Monday, February 27, 2012

THE BIGSBY FILES

A page created by Deke Dickerson

This page is for those seeking information about musical instruments made by Paul A. Bigsby.  I have spent the last 20 years actively searching out information regarding Bigsby instruments and was one of the five people involved in the Bigsby book published a couple years ago.

I did a lot of research, traveled a lot of miles, photographed a bunch of instruments, and was lucky enough to eventually own two Bigsby electric guitars and the amazing Myrtlewood Bigsby (made by Dale & Harry Granstrom with Paul Bigsby's help).

Eventually, with help from Bob Guida (RIP, my friend), Dave Westerbeke, Jussi Huhtakangas, Jay Rosen, John "Woody" Woodland, Andrew Brown, Chance Wilson, Andy Babiuk, Mike Black, Chris Lucker, Chas Smith, T.C. Furlong, Michael Lee Allen, Louis Armentaro, Tom Sims, Steve Soest, Larry Briggs, Bob November, Steve Uhrik, Peter Kohman, Robbie Lee, Mick Buck (CMHOF), Tim Davis (CMHOF), Walter Broes, and a couple dozen other dedicated guitar "geeks," a clearer picture began to emerge in regards to Paul A. Bigsby's production totals and construction methods.

I sniffed under every rock I could find and have come to the end of my trail.  Now I feel it's time to share the complete information with the public, and hopefully some of the missing instruments will begin to surface.  Anybody with questions can email me here, but take note, if you're looking for information so you can track down a Bigsby guitar and buy it, I have no motivation to help you. I'm very interested to hear from people with stories, old photos, and maybe an oddball guitar.

Here is what I believe to be the most complete list ever assembled of the electric guitars, tenor guitars, re-necked acoustics, mandolins, pickup conversions and oddities produced by Paul A. Bigsby.

I'll be working on a complete list of steel guitars and pedal steel guitars, but there is still much detective work to be done in that field and the time is not right to share that information.

There is a lot of misinformation out there about these instruments. Even the Bigsby guitars website (the current company owned by Fred Gretsch III) states incorrectly that there are only six standard guitars and one tenor guitar known to exist.  Ask any vintage guitar dealer about Bigsby guitar information, even very experienced ones who have been around for years, and they just start scratching their heads.  Not much is known about these instruments, but what myself and others have researched and discovered is in this blog for your enjoyment.

THE BIGSBY GUITAR INDEX


1. Jack Rivers prototype electric guitar--date unknown 

#no serial number 



Currently owned by the Experience Music Project (EMP) Museum, Seattle, WA.

This instrument is a one-off Bigsby guitar and does not neatly fit into the category of "prototype," though that may indeed be what it is.

It is a lap-steel shaped instrument with a Spanish neck.  The pots are dated 1947, and has elements of it's construction that lead us to believe it was made before the Merle Travis guitar.  For those reasons, we will list it as the first Bigsby Spanish electric guitar.

The guitar belonged to a Western Swing musician in the Pacific Northwest named Jack Rivers, who spent a lot of time in Los Angeles recording and playing in the late 1940s, most of the time with his brother Texas Jim Lewis' band.  It is unknown if the guitar was actually made for Jack Rivers or if Jack Rivers bought it from Bigsby in the wake of interest after the Merle Travis guitar was completed.

Evidence that points to the Jack Rivers guitar being a 1947 instrument pre-dating the Merle Travis guitar:

1.The Pot Dates are from 1947.  This is not conclusive, as Bigsby could have used pots he had laying around in his shop.  The pot dates only mean that the guitar could not have been built earlier than 1947, but could have been built any time after 1947.

2.The three on a side headstock with 'custom made by Paul Bigsby' plaque instead of the famous 6-on-a-side Bigsby headstock.  This headstock was similar to the ones Bigsby was using on his lap steels around 1947-1948.  The small "custom made" plaque was identical to the one on the inside of Merle Travis' guitar case.

Evidence that points to the Jack Rivers guitar being made in 1949:

1.The pickup has individual pole pieces inside a blade pickup cover.  This pickup is similar to the two pickups that were on the Butterball Paige instrument, made in early 1949.  It is possible that the Jack Rivers guitar had a blade pickup originally and this is a replacement pickup.

2.There are no photos of this guitar before 1951, when it was photographed being played by Neil LeVang on tour with Texas Jim Lewis.  There are numerous photos of Jack Rivers in the mid and late 1940s, but no photos of this instrument in that era.

Paul Bigsby is not around to tell us what this guitar really is, so the best educated guess is that this was an early experiment at a standard or "Spanish" guitar, or a prototype to test pickups, or even a lap steel converted to a Standard guitar.

Below: A young Neil LeVang plays the Jack Rivers prototype Bigsby on tour in 1951 with Texas Jim Lewis (Jack Rivers' brother) in Oregon.  LeVang remembers that Jack Rivers charged him $30 to rent the guitar for the tour, "an obscene amount of money at the time," to quote LeVang.  Photo courtesy Dale Granstrom.






Below: A writeup on the Jack Rivers guitar before it went to the EMP Museum.


Detail of pickup, with individual polepieces inside a pickup cover cut for a blade:


Below: a photo of Jack Rivers in the 1960s with a Harvey Thomas doubleneck guitar.  No photos of Jack Rivers with the Bigsby prototype are known to exist.




2. Les Paul prototype Bigsby solidbody electric guitar--date unknown 

#no serial number

Currently owned by a man who wants to remain anonymous in rural New Jersey.



This guitar is another instrument that does not neatly fit the category of "prototype" and could have been built any time between 1947 and 1949.

It is a small bodied guitar, about the size of a lap steel body with a full sized spanish (round) neck.

The anonymous gentleman who currently owns the guitar bought it at a garage sale in the 1980s, less then 15 miles from Mahweh, New Jersey, where Les Paul lived from the early 1950's until his death.

The guitar had an early 1950s Gibson P90 cream cover pickup in it when found, but there was evidence that a Bigsby pickup had been there before.

The fact that the guitar surfaced near Les Paul's home in rural New Jersey and the fact that it had a cream P90 (like the early Gibson Les Paul guitars) installed in it led some to believe that it had belonged to Les Paul.  On several occasions, when asked about the instrument, Les denied knowing about it.

Les may have been wary to discuss the instrument, because its existence threw a monkeywrench into many of his assertions about his role in inventing the electric solidbody guitar.  While there is no doubt that Les Paul constructed the "Log" guitar in 1941 from a 4"X4" with hollow Epiphone body "wings" around it, the "Log" was still a far cry from a modern solidbody instrument. Bigsby's inventions during the late 1940s predated the Gibson Les Paul, and many of its features, by several years.

Les Paul lived in Hollywood, California in the late 1940s and fraternized with Country-Western musicians.  Les Paul knew Bigsby players like Merle Travis, Hank Penny, Smokey Rogers, Zeke Clements and other Los Angeles musicians that played Bigsby guitars.  Les also admitted in interviews that he was friendly with both Paul Bigsby and Leo Fender.

A little known fact is that Les Paul had a Bigsby blade pickup in his Epiphone "Clunker" guitar, the guitar built after the "Log" that he used for his main recording guitar in the late 1940s and early 1950s.  The Bigsby pickup can be seen on many vintage pictures of the "Clunker" and in fact is still on the guitar to this day.  This fact establishes that Les knew Paul Bigsby and was in fact using one of his pickups as early as 1949.

Below: sheet music from 1951 showing the Bigsby pickup on Les' "Clunker."

Below: The "Clunker" as it exists today, still with Bigsby pickup.


When the Bigsby pickguard templates (found in the back of the Kalamazoo factory after the company was sold in 1999) were revealed, one of the most astounding finds was a template labeled "Les Paul" that fit the body shape of the New Jersey garage sale guitar perfectly.

Below: the prototype guitar and the body template marked "Les Paul" that was discovered in 1999 after the sale of the Bigsby Company.  Note the new Bigsby pickup and surround.  When this guitar was found it had a Gibson P-90 soapbar pickup in it.  An even stranger detail about the pickguard template is that it appears to say "Les Paul" in Les' own handwriting!



In several interviews not long before his death, Les continued to deny the existence of a Bigsby solidbody guitar made for him.  Finally, when confronted with the evidence of the body template labeled "Les Paul," Les had this to say:

"Bigsby brought over this little guitar that he'd made up.  We fooled around with it and I threw it in my pile of guitars.  It was so small that it was hard to play.  Years later, when I moved back East, I had a bunch of stuff that I had left across the street with a neighbor.  He must have got rid of that little guitar, because I never got it back."

--Les Paul, in an interview with Andy Babiuk for the Bigsby book

In fact, the blade pickup that is found on the "Clunker" probably came from this little prototype Bigsby guitar.  Les never admitted as such, but the evidence points in that direction.  Les talked about having other Bigsby pickups, and collector/author Robb Lawrence has a Bigsby pickup that Les gave him, which may in fact be the pickup from the little prototype.

The exact date of the Les Paul prototype guitar remains unknown.  It is possible it is as early as 1947, but more likely to have been made in 1948 or 1949.

Evidence that the Les Paul prototype guitar was made in 1947:

1. The pots inside in the instrument are dated May 5, 1947.  This is not conclusive to a build date, but tells us that the instrument could not have been made before that date.

2. Les' quote (which conflicts with some of Les' other quotes) that "Merle Travis asked about the pickup, which he called 'the big guy in the back.'"  If Merle saw Les' prototype guitar before his iconic May 1948 guitar was designed, then possibly Les' guitar could date to 1947.

Evidence that the Les Paul prototype guitar was made in 1948 or more likely, 1949:

1. The Bigsby headstock has the iconic standard 6-on-a-side shape.  Were the instrument made in 1947, it would have had the 3-on-a-side headstock like the Jack Rivers prototype.  Merle Travis is credited in the original 1940s Bigsby literature as having invented the 6-on-a-side headstock design, so that strongly, if not definitively, means that the prototype was built AFTER the May 1948 Merle Travis Bigsby guitar.

2. The Bigsby logo inlaid on the headstock has no dotted "I."  The no-dotted I logo on other Bigsby instruments begins in 1949 with the Grady Martin singleneck (#7149) and ends with the introduction of the faux-dotted I on the Grady Martin doubleneck (#10152).  The no-dotted "I" evidence points to the Les Paul prototype guitar being built between these dates of July 1949 and October 1952, despite the potentiometer dates of 1947.

3. The most plausible reason for Paul Bigsby to make Les Paul a small bodied electric guitar is so that Les would have something to play while in the hospital following his car accident in early 1948.  Les was essentially unable to play the entirety of 1948, and began his recovery and comeback in 1949.  If indeed Paul Bigsby made this special "little guitar" for Les during his recovery, a build date of late 1948 at the earliest and late 1949 at the latest makes the most sense.  This author belives that the guitar dates from the "no dotted I" period of July 1949 to October 1952, more than likely made in late 1949.

The Les Paul prototype guitar is the most mysterious of all the Bigsby guitars, in this author's opinion.  While Les finally admitted to the guitar being made for him, it is still unknown when the guitar was made and how much it influenced Les' design, or disrupted Les' claims of innovation, for the eventual 1952 debut of the Gibson Les Paul guitar.  One thing is certain, however--Les Paul didn't want the world to know about the little Bigsby solidbody electric guitar, he gave the guitar away when he was a rabid collector of other instruments, and admitted knowing about it only after the evidence became too overwhelming to deny.  The evidence would point to the conclusion that Les wanted to sweep this little Bigsby prototype guitar under the rug.

The guitar is constructed like no other Bigsby guitar, made out of two pieces of birdseye maple sandwiched together and stained with a dark stain.  The neck is finished in a standard Bigsby fashion, but the body is finished quite crudely, especially on the sides.  In addition, the guitar has a large aluminum plate in between the neck and the fingerboard, with a screwed-on fingerboard.  The thick aluminum plate continues beyond the fretboard and acts as the pickguard, housing the pickup and the bridge.

The pictures below show the guitar in the state it was in when found at a garage sale.  Note that the photo of this guitar in the Bigsby book shows the guitar with a replica pickup with polepieces.  These pictures show the guitar with the early 50's cream covered P-90 pickup in it as it was found.  Another interesting feature to note in these photographs is the steel rod that Bigsby set into his instruments to reinforce the neck.  Around 1952, Bigsby switched to an adjustable neck, but these steel-reinforced necks from 1948-1952 show no sign of warpage after 60 years.

















3.Merle Travis' solidbody electric guitar, serial #52548.  

Currently owned by the Country Music Hall Of Fame, Nashville, TN

It's a famous story, one that has been told time and time again.  Successful country western musician Merle Travis met machinist and steel guitar enthusiast Paul A. Bigsby at a motorcycle race track in Los Angeles and struck up a friendship based on their mutual love of motorcycles and music.

Merle gave an interview with 'Guitar Player' magazine where he states that the first thing he had Paul Bigsby work on was a vibrato.  This has been widely misunderstood to mean the famous Bigsby vibrato, but that wouldn't come along until several years later, in 1952.  Merle was referring to the Kaufmann vibrato that was on the Gibson L-10 he was playing during this time (mid-1940s).  Bigsby apparently worked on the vibrato, and tried to improve upon the Kaufmann's shortcomings.

Merle Travis was a steel guitarist himself, and was friends with Earl "Joaquin" Murphy, who played with Spade Cooley and other famous Western acts around Los Angeles.  Joaquin had Bigsby make him several steel guitars in the years 1945-1947, and Merle Travis obviously took notice of their fine tone and construction.  It wasn't long before Travis got the idea to have Bigsby build him an electric guitar.

There are two odd prototype guitars (detailed above and below) that may or may not have been built before Merle Travis' instrument.  Their exact date of build may never be known, but what is known is that Merle Travis approached Paul Bigsby with an idea to build a full-sized solid-body electric guitar based on a design he had drawn on a napkin.  That guitar was remarkably modern for 1948, with six-on-a-side tuning machines, neck-through construction, and the idea to "make a guitar sustain like a steel guitar," with aluminum nut and bridge.

Bigsby finished the guitar on May 25, 1948.  Although there had been electric guitars for almost twenty years, and some that could be called a "solidbody" guitar (the Rickenbacker bakelite spanish guitar, the Slingerland Songster spanish, and the Audiovox Spanish electric), the one that Merle Travis and Paul Bigsby came up with in May 1948 can definitively be called the first modern solidbody electric guitar.  It's importance and influence can only be realized when one realizes what came after it--the Fender Telecaster, the Fender Stratocaster, the Gibson Les Paul, the Gretsch Duo-Jet, and others--all owing a heavy debt to the ideas that Paul Bigsby first introduced in the Merle Travis solidbody electric guitar.

