How to play guitar with a Bigsby vibrato

Bigsby's are often regarded as untameable beasts, but used right they can open up whole new avenues and add immense feel to your playing.

The techniques listed here can be used with any vibrato, so don't sweat it if you don't have big-bodied Gretsch to hand.

Ballad-style chords

Ballad-style chords

Kick-off your Bigsby technique practice with this easy idea that's suited to slow, bluesy ballads.

Simply strum a chord, dip the bar to lower the pitch of the strings by about a semitone, raise the bar back to pitch and finish off with a wobble of the bar (known as 'vibrato').

This should all be one fluid movement so how far and fast you dip the bar will vary depending on the music you play over. It's all about the feel.

Ballad-style chords tab (right-click to download)

Duane Eddy-style vibrato technique

Duane eddy-style vibrato technique

Duane Eddy is perhaps best known for his cover of Henry Mancini's theme from the 50s/60s detective show, Peter Gunn.

Unusually, the Bigsby lines are played using your fret hand to dip the bar, instead of a more standard pick hand method.

This isn't just for show. Using your fret hand to operate the vibrato arm leaves your pick hand free to pick the open sixth string. Try our simplified tab exercise to get the hang of it.

Duane Eddy-style vibrato technique tab (right-click to download)

Rock 'n' roll rhythm

Rock 'n' roll rhythm

This is a 50s rock 'n' roll-style rhythm with an 'up down, down up' strum pattern.

The rhythm is easy once you get a feel for the timing but the challenge comes as you play the last upstroke, where you must quickly move your hand to the whammy bar, apply some aggressive vibrato then get back to your strumming position.

We've tabbed two bars. The rest of our audio example follows the same rhythm on F9 and G9 chords.

Rock 'n' roll rhythm tab (right-click to download)

Single-note lead

Single-note lead

If you're only playing one note/string at a time you can dip your vibrato arm to target specific notes without the worry that other strings won't 'bend' by the same amount.

We're using the Bigsby on our Gretsch Streamliner G2420T to drop one semitone and then come back up to pitch. Remember, the aim here is to target exact notes rather than taking a loose, textural approach.

Single-note lead tab (right-click to download)

Dips with diads

Dips with diads

Inspired by Cliff Gallup's solo in Gene Vincent's Peg O' My Heart, we're using diads to form a melody, fattening up the sound compared to single-note lines.

We've used a 'scoop' on the first diad, which means you dip the bar before you pick the strings, then sound the strings as they return to pitch. Exactly how far you dip the bar is up to you - the idea is to create a smooth glide up into the diad.

Dips with diads tab (right-click to download)

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