Paul Bigsby was born and spent his childhood in Illinois, but his family moved to Los Angeles in search of work. Bigsby acquired a job as a pattern maker and was carving wood patterns that were used to make metal molds for manufacturing. This skill gave him a useful start in his career building musical instruments.
When World War II rocked the world, Bigby enlisted in the U.S. Navy. World War II brought about many changes to the world and to the United States. California became a bastion of manufacturing and many families from the southern United States migrated there in search of work and the American dream.
Suffice to say, these men and women brought their passion for Country Music with them and movies, radio stations, clubs and eventually television would capitalize on Country Music.
Cliffie Stone’s radio show called Hometown Jamboree which featured Western Swing music.
Bigsby was the first to use a tapered headstock design, which is also featured on most professional steel guitars today.
pedal steel guitar. Once again, there were manufacturers, such as Gibson, that already created a system of using pedals to change tuning on the steel guitar,
But Gibson’s early version utilized a system of pedals arranged on the left rear leg of their Electraharp. Bigsby was the first to arrange the pedals on a rack across the floor in front of the player, which is the configuration utilized to this day.
He presented his Bigsby pedal steel guitar to Speedy West, the guitarist that replaced Murphey in Spade Cooley’s group. Again Bigsby utilized a polished birds-eye maple chassis for this guitar, which became his trademark on all of his future instruments. The instrument was replete with a birds-eye maple front cover for the front of West’s instrument.
|Bigsby's pickup winder|
There was a time when Paul Bigsby, Les Paul and Leo Fender would discuss electric guitar and pickup design. In fact Les Paul installed one of Bigsby pickups in the bridge position of the Epiphone hollow-body guitar that he used to record “How High the Moon.” Chet Atkins must have loved the sound, because he installed a Bigsby pickup on his D’Angelico guitar. Hank Garland and Merle Travis also used Bigsby pickups on their guitars.
|The 3rd Guitar that Paul Bigsby built|
Bigsby had tinkered around with the idea of building a solid-body electric guitar as far back as 1944. In an attempt to interest Gibson, he even built one for Les Paul.
|1st version Bigsby Files D. Dickerson|
|Updated version Bigsby Files D. Dickerson|
|Johann Stauffer Gutar|
The instrument was replete with a decorative walnut armrest on the guitars bout.
And though Fender had essentially copied some of Paul Bigsby’s designs, Bigsby persevered to build high quality instruments for individuals.
Bigsby went on to create his style of guitar for notable Nashville session player Grady Martin. This instrument had a neck-through-body design, Bigsby’s signature birds-eye maple body and a scroll on the top cutaway of its body that was a mirror-image of the scroll on the instruments headstock.
Later on he produced another guitar for Martin. This one had two necks. The top neck was for a 5 string high-strung guitar neck that was tuned an octave about usual tuning. This neck was slightly angled from the main guitar neck. The other neck was a traditional guitar neck. Both necks were topped with the scroll style headstock that had become Bigsby’s trademark. The upper neck came with a single adjustable pickup while the lower neck had 3 single coil Bigsby designed pickups.
|Guitar build for Jimmy Bryant, but owned by Tommy Butterball Page|
|In 2012 sold for $266,500|
|Billy Bryd Bigsby|
|Billy Boy Bigsby|
electric mandolin for Tiny Moore, who played guitar and mandolin in the group, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys.
During the early 1950's studio guitarists were installing Bigsby’s pickups on their instruments.
These artists included Keith Holter. Holter owned the 1953 model Bigsby that was made for Tommy Butterball Page. It was also owned by Thumbs Carlisle before Holter purchased it.
But there were other artists that really liked the Bigsby neck.
Merle Travis, Joe Maphis, Hank Thompson and others had their Martin guitars retrofitted to accommodate the Bigsby neck.
However his pedal also pivoted left and right which adjusted the bass and treble. During the 1960's Rowe DeArmond offered a similar pedal.
|Travis style bar|
Initially the bar on the units were fixed, so that the arm could not be pushed away. There are guitarists that liked this arrangement. Others modified the to fit their needs, although it was still fixed.
Merle Travis preferred a long arm with a loop on its end that he could rest his little finger in to control vibrato.
|Chet Atkins bar|
|1950 ES-175 with a Bigsby|
|Keith Holter's 1953 Bigsby|
Now he had to hire employees to keep up with the demand for Bigsby vibratos. This would eventually become a global business for Paul Bigsby.
|Magnatone Mark V|
|Paul Bigsby in later years|
|McCarty & Fred Gretsch|
Due to the scarcity of Bigsby guitar, if you are interested in buying one the price will be very steep, in the five figure range.
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