What the F**k! How to String a Bigsby Equipped Guitar Without the Expletives

What the F**k! 

How to String a Bigsby

Equipped Guitar Without the Expletives

by Michael Samos

      So you finally got a hold of that Neil Young-esque vintage Gibson Les Paul…   Or maybe you just installed a Bigsby on your favorite Mexican built Telecaster (you picked