The interesting side story to the Travis guitar is that the guitar was mostly hollowed out from the back, and not really a "solidbody" as we know it today.  Equally as odd, Merle also apparently didn't care for the tone of the guitar, as he only played it a year or two before moving on to hollowbody instruments, or big bodied guitars with neck-through design.  Travis, the man responsible for coming up with the idea of a solidbody guitar, would shy away from solidbody instruments for the rest of his career.

Luckily, Merle Travis apparently seemed to understand his place in history, and he kept the odd Bigsby guitar around for decades, telling people who only knew of Leo Fender's success that he was the one who invented that guitar.  It is only through the passing of time and the accumulation of knowledge that we know today that Travis was not exaggerating.  If Merle Travis hadn't invented the Bigsby solidbody electric guitar in 1948, it is doubtful that the Fender Telecaster and Stratocaster would look the way they do, if they had ever been introduced at all.  Such was the influence of this one instrument.

Merle Travis donated the guitar in 1974 to the Country Music Hall Of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee, where it is currently displayed to the public.

A brief history of the instrument:  When it was first made, Merle Travis' guitar #52548 was a non-cutaway instrument with a different shaped peghead, only two knobs, and no selector switch.  We know that based on the one photo that exists (below) and the memory of R.C. Allen, who saw the instrument in its first state.  R.C. Allen also notes that the headstock was longer than this photo illustrates, and stated in an interview for the Bigsby book that the interior of the case for this instrument is three and a half inches longer than the guitar is today, to prove the point (see photos below).

Below: Merle Travis when the guitar #52548 was first finished.  Note that the guitar is a non-cutaway, and has only two knobs and no switch.  The frame of the photo unfortunately cuts off the first incarnation of the headstock, but you can still see it does not have the famous Bigsby headstock shape, that would come a few months later.


Within just a couple of months, Travis had the guitar altered to include a cutaway, a different headstock shape, an additional knob, and a selector switch.  The guitar only had one pickup, so the three knobs and selector switch were designed to go between volume levels for lead and rhythm, or as it was noted on the interior of the guitar, "RYTHM" and "TAKE-OFF" (Paul Bigsby's spelling).

Merle Travis was not shy about publicity.  There were several articles devoted to Merle Travis' new invention. 

Below: Hank Thompson (L) and Merle Travis.  Note Travis pointing at the guitar and himself, as if to say "I invented this!"


Below: Two of the earliest Bigsby instrument players, Merle Travis and Speedy West, playing in Paul Bigsby's back yard.  Note case at Merle's feet.



Below: A promotional photo from 1948 showing Travis proudly displaying his new instrument.

Below: This live shot from the Hometown Jamboree Show illustrates a side view of the instrument.

Below: The only color photo of Merle Travis holding his Bigsby solidbody, taken by Scotty Broyles at the Bostonia Ballroom, El Cajon, CA.  Photo copyright Scotty Broyes/Deke Dickerson Photo Archive.


Below: The iconic headstock shape, which interestingly enough was the second version of the headstock shape on Merle's guitar.  Note the Kluson tuners and their solid shaft with hole for the strings.  These tuners differed from the Kluston split-shaft design used on Fenders.  Also note the full "Dotted I" in the word Bigsby. There are only a few authentic Bigsbys that have a full dotted I in the logo.  From 1949-1952, Bigsby had no dot in the I, and from 1952 on, there was a "faux-dotted I" that was connected to the I and not separately inlaid like the one seen here.

What is important about Paul Bigsby's use of the six tuners on one side is that he was the first to figure out the method of "clipping" the tabs on the kluson tuners to group them closer together so the strings pulled straight from the nut.  At the time, Kluson tuners were not trimmed for a 6-on-a-side mounting arrangement, they were only sold in 3-on-a-side sets.  This method of trimming the tuner mounting hole tabs was later copied outright by Leo Fender, on the Broadcaster/Telecaster and the Stratocaster.


Below: The "ear" of the Bigsby headstock broke off and was reglued at some point in its life.  Note the dowel pin in the headstock to hold the broken "ear" in place.


Below: note fingerboard and unusual 12th fret markers.  It is believed that Paul Bigsby used the fingerboard from Merle Travis' Gibson L-4 acoustic to craft the fingerboard for the new Bigsby electric.  The scale length is the same as the Gibson L-4, and note the two dots at the twelfth fret that don't match the other inlays--these two "outer" dots are identical to ones found on Gibson L-4 guitars like the one that Travis owned.  The playing card suit inlays were added by Bigsby during construction of the Travis electric guitar.


Note the dots on the 12th fret--these are the original Gibson L-4 dots from the original fingerboard.  The Paul Bigsby inlay in the middle, between the dots, has yellowed with age.

Note that the switch was added several months after the guitar was completed.  Bigsby deftly found a location on the guitar that would fit, but it covered up the "L" in "Merle" ever-so-slightly.







Travis' guitar featured a blade pickup, like the ones that Bigsby was using on his steel guitars.  Bigsby only made four spanish-style guitars (the first two production models, and the two "prototypes") with blade pickups before switching to individual pole pieces, but kept using the blade pickups on his steel guitars and pedal steel guitars.






Below: Cast aluminum strap hook, only used on the first two guitars.  This first type of strap hook was cast aluminum with a hammered pin in it, and probably took several hours to make.  The labor involved probably explains why Bigsby went to three different  and successively simpler strap hook designs throughout the course of his Spanish guitar building.

Below: some construction details, from rarely photographed angles:









Below: A few shots of the back and it's plastic cover.  Note that the plastic has warped over the years.



Below: shots of the neck/body "fade."  Note that from this very first guitar, Bigsby worked on having a smooth "fade" transition from the neck into the body.



Below: the back of the Merle Travis guitar, open to reveal the inner mysteries.


As explained above, Merle Travis' guitar originally had a different headstock shape and was three and a half inches longer than the peghead that exists today.  The proof of how long the headstock was when the guitar was first completed lies in seeing the guitar inside the original case.  Bigsby always made his cases fit the instruments very snugly, but this first guitar case is three and a half inches longer on the interior (44 1/2 inches) than the length of the guitar as it exists today (41 inches).  In addition, the "custom made by Paul Bigsby" plaque has been placed inside the case in an unorthodox manner--it is my educated guess that the first incarnation of the guitar with the longer headstock did not have an inlaid "Bigsby" on it, but instead this plaque, which would mirror the Jack Rivers prototype guitar.







Below: R.C. Allen's sketch from memory of the original Bigsby headstock shape.


Below: the odd positioning of the "Custom Built By Paul Bigsby" plaque inside the case leads me to believe that this plaque was on the first, elongated headstock.  The plaque is identical to the one that is on the headstock of the Jack Rivers prototype guitar.  My guess is that when Bigsby reshaped the headstock and inlaid the name on the 2nd incarnation, Merle simply took the old plaque and screwed it to the inside of the case.  There are no other cases with the "custom built by Paul Bigsby" plaque inside them.


The interior of the case measures 44.5".  The Merle Travis guitar in its second incarnation measures 41".
















Below: one interesting difference in the case for the Travis guitar is that the case pockets are hinged just on the interior fabric lining.  The cases for the George Grohs/R.C. Allen guitar, the Butterball Paige guitar, and the catalog/Freddie Hilst guitar have cabinet hinges for the case pockets to hinge on when they open.


4. George Grohs / Bobby Durham / R.C. Allen solidbody electric guitar #81848 

Currently owned by R.C. Allen

The second full-sized standard electric guitar made by Paul Bigsby has an interesting and convoluted history.  Thanks to R.C. Allen's tireless promotion of Paul Bigsby and this instrument, it has achieved a place as the most accessible Bigsby instrument, having been seen at numerous guitar shows and related events over the past thirty years.  What most people fail to realize is that the guitar went through three cosmetic incarnations before looking the way that it does today.

The guitar was originally made for a man named George Grohs, a Merle Travis fan who came in and plunked down 500 dollars and asked Bigsby to make him a guitar like Travis'. Grohs' willingness to pony up such a substantial amount of money inspired Bigsby to make another guitar like Travis'.

When the guitar was first made in August 1948, like Travis', it was a non-cutaway.  There was one single blade pickup.  The construction method was like the Travis guitar with the exception of the back--like the Travis guitar, the Grohs guitar "solidbody" was hollowed out from the back, but instead of a plastic back cover like the Travis guitar, the Grohs guitar received a wood "cap" for the back of the guitar.  There were no screws, the back cap was glued on the back and finished like a piece of furniture.

Grohs sold or traded the guitar after owning it for a couple of years, and by the early 1950s, it had been sold to child country singer Bobby Durham.  Bobby Durham is well-known in Bakersfield, where he currently resides, but in the early 1950s, Durham was based in Los Angeles.  The earliest photo we have of #81848 is a Bobby Durham promotional photo from the early 1950s.  The interesting thing about the Bobby Durham photo is that the guitar shows a second incarnation during this time.

The Bobby Durham photo shows that the guitar at one point had a "curlicue"-shaped cutaway, a black single-ply pickguard, and a pickup with a raised pickup surround.  The overall look is significantly different than the guitar appears today.

When R.C. Allen obtained the guitar, he modified the cutaway and the pickguard and the pickup surround to more closely resemble the Merle Travis guitar.  This third and final incarnation of the guitar has many cosmetic changes that were not done until the 1960s or 1970s.

One detail that bears noting here is the pickup surround on the guitar.  This flat pickup surround with rounded edges was installed by R.C. Allen after the Bobby Durham photo.  The pickup surround that R.C. Allen put on the guitar was heavily rounded on the edges--a feature that none of the original Bigsby pickup surrounds ever had.  It is interesting to note that many of the efforts to duplicate Bigsby pickups have included this rounded-edge pickup cover detail, even though it is not an original Bigsby feature.  Original Bigsby pickup surrounds have squared edges, with just the slightest bit of sanding to make them smooth to the touch.

In addition, the headstock "ear" on the Grohs/Durham/Allen guitar has a notched design carved in it.  No other Bigsby instrument has this notch in the headstock.  It is unknown when it was done, but it is not an original Bigsby feature.

One thing is for sure--R.C. Allen has been the person most responsible for keeping the legacy of Paul Bigsby alive during the decades where no one cared about his significance.  We all owe R.C. Allen a debt of thanks for preserving Paul Bigsby's memory and showing this guitar to anyone who would listen.

Below: The only vintage photo of this guitar known to exist, child star Bobby Durham holds guitar #81848 in its second incarnation.  Note the original pickup surround, the original black single-ply pickguard, and the birdseyes and discolored bit of woodgrain near the end of the fretboard that identifies it as #81848.



Below: the George Grohs/Bobby Durham/R.C. Allen guitar in the case.  Note the difference in the case length between this guitar and the one made for Merle Travis.


Below: note the fully dotted "I" in the Bigsby logo, only found on the earliest instruments.  Also note that R.C. Allen has changed the original Bigsby tuners out for standard Fender style slotted post Kluson tuners.  Lastly, note the "notch" where the headstock's "ear" comes back in under the G in Bigsby.  This notch was added later by either Bobby Durham or R.C. Allen and is found on no other original Bigsby instruments.



















Below: R.C. Allen poses with Bigsby guitar #81848.

5. Butterball Paige / Thumbs Carlille / Kelso Herston Bigsby solidbody electric guitar #no serial number currently owned by Deke Dickerson

This guitar is significant for several reasons.  Firstly, it was the first electric guitar Bigsby made with the hollow-wings construction method.  Unlike the Merle Travis and George Grohs guitars, the Butterball guitar was essentially a thin hollowbody with inner rails underneath the pickups, bridge and tailpiece.  All Bigsby guitars after this would follow this construction method, leaving their reputation as "solidbody" instruments only partially accurate.

The Butterball guitar is also the first Bigsby guitar to have two pickups.  The Merle Travis and George Grohs guitars both had one pickup, and the two other oddball prototypes also contained only one pickup each.  It also appears to be the first instrument (along with the Jack Rivers prototype) to have individual polepieces instead of a blade magnet.  The pickups are quite unusual and from the photos appear to be blade pickup covers converted into individual polepiece pickups.

The most unusual feature on the Butterball guitar, however, is the pickup selector switch.  It is located on the bottom edge of the instrument, not on the face of the guitar.  This unusual feature probably seemed like a great idea at the time, preventing a guitarist from accidentally flipping the switch while on stage, but it also presented major problems ergonomically, should the guitarist ever want to sit down with the guitar on his knee.  This was the only instrument made with this bizarre feature.  You can see the switch tip on the bottom edge of the guitar in the photos below.

Tommy "Butterball" Paige was at the top of the country music world when he began playing lead guitar for Ernest Tubb and the Texas Troubadours in 1947.  Judging by Ernest Tubb's tour schedule, it is assumed that Paige ordered the guitar sometime in 1948 after seeing Merle Travis' instrument, and picked up the guitar in February 1949 when Tubb came to Los Angeles to record two songs ("Don't Rob Another Man's Castle" and "I'm Biting My Fingernails And Thinking Of You").

By the fall of 1949, "Butterball" Paige was out of the band, due to an incident involving "Little" Jimmy Dickens' wife accusing Paige of coming on to her, an incident disputed by Paige.  Paige stayed in Nashville long enough to record the excellent hillbilly boogie side "I'm Too Old To Boogie Anymore" for Bullet Records (hear this great disc here), then moved to Miami, Baltimore, and Raleigh, North Carolina, before settling back into the greater Baltimore-D.C. area, where he remained until his death in 1988 (unfortunately, according to Paige's widow, they had a house flood in the mid-1950s that destroyed all their photographs and memorabilia).

Somewhere in all the turmoil of leaving Ernest Tubb's band, the Bigsby guitar wound up in the possession of Thumbs Carlille, a virtuoso guitarist who played the guitar in a very unorthodox way, laid horizontal with his hands over the neck of the instrument, hence his nickname "Thumbs."

"Thumbs" Carlille was such an influential guitarist that he became one of Leo Fender's earliest and most ardent supporters (see Thumbs tearing it up on an early Stratocaster here).  Somewhere in the cracks before or during his Fender sponsorship, however, Thumbs had possession of Butterball Paige's Bigsby guitar.  There is one photo of Carlille from 1951, seen below, playing with "Little" Jimmy Dickens band, showing the guitar from the side view (the bottom edge switch is clearly visible, as is the discoloration on the back of the neck).  There is also an incredibly poor quality video (seen here) from 1956 where Carlille appears to be playing the Bigsby while wearing a dog suit.

