A brief history
An increasingly long time ago, I purchased a black Les Paul body from eBay for the princely sum of £10. It was definitely from a Japanese copy, but it was never clear by which company.
I also purchased a set of Seymour Duncan Invader copies and some iron cross strap locks and that’s as far as I got for a few months. At the time, I had dreams of building my first guitar, but lacked the confidence to try.
It was about this time that I met Tom Anfield at Tom Anfield Guitars, who was able to supply the rest of the required parts, including the neck from a Dean Cadillac X I was going to purchase from a nearby guitar shop, but the body was damaged.
He wired in a coil tap on each pickup controlled with a push-pull pot for each volume.
Here’s what the guitar looked like as soon as I’d got it home that day (excuse photo quality, this was taken with a very early digital camera that may not have had a screen.
A while later I swapped the knobs out for Dean ones and added a copper pickguard.
Not much later I added a couple of off white electrical tape racing stripes, swapped the knobs again for some fixed knurled gold knobs and it became my go-to an even favourite guitar for a few years. Until last year (2016) in fact.
At this point I had commissioned a custom Strat at Sims Guitars and in conversation had considered having them build a new neck for this guitar. Ultimately I decided not to go ahead with that.
Preparing for a Bigsby – Teardown
Yup, whilst I was without the Rat for a while, I was playing my other guitars and decided it was time for the Rat to evolve somewhat. Although I’m a massive fan of Kahler tremolos and would have opted for one in this case, it wouldn’t really have suited the look and setup of the guitar. A Bigsby would add a trem to the guitar as well as a touch of class to the decidedly Frankenstein appearance. Here’s are the before shots:
Obligatory floor shot:
Awaiting teardown. The strings are like that because the neck had been removed to make way for the new one.
Hipshot locking tuners are also going on during this job. Here are the originals. These were in one of Tom’s drawers, the broken Cadillac had chrome ones as I remember.
Preparing for a Bigsby – Not using the Vibramate
Sadly as advertised, the Vibramate is not compatible with copies. I had planned to manufacture a shim to make up the difference, but in offering up the parts, it was clear that this wasn’t going to be pretty. I wanted pretty (note the addition of a new gold pickup ring at this point).
Preparing for a Bigsby – Filling the tailpiece post holes
So at this point the guitar looks like this:
The inserts pulled straight out with no effort at all and I found a pair of dowels the perfect radius:
Having marked them liberally, I lazily used my Dremel Moto Saw to cut them to size, allowing for them to sit just below the surface of the body ready for the mask:
Next I popped them into the body with a dab of superglue in each hole:
At this point, I’d already fitted the roller bridge to check that was all in order.
Preparing for a Bigsby – Deleting the tailpiece post holes
This part was very experimental for me. I chose to mask off the two holes and flood them with paint until they were domed over, to then smooth back.
Much sanding then occurred with a mixture of about 160 grit and 1200 grit until the paint was near enough flush with the body and removed the tape. This gets a bit ugly at this stage.
I then set to work using 1200 grit and occasionally rubbing compound to smooth the paint and blend it with the original finish.
Shortly after this stage, I switched exclusively to rubbing compound, so everything took a lot longer, but blended better:
Unfortunately the next picture is the last picture I took before fitting the Bigsby, so you’ll have to take my word for it that the blend job was almost invisible at that point #OCD
Fitting the Bigsby
This was actually the easiest part of the process. I screwed in the strap pin to locate the trem centrally, then fitting both E strings, lined it up as best I could with the bridge and nut.
As you can see from the close up, the Bigsby does have a slight gap between the body and one of the mounting screws, despite being the carved top model. I’m not sure if that’s more “because copy” or not, but it’s only noticeable when observed from that angle, close up.
Right now the guitar is waiting for a professional setup. Other than that, I’m really happy with the result. It’s not clear from the picture, but I’ve now fully refreshed the gold features on this guitar – pickup rings, knobs, tuners, bridge, pickup selector and obviously the Bigsby.
Only real plan for the future is to maybe swap out the tape racing stripes for painted ones. I’m also toying with the idea of learning to pinstripe, but that’s for another day.