Skip to main content

How to fix a common Bigsby guitar tremolo problem

Jack Ellis
(Image credit: Jack Ellis)

Guitar maintenance: In our latest how-to guide with Jack Ellis from Manchester's Jack’s Instrument Services, we're looking at a common Bigsby issue that can affect tuning stability – especially for Gretsch Electromatic models.

Jack Ellis

(Image credit: Jack Ellis)

The Bigsby Tailpiece on our example here, although made fantastically, is creating an enormous break angle over the Tune-o-matic bridge with huge down force. That’s a massive amount of friction over the saddles, which is terrible for tuning.

We need to make an adjustment to alleviate this over the top angle. We’ll show you a couple of ways to you can change your guitar to get a better angle covering a few different angles to suit slight guitar model variations

Jack Ellis

(Image credit: Jack Ellis)

First, take off the Bigsby unit from the guitar. We’ve got to use some tools on it and don’t want to scratch the paint job!

Jack Ellis

(Image credit: Jack Ellis)

We’re going to experiment with the roller height but we need to get it off. Here’s the circlip that holds it together. 

Remove it with circlip pliers or with careful fiddling with needle nose pliers and a flat head screwdriver. With the circlip out of the way you can extract the parts of the roller bar, an outer sleeve, inner axle and the nylon washers.

Here’s the three configurations you can use of your guitar:

Jack Ellis

(Image credit: Jack Ellis)

Jack Ellis

(Image credit: Jack Ellis)

Full diameter roller in place: Largest down tension angle.

Jack Ellis

(Image credit: Jack Ellis)

Jack Ellis

(Image credit: Jack Ellis)

Just the inner axle in place: medium down tension angle.

Jack Ellis

(Image credit: Jack Ellis)

Jack Ellis

(Image credit: Jack Ellis)

No roller in place: least down tension angle.

Try out each, it’s easy to switch around the roller without full removal, just put the circlip back on when you’ve found your equilibrium.

The 'Brick’s Biggs Fix' modification

Jack Ellis

(Image credit: Jack Ellis)

This delightful gadget offers another angle option by means of shifting the roller position upward. They’re designed as retrofit and are available from the Bricks Briggs Fix website, Perhaps that will be the correct angle for you if none of the above suit your liking

Jack Ellis

(Image credit: Jack Ellis)

On our Gretsch in the workshop, the 'no roller' option worked best, when played and played hard the strings didn't pop out of the slots. As this offers the lesser down tension angle, the tremolo now works perfectly! 

Jack Ellis

(Image credit: Jack Ellis)

For the last tip, drop in a couple of drops of 3-in1 oil on the rollers from time to time to keep things moving smoothly. 

More tips from Jack:  How to restring your Bigsby guitar tailpiece the easy way