Crawls Backward (When Alarmed)

IconProjects, musings about guitar builds, guitar repairs, vintage tube amplifiers, old radios, travel, home renovation, and other stuff.

Callaham and Reverend Bigsby B11 Upgrades on the ES-225

Back in March of 2015, I put a Bigsby B11 vibrato on my 1958 Gibson ES-225.

I've been playing the guitar a fair amount since then and decided to make a few changes/upgrades to the Bigsby, and also to the type of strings I've been using.

I spotted Bill Callaham's Bigsby upgrade parts and decided to give a couple of them a spin. I've also been less-than happy with the super-stiff spring on the Bigsby - I tried both 7/8 and 1 inch springs and neither made me happy. So I found a new spring to try as well.

And I wanted to try out a longer arm on the vibrato. Finally, I was itching to try some Thomastik-Infeld flatwound strings on the guitar.

Sounds like a lot of stuff but it got done in a couple hours. And I have a boatload of pictures.

Here's the Bigsby before the operation. You can see the length of the arm. That's a stock 6.5 inch arm, and I'm going to put on a long (9 inch) bar.

I felt like the current bar is a bit short so I'm giving the long one a spin.  Don't know until you try.
We need to take the strings off first, and since the bridge isn't attached to the top, I made some tape marks to aid in relocating the bridge when it goes back together.

One of the new Callaham parts I'm putting on is a main string bar which is countersunk for the string ball ends. As opposed to the infamous Bigsby string pins you see on the old bar here.

Removed the strings. And posed the new goodies on top of the guitar for this picture.

From the left we have the new longer arm, a Callaham 360 degree arm mount, the Callaham main string bar, and a 'soft touch' Bigsby spring from Reverend Guitars.

Removing the Bigsby is easy...undo the three screws on the bottom of the hinge.

To replace the arm mount, and to remove the string bar, undo the 1/4 inch allen screw holding the mount onto the main shaft.

I thought the string bar would just slide out after I took one of the nylon bushings off the end where the arm mount was attached. I was sort of right.

It looked like there was enough clearance between the pins and the hole for the bushing to tap the bar down to get it to drop out without damaging the pins.

There was, but in the process, I still managed to shear one of the string pins off after all. Not a big thing, since I won't be reusing the bar. And if I ever did, I could maybe just put a new pin in, I thought.

Note the missing pin near the bushing. All of the pins have to be removed to get the bushing off the one end, since the bushing is held on with a spring clip.

Seems that the suggested method of disassembly is to take the pins out while the bar is still in the body of the thing. (Or remove the clip, but I don't have a spring clip tool).

As it transpires, if I had tried removing the pins with the bar in place, I would have failed. Because I was totally unable to remove the pins!

If you look closely at the picture of the pins, you'll what they are - just a rolled piece of metal. You can see the seam on the one on the end.

So it seemed like squeezing them to reduce the diameter and then pulling them with pliers would do it. (As is mentioned on the interwebs).

Nope. Not for me. I soaked them in PB Blaster, tried 3 different types of pliers, tried heating them with a soldering iron...they refused to budge.

You can see where two more pins snapped off in the process.

I stopped to think. (A rarity).

I'm not going to reuse this bar, right? If I ever needed it, I could just get a replacement, right? Yes to both questions.

Ok, now to remove those stupid pins.

Sometimes brute force is required.

Sixty seconds with the Dremel and a reinforced cutting wheel, and our pins are gone!

I also had to grind down the stubble that remained of the pins after cutting them off. Doesn't look pretty.


I got the bushing off!

Here's the Callaham string bar. Stainless steel, and countersunk so you don't have to hassle with putting the string ball ends over those insipid pins!

Is that beautiful or what?

Here it is installed in the B11 body. It turns much easier than the old bar did, to boot.

This is getting exciting.

Now we take the old handle off the mount.

You might be able to tell the arm bolts were not the 'official' Bigsby nut with a nylon insert - they were generic nuts. I procured the proper nut and will use that for the new arm.

The old mount is on the left, and the new Callaham 360 mount is on the right.

And the old 10-32 (I think) nuts, which will wind up in my 10-32 nuts drawer (I kid you not).

Now we put the new mount on the string bar. The new mount has a lovely stainless allen screw on it.

The new soft touch spring is on the right and the old spring on the left. The new one is definitely softer - note it has less coils.  The height is part of how it is less stiff, I think.

Here's the B11 reassembled and back on the guitar.

I'm going to try these Thomastik-Infeld George Benson flatwounds this time. I was using DR Pure Blues nickel roundwounds, but I have flatwounds on my Rickenbacker 12 string and my Breedlove bass and they're fantastic, so I figured, why not on this one too?

All back together.

The Callaham arm mount doesn't have that 'stop' machined into it like a stock Bigsy, so you can swivel it anywhere you want. Very cool.

I'm getting used to the arm -it's really long!  But it's right under my picking hand, and easy to use.

And you can see how the ball ends just snug right up into the bar now. Easy to string - just run the string though the hole, over the bar and up to the tuners. Nice. And looks clean too, especially compared to the alternative - the ugly Vibramate. Bleh!

And the view from the top.

Couple of notes: first, the Reverend spring is amazing! The vibrato is now super touch sensitive and responsive. Now I can get gentle or dramatic pitch changes with it. Most highly recommended.

Second, the T-I strings are fantastic. Smooth touch, zero finger noise, and a great balanced tone. Plenty of treble, unlike a lot of flatwounds. Expensive, but very much worth it.


Post a Comment 1 comments:

  • Unknown said...
    September 11, 2017 at 1:42 PM
    Awesome! Why Bigsby made their original design with those stupid clumsy pins has always baffled me. Wonder if Paul Bigsby ever had to change a broken string while on stage? They (Gretsch/Fender) should change ALL new Bigsbys to this simpler much better design.

Post a Comment