Around 1952, when the Bigsby vibrato was first introduced, Thumbs installed an uber-rare "PATENT PENDG" Bigsby fixed-arm vibrato on the guitar (only a few of the Patent pending vibratos left Bigsby's shop before his patent was granted), and also replaced the original 1949 tuners (the early closed can Klusons that were problematic) with 1952-era Bigsby solid shaft Kluson tuners.  Thumbs also moved the Bigsby strap hook up to the headstock to facilitate his unusual playing style.

It is unknown when Thumbs got rid of the Bigsby guitar.  When Bud Isaacs returned from the military in the late 1950s, he asked Thumbs what happened to the Bigsby, and Thumbs told him (facetiously) that he had tossed it in the river in Germany.

Rumor has it that Nashville studio ace Kelso Herston owned the guitar after Thumbs.  Attempts to contact Mr. Herston have been unanswered thus far.

The guitar turned up in 2011 in Palmer, Alaska.  The gentleman who sold the guitar to me told a story that he was helping clean out his Grandma's attic, and the Butterball Paige guitar was up there, in very poor condition (replaced pickups, broken headstock, etc.).  His Grandmother told a story that back in the 1960s, or perhaps early 1970s, there was a party with a group of country western musicians at her house, who had a jam session and slept overnight.  The guitar player left the Bigsby guitar there, and never returned for it, and so it stayed in the woman's attic until her grandson cleared it out recently.

The Butterball Paige / Thumbs Carlille / Kelso Herston guitar is currently being restored to original condition.  The good news is that no holes were drilled, nothing was routed, and even the original finish is salvageable.  Stay tuned to this blog to see progress of the restoration on this most historic instrument.

Below: two shots of Paul Bigsby in his back yard, taken by Forrest White.  These shots clearly show the Butterball Paige guitar, despite the fact that the pickguard is blank in these shots, the birdseye maple pattern match the guitar perfectly.  It is the best educated guess that Bigsby finished the guitar and then inlaid the "Come In Butterball" on the pickguard after Tommy "Butterball" Paige paid for the guitar in full.




Below: three shots of the guitar as played by Tommy "Butterball" Paige during his tenure as lead guitarist for Ernest Tubb and the Texas Troubadours.  By the fall of 1949, Paige was out of the band.


Photo below courtesy Ann Thompson (thanks Scott B. Bomar): 


Below: Thumbs Carlille (right) poses with Don Davis.  Thumbs is holding the "Butterball" Paige guitar and more detail can be seen from the guitar's side.  Also note that by this point, the pickguard has been replaced with a standard black plastic Bigsby pickguard. (Photo courtesy Don Davis/Chris Lucker)


Below: Thumbs Carlille plays the Butterball Paige guitar in 1951 as part of "Little" Jimmy Dickens band, Bend, Oregon.  A pre-Bigsby Bud Isaacs plays a Gibson steel next to him, and the man playing the Fender Broadcaster is Dean Porter, who later worked for Gretsch guitars.  The date has been determined to be 1951 from the show posters on the wall behind the band. NOTE: the odd pickup switch on the bottom edge of the guitar is clearly visible.



Below: Thumbs Carlille (in dog suit) performs with the Butterball Paige Bigsby on the Ozark Jubilee TV show in 1956.  Although the quality is incredibly poor, you can make out the Bigsby headstock, and the unmistakable pickup switch selector on the bottom edge of the guitar.

Below: A photo of the Butterball Paige /Thumbs Carlille / Kelso Herston guitar as it was found in Palmer, Alaska in 2011.  More photos of this historic guitar will be posted during the restoration process.


6. Eschol Cosby Bigsby Tenor Guitar, Serial #4 

Currently in a private collection on the East Coast.

Eschol Cosby was a cowboy preacher who lead a musical group called "The Christian Cowboys."  He knew Paul Bigsby through church associations and may have attended the same church as Bigsby in Downey.  In 1949, Cosby had Paul Bigsby make him a tenor guitar, and in 1952, an electric mandolin.  Around that same time, Cosby purchased the Bigsby standard guitar from his Christian Cowboys bandmate and had Paul Bigsby make him an inlaid pickguard with his name in it.  Cosby is one of the few musicians who owned three Bigsby instruments.  His wife Joan also owned Paul Bigsby's acoustic bass.

The tenor guitar has a serial number of "4," which is interesting.  I believe that the serial number indicates it is the fourth standard instrument made (not including the two prototypes).  Everything else about the tenor guitar indicates a late 1948/early 1949 build--especially the wooden pickguard and the dotted "I" Bigsby logo on the headstock.

Recently the guitar was sold by the Cosby family to a collector on the East Coast, and an article on the tenor guitar was featured in Vintage Guitar magazine.


Below: vintage sheet music showing the tenor guitar and the mandolin.








7. Bigsby solidbody electric guitar #51649--the "catalog" guitar

also owned by "Freddie Hilst" with a new personalized guard added.

Currently in a private collection on the East Coast.




Below: Bigsby's original catalog from 1949, showing #51649 as his "catalog" example.  Note that in 1949 the price of a Bigsby was $450 for a two-pickup guitar, but after receiving too many orders to keep up with production, the price was soon raised to $600.

Below: Oddly enough, Bigsby was still using the picture of #51649 in his last catalog from 1963, even though no electric standard guitars had been made since 1956.  This is a better picture, though, and you can make out details like the decal on the headstock and birdseye patterns that match #51649, proving that #51649 was indeed the "catalog" guitar.



Below: the only other vintage photo of guitar #51649.  Here Jack Parsons poses with the instrument next to his friend Paul Bigsby and mandolin player Al Giddings.  It is unknown if Jack Parsons actually owned the guitar or just posed with it for this photo.


Below: the guitar as it exists today.


























































8. Grady Martin/"Billy Boy" Bigsby solidbody electric guitar #7149 

Currently in a private collection on the East Coast.

Grady Martin would eventually become one of the most-recorded Nashville studio musicians, but in the late 1940s and early 1950s, he was the lead guitarist in Red Foley's band.  Red Foley was one of country music's biggest stars of the day and hosted a popular segment on the Grand Ole Opry show.  Both Grady and Foley's steel guitarist Billy Robinson ordered Bigsby instruments in 1949.  Grady Martin's singleneck guitar would be used on hundreds of recordings between 1949 and 1952.  In 1952, Grady moved with Foley to Springfield, Missouri to form the house band for the Ozark Jubilee Radio/Television show.  Around that same time Martin received a Bigsby doubleneck guitar, and apparently traded in his original singleneck guitar, #7149.

There were several Bigsby guitars that were traded in and then resold by Paul Bigsby.  Because his waiting list was so long, people didn't mind taking a lightly-used instrument if it meant they could take delivery and avoid the wait.  Grady Martin's singleneck guitar was resold to an unknown performer who went by the name "Billy Boy," with an inlaid pickguard showcasing Billy Boy's name.  The "Billy Boy" guitar traveled between Colorado and Utah in recent decades and was sold to a private collector a few years ago.  

During the research of the Bigsby book, photos of the "Billy Boy" guitar were examined next to vintage photos of Grady Martin's singleneck, and the birdseye maple grain pattern matched exactly. Grady's guitar had been resold to Billy Boy, they were the same instrument.  Grady's original guitar had been found.

One interesting modification that was done after Grady Martin traded the guitar in was the installation of a new Bigsby vibrato.  Because the original neck angle was too shallow to accomodate the break-off angle from the bridge to the tailpiece, Bigsby submerged the vibrato into the face of the guitar, making the vibrato unit flush with the top of the guitar.  The same procedure was done on Billy Byrd's guitar.  Note that the vibrato is one of the earliest "PATENT PENDG" vibratos, only a few of which left Bigsby's hands in 1952-1953 before Bigsby obtained his design patent.

Below: Grady Martin's original promo photo with Bigsby #7149.


Below: An ad from "Tex Williams' Western Life" Magazine.  One can see how much Paul Bigsby valued this association--his instruments were being used on the GRAND OLE OPRY!  The Opry's name is placed in prominence, while Grady Martin and Billy Robinson's names are placed in small type.
Below: Martin in the studio with Bigsby #7149.


Below: Martin on stage at the Grand Ole Opry with Stringbean.




Below: photos of the guitar when it surfaced in Utah a few years ago.


Below: Note that #7149 is the first guitar with the "no dotted I" logo on the headstock.  The "I" in Bigsby has no dot.



9. Bigsby solidbody electric guitar #8749 currently owned by Dave Westerbeke

Not much is known about the history of this guitar.  The guitar was found belly side down in a Virginia barn in the 1990s.  The top had gotten wet and the entire instrument was painted black.  The guitar was found by Skip Henderson of City Lights/Outlaw Guitars in New Jersey.  An east coast luthier restored the instrument to the appearance you see below.  The original violin tailpiece was long gone, so the restoration luthier put an unusual early roller-bar B-7 Bigsby vibrato on, with fixed handle.  The pickguard was missing, so a wooden pickguard was recreated (it probably had a black plastic pickguard originally, as by this time in 1949 Bigsby had switched to black plastic).  The guitar was found with Fender Mustang tuners on it and period correct tuners were added.  Current owner Dave Westerbeke is responsible for much of the early Bigsby historical research, and was involved with the "All-Bigsby Band" at the 2008 Guitar Geek Festival, playing this guitar.  





Below: note unusual pink abalone inlay.  The only Bigsby guitar with this particular inlay material.

Below: Note that all pre-1952 instruments were constructed without vibratos (violin tailpiece).  This double-bar Bigsby vibrato was added during the restoration.  The ones with the violin tailpiece had a different neck angle, and this instrument has two pickups with the flat pickup surround--no risers.

Below: unusual cast strap hook, usually this particular strap hook is found on the back of the headstocks on the Bigsby acoustic guitar re-necks.  There is evidence this guitar had the bent-wire non-cast strap hooks on the tail end and also the side of the guitar, so this may not be original.




Below: Dave Westerbeke, standing behind the steel guitar, plays #8749 at the 2008 Guitar Geek Festival, as part of the "All-Bigsby Band."


10. Smokey Rogers/Hank Garland Bigsby solidbody electric guitar #92749 

Currently in a private collection on the East Coast.

Smokey Rogers was a Western Swing musician who first gained prominence as a member of Spade Cooley's band in the 1940s.  It was Spade who christened Eugene Rogers "Smokey." Later, Smokey and many other musicians left Cooley's band to follow lead singer Tex Williams in his new aggregation, The Western Caravan.  In 1950, Rogers bought the Bostonia Ballroom in El Cajon, California, east of San Diego.  Rogers led the house band at the Bostonia Ballroom for many years.

Smokey Rogers first appears with Bigsby guitar #92749 in a promotional photo for Tex Williams and his Western Caravan.  Later, he appeared in one of Bigsby's advertisements in "Tex Williams' Western Life" magazine.

Stage photos of Smokey Rogers during this time show him playing a tenor banjo.  There are no photographs of Smokey playing the Bigsby guitar other than the one Tex Williams photo shoot.

The next sighting of #92749 is several years later, in two different 1954 promotional shots showing legendary Nashville studio guitarist Hank Garland holding the instrument.  Garland apparently didn't have the guitar long, as he was never photographed holding it again.

The guitar eventually showed up at a vintage guitar show in 1990, where it was purchased by a collector from the East Coast.

Below: Bigsby ad in the May 1950 issue of "Tex Williams' Western Life" magazine.  You can tell a lot about what was going through Paul Bigsby's mind just by noting the wording of his advertising.  "Advanced Design Electric Standard Guitars"--that's what Paul Bigsby felt he was making in 1950, and was absolutely right. 

Smokey Rogers poses with Tex Williams and the Western Caravan, holding guitar #92749.  Note Earl "Joaquin" Murphy on the left with tripleneck Bigsby Steel Guitar.

Below: A few years later, Hank Garland took several promotional photos holding the Smokey Rogers guitar #92749.  Presumably, Smokey Rogers and Hank were friends, but no one knows the exact story of how Smokey's guitar wound up owned by Hank Garland, or where it went after Hank Garland posed with it for two promo photos around 1954.


Below: a photo of the Smokey Rogers/Hank Garland guitar after it turned up at a vintage guitar show in the 1980s.  Apparently the seller thought that the black single-ply plastic pickguard was unoriginal (even though we can see in the vintage photos that it was) and replaced it with a replica wooden pickguard.  In addition, the original knobs were replaced with Telecaster knobs, a move that undoubtedly would have displeased both Paul Bigsby and Leo Fender.



11.Smokey Stoltenberg Bigsby solidbody Tenor electric guitar #10149 

Currently owned by family members (Not for Sale, don't ask)

There are no vintage photos of Smokey Stoltenberg with his Bigsby tenor guitar.  The photo below shows Smokey with one of his earlier instruments:


Smokey was another musician that knew lots of great Western musicians, and undoubtedly his paths crossed with Merle Travis.  It is not known exactly how he came to order his Bigsby tenor guitar, but like most Bigsby owners he kept the instrument until his death.

The two most unusual aspects of this instrument (besides being a Tenor Guitar) are the two output jacks (it is not known if the guitar had two jacks when it was built) and the odd metal brace installed on the side of the guitar that the bottom two strings thread into.  

The brace definitely appears to be an add-on, as it covers up part of the serial number, and was presumably added to have a more secure string anchor than the wooden violin tailpiece.  Since Smokey is no longer with us, these two anomalies will remain a mystery.






























Below: Note two output jacks.  It is unknown if this was originally ordered or if the second jack was installed later.


12. Jimmy Bryant / Billy Byrd Bigsby solidbody electric guitar #10749 currently in a private collection on the East Coast.

The first double-cutaway Bigsby electric guitar has an interesting story behind it, detailed extensively in the Bigsby book.  The guitar has been seen in countless photos and album covers being held by Ernest Tubb's guitarist Billy Byrd, but as it turns out, the instrument was apparently originally made for Jimmy Bryant.

Jimmy Bryant, as one half of the dynamic instrumental duo Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant, was the Eddie Van Halen of the late 1940s.  He burst on the scene in Hollywood with the fastest pair of hands anyone had ever seen or heard.  After a short period of making a name for himself, Bryant was recruited by Tex Williams, Tennessee Ernie Ford and others to record with them.

Bryant's band mate Speedy West had one of the first Bigsby steel guitars, finished in February 1948.  At the time, Bryant was playing archtop electric guitars.  The exact story is not known, but what we do know is that a pickguard template for the Billy Byrd guitar surfaced with the name "Jimmy Bryant" written on it instead of Byrd's name, and when the upper pickguard of the Billy Byrd guitar was removed during research of the Bigsby book, the guitar showed signs of a previously inlaid name that had been removed and patched with a new piece of veneer, then covered up with a new pickguard.

