How to restring a Bigsby – 5 tips!

How to restring a Bigsby guitar – 5 tips from Baum.

Bigsby is a great vibrato system (if set up properly). We love Bigsby and have always used the system on Our Guitars. But we also know that Bigsby can be a little difficult to work with. Especially the first times you try to put some fresh strings on.

Some struggle with stringing them. I did too. First, just keeping the ball-end on the pin was a mess! I surely felt that I needed an extra arm or two for this project. Then… Keeping them in tune. Why wouldn’t my new strings stay in tune like on my non-Bigsby guitars?

Searching on Google and YouTube and you’ll find lots of good examples on good uses and nice reviews, but you’ll also find countless forums full of frustration about how the Bigsby tremolo works.

But wait… we just said it was a great system? And it is. If set up and used rightly.

The process in 5 quick steps.

Some of you may be in a rush and just want to get this done, so you can play again. So here are our 5 tips to get the best out of your Bigsby while restringing it.

  1. Wrap the string around your finger or a pencil to create a hook. This makes it much easier to fit it on the pin and keep it there.

  2. Lock the strings with a capo. Add tension, add capo. Voila, the string will now stay on the pin while you check Step #03 and #04.

  3. Nut. Make sure it’s properly cut and lubricated to allow the strings to glide frictionless.
  4. Aim for 2-4 windings on the tuning pegs. This gives less string slippage and an optimal break-angle over the nut.

  5. Stretch out! Not you, the strings. Giving the strings a solid stretch will get them used to the tension much faster, and thus stay in tune better.

  6. Oh. An extra tip… find out at the bottom!

What is a Bigsby?

The Bigsby vibrato was invented by Paul Bigsby as a solution to a defect and Kaufmann vibrato. In 1969, the company got sold to Ted McCarty (the former president of Gibson Guitars).

Fast forwarding to today (2021), the Bigsby vibrato system turns 70 years old and has been a huge part of countless iconic guitar designs and famous guitar tones. Can you think of a guitar with a Bigsby?

Despite being a perfect design (by far) with its own flaws and limitations, the system is still highly relevant and useful today. Why? Because nothing sounds like a Bigsby. It’s truly unique. And that’s why we don’t expect them to go away in the future. So let’s find out, how we can make life with a Bigsby easier.

We’re using a Leaper Tone as an example in this post. Let’s tune up!

 

Here is the Baum 5-point guide to ‘How to Restring a Bigsby’.

(Actually, there’s 6…). 

1. Bend the string and create a hook.

To avoid that the string keeps popping off the pins, bend the ball-end around a pencil or your finger.

This creates a little hook making it a lot easier to wrap the ball-end around the post and onto the pin. 

Now, feed the string underneath, around and over the axle and hook that pin. Remember to keep some tension on the string, so the string won’t fall off between step 1 and 2.

A good start makes the following steps much easier.

And we like easier.

That’s why we write this.

2. Lock the strings! Or grow an extra hand.

You got the string around the pin now. Good start!

Next step is locking the string, while you tune-up.

This is my preferred method, where you add tension to the string by pulling it towards the tuning pegs and lock it with a capo around 7th / 9th fret. This is like having an extra hand available because the capo makes sure that the string doesn’t slide off the pin, while you attach it correctly on the tuning pegs.

OR – Bigsby suggests putting a small foam wedge into the space under the axle to keep the string in place on the pin while winding.

Growing an extra hand would be quite practical too in other situations, but this seems easier for now. Let’s continue.

3. The nut is important – how to avoid friction.

Pliiing. That’s the sound, you don’t want to hear when you’re tuning up your guitar – or using the Bigsby. The nut is a very important element in the equation of tuning stability – especially with a Bigsby.

And now that your strings are capo’d, you got time to focus on the nut:

1. Is the nut cut correct to your strings.

2. Lubricate it to reduce friction.

Since the Bigsby is more or less pulling and pushing the string back and forth over the nut, you have to make sure that there is no friction. If you find that your strings have issues with returning to pitch after a good Bigsby-wiggly or a bend, the nut may be the issue. 

