Sometimes it pays to write for a guitar magazine!
My old pal and Premier Guitar colleague Andy Ellis hipped me to the Vibramate, an adapter that allows you to install a Bigsby tremolo on many types of guitars with no drilling or other permanent modifications to your instrument.
A Bigsby and Vibramate were a centerpiece of a cool makeover project the magazine concocted, transforming a beat-up ’70s Epiphone in a bitchin’ Bigsby-bedecked bombshell. Inspired, I decided to give myself the shakes for Xmas. I bought a Bigsby B7 and corresponding Vibramate kit and popped them onto my long-suffering Les Paul. Check it out:
Yup, this is the much abused ’82 Les Paul that I’ve used in many tonefiend experiments, especially the OCD-approved Pagey Project. What a journey this guitar has been on! Never a big Les Paul fan, I picked up the cheapest old one I could find because I needed it as a reference for the sound design work I was doing for Apple. Trust me — it was a thoroughly unremarkable instrument. But then I started playing with pickups … and alternate wirings … and replacement hardware … and after several years of hacking, I have an instrument I love.
Pity about the gold hardware though — I should have switched to chrome early on. It’s the downside, I suppose, of incremental makeovers. By the time I got to the Bigsby, I had to cough up extra cabbage for the vulgar finish. (My wife recoiled when she saw the Bigsby box on the counter: “Eww — what’s this gold thing?”)
I’m no Bigsby expert. I’ve never owned a Bigsby-fitted guitar (though I’ve had a couple of long-term loan). It’s odd, because I like how they perform, look, and feel, and “bling cringe” aside, I love it on this guitar. It definitely changes the tone — though in spectacularly unscientific fashion, I replaced the previous roundwound strings with flatwounds while doing the installation, and it’s tricky to sort out which changes are exclusively related to that hardware, and which to the strings. The guitar feels brighter and more resonant. (I’m reminded of Ry Cooder’s dictum: The more springs you add to a guitar, the livelier the acoustic response.) The treble response is WAY different — I needed to lower the treble sides of the pickups to offset the face-slapping response of the high E string.
I’ve bored everyone to tears with my incessant testimonials to the glory of great flatwound strings. This guitar has never worn flats — I’ve kept it in roundwounds for writing product reviews, and for sessions where I specifically need a roundwound sound. But I’m loving the way they sound and feel here, so I guess I’ll have to select another Gibson-flavored guitar as a dedicated roundwound instrument.
The installation was a breeze. The quality of materials is superb. I also added Vibramate’s String Spoiler, a clever little bracket that clips onto the tiny nubbins that usually secure strings to a Bigsby. The Spoiler makes string changes way easier. I’m deeply impressed by the Vibramate products — even in frickin’ gold.
Oh — the demo tune is the late John Barry’s wonderful Midnight Cowboy theme. Berry wasn’t a guitarist, but he contributed so much to the guitar vocabulary through his scores, especially for the early James Bond films. I was privileged to interview Barry for Guitar Player back in the ’90s. What a cool and brilliant musician!