Jimmy Bryant was known for his volatile nature, and it is assumed that some disagreement happened between Bryant and Paul Bigsby during the construction of Bryant's Bigsby guitar.  The guitar then showed up in the hands of Ernest Tubb guitarist Billy Byrd (who had replaced Butterball Paige) in late 1949 and was played by Byrd until the introduction in 1956 of his namesake guitar--designed with his friend Hank Garland--the Gibson "Byrdland" guitar.

Jimmy Bryant showed up in 1950 with one of the first Fender Broadcaster guitars, and was one of the biggest reasons for the public's acceptance of Leo Fender's new solidbody instruments.  Seeing Bryant blaze on the funny looking paddle of a guitar proved to many skeptics that the solidbody guitar had a future.  What few knew is that the legacy of Bryant's innovation was meant to be a Bigsby guitar, not a Fender.

While Billy Byrd was no technical wizard on the guitar, he was still the lead guitarist with one of the most popular country-western acts in the nation, and throngs of guitarists saw Byrd with the funny-looking double-cutaway Bigsby guitar.  Several of those who saw Byrd in action even ordered a double-cutaway Bigsby guitar themselves.

It's obvious by looking at the instrument that Paul Bigsby really wanted to make Jimmy Bryant the fanciest, flashiest Bigsby guitar yet.  The neck inlays, and the intricate cut-outs in the body with difficult curved binding, all show that Bigsby was really trying to out-do himself.  The fact that Jimmy Bryant never played the guitar and Billy Byrd wound up with the instrument instead is one of history's mysteries.

The Jimmy Bryant/Billy Byrd guitar originally had a violin tailpiece, but had a Bigsby vibrato installed around 1952.  Like the Grady Martin/Billy Boy guitar, the neck angle wasn't correct to install a Bigsby vibrato, so Paul Bigsby submerged the vibrato into the top of the guitar, making the vibrato flush with the top.  This was necessary in order to make the angle of the string break over the bridge adequate for the vibrato to work.

Billy Byrd sold the guitar in the late 1950s to a Tulsa guitarist named Dick Ganders.  The guitar surfaced in the 1990s and was sold into a private collection on the East Coast.

Below: Billy Byrd promotional shot, post-1952, with new "PATENT PENDG" Bigsby vibrato added.

Below: various shots of Billy Byrd in action with Ernest Tubb, playing #10749.



Below: Note that Billy Byrd's guitar originally had a violin tailpiece, as did all pre-1952 Bigsby guitars.


Below: The Texas Troubadours gather in a stairwell.  Photo courtesy Thomas Sims Archives.

Below: Color photos of the guitar taken in the 1990s before it was sold into a private collection.  Note: Billy Byrd's guitar was made in 1949, three years before the Bigsby Vibrato was invented.  The neck angle was wrong for a Bigsby to be installed on the guitar, so Bigsby's solution was to cut a "channel" into the body for the vibrato to fit, lowering the depth of the vibrato enough for the break-away angle off the bridge for a Bigsby vibrato to work properly.  The Byrd guitar, Grady martin's singleneck, and the Dale Granstrom Myrtlewood guitars all share this feature of a vibrato "sunk" into the top of the guitar to make the break-away angle work.






Below: Billy Byrd sold the guitar to a Tulsa-area guitarist named "Dick Ganders," who had this pickguard on the guitar for many years until it was sold (the original Billy Byrd pickguard was broken into many pieces during this time and later repaired when resold in the 1990s).  Pickguard below courtesy Larry Briggs.

13. Eschol Cosby Bigsby solidbody electric guitar #102649 currently owned by family members

When I tracked Eschol Cosby down in 1994, I went and visited him and his lovely wife Joan at their home in Pearce, Arizona.  Eschol had agreed to sell me his three Bigsby instruments over the phone, but when I got there, he had talked to his son and they decided to keep the instruments in the family.

Eschol told me that the Spanish Guitar #102649 was originally made for his guitar-playing bandmate (I failed to write down the guys name) in the Christian Cowboys band.  When the guitar player decided he didn't need the instrument any more, Eschol bought it from him and had Bigsby make a new personalized pickguard for the instrument.

This instrument is an interesting example of both old and new features on a Bigsby guitar.  By this time, late 1949, Bigsby had already moved on to a two-pickup design, but #102649 appears to have the same pickup and knob configuration as Merle Travis' original guitar.  There is one pickup in the treble position, three knobs (Rhythm, Lead [or "Take-Off"], and tone), and a selector switch to go back and forth between lead and rhythm.

Curiously, I remember that the guitar had the frets above the 15th fret removed, but I can't remember what reason Eschol gave me for taking them out.

Recently, the family allowed the guitar to be photographed for the Bigsby book, and the serial number was revealed to be #102649.

Below: Eschol and Joan Cosby with four Bigsby instruments: Eschol's mandolin, standard guitar and tenor guitar; and Joan's bass, which she bought from Paul Bigsby.

Below: sheet music from the 1970s, showing the Cosby family upgrading to a Fender electric bass and an Ovation acoustic guitar, but holding on to the three Bigsby instruments.


Below: Pictures from my 1994 visit to Eschol Cosby's house in Arizona.  The first picture is Eschol in his favorite chair, the second and third are pictures of the author (when I was young and skinny) holding the guitar, and my bandmate Lance Soliday holding Eschol's Bigsby mandolin.

Eschol Cosby and his family put out this gospel album in the 1970's with the Bigsby guitar and tenor guitar plainly visible.  Eschol's wife, Joan, was a very good bass player, and in fact even owned Paul Bigsby's Kay upright bass.




14. Kent Kistler Bigsby solidbody electric guitar #62950 

Currently in a private collection on the East Coast.

Kent Kistler was a guitarist from Alta Vista, Kansas, who was active in the Kansas Country Music scene in the 1950s and 1960s.  He ordered his guitar after seeing Butterball Paige come through Kansas with Ernest Tubb in 1949.  Kistler ordered a guitar like Butterball's and received the last single-cutaway Bigsby guitar in the Merle Travis/Butterball Paige body style.

Originally the instrument had a violin tailpiece, and when Bigsby vibratos came out in 1952, Bigsby told Kistler not to do the installation himself, but he did it anyway.  Kistler did what he admits was "a very bad job" and had a couple different vibratos on the guitar over the years.  The B-5 you see on the guitar below is not original.  In addition Kistler drilled a 7th tuner hole in the headstock (seen below, it has been repaired) and also replaced the original pickguard.

There are no known vintage photographs of Kistler with the guitar.  He remembers taking a promo photo at a professional studio on Paul Bigsby's request (Bigsby asked for every artist to send him a photo of him with their Bigsby guitar).  According to Kent Kistler, he lost all the vintage photographs of his guitar when he went through a bitter divorce.  The photos were in a storage unit that his ex-wife let go unpaid.  Somewhere in somebody's archives of Kansas country music shows in the 1950s there should be pictures of Kent Kistler with this guitar, as he backed many of the greats on package shows put together by "Hap" Peebles.

When Kent Kistler sold his instrument recently, he was the last original owner of a Bigsby electric standard guitar.

Below: shots of Kent Kistler's guitar, taken for the Bigsby book in 2008.


Below: Note the I in Bigsby has no dot.  Also note the filled in 7th tuner hole.  The original closed can Klusons have been replaced with Fender-style Kluson tuners.








Below: Evidence of the removal of the violin tailpiece.  B-5 vibrato is not original.



The existing pickguard is a replacement made of white plexiglass.  The original was black.  Note the screw hole in the cutaway that held the original black pickguard.  Also note the pickguard has replacement phillips head screws (Bigsby always used straight slot screws, not phillips head).












Kent Kistler's guitar was finished on June 29th, 1950.  It is the only known Bigsby electric spanish guitar made in the year 1950.







Below: you can see one of Kistler's efforts to make the vibrato work on his guitar, a large plate that held a chopped up Bigsby B-3 vibrato.








Above: Kent Kistler in 2008 with his original guitar.


15. Merle Travis/Jack Parsons Bigsby hollowbody electric guitar #102951 

Currently owned by McKenzie River Music, Eugene, OR (not for sale--private collection) (R.I.P. Bob November--Thanks for letting me photograph the guitar, Bob)

This instrument was originally made for Merle Travis.  It is unknown why Travis ordered the guitar, but it is assumed that the one-pickup solidbody instrument did not suit his needs.

The new "hollowbody" instrument apparently didn't suit his needs either, because less than a year later, Merle was using his Gibson Super 400 exclusively.

See Merle play Bigsby #102951 here, in a cool film video for "Too Much Sugar For A Dime."

Below, two stills from the Merle Travis soundie:




The instrument is made from the back and sides of a Kay archtop acoustic guitar, probably a late 1940s top of the line blonde maple instrument (before Kay president Hank Kuhrmeyer retired and sold Kay in 1955, their instruments were a much higher grade of instrument).  Bigsby took a section of the lower bout and turned it around into a cutaway.  Then he put a flat birdseye maple top on the guitar (note: FLAT!) and installed a Bigsby neck.  The guitar is not really a "hollowbody" as it has the neck-thru going all the way to the butt end of the guitar.  The guitar is very heavy--I was not privy to taking this instrument totally apart but it is my opinion there is something else going on inside the body to prevent feedback.

Jack Parsons was a friend of Paul Bigsby's and another aspiring guitarist in Los Angeles in the late 1940s/early 1950s.   He was pictured in Bigsby's band around 1949 holding instrument #51649 (see above).  It is unknown if Jack Parsons actually owned the guitar, or just held it in the photo.

At some point after Merle Travis began using his Gibson Super 400 in 1952, Bigsby sold this guitar #102951 to Jack Parsons, who had his name inlaid on the upper bout of the body.  Parsons had the guitar until he reached old age.  At some point he installed a Bigsby B-7 vibrato on the top.  He also apparently had a jackplate installed on the side of the guitar.  It is unknown if there was a black jackplate originally or if there was just a jack drilled in the side of the guitar that got broken at some point.  Other than the vibrato and jackplate, #102951 still remains in remarkably original condition.

Below: Jack Parsons in all his glory.  This shot was taken at the same time as the group photo below it, presumably shortly after Jack Parsons got the guitar.  Note the original violin tailpiece.
Below: an amazing group shot featuring Paul Bigsby (L) on upright bass, Bob Meadows playing Bigsby steel guitar, Jack Parsons on Bigsby electric guitar #102951, "Don" on drums, and Al Giddings on Bigsby electric mandolin.

Below: Bigsby electric guitar #102951 as it exists today.









Note: No dot in the "I" in Bigsby.  Guitars made between 1949-1952 have no dot on the I.





Note: Third type of strap hook.  This one appears to be a stock hardware store item, but theoretically could have been cast by Bigsby.  This same strap hook appears on the back of the headstock on many Bigsby acoustic guitar re-necks, and a few other electric guitars and mandolins.




The Bigsby was added later with a clean removal of the violin tailpiece.  The Bigsby B7 model vibrato, as seen here, appeared first on Gibson Les Pauls around 1953 or 1954, with a fixed handle.  The swing-a-way arm first appeared in 1956, with the cast aluminum "Duane Eddy" arm.  The flat stamped handle as seen here first appeared in 1957 or 1958.





Note: White Knobs, only seen on a couple of Bigsby instruments.











Note the neck-through construction continuing through the "hollow body" of the Kay archtop body--it's a solidbody in disguise!


The original serial number/date, #102951, is concealed under the Bigsby vibrato that was added later.  Remember, this guitar originally had a violin tailpiece.



Note: Interesting jackplate.  It's different than any other Bigsby jackplate I've ever seen, and the phillips head screws would indicate a later date of installation, so it's probably not a Bigsby jackplate.  The material is also white/black/white multi-ply and there are no other Bigsby instruments to my knowledge that use plastic material other than one-ply black or white.












Note original "closed can" Kluson tuners.  The original Klusons made from 1948 to 1951 did not let the tuning shaft extend through the "can" of the back of the tuner.  These early Kluson tuners were very temperamental and often failed, both in the key breaking (see the high "E" tuner key above) and the gears stripping inside the tuner can.  Many owners replaced their original Klusons on their Bigsbys.
















Below: the original case, with personalization.  Can anyone answer me--is this a stock Kay archtop case from the late 1940s/early 1950s?





16. Dale & Harry Granstrom myrtlewood Bigsby solidbody electric guitar #no serial number late 1951 

Currently owned by Deke Dickerson

This is a very interesting aside to the Bigsby saga, and the only known case of Paul Bigsby helping someone else make a guitar.

Dale & Harry Granstrom were two brothers based out of North Bend, Oregon in the late 1940s.  The brothers played in a western band and Dale Granstrom ordered a Bigsby steel guitar from Paul Bigsby in 1949.  After seeing some of Paul Bigsby's electric spanish guitars on tour through their area, the Granstrom brothers approached Paul Bigsby about helping them build two guitars out of myrtlewood.

Myrtlewood is a dark, figured wood that only grows in two places on earth--the Holy Land of Israel and a sliver of the West Coast in America that includes the Northernmost part of California and the coastline of Oregon.  Dale & Harry Granstrom were woodworkers in a myrtlewood factory that made souvenirs out of myrtlewood, and they wanted to make a pair of electric guitars from myrtlewood.

Paul Bigsby sent the brothers a headstock template that was elongated to fit the Epiphone "E" tuners the brothers wished to use.  The brothers had a body designed based on an enlarged Fender Broadcaster body shape.  He gave them instructions over the phone on how to construct the body and neck.  When the body and necks were complete, the instruments were sent to Bigsby, who put on Bigsby fingerboards, Bigsby pickups, Bigsby pickguards, Bigsby wiring harnesses and Bigsby violin tailpieces.  The instruments were finished in late 1951.

The original headstocks were adorned with Bigsby decals.  These same decals can be seen on the Freddie Hilst guitar, the Hank Penny acoustic guitar, and some Bigsby steels, used instead of inlay.  The Granstrom guitars also had a decal that said "Approved By Bigsby."

Dale and Harry Granstrom would later go on to make a myrtlewood Bigsby-styled 5-string electric bass in 1954, and a myrtlewood D-10 Bigsby-styled pedal steel in the early 1960s.  All but one of the myrtlewood guitars are now lost and missing in action.

For Dale's primary myrtlewood guitar, he phoned Paul Bigsby around 1957-1958 to ask about the "new" pickups (humbucking pickups) that were out and whether or not Bigsby was going to make them.  Bigsby put Granstrom in touch with Ray Butts, who was making replacement humbucking pickups for Bigsbys on an extremely limited basis.  The pickups were $100 each ($700 in today's money) and Dale Granstrom could only afford one, which he put in the rhythm position.  The Bigsby humbucking pickup made by Ray Butts is very similar to the earliest Gretsch FilterTron pickups, which Butts also designed.

