Friday, August 31, 2012

Paul Bigsby


It looks like a brake caliper, doesn't it?  I always thought so.  A brake caliper from a motorcycle, as a matter of fact.  I always thought they looked out of place on anything that wasn't driven by some form of internal combustion engine.  Despite my reaction to its appearance, there was, and is, no denying its ability to perform in a manner yet to be improved upon by other, similar devices, or even by artificial electronics.

It's called a tremelo, and its inventor was Paul Bigsby who was, no surprise, a former motorcycle mechanic.  He was also buddies with Les Paul and Leo Fender.  Between the three of them, Paul the guitar vituoso; Fender the electrical engineer [who did not play the guitar himself], and Bigsby, the very first electric guitars were made.  Bigsby was the genius of the group, though.

Paul Bigsby

For those who don't know, this is what a Bigsby tremelo does:

He makes the Friday list due to things beyond mere mechanical ability.  He was humble and serious about the luthier's call and, according to his biographer, " 'Bigsby was literally a craftsman who made guitars one at a time for key players of the day,' " ; to the extent that he was sometimes up to two years behind on orders.

Making one guitar at a time for specific players is an almost lost practice.  Since those "key players" included guitarists in both country and western bands, "tiki" music of the late 1950's/early 1960's, and rock icons, his invention influenced the sound that we have associated with popular music since the mid-20th century.

I remember once at a concert watching Neil Young torture a tremelo during "Like a Hurricane" and thinking that the song would have been impossible without that arrangement of shaped metal. 

More may be read via the link above and on the official Bigsby website.