes a difference, but haven’t seen many reports of tuning issues when everything is set up correctly. You might also want to look at how you are stringing them on the tuner in case it’s slipping there (where you might not have an issue without the extra pressure of the Bigsby).

    Reply
  • 12. shufflocity  |  May 8, 2011 at 4:57 pm

    Update 5/8/2011: I’ve left the guitar, Vibramate & Bigsby with Dave Mannella (my trusted Luthier) with instructions to make it all work. Updates to follow.

    Reply
  • 13. shufflocity  |  May 29, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    Update May 29, 2011: Guitar is back. It has a new graphite nut. It stays in tune. Sustain seems fine.

    Reply

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