Advice, Please... Bigsby + Roller Bridge

Discussion in 'Guitars in General' started by solarbean, Jul 24, 2008.

  1. solarbean

    solarbean Supporting Member

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    So... I just put a Bigsby B5 on my Les Paul Special (Flat Top). Guess what... I have tuning problems.

    I hear the occasional "ping" at the nut and I will deal with that by making a Slipstone replacement nut. That should help the nut-end of things.

    I am planning to put on a roller bridge as well. I see two that look interesting from a place called GuitarFetish.

    One is a tunomatic type roller bridge .
    The other is a Wilkinson roller bridge.

    Any suggestions on which may be better?
     
  2. Lampasas

    Lampasas Member

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    I haven't tried the first one, but own the Wilkinson. It works better than the regular TOM, but noticeably changed how my guitar sounded, and not for the better. I eventually just purchased Graph Tech saddles for my TOM, and it works pretty well. The nut is always the biggest challenge, though, in my experience. I had to get my tech to work and rework it a couple of times, and I'm still getting a little binding on the G string. Even still, Bigsbys rule. Be patient and you'll find a way to make it work.
     
  3. ?&!

    ?&! Member

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    I had the TOM roller bridge from GuitarFetish on my Bigsby-equipped Zemaitis copy, and it worked great. The nut is the biggest challenge (especially that pesky G string slot), but the bridge will offer a big improvement in tuning stability. I didn't notice a tone change either way. Good luck! Bigsbys RULE!!!
     
  4. solarbean

    solarbean Supporting Member

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    Man... you guys are dead on about the g-string. I'm almost certain that's the one that pings. I'm thinking that the nut slot for the g and d strings may need to have a slight bit of an angle towards it's respective tuning machine to help reduce binding. (I bet flatwound strings would help as well.)
     
  5. rastus

    rastus Member

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    I have 2 Les Pauls with Bigsbys-One is a b7 with an ABR1 and has a bone nut, the other is a "horseshoe" b6 with a Schaller roller bridge and a graphite nut. The b7 equipped one works fine, but the bone nut was expertly slotted with canted slots and has to be lubricated regularly-it works very well. The b6 equipped one is more problematic, but the addition of the roller bridge and graphite nut (again with the canted slots) have made it hassle free. I always use 10-52 light top heavy bottom strings on these. Oddly, I have a Brian Setzer Hot Rod w/ Bigsby that works great and stays in tune, but the only mod to it has been graphtek saddles on the stock tune-omatic. I prefer the Bigsbys with the tallest springs available and 2 washers for deep arm action. Also, if you use one of these often, the springs can lose their firmness after a couple of years, so a fresh spring can help it return to tension-roller bridges and graphite nuts that are properly slotted are key, along with fresh springs.
     
  6. Tinman

    Tinman Member

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    Here's my take on the subject. I have used many of the roller bridges available including the one from guitar fetish. My problem with roller bridges is not their effect on tone, it is that the saddles cannot be adjusted up or down. Sometimes it works out and the bridge radius happens to work well with your fretboard radius. If it doesn't, then you may be looking at some major fret work, or worse. At least with a standard TOM or one with graphtec saddles, you can file the slots to adjust to your fretboard. If you are looking at the Wilkinson, you need to be aware that the radius of that bridge is 14". (I think. Correct me if I'm wrong) I almost always end up putting a good old TOM with plated brass saddles on my Bigsby-equipped guitars. If you file (with a round bottomed file) and polish those string slots, and use a little lube, you really should not have tuning problems at the bridge. I think you'll also find that what is happening at the bridge is that when you work your Bigsby, the rocking motion of the bridge is doing a lot more than the strings sliding or rolling across the saddles. Do your work on the other end of the guitar and your Bigsby issues should go away. As has been said, the nut work is key. I agree with the proposition that any nut material can be used if it is cut properrly and well lubed. Delrin, or slipstone, is fine as a set-it-and-forget-it material that doesn't require lube. How you string your guitar is important as well for Bigsby related tuning stability.
     
  7. solarbean

    solarbean Supporting Member

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    Any tips on this?
     
  8. Tinman

    Tinman Member

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    I use the Dan Erlewine method which is easy but impossible for me to describe. It's illustrated nicely in his guitar repair and maintainence book, which we should all have anyway. Or use locking tuners.
     
  9. solarbean

    solarbean Supporting Member

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    Thx - I have that book.

    I understand that he has another book with a section devoted to Bigsby setup. I'll short-list this one.
     
  10. 9fingers

    9fingers Supporting Member

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    Can someone elaborate on changing springs or adding washers to a Bigsby for "deep arm action"? Where do you get different springs and where do you add washers? Gracias!
     
  11. Tinman

    Tinman Member

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    Any place that sells gretsch and bigsby parts has springs and washers. You can get standard (7/8") springs, or long(1") springs. The washers go on the top or bottom of the spring. I guess you could do both.

    Try Parts is Parts, Elderly Instruments, and Blackrider Guitars.
     
  12. RomanS

    RomanS Member

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    I've got the Wilkinson roller bridge on a Thinline Tele with a Bigsby B16 - and I'm not completely happy with it:
    Sometimes, the unwound strings have weird overtones (which can be remedied by slightly moving the string section behind the bridge, so that there's a slight angle between the mounting point on the Bigsby and the bridge saddle).
    And I do some Travis picking, and quite often when really getting into it I pop the high E and B strings out of the rollers with my fingers...