Dale Granstrom kept evolving the guitar through the years and eventually put a Bigsby vibrato on the guitar, replaced the pickguard that originally held the volume and tone knobs, and repositioned the volume and tone knobs to his liking.  He refinished the guitar and installed a new headstock veneer so that standard tuners could be used.

It is my feeling that the Dale & Harry Granstrom myrtlewood instruments should be included on this list.  These unique instruments cannot be called true "Bigsby guitars," and Dale Granstrom (Harry died in the late 1960s) would say the same thing.  However, they are very significant in the history of Bigsby instruments, and are so well made that one noted Bigsby expert declared upon seeing the myrtlewood guitar, "this instrument looks like Bigsby's work to me--it's incredibly well done."  It is for their fine quality and Bigsby involvement (and the fact that in the early 1950s, they DID sport the Bigsby name on their headstocks) that I have included them here in this list of other Bigsby instruments.

Below: First band photo with myrtlewood guitars.  Note Bigsby decals on headstocks.  (Also, for those with eagle eyes, note that Dale's steel guitar also has a Bigsby decal on it, instead of an inlaid Bigsby logo).  Note that the guitars originally used Epiphone archtop "E" tuners and had violin-style tailpieces.  Photo courtesy Dale Granstrom.
Below: A press clipping from January 1952 talking about the newly-completed instruments made by the Granstrom brothers.  Courtesy Dale Granstrom.


Below: A few years later, several changes have already been made on the myrtlewood guitars, including added vibratos and extra knobs on Dale's guitar.  This shot is from around 1954-1955, when the brothers made a third instrument, a 5-string electric bass with a Bigsby fingerboard, Bigsby decal on headstock, and a Kay blade pickup.  Photo courtesy Dale Granstrom.


Below: a closeup of Dale's guitar and the myrtlewood electric bass.  Note that by the mid-1950's Dale has already installed another headstock cap and Kluson tuners to replace the original Epiphone "E" tuners--and the original Bigsby decal was long gone.  Photo courtesy Dale Granstrom.


Below: a vintage postcard showing Myrtle trees in Oregon.


Below: the Number 1 myrtlewood Bigsby guitar as it exists today.  Some things that I have done to restore this guitar to a more original state: original 1951 era Bigsby-style (closed post) Klusons, 1956-era Duane Eddy Bigsby vibrato arm, installed some original 1950s radio knobs, and replaced the original headstock decal according to photos and what Dale described as the original "Approved By Bigsby" on the headstock.
Below: Nice detail of the back showing the incredible grain of the myrtlewood.


Below: several shots of the Ray Butts humbucking pickup and the original Bigsby single-coil pickup in the myrtlewood guitar.












Below: Dale Granstrom, a man who is a real inspiration to me.  Not only is he a fantastic pedal steel guitar player, he is an incredible craftsman and one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet.  He and his wife Betty are just the best.  Thank you, Dale.



17. Dale & Harry Granstrom myrtlewood Bigsby solidbody electric guitar #no serial number late 1951 

Current whereabouts unknown

See photos and description above.  This guitar was also made in 1951 by Dale & Harry Granstrom from myrtlewood.  it has a Bigsby fretboard, Bigsby pickguard, Bigsby pickups and wiring harness, and originally had a Bigsby decal on the headstock.  The last photo of the guitar shows it also had an added fixed-arm Bigsby B-3 vibrato.

Dale sold the instrument in the late 1950s to raise money for other projects.  The last bit of information he heard about the guitar was that it was in Michigan.  Currently it remains "whereabouts unknown."




18. Grady Martin doubleneck Bigsby solidbody electric guitar #10152 

Currently in a private collection on the East Coast.

Grady Martin was riding the top of the professional country music world, playing lead guitar for Red Foley, when he ordered singleneck Bigsby #7149 in 1949.  A couple years later, Grady approached Paul Bigsby with the idea of building a doubleneck instrument, with a 6-string guitar on the bottom neck and a 5-string mandolin on the top neck.  The body shape was apparently Grady Martin's own design.

Grady Martin's doubleneck #10152 is the first Bigsby instrument made with a Bigsby vibrato as a stock unit (Merle Travis' Gibson Super 400 was the first instrument to receive a Bigsby vibrato, and the first photos showing Merle with the newly-invented vibrato date from August 1952).  The neck angle was also changed as a result, to make the vibrato work correctly.  Thus earlier instruments have a decidedly "flat" feel, much like a Gibson ES-335, while all the instruments made with a Bigsby vibrato from #10152 afterwards have a different feel, with higher pickups and bridge due to the increased neck angle to make the strings pull down from the bridge at the proper angle for the vibrato.  Lastly, Grady Martin's doubleneck was the first Bigsby instrument with an adjustable truss rod.  The truss rod cover on the headstock was a small single-ply black recreation of the Bigsby headstock shape.

Grady used the guitar exclusively for 4-5 years, then appeared to abandon the Bigsby doubleneck around 1957 or 1958, probably for the same reason that many others were leaving their Bigsbys behind--the new humbucking pickups introduced by Gibson and Gretsch were fast becoming standard equipment, especially in the studio realm where Grady ruled the roost in Nashville.  Grady switched to Gibson and Epiphone instruments, but kept the Bigsby doubleneck in his collection until the 1990s, when he sold the instrument, through George Gruhn, to collector Scott Chinery.  Chinery made the Grady Martin doubleneck a centerpiece of his massive collection, until he died in 2000.  The guitar was then sold again and remains in a private collection on the East Coast.

Watch a youtube video of Grady speaking and showing the doubleneck here.  Watch a youtube video of Grady playing the doublenck here.



Below: Promo photo of Grady Martin shortly after receiving his Bigsby doubleneck guitar #10152.  Note early 1950s Magnatone amp at his feet.  This combination of Grady's Bigsby guitar and Magnatone amp was featured on hundreds, if not thousands, of country and rockabilly recordings made in Nashville in the 1950s.

Below: a rarely seen outtake from the same photo session.

Below: Grady Martin with his Bigsby doubleneck, with Red Foley at the Ozark Jubilee, Springfield, Missouri.



Below: the only known color photo of Grady Martin with his Bigsby doubleneck.  Taken at a Red Foley show in San Diego, CA in 1952.  The photo was taken by Scotty Broyles, who remembers his camera screwed up and he got the double exposure seen here.  Photo copyright Scotty Broyles/Deke Dickerson photo archive.


Below: a Grady Martin EP cover from the 1950s, showing the Bigsby doubleneck.


Below: an Australian EP cover featuring the same promo shot.




19. Hezzy Hall Bigsby solidbody electric guitar #11553 

Currently owned by the Experience Music Project (EMP) Museum, Seattle, WA.

Paul Bigsby made two electric standard guitars in 1953, both within one month of each other.   The two guitars bear remarkable similarity in detail, save for the fact that #11553 (Hezzy Hall) was a double-cutaway, and #21553 (Keith Holter) was a single cutaway.

Both guitars had block inlay on the necks, unusual for Bigsby guitars.  Both had the new "Patent Pendg" vibratos on them, the first (and extremely rare) variant of the Bigsby fixed-arm vibrato.  Perhaps most unusually, both instruments had filister-head slot screws for pickup polepieces, instead of the standard Allen-head screws used on all the other Bigsby instruments.

The Hezzy Hall guitar has black and white laminated pickguards, which were only found on a few select instruments.  The other Bigsby guitars that share this similarity are the Grady Martin #7149 that had the original single-ply pickguard redone with two-ply black and white material for it's second owner, "Billy Boy," and the Jim Webb guitar, #8254.

Since the guitars before and after the Hezzy Hall had single-ply black pickguards, evidence points to the Hezzy Hall pickguard being the 2nd pickguard on the instrument.  Sometimes Bigsby would re-sell guitars, since he had such a long waiting list, and it's possible that the Hezzy Hall guitar was finished in 1953 but then resold later to Hezzy Hall as the second owner.

Hezzy Hall was a bandleader who worked at a club in Phoenix, Arizona, called 'Harry's Capri Club' for over 30 years.  He died in 1982, and little information is known about him.

We as researchers have no clue about Hezzy Hall, or the elusive "Billy Boy," as to when their two-ply black and white pickguards were made.  The important thing to note is that the two-ply guards on the Hezzy Hall guitar don't match the instruments made before and after, so it's likely that his was a later replacement.  

The Hezzy Hall instrument turned up in a trailer park in Arizona in the late 1990s.  Through a dealer, the EMP Museum in Seattle wound up with the guitar and they currently have it on display.





Below, a photo of Hezzy Hall with "Little" Jimmy Dickens.


A new picture of Hezzy Hall surfaces!  This photo is courtesy of Joe Vallee, who found it at the Roberto-Venn School of Lutherie in Phoenix.  The guitar appears to be a Mosrite (or possibly Carvin) hollow body with a custom made Venn neck marked "Hezz."  Note Echo-plex and Standel cabinet behind him--Hezzy was definitely a guitar "geek" of the old school!



20. Keith Holter Bigsby solidbody electric guitar #21553 

Currently in a private collection on the East Coast.

Keith Holter was the hotshot Country and Western Swing guitarist in Longview, Washington, in the 1950s (and still is to this day).  Despite many efforts by various singers to take him on the road, Holter has remained in Longview for his entire career.

When the Red Foley show came through town in 1951, with Grady Martin playing his singleneck Bigsby guitar (#7149), Holter examined the guitar after the show and decided to order one just like it.  Decades later, Holter would corral Grady Martin after a Willie Nelson concert to tell him that Martin "cost him $550 in the early 1950s," remarking on the high price of a Bigsby guitar when they were new.  Holter worked in a sawmill for $1 an hour at the time, so the Bigsby guitar was a considerable investment.

Holter visited Paul Bigsby on a few occasions, and remembers an interesting anecdote about a Bigsby amplifier that never came to be.  Ray Massie, builder of the Massie amplifier and an early Leo Fender associate, had built a prototype Bigsby amplifier, inside an exquisite birdseye maple speaker cabinet with curved sides.  Holter was visiting Bigsby when they tried out the prototype amplifier, which caught on fire inside Bigsby's shop.  Bigsby remarked that he was done fooling with the idea of an amplifier and never pursued the concept again.

Holter is an impressive player and continues to play around Longview and at Western Swing events in Washington and Oregon.  He sold the guitar a couple years ago, but continues to play a replica guitar that his friend Chuck made.  The replica has an interesting history--Chuck began work on his copy in 1969, making it the earliest known Bigsby replica, even though the instrument was not finished for another two decades.

Holter's guitar, #21553, is an interesting and unique Bigsby electric guitar.  The armrest was designed by Holter himself and sent to Paul Bigsby to make after the guitar was originally completed.  Note in the vintage photo below, the armest is not yet on the guitar.  Note in the photos that the armest is affixed with phillips head screws, while all the other screws on the guitar are straight slot screws.  In addition, this guitar and the Hezzy Hall guitar are the only two guitars with filister head screws for polepieces on the pickups, as opposed to Allen head screws.  The Holter and Hezzy Hall guitars are also the only two guitars with block inlays on the neck.  Holter's guitar is also the second guitar outfitted with a Bigsby vibrato as stock equipment, and bears the rare "PATENT PENDG" vibrato, of which there were only a few made before Bigsby received his Patent on the design.































Below: Keith Holter and Bigsby guitar, posing beneath vintage photo of Keith Holter and Bigsby guitar.



21. Jim Webb Bigsby solidbody electric guitar #8254 

Currently owned by ESP Guitars, Tokyo, Japan.

Jim Webb was a guitarist based out of the Tracy, California area in the 1950s.  He was a friend and associate of Smokey Stoltenberg, but other than that, no information is known about the man (and no, it's not the famous songwriter Jimmy Webb).  After Webb's death, the guitar was sold and Dave Westerbeke owned it for a time.  The guitar was purchased by the owner of ESP guitars and brought to Japan, where it was on display at the ESP museum for a time in Tokyo.

There are some interesting details that can be seen in the photographs.  The "playing card suits" inlaid into the fretboard appear to be the only other Bigsby electric guitar with this feature after the Merle Travis guitar, and ditto for the armrest.

There are no vintage photographs known of Jim Webb.  If anybody has any more information or photos on Jim Webb, email me here.











22. Dale & Harry Granstrom myrtlewood Bigsby solidbody electric 5-string bass #no serial number 1954 

Current whereabouts unknown

This is an interesting instrument that only exists in photographs.  Three years after making their myrtlewood guitars, Dale and Harry Granstrom decided to try their hand at making a Bigsby-style electric bass.  The Fender Precision bass had been out for a couple years, so the concept was not exactly ground-breaking, but what the Granstroms decided to make certainly was: a five-string electric short scale bass, with a Kay blade pickup.

The only actual Bigsby part of this instrument was the fingerboard, but again the Granstroms put a Bigsby-style headstock on the bass, and after it was completed Paul Bigsby sent up a decal for them to put on the headstock.

The instrument "sounded good, but didn't intonate well," according to Dale Granstrom, and after a couple years the instrument was retired.  Chuck Skog was the group's bass player, and took the bass with him, but according to his son did not have the bass when he died.

After writing a 'Vintage Guitar' article on the myrtlewood instruments, an email came in to this author purporting to have seen the Granstrom myrtlewood Bigsby bass being used in the prison band at the State Prison in Springfield, Oregon, in the 1960s.  Currently, it's whereabouts are unknown.

Below: Chuck Skog with the Granstrom myrtlewood Bigsby 5-string bass.  Photo courtesy Dale Granstrom.

Below: In this photo you can clearly see the Kay blade pickup that the Granstroms used for the 5-string bass, as well as the elaborately shaped myrtlewood armrest and tailpiece.  Photo courtesy Dale Granstrom.


Below: The back of the bass shows the bizarre means that the Granstroms used to make the 5 tuners work, as well as the body-through string anchors.  Photo courtesy Dale Granstrom.

Below: this photo shows that the 5-string bass did indeed have a Bigsby decal on it at one time.  Photo courtesy Dale Granstrom.



23. Jodie Pilliod Bigsby solidbody electric guitar #2_3156 

Currently owned by Deke Dickerson

Jodie Pilliod was the local hot-shot Western Swing guitarist in Lubbock, Texas, in the 1950s and 1960s.  He worked for the city of Lubbock during the day, and played in the honky-tonks at night.  Because he was single and had no children, he had a lot of disposable income, and spent his money on the finest equipment he could buy.