First, the nut has to be cut correctly for your guitar. Angled or straight necks. 3 per side or 6-in-line tuners. It all makes a difference in how the nut should be cut, but the mutual variables are:

  1. The nut slot depths,
  2. The nut slot widths, and
  3. The nut slot angles.

And secondly, you have to use the correct gauge of strings for the nut. Depending on how your nut is cut, going from 10s to 11s may mean that the strings cannot move freely anymore. Going for 13s like SRV? You will definitely need to have your nut cut to this string gauge.

We would always recommend, that you let someone with experience in guitar setups take care of this part. That can be yourself, or a guitar luthier, as long as it is done correctly.

Assuming that the nut is cut correctly, let’s look at what you can do to keep the strings gliding and sliding without friction every time you restring your guitar.

Our favorite methods to lubricate the nut are:

  • Big Ben’s Nut Sauce. The name says it all. Use a drop of sauce for your nut to keep it smooth. It’s the world’s most used guitar string lubricant for a reason.
  • Use a pencil to fill the nut with graphite. This is an easy a low-cost method to lubricate the nut. Just sharpen your pencil and rub it in the slots. You can see the graphite flake off very fast. The only downside (to some) is that the graphite may color your nut making it look a little grey and dirty.

4. Don’t have too many winds on the tuning pegs!

And we have made it to the tuning pegs – and if you used a capo, the string is still on the pin.

Let’s take a look at how a proper wind will help your guitar stay in tune (Bigsby or not). I went for the over-under winding technique, which is my preferred method.

Having too many winds on the tuning pegs will cause trouble and tuning instability. 

So how many should you go for? Somewhere between 2-4 windings will be a good starting point, as long as you’re winding with a conventional method.

Most players prefer a few extra windings for the higher-pitched strings and less on the wound strings, simply because the physical mass being greater on the wound strings leaving less room for more winds.

Having too much string on the tuning pegs can cause two worries:

  • String slippage. While the few first windings may be nicely wound, carrying on winding means that the new wraps will grab onto the string itself and not the peg. There’s much less grip on the strings compared to the tuning peg, which will cause the strings to slip every time you use the Bigsby or bend.
  • Less break-angle. Too many winds can cause that the string goes back up the post, which decreases the important break-angle over the nut. Your intonation and overall sustain benefit from a proper break-angle, so a low number of winds will keep the angle correct.

Having more than 4 winds won’t of course break your tuning, but all small things add up. Just don’t wind your tuning peg like a Michelin Man.

5. Stretch out the strings.

Breathe in… stretch… breathe out. Electric guitar strings can take 1-2 hours of playing time to break in properly depending on how you play. But you can reduce this time substantially by stretching out a fresh set of strings.

This means they settle, stabilize and stay in tune quicker.

Coming from Tip #3, the correct number of winds will definitely help your string settle faster.

The two common ways you can stretch your strings.

  • Channeling your inner Hendrix or SRV and bend each string a tone or two in multiple positions across the fretboard.
  • Pull the strings upwards from the fretboard in multiple positions. Just be careful that you don’t pull too hard, as this can pull the string out of the nut, saddles, etc. Or worst case – break your new string. Watch your eyes!

Stretching out will reduce the time it takes for the strings to get used to the tension they are being exposed to.

6. Don’t use it wrong.

Yes, we said 5, but here is our tip #6. It’s on the house. We cannot stop now that we’re in tune. Most of the time when we hear about players complaining about Bigsby, it’s because they don’t use it correctly. Tough statement, I know. But it’s true. Most players have experience with different vibrato systems such as Fender (Strat or Jazzmaster), Floyd Rose, Kahler, Gibson Vibrola, Duesenberg, etc. But the Bigsby is different. So expect different results.

Bigsby is a smooth vibrato system and going for more than ½ tone up or down is asking for trouble depending on how well it is set up. But don’t expect to make divebombs or full tone bends. Remember that this system was invented more than two decades before Hendrix or SRV starting bending strings like madmen.

Bigsby is great for static chords. It’s more of a character tool adding lush and life to the chords. So, if you’ve followed the 5 tips prior to this, then the Bigsby is simply one of the best and most unique sounding vibrato systems ever made. We still love them.

Grab a guitar with Bigsby and try yourself.

 We trust the system so much, so it is the only vibrato system that we use. We like the look, we love the sound and we prefer the feel. Check out the Current Range of guitars with Bigsby here or Send me an Email, if you have any questions regarding Baum. Or if you have an idea for the next topic we should cover. Thanks! 

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