    Both problems might not be there, though, with a B5, which has the extra pressure bar between the tremolo and the bridge - my B16 doesn'T have that, and consequently the string break angle over the bridge saddles is rather shallow, which might be responsible for my problems.

    Anyway, I'm going to replace my roller bridge with a regular TOM (and Graphtec saddles, if there are any tuning stability problems).
     
    Last edited: Jul 25, 2008
  13. solarbean

    solarbean Supporting Member

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    The break angle with this b5 is a bit sharp due to that tension roller bar. I believe the angle is so sharp that the strings are binding on the bridge. Here's a pic:


    [​IMG]

    BTW... here's some full frontal nudity. I did not bother filling the tailpiece holes.

    [​IMG]
     
  14. Tinman

    Tinman Member

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    Yep, that's a pretty steep angle. How did you happen to put that Bigsby so close to the bridge?
     
  15. Rumble

    Rumble Instrumental Rocker Silver Supporting Member

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    Something that I've noticed on many "roller" bridges is that they really don't "roll". Especially with Bigsbys as above (B-5?) with the tension bar. The strings will just slide across the roller as they would on a fixed saddle. Probably due to too much downward pressure on the saddle-rollers.

    Since yours is a bit close (like the one I used to have on a 74 SG), you might try removing that outer tension bar roller which will reduce the string angle a little. Ideally, those units are best if mounted back a little farther from the bridge.
     
  16. solarbean

    solarbean Supporting Member

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    I'm mainly a fingerstyle player and my hand is typically up near the fretboard. I wanted the bar to be within easy reach, but perhaps I was a bit aggresive when I placed it so close to the bridge. The Bigsby instructions say to move it far down the body. Doh!
     
  17. Rumble

    Rumble Instrumental Rocker Silver Supporting Member

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    Don't worry, with the right tweaking you'll get it right. Neil Young has his pretty close (Old Black), and he does alright!
     
  18. solarbean

    solarbean Supporting Member

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  19. solarbean

    solarbean Supporting Member

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    I have made some changes to the guitar. I'd like to share what I did and the outcome.

    First, I replaced the original tusq-like nut with a slipstone nut from Stewmac. This slipstone is really cool stuff. It has a vintage bone-like color, but behaves very differently when carving it. First off, when you work it, it does not give off that dentist office smell like bone does. Second, it has a softer feel. I bought a blank which was just a few thousandths too thick, about 1/4 " too wide and way too tall. I cut the width with a band saw - 4 seconds. It cut really clean. I roughed the height with bandsaw and coarse belt sander - 1 minute. Then put it in a parrot vise and worked the shape with a 10" bastard file. Each stroke left a very nice surface finish. I got the overall shape fine-tuned in about 10-15 minutes. Someone mentioned that you need to start the slots with a saw as the typical nut-file will just slip. They were right. I started my slots with the serrated blade on my leatherman, then finished with nut files. I angled the g and d strings towards their respective tuners.

    The nut came out great and the "ping" sound I had when adusting tuning with the original tusq-like nut is now gone. This slipstone stuff rocks. I will use it again.

    Next... I placed "fender washers" under the bigsby. This raised the bigsby above the guitar and effectively reduced the break angle between the saddles and the bigsby tension bar. This "should" have the effect of reducing the tendency for the strings to bind in their saddles.

    Next... I took a close look at the V-grooves on the tune-o-matic bridge. Under an eye-loupe they appeared very rough, and they would only hit the strings in 2 places because these grooves are v-shaped and the strings are round (obviously). So... I filed out the saddle grooves to a bit larger than their respective string diameters then polished them using a dremel tool with a buffing head and some high-grade buffing compond. The slots are now round and smooth.

    Finally... I placed some lube on the saddle grooves. For lube, I used Microcote 296. I had a syringe of this stuff left over from some bearing testing I did in the semiconductor industry many years ago. This stuff is used in low-vacuum robotics applications. It is ungodly expensive, but - hey - I didn't pay for it. The nice thing is that it will not evaporate and has a nice creamy texture so it is easy to apply.

    K, now to the outcome. Drum roll please....

    It did not work. If I send the bigsby low, it does not return all the way back to tune - it stays a bit low. Likewise, if I send the bigsby high, it does not return all the way back to tune - it stays a bit high. ALL strings stay low or high by roughly the same amount.

    But I think I know where the problem is. I believe it is in the bridge. I took a real close look at the bridge when using the vibrato arm and the bridge does indeed rock back and forth a tiny bit. My suspicion is that there is a bit of backlash or hysteresis. The bridge simply does not return to its original position.

    I believe the real solution lies in one of these options:

    1) Get a locking Tunomatic bridge with rollers or graphite saddles.
    2) Get a bridge which is intended to rock with the strings and return to its original position.

    Does anyone have further suggestions? Does anyone make a rocking bridge for a flattop les paul?
     
  20. solarbean

    solarbean Supporting Member

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    Still working on this issue...

    Today, I decided to take the stock tune-o-matic bridge and lock it to the body. I did this using the following technique.

    I purchased two m5-30mm stainless screws and some thick nylon washers/spacers. I ground the nylon spacers to the correct thickness. Then I installed the tune-o-matic above these spacers and used the m5 screws to lock that tune-o-matic to the body using the existing screw inserts.

    It seems to have improved the ability for the guitar to return to tune if I use the bigsby to drop the tuning. It seems to be better, but not perfect. However, if I use the bigsby to raise the pitch, it does not return to proper pitch well at all. I need to drop the vibrato arm to return to proper pitch.

    I think I will try a roller bridge next.

    Stay tuned...
     

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