Various photos from the 1930s through the 1960s show Jodie with National Resonator guitars, Gibson electric archtops, and an early Fender blackguard Telecaster.  Jodie ordered a Bigsby electric guitar in 1954, and the guitar was finished in early 1956.  Continuing his manner of using a guitar for a couple of years and then buying a new one, Jodie bought a brand new Gretsch Country Gentleman in 1958, a guitar he declared to be his favorite guitar.  Jodie used the Country Gentleman for the rest of his career, keeping the Bigsby under the bed for occasional jams and picking parties.

The Jodie Pilliod Bigsby guitar is unique in several ways.  It is a double-cutaway instrument in the manner of the Billy Byrd guitar, but has a different neck/body joint and a different lower cutaway.  The reason for this lies with Jodie's one request to Paul Bigsby--he played a lot in the upper registers, so he wanted an extra fret and upper fretboard access.

The rear view of the Pilliod guitar shows a highly unique body-neck joint unlike any other Bigsby guitar.  Although it looks odd, when one places your hand on the neck to play in the upper registers, it is obvious that Bigsby spent a considerable amount of time creating an extremely comfortable and ergonomic neck-body "fade" that fit the left hand perfectly.

The Jodie Pilliod guitar has the pickups out of phase in the middle position.  No solder joints have ever been changed.  There is another set of pickups, owned by Keith Holter, that were also out of phase.  No one knows for sure, but it appears as though that may have been done on purpose.  Most certainly Bigsby's pickup designs were so advanced that he would have understood the principle of phase.

The serial number for the Pilliod guitar is quite unusual.  Jodie was unable to remember exactly why, but it is assumed that Bigsby must have finished two instruments, presumably one steel guitar and this standard guitar, on the same day, March 1st, 1956.  The serial number #2_3156 seems to indicate this, but it is the only known example of a "2_" used in a Bigsby serial number.

The Jodie Pilliod guitar also has a canvas zippered cover for the case (which is an unusual dark maroon color, instead of the usual black).  It is unknown if that canvas case cover was an original accessory or if it was something Jodie had made after the fact.  Jodie was a highly meticulous person and kept all of his clothes, automobiles, record albums and guitars in mint condition, and this guitar is no exception.  It is without a doubt the cleanest, mintiest, most unmolested Bigsby guitar known to exist.

Below: Jodie Pilliod with Fender Telecaster, third from left.  The group was known as the Cirlcle 13 Wranglers, and performed on KDUB-TV in Lubbock, Texas, early 1950s.

Below: Jodie (R) and a friend do some pickin' at home in the 1970s, with the Bigsby and Jodie's favorite guitar, his 1958 Gretsch Country Gentleman.

Below: when the cache of pickguard and body templates surfaced, the template for the Jodie Pilliod guitar was in the bunch.  Here is a photo of the original template on top of the guitar.


Below: shots of the unusual canvas case cover, dark maroon case and interior.




























Below: The author and Jodie Pilliod, Dallas, TX, 2008, not long before Jodie's death.




24. George Johnston doubleneck Bigsby solidbody electric guitar--1956? 

Current whereabouts unknown

George Johnston came from Georgia, according to his band mate, Frank Conte.  George and his Bigsby doubleneck guitar relocated to Monterey, California in the late 1960s, where he joined the popular lounge band 'The Conte Four.'  Johnston played in the Conte Four until his death in the 1990s.

George Johnston told his bandmates about how rare his guitar was, and mentioned that it was one of only three Bigsby doublenecks ever made.  He also told everybody that he was going to give the guitar to the Smithsonian after his death.  After much effort, I tracked down the instrument curator for the Smithsonian, who told me that no such instrument had ever been donated to them.

It is believed that the guitar is a 1956 instrument based on the fact that it has the 1956-specific "Duane Eddy" swing-a-way arm on the Vibrato, and the fact that 1956 was a year where Bigsby seemed to be clearing his books of Spanish guitar orders, and another similar Bigsby doubleneck was made in 1956 for J.B. Thomas.  Lastly the guitar has the cast aluminum Bigsby volume and tone knobs, which only appear on the last batch of Bigsby spanish guitars made in 1956.

The first photo of the Conte Four, from the late 1960s, shows that George had the original Bigsby pickups in his guitar.  Subsequent photos show the instrument with newly-installed Gibson humbucking pickups.

This guitar appeared in the original Tom Wheeler "American Guitars" book and confused people for years, who thought that Bigsby must have installed Gibson humbuckers in some of his guitars.

Currently the guitar is "whereabouts unknown," though Frank Conte seems to think that the guitar is probably in the possession of one of George Johnston's children, who are also whereabouts unknown. Anybody with information on George Johnston or his kids, email the author here.

Below: The photo from the Tom Wheeler 'American Guitars' book.


Below: The first photo of the Conte Four, late 1960s.  It's difficult to see, but George Johnston's guitar still has the original Bigsby pickups here.  Photo courtesy Frank Conte.

Below: A few photos of the Conte Four in the 1970s and 1980s, with George Johnston and his Bigsby doubleneck with newly installed Gibson humbucking pickups.



Below: George Johnston rocks the lederhosen, providing German guitar geeks with a tangible connection to the Bigsby legacy.

Below: album cover photo from 1980.  The Conte Four recorded a couple different albums, but this is the only one I've found with the Bigsby guitar pictured on the cover.



25. J.B. Thomas doubleneck Bigsby solidbody electric guitar #111556, on display at the NAMM "Museum Of Making Music," Carlsbad, CA.

Currently owned by family members (not for sale--don't ask).

The "Thomas Indian Family" band was a highly successful Native American Gospel Touring group in the 1950s and 1960s.  The group made enough money to afford a tour bus, a real Stradivarius violin, and the finest in brand new electric instruments--two different Bigsby pedal steel guitars for the virtuoso of the group, Chief Mack Thomas, and a Bigsby doubleneck guitar for his father, Johnson B. Thomas.

The J.B. Thomas doubleneck was finished in November, 1956, making it the second-to-last Bigsby spanish guitar made.  It had a standard 6-string guitar on the bottom neck and a 5-string mandolin originally on the top neck.  Shortly after its completion, J.B. Thomas modified the 5-string mandolin into a 10-string mandolin, and added a Stratocaster jack plate on the top of the guitar.

Following Thomas' death, the guitar was passed down to his grandson, who placed the guitar on display at the NAMM "Museum Of Making Music" in Carlsbad, California.  The guitar can be seen there currently as part of their permanent collection.

In 2008, Thomas' grandson approved for the guitar to leave the museum so that it could be used in the "All-Bigsby Band," at the Guitar Geek Festival in Anaheim, CA.  This author played the guitar during that show.  Even though the guitar had 30-year old strings and only one pickup could be activated in the dirty pickup switch, it produced music for the first time since Johnson Thomas' death.

Below: The Thomas Indian Family album cover, featuring Chief Mack Thomas on Bigsby steel guitar and his father, Johnson B. Thomas with his Bigsby doubleneck guitar.




Below: The author playing the J.B. Thomas guitar as part of the "All-Bigsby Band," at the 2008 Guitar Geek Festival in Anaheim, CA.



26. Luke Charpentier Bigsby solidbody electric guitar #121556 

Currently owned by family member.

Luke "Smokey" Charpentier was the hot-shot local country and cajun music guitarist in his hometown of Lafayette, Louisiana.  He had one of the first Stratocasters circa 1954, and received what is believed to be the last Bigsby electric standard guitar in December, 1956.

The "Luke" guitar is interesting, it has a deep cutaway like the Jodie Pilliod guitar, and as seen in its current condition (revealing that the neck is pulling away from the body, a problem more than likely caused by heavy strings and Louisiana heat and humidity), reveals that it has a standard neck-body joint rather than the neck-through construction of earlier Bigsby guitars.

A few years ago, the "Luke" guitar was offered on eBay by his son, with a $330,000 reserve.  It is unsure where his son got this figure, but there were no takers.

Below: the only known vintage photograph of Luke Charpentier with his Bigsby electric guitar.

Below: photos from the eBay auction when the Luke guitar was unsuccessfully offered for sale.



Unknown guitars with existing pickguard templates:

"Doug Beckett"--appears to be a Bigsby solidbody electric guitar
Pickguard template courtesy Dave Westerbeke

I have no information on Doug Beckett.  A google search turns up a Doug Beckett who played in the Canadian country group "The Fraser River Boys" in the early 1950s with Steel Guitar hall of famer Len Ryder.  Communication with Len Ryder revealed no memory of a Bigsby guitar, or any memory of what happened to Doug Beckett, if it was the same Mr. Beckett.  If there is one more Bigsby guitar out there waiting to be found, I believe it is the Doug Beckett guitar.






RE-NECKED GUITARS:  Bigsby Necks put on other brand acoustic guitars:



Martin D-28 with Bigsby neck, installed circa 1949 for Merle Travis.

Currently in a private collection on the East Coast.

Merle Travis was the first artist to have a Bigsby re-necked acoustic guitar.  Travis had Bigsby put a new neck on his Martin D-28, and the results were so good that many other famous entertainers had Bigsby put new necks on their guitars as well.  Hank Thompson's quote is "It fretted true," which is a colorful way of saying that Bigsby was extremely accurate in his fret spacing.  The intonation, action, and playability on a Bigsby re-necked guitar was the best you could get, and those who have played a real Bigsby re-necked acoustic agree that there is a bit of "magic" in these guitars.

Travis' Bigsby neck conversion was likely done in 1949, since the headstock has the "no dotted I" logo, indicating a 1949-1952 build.  The exact date is unknown.

See Merle Travis play his Bigsby re-necked Martin acoustic guitar here.


Below: Merle Travis with Frank Sinatra.  Travis had to remove the fancy Bigsby pickguard for his appearance in the film "From Here To Eternity."

Possibly because the original Bigsby pickguard had been removed for the movie, or for unknown reasons (such as to cover up wear or scratches), Travis had a new pickguard made for the guitar in the 1970s.


Travis gave the guitar to his son Thom Bresh before he died.  Bresh played the guitar extensively during his ownership of the guitar, and released a "How To Play Like Merle Travis" videotape using the guitar.  See Thom Bresh play the Bigsby/Martin Travis guitar here.  In 2007, he sold the guitar at a Christie's Auction.


Below: Photos from the Christie's Auction catalog, 2007.  Note that Christie's got the date wrong for Travis' electric guitar, stating 1946, not 1948.  Also note in the closeup photo that Travis replaced the original Bigsby-style solid-shaft Kluson tuners with Fender-style split-shaft tuners at some point in its history.



In recent years, C.F. Martin reissued the Merle Travis Bigsby-necked Martin, the first time Martin had ever created an instrument with a headstock other than their own.  Unfortunately, Martin chose to reissue the guitar with the 1970s pickguard instead of the original Bigsby pickguard.




Gibson L-4 with Bigsby Neck, installed circa 1948 for Merle Travis.  Later given to Travis' friend Hank Thompson.  The only 12-string Bigsby guitar ever made.

Currently owned by Robbie Lee.

This is one of the earliest Bigsby re-necked acoustic guitars, but its exact history is somewhat unknown.  What is known is that Bigsby made this 12-string for Merle Travis, using a 1920s Gibson L-4 acoustic.  It is theorized that Bigsby then took the fretboard from the L-4 and used it for the historic Merle Travis solidbody electric (based on the inlays on the Travis electric at the 12th fret).  If this is the case, then the Bigsby 12-string acoustic could date from the same time period in 1948 when the #52548 electric was made.  However, several build details, including the "no-dotted-I" headstock logo and the presence of a truss rod cover, indicate a 1951-1952 build date.  It is possible that the truss rod was added later, but without Merle Travis or Hank Thompson around to ask, this may never be known.

Some time in the early 1950s, Merle gave the 12-string to his friend Hank Thompson.  The only vintage photographs we have of the instrument are of Hank playing the instrument in the early 1950s.  Hank kept the guitar, but was never photographed with it again until shortly before he died.  I went to Hank's house following his death and photographed his instruments for the Bigsby book.  A chip off the tailpiece had broken, not because of string tension, but because Hank had let his 5 year old grandson play the guitar, and the child banged it into a coffee table.

After Hank's death his guitars were auctioned off at Christie's.  This historic Bigsby 12-string acoustic was included in the auction.


Below: Three photos of Hank with the 12-string guitar.  The caption from his early 1950s song folio indicate that the guitar was a gift from both Merle Travis and Nudie the Rodeo Tailor.




Below: Seriously obsessive guitar geeks apply here: If you look at the photographs on the wall behind Merle Travis in this late-1950's photo shoot, you can see a photograph that appears to show the 12-string with a white Bigsby pickguard on it.  It is this author's belief that when Merle had the guitar made for him originally, it had a white pickguard that said "Merle Travis" on it, just like his D-28.  When the guitar was given to Hank Thompson, the pickguard was taken off.


Below, cropped and blown-up image of the photo on the wall behind Merle in the above picture, which appears to show the Bigsby 12-string with a white Bigsby pickguard:

 Below: The Bigsby 12-string as photographed in Hank's backyard in 2007.





Note the chip from the tailpiece (caused by Hank's grandson) that was subsequently repaired before the Christie's auction.


Below: One of the mysteries of the 12-string guitar is the truss rod cover, which indicate a post-1952 build.  The "no-dotted-I" logo on the headstock indicate a 1949-1952 build.






Martin D-28 with Bigsby neck, installed circa 1949 for Zeke Clements.  

Currently owned by R.C. Allen.

Zeke Clements is barely known today, but he had quite a career.  His voice is familiar to many, having provided speech to "Bashful" in the 1937 Disney film "Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs."  Despite never having a huge national hit, he recorded from the 1930s through the 1950s.

Zeke Clements lived in Los Angeles in the mid-to-late 1940s and knew all the important players--he was friends with Merle Travis, Les Paul, Leo Fender, and others.  During that time period he had Paul Bigsby install a neck on his Martin D-28 guitar.  More about Zeke Clements here.

It is believed the guitar was customized by Bigsby around 1948-1949.

Years later, R.C. Allen bought the guitar, and he still owns it today.

Below: Zeke Clements record ad, showing the Martin guitar before he had Bigsby install a neck on it.

Below: Several vintage photos of Zeke Clements with his Bigsby acoustic guitar, courtesy Thomas Sims Archives.

Below: Louisiana singer Vin Bruce holds Zeke's Bigsby while Zeke holds what appears to be a Gibson J-200 customized with a Bigsby pickguard.  Courtesy Thomas Sims Archives.

 Below: Vin Bruce holds Zeke Clements Bigsby.  Courtesy Thomas Sims Archives.

Below: It appears that Zeke had his name painted on the guitar at one time.






















Hank Penny's Martin D-18 with Bigsby neck and pickguard.

Below: the two tantalizingly incomplete photos of Hank Penny, circa 1949.  One can plainly see that the guitar has a Bigsby-style inlaid pickguard, and a Bigsby-style 6-on-a-side headstock, but other details are out of the frame.  If anyone has the original photos of these two shots, please email the author here.


Below: the guitar as it exists today.  Note that the headstock is blank.  My theory is that the guitar had a decal on the headstock instead of an inlaid Bigsby logo, and that over the course of 60 years the decal came off.  There is little doubt that the guitar is a Bigsby instrument, as numerous construction details point to the affirmative.  Those still left with doubt should check out the detail on the case construction between this guitar and the Zeke Clements guitar.













Joe Maphis' Martin D-28 with Bigsby neck and pickguard. Current whereabouts unknown.

Below: Merle Travis and Joe Maphis relax in the studio, while showing off their newly customized Martin acoustic guitars with Bigsby necks.


Here is Tex Ritter on stage in the 1950s with what appears to be Joe Maphis' Bigsby acoustic (you can see the lettering covered up by black tape).  Communication with the Ritter family reveals that Tex did not own this guitar when he died.  Perhaps Tex just borrowed it for a tour?  Photo copyright Scotty Broyles/Deke Dickerson Photo Archive.




Rose Lee Maphis' Martin D-28 with Bigsby Neck.  

Currently still owned (highly modified into a Mosrite) by Rose Lee Maphis.

Below: Rose Lee with her Bigsby/Martin acoustic in action.  Note: the headstock logo appears to be a decal, not inlaid.

Below: another shot of Rose Lee's Bigsby/Martin, showing that she had the instrument at least into the mid-1960s before Semie Moseley modified it.  It appears as though she had her name inlaid or painted on the neck at one time, and again, the logo on the headstock appears to be a decal, not inlaid.


Below: the bottom two photos are very poorly taken, but do show Rose Lee's Bigsby guitar in its current state.  Semie Moseley took the Bigsby headstock, added wood to it, and turned it into a Mosrite headstock.  The guitar also went through several incarnations of finish and pickguards, but does retain the original Bigsby custom-made bridge.

Below: it's difficult to see in this poor photo, but if you look carefully you can see the old holes for the 6-on-a-side bigsby headstock, and the rosewood neck stripe, and you can see where Semie added wood to create a Mosrite headstock from the Bigsby headstock.



Lefty Frizzell's Kay Flat-Top with Bigsby Neck.

Current whereabouts unknown.

In Lefty Frizzell's 1951 song folio, he is pictured with a rather plain Bigsby acoustic guitar.  The body appears to be a Kay flat-top acoustic guitar, with a new neck, pickguard, bridge and violin tailpiece added by Bigsby.

If this guitar was made for Lefty, he didn't have it very long.  No other photographs exist of this instrument, and even by the time the song folio was published, he had his iconic Gibson SJ-200 with more elaborate customization, as he appears holding on the cover of the folio.

Apologies for the mustaches drawn on the faces of Lefty and his daughter in these pictures, I'm still looking for a clean copy of Lefty's 1951 song folio--







Lefty Frizzell's Gibson SJ-200 with Bigsby neck.

Currently owned by Merle Haggard.

Below: A view of the headstock with the truss rod cover off.

Below: The author with Lefty Frizzell's guitar before it was sold to Merle Haggard.  Hear it being played here.



Hank Thompson's Gibson SJ-200 with Bigsby neck and customized pickguard.

Currently owned by Mac Yasuda.

Hank Thompson was one of Merle Travis' closest friends, and was introduced to Paul Bigsby through Travis.  Hank Thompson then became Paul Bigsby's best customer for a time, ordering two Bigsby steel guitars for his band, and a Bigsby neck conversion for his Gibson SJ-200.

Hank's SJ-200 has an interesting history.  Through photographs, we can see that the instrument went through a surprising number of incarnations.  See below.

After Hank's death the guitar was auctioned by Christie's in 2009.  It is currently in the Mac Yasuda collection.

THE EVOLUTION OF HANK THOMPSON'S SJ-200:
Below: first stage, the "Hank Thompson" signature is painted on the body of his stock Gibson SJ-200 acoustic:

Below: Second stage, there is a Bigsby-style pickguard on the SJ-200, but the guitar has the original Gibson neck.  Based on the crudeness of the inlay, and the fact that the pickguard predates the neck conversion, this pickguard may not be Bigsby's work.  Hank may have done it himself or had a friend do it.  One thing is clear, the inlay on Hank Thompson's pickguard is much cruder than Bigsby's normally tight and precise inlay.
Below: Third Stage, Hank put a Bigsby re-neck on the SJ-200, but the guitar still retains the original sunburst finish.


Below: Note Bob White's Bigsby steel guitar on the right of the photo.  Hank ordered at least two Bigsby steels, one for Bob White and one for Pee Wee Whitewing.


Below: Fourth stage--around 1956, Hank refinished the SJ-200 blonde.  Note Standel amps in the background, including a pinto-pony hide covered amplifier.



Below: Hank Thompson's SJ-200 as it appeared in 2007 (photographs by the author).  The fifth and final ordeal this guitar went through happened when Hank sent the guitar back to Gibson in the 1980s for a tuneup.  When Hank got the guitar back, Gibson had removed the Bigsby neck (!) and put on a modern Gibson 3-piece J-200 neck.  Hank raised hell and sent the guitar back, where Gibson put the Bigsby neck back on the guitar.  The guitar may have been refinished during this process.




Below: Note the crudeness of the inlay on the pickguard.  It is my opinion that this pickguard was not done by Paul Bigsby.



Below: Hank Thompson's Bigsby/Gibson SJ-200 as it appeared in the Christie's auction catalog, 2009.



Below: This guitar, being offered for sale by a well-known instrument dealer on the West Coast, is a forgery.  It is a real vintage Gibson acoustic, but it is not a real Bigsby neck.  The Hank Thompson pickguard was done recently.  It is being offered as original, but it is not.  Buyer beware.





Dewey Groom's Gibson SJ-200 with Bigsby neck.

Current whereabouts unknown.

Dewey Groom was a popular western bandleader in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  He owned the Longhorn Ballroom in Dallas, a popular dance hall that hosted everybody from Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys to the Sex Pistols.  

Unfortunately by the time these photos were unearthed showing Dewey with a Bigsby-necked Gibson SJ-200, he had developed advanced Alzheimers disease, so there was no way to ask him about the guitar.  If this guitar still exists, it is probably in the Dallas area.



Carl Smith's Martin D-28 with Bigsby neck (with inlaid name).

Currently owned by Mac Yasuda.

Carl Smith is a name almost forgotten today, but in the 1950s he was one of country music's biggest stars.  He was married to June Carter before she was married to Johnny Cash, and Carlene Carter is the child of that marriage.

Carl's band in the mid-1950s was a veritable Bigsby powerhouse, with Carl playing a Martin D-28 with Bigsby neck, his guitarist Sammy Pruett playing an Epiphone archtop customized with Bigsby pickups, and his steel guitarist Johnny Siebert with a Bigsby D-8 steel guitar.

Later, Carl would play a Frank Gay acoustic that was later repaired by and labeled "Sho-Bud."  Both instruments are now part of the legendary Mac Yasuda collection.  Mac displays the instruments from time to time, and that is where I was able to photograph Carl Smith's Bigsby acoustic.

Apologies for the poor photos, these were taken before I had a proper camera.  I had 10 minutes with the guitar while Mac packed up an incredible display of instruments and western clothing at the Fullerton Museum.  Although the quality of photographs is poor, one can see some good details, such as the Bigsby-made custom bridge and the level of workmanship on the neck inlay.  It is also unknown exactly when Carl got the neck put on his guitar, but it does bear the hallmark of the attached "faux" dot on the "I" in Bigsby, which indicates a post-1952 build.

Below: Carl Smith in his heyday at the Grand Ole Opry with the Bigsby/Martin acoustic guitar.



Below: Carl Smith (with blonde Gibson SJ-200) and his bandmates, Johnny Siebert with Bigsby D-8 steel guitar and Sammy Pruett with Epiphone archtop customized with Bigbsy pickups.

Below: pictures of the Carl Smith Bigsby guitar as it appears today.


Below: Note how good the inlay is on the cursive lettering on the fingerboard.  Almost no filler is used.  One of the ways to identify Paul Bigsby's work is to compare it to this--his inlay work was impeccable. 

Below: Two things to note about the headstock.  One is the little attached "faux"-dot on the "I" in Bigsby, indicating a post-1952 build.  Secondly, the headstock cap is made of a particular walnut pattern that greatly matches the Hank Penny Bigsby acoustic, a sort of "spotted" walnut.


Below: Bigsby often built custom bridges for his acoustic guitar conversions.  The one he crafted for Carl Smith's guitar is one of the nicest--it is beautifully executed.

Below: The neck/body joint on the Carl Smith acoustic.


Below: The back of the neck on the Carl Smith acoustic.

Below: the back of the headstock on the Carl Smith acoustic.



Martha Carson's Martin D-28 with Bigsby neck (with inlaid name) and custom pickguard.

Current whereabouts unknown.

Martha Carson is not well-remembered today, but in her day she was a popular recording artist who recorded for RCA Records.  She was predominantly a gospel artist, and her signature song, "Satisfied," was a rare gospel hit record.

Like many of her peers in the early 1950s, Carson had a customized Martin guitar with a Bigsby neck.  Her guitar featured a large white pickguard that nearly covered the entire face of the guitar.  The reason for this was Carson's wild strumming style--her brand of gospel music was wild and rollicking, and she strummed the guitar with wild abandon.  The large pickguard helped protect the guitar from getting holes in it.

After Carson died, someone representing her estate tried shopping the guitar around in the mid-2000's.  No takers were found, and presumably the guitar is still owned by the family member.  Photos from that time show that the guitar had been restored and modified by Faber Guitars of Texarkana, Arkansas.

Below: This photo is dated 4-17-53 on the back, which helps us approximate the build date for Martha Carson's guitar.  Since Bigsby started installing adjustable truss rods in 1952, that would indicate Carson's guitar was built in 1952-1953.  Photo courtesy Thomas Sims Archive.











Martin D-28 with Bigsby neck and soundhole pickup.

Currently in a private collection.

This guitar showed up out of nowhere in an eBay auction several years ago.  The seller revealed that the guitar came to him in pieces and that the guitar was restored before sold.  

It is unknown what the guitar looked like originally.  I inspected this guitar in person and can verify the Bigsby neck is real, the Bigsby pickup and knobs are real, the pickguards all appeared to be real, but it is unsure if they were all originally mounted on the same guitar.  From the vague information provided by the seller, it is believed that the various elements may have come from a few different guitars and assembled into the guitar pictured below.  It was decribed as "in pieces" when the seller obtained the instrument.

The only clue to the guitar's date are the build details--the "no-dotted-I" logo on the headstock, used 1949-1952, and the truss rod cover, used from 1952-1956, seem to indicate a build date of 1952.







Rex Allen's Martin D-28 with Bigsby Neck.  

Current whereabouts unknown.

Rex Allen (not to be confused with his equally famous son, Rex Allen, Jr.) was a Western movie star and cowboy singer, from Arizona originally but based out of California in the 1940s and 1950s.  Such was his popularity at the time that he even had his own comic book.  Like many of the Western celebrities of the day, Allen had a Martin D-28 customized with a Bigsby neck, inlaid with his name.


Below: At the Rex Allen museum in Wilcox, Arizona, there is only one photo of Rex with the Bigsby acoustic guitar.  According to the person running the museum, the guitars on display at the museum were the only ones Rex had when he died, and the Bigsby was not one of them.


"Smitty" Smith's Martin D-28 with Bigsby neck:

The Smith Brothers were a popular family act based out of Atlanta, Georgia.  They also appeared in a few dozen Western movies in the 1940s and 1950s, and it is during that time that they were based in California.  Smitty Smith customized his Martin D-28 with a Bigsby neck and pinstriped name on the body.  It is unknown (but highly unlikely) if Bigsby did the pinstriping.

Currently owned by Ben Taylor of Southside Guitars, Brooklyn, NY.

Photographs courtesy Ben Taylor:























Little Jimmy Dickens' Gibson SJ-200 with Bigsby pickguard:

"Little"Jimmy Dickens is one of the best-loved performers in the history of country music.  A member of the Grand Ole Opry and the Country Music Hall Of Fame, he has been active since the late 1940s and is still performing today at the age of 92.

Dickens has had numerous musicians in his band play Bigsby instruments, including Thumbs Carlille, Bud Isaacs, Buddy Emmons, and Walter Haynes.  Dickens himself has never had a full Bigsby customization on any of his instruments, but it does appear as though his original Gibson SJ-200 flattop had a Bigsby custom pickguard put on it around 1951-1952.

In the mid-1950s, Dickens had Semie Moseley customize the SJ-200 with a Mosrite neck and pickguard treatment.  Dickens did not play the Mosrite/Gibson for very long, and later went to Super 400s as his primary instrument.

When Dickens was interviewed for the Bigsby book in 2007, he had no memory of dealing with either Paul Bigsby or Semie Moseley.

Below: early 1950s promo shot of Little Jimmy with a Bigsby pickguard on his Gibson SJ-200.


Below: Little Jimmy Dickens on stage in the mid-1950s with his Mosrite-customized SJ-200.  note that in the early years (1954-1957) of Mosrite, Semie Moseley had a 6-on-a-side headstock design that was very similar to the Bigsby design.  Photo copyright Deke Dickerson Photo Archive/Scotty Broyles.


Below: After the Mosrite customization, it appears as though Little Jimmy took the Bigsby pickguard off the SJ-200 and put it on a small bodied Martin guitar:


STEVE COLWELL'S MARTIN D-28 WITH BIGSBY PICKGUARD:

Current Whereabouts unknown

The Colwell Brothers were a gospel-oriented folk group based out of Los Angeles in the 1950s and 1960s.  Not to be confused with the latter-day Soul/R&B outfit of the same name, these Colwell Brothers were squeaky clean white kids who sang in the 'Sing Out!' and 'Up With People' Christian music productions in the 1960s.

Steve Colwell, the group's main guitarist, had Paul Bigsby add a pickguard to his Martin D-28 guitar.  There was no other Bigsby customization done to the instrument.

This lead was researched through a pickguard template that read only "Colwell" when the pickguard templates were found.

Below: An article about the Colwell Brothers showing the Bigsby pickguard on Steve Colwell's D-28.


Zeke Clements' Gibson SJ-200 with Bigsby pickguard:

Current whereabouts unknown.

After Zeke Clements had a Martin customized with a Bigsby neck, he appears to have had a Gibson SJ-200 customized with a Bigsby pickguard.  No other information is known about this instrument.

Below: Photo courtesy Thomas Sims Archives

OTHER GUITARS WITH BIGSBY CUSTOMIZATION:

Chet Atkins D'Angelico Excel:







Joe Maphis' Gibson Super 400 with Bigsby customized pickguard.





Larry Collins' Gibson ES-140 with Bigsby pickup and custom pickguard.

Below: Early Collins Kids promotional picture.  The pickguard and arm rest were customized by Bigsby, in a style very similar to Joe Maphis' Super 400 customization.

Below: note Bigsby pickup in the treble position and stock Gibson P-90 in the neck position.



Billy Byrd's Gibson archtop with Bigsby pickups and inlaid pickguard.

Current whereabouts unknown.




Hank Garland's Epiphone with Bigsby pickups and "Sugarfoot" pickguard

Current whereabouts unknown (owned by the Garland family--rumored to have been sold to Keith Richards)















Harold Bradley's customized ES-350

Current whereabouts unknown

Below: a photo of Harold Bradley holding his early full-scale blonde Gibson ES-350 with two Bigsby pickups and Bigsby vibrato.  The guitar was stolen out of Owen Bradley's studio in the early 1960s and has not been seen since.





Zeke Turner's customized Epiphone acoustic



Current whereabouts unknown



Below: a photo of Zeke Turner's Epiphone with Bigsby pickups, courtesy Thomas Sims Archives.







Zeke Turner, real name James Grishaw, was a well-known and respected guitarist in Nashville in the 1940s and 1950s.  Along with his brother Zeb Turner, the pair recorded lots of excellent records on their own, and backed up artists on many sessions.  In fact, it's Zeke Turner that you hear on Hank Williams' "Lovesick Blues" and "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," as well as the Delmore Brothers "Blues Stay Away From Me."  He also played on records with Ernest Tubb (alongside Bigsby owner Butterball Paige).  Zeke Turner played lead guitar in Red Foley's band in 1947-1948, until the band quit en masse and he relocated to Cincinnati.  Turner stayed in Cincinnati for the rest of his career,  retired to Florida and died there in 2003.  Communication with family members reveals no memory of any other guitars besides the Epiphone electric archtop, a Martin D-28, and later, a Baldwin Virginian.



When the cache of Bigsby pickguards was discovered, one of the templates was labeled "Zeke Turner."







There are photos of Zeke Turner with a stock Epiphone archtop electric guitar.  Here's a photo of Zeke (right) with his brother Zeb (left).




After the pickguard template was discovered, it was unknown what, if any, Bigsby involvement Turner had until a picture was found recently in the Thomas Sims Archives.  It shows the same Epiphone archtop electric guitar, with two Bigsby blade pickups and a Bigsby pickup switch mounted on the forward part of the lower bout.  In this photo, the guitar appears to still have the stock Epiphone pickguard, but it is assumed that the guitar must have had a Bigsby pickguard on it put on it shortly after this photo was taken.





Epiphone with Bigsby pickups

Currently owned by Robbie Lee

This is an interesting guitar with an interesting provenance.  This guitar belonged to a Malaysian jazz guitarist and singer based in New York.  He claimed to have got it on a tour of Canada in the 1960s, and the original owner is unknown.

The guitar appears to have been customized by the United Corporation of Jersey City, New Jersey, who manufactured Premier guitars in the 1950s and 1960s.  The Bigsby pickups are coated with a gold anodized paint (the only instance of gold Bigsby pickups) to match the other hardware on the instrument.  Instead of the stock Bigsby switch, there is a purple plastic Bigsby-style switch that matches the plastic of Premier guitars of the era.  The knobs are unusual as well.  This is a one-of-a-kind instrument and does not match any other Bigsby customized instruments, but the Bigsby pickups are real.  It is unknown if United/Premier ever did any other customization involving Bigsby pickups, but they did offer Bigsby vibratos on their instruments so it is assumed there was a relationship between United/Premier and Paul A. Bigsby.



















A Kay archtop guitar with added Bigsby pickup.

Currently owned by Brian Barker.

This guitar has an interesting history.  My theory is that this was Paul Bigsby's personal guitar.  It was used in the first and second Bigsby vibrato flyers (see below) and was found in a closet at the Kalamazoo Bigsby factory when Ted McCarty sold the business in 1999.  The Kay appears to be the guitar featured in the original Bigsby vibrato literature (see photos and scans below).

Current owner Brian Barker is looking for a 1950s era Bigsby B-6 vibrato to put on the guitar.  Please email the author here if you have one to sell. 




Below: Original 1952 Vibrato flyer, showing the original fixed arm handle with rubber "spring," and right, 1956 Bigsby Vibrato flyer, with "Duane Eddy" style swivel handle.  Both photos appear to be taken using the Kay guitar with Bigsby pickup shown above.


"Blackie" Gibson ES-5 with 3 Bigsby pickups, circa mid-1950s.

Current whereabouts unknown.

Identified only as "Blackie," two photos exist of a Gibson ES-5 customized with three Bigsby pickups. Other than the photos no information is known.

Below: this photo, marked "Blackie" on the back, seems to show a Gibson ES-5 with three Bigsby pickups, a Bigsby pickup selector and a Kaufmann vibrato.  Photo courtesy Thomas Sims Archives.

Below: This photo of Martha Carson (also a Bigsby owner) seems to be of the same Gibson ES-5 guitar.  Who is Blackie?




Mike Young's customized Epiphone archtop
This instrument was parted out.  The blog author currently owns one of the pickups.  It no longer exists in this form.



BIGSBY MANDOLIN INDEX

Al Giddings' Bigsby electric mandolin, circa 1949.

Current whereabouts unknown.

Not much is known about Al Giddings, but he appears to have been a friend of Paul Bigsby's. He played with Bigsby in a band that featured all the soloists using Bigsby instruments.

Giddings' mandolin is a 10-string instrument presumably made in 1949, however exact build date is unknown.

Lawrence Welk guitar alumnus Buddy Merrill did some gigs with Al Giddings in the 1970s.  Al was still using the Bigsby mandolin at that time.

Below: Al Giddings on mandolin (R) with a Bigsby-riffic band featuring Paul Bigsby on upright bass, Bob Meadows on steel guitar, and Jack Parsons on guitar.  Note--the pickguard was changed from black to white at some point.

Below: Al in the late 1970s doing a gig with Buddy Merrill, left.  Last known photo of Al Giddings.  Photo courtesy Buddy Merrill.

Paul Buskirk's Bigsby electric mandolin.  Ten strings in five courses, five pole pickup.  Earliest style Bigsby vibrato with rubber stopper instead of a spring.  Currently in a private collection on the East Coast.







Eschol Cosby's Bigsby electric mandolin.








Tiny Moore's Bigsby electric mandolin, serial #9352.  Five strings in single-string configuration, five pole pickup.  Currently owned by Skip Maggoria of Skip's Music, Sacramento, CA.

Below: Tiny Moore with his Bigsby Mandolin.  Note Magnatone amplifier.  Does anybody have a good original picture of this?  All I have is this crummy looking xerox copy.


Below: Tiny Moore with Billy Jack Wills (Bob Wills' youngest brother) and his Western Swing Band, Sacramento, CA, early 1950s.  Note Vance Terry with Bigsby steel at left.  Photo courtesy Andrew Brown.





































































Below: a later album by Tiny Moore, still using his treasured Bigsby mandolin.




"Nudie" Cohn's re-necked Bigsby acoustic mandolin.  Kay mandolin body, Bigsby neck in standard 8-string configuration.  Inlaid and personalized "Nudie" on the pickguard.



Bigsby solidbody electric mandolin, serial number #122552.  Currently owned by Dave Westerbeke.

Double cutaway, 8-string mandoling completed on Christmas Day, 1952.  It is unknown who the mandolin was made for originally.  It is the only Bigsby mandolin with this body shape.




MISC. REPLICAS, CLONES, AND FORGERIES:

Keith Holter's friend Chuck built a replica of his original guitar that is remarkably well done.  Chuck started the replica project in 1969 and completed the instrument in the 1990s!  In the picture below, the replica is on the left.  Note: no Bigsby logo on the headstock, and no inlaid name on the pickguard.

Bigsby neck forgery on a real Gibson J-200 acoustic body:

This guitar is currently being offered for sale by a well-known vintage guitar dealer on the West Coast.  The Gibson acoustic is a genuine old body, but the Bigsby neck is not real.  Every detail about it is incorrect.  The Hank Thompson pickguard was added recently.  Buyer beware!


Compare this headstock to other Bigsby headstocks.  There are no genuine Bigsby headstocks that have binding.  The headstock cap wood does not match any of the figured walnut used by Paul Bigsby.  The inlay is sloppy with lots of filler, unlike Paul Bigsby's precise and tight inlay.  Interestingly, the guitar does have the correct solid-shaft Bigsby tuners.

Bigsby Forgery with Magnatone pickup.  Found at a California Antique mall, courtesy Eric Cale collection.
















R.C. Allen Bigsby-influenced guitar, made for Glen Glenn, 1950s:




R.C. Allen Bigsby-influenced guitar, made for Gary Lambert, 1950s:


Below: the guitar as it exists today.  The guitar lost the original neck in the 1960s and was replaced by a Harvey Thomas 12-string neck.  In the 1990s R.C. Allen was commissioned to make a replica neck similar to the one that was on the guitar originally, and that is what you see today.


Below: note that the original neck made for Gary Lambert had a bound headstock and binding on the truss rod cover, and the replica neck does not.





R.C. Allen Bigsby-influenced guitar, circa 1970s:
















R.C. Allen Bigsby clone made for Gary Lambert, 1980s:


Recent R.C. Allen Bigsby-influenced guitar:




Bigsby-influenced guitar by Whitaker, 1950s. 

This thing floated around for a while and was bought by the Chinery Collection.  Unfortunately, this homely guitar was featured in several magazines as a real Bigsby guitar.  Here's a hint: if the headstock says Whitaker, it's probably a Whitaker, not a Bigsby.  There's no doubting where the influence came from though, with it's birdseye maple top and contrasting walnut pickguard, and six-on-a-side headstock.


Bigsby-influenced guitar possibly made by Whitaker, 1950s.  No other information.




Bigsby replica made for John Lewis, Penarth, Wales, UK:





Bigsby acoustic replica built by John Lewis, Penarth, Wales, UK:



Bigsby replica made for Jyrkki "J.J." Juvonen, lead guitarist for Wildfire Willie & The Ramblers, Jack Baymoore and the Bandits, and many other fine rockabilly and hillbilly groups in Sweden:


Bigsby-influenced guitar made by Johnny Dilks for Jim Campilongo, 1990s.

Bigsby Ukulele

Courtesy of Nathan Gibson

Bigsby Vibratos:

Merle Travis stated in an interview that the first thing he ever had Paul Bigsby help him with was a vibrato.  Travis wasn't talking about the Bigsby vibrato, he was talking about the Kaufmann vibrato that he had on his Gibson L-10 archtop guitar.

THE BIGSBY VIBRATO WAS NOT INVENTED UNTIL 1952.  The first known photos of a Bigsby vibrato date from July and August, 1952.

Below: Merle Travis and the Kaufmann vibrato on his Gibson L-10.  Note long arm with looped handle.  THIS is the vibrato that Merle said Paul Bigsby helped him with first.  A few years later, Bigsby developed the cast-aluminum vibrato Merle used on his Gibson Super 400.

Below: The original 1952 Bigsby vibrato flyer, note fixed arm and rubber stopper instead of a metal spring.

Below: 1956 Bigsby vibrato flyer, note Duane Eddy-style "swingaway" handle.

British Rose-Morris Licensed Bigsby vibrato, manufactured in England, 1960s.  This is what John Lennon put on his Rickenbacker 325.  The Rose-Morris vibratos are slightly thinner and more fragile all around than their beefy USA counterparts.  They also measure a fraction smaller all around than a standard B-5.  They can be identified by the "Made Under Licence Granted by Bigsby USA" stamp on the bottom of the vibrato.











BIGSBY PALM PEDAL:
The Bigsby Palm Pedal was the only Bigsby product invented by the 1965-1997 era of the Ted McCarty-owned Bigsby company based in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  It allowed players to select 1, 2, (up to all 6) strings to bend with special handles, to emulate steel guitar effects.  Here is the original product flyer, circa late 1960s:




Other miscellaneous Bigsby ephemera:

Display of Bigsby templates at NAMM museum:

Assorted Bigsby ephemera offered for sale at Gruhn's a few years back:


The All-Bigsby Band!

A once-in-a-lifetime event happened at the 2008 Guitar Geek Festival in Anaheim, California.  The "All-Bigsby Band" featured a stage full of Paul Bigsby's instruments, gathered to make music and history (and a good photo for the Bigsby book!).

The All-Bigsby Band can be viewed in action by purchasing the 2008 Guitar Geek Festival DVD here:

Special thanks to Tatiana Sizenenko of the NAMM museum for transporting the J.B. Thomas doubleneck guitar to and from the show; Dave Westerbeke for bringing his guitar and mandolin; R.C. Allen for bringing his Bigsby electric and acoustic guitars; and to Marty Smith, Jussi Huhtakangas, Dave Westerbeke, R.C. Allen, Gary Lambert, T.K. Smith, Dave Stuckey, Ashley Kingman, "Crazy" Joe Tritschler, and Jeremy Wakefield for playing.  It was a special event, never to be repeated!


The Blog Author's Statement:

The story of Bigsby guitars is important to me, not only as a person interested in guitars, but because of the people who played them and the music they made.  Time and time again I'm asked about the value of Bigsby guitars when all I really want to talk about are the great records Merle Travis made, or how funny Hank Penny was in person, or how much fun it has been to tear it up playing guitar duets with Larry Collins.

To this regard, I have posted the following pictures of myself with people intrinsic to the Bigsby story, not as bragging rights but instead to illustrate the fact that this has been a lifelong passion for me.  Anybody who might doubt my integrity or challenge my version of the stories can see that I did indeed know and play music with and talk to these people when they were still alive and walking the planet.  I miss the ones who have died and am glad that I was there at the right time to know them and get their stories before they were gone.

Deke Dickerson

Below: With Hank Thompson, 1995.

Below: With Speedy West, 1992.

Below: With Hank Penny (in goatee and cap), 1991.

Below: With Larry Collins, 1995.

Below: With Les Paul, 1998.

Below: With Jody and Rose Lee Maphis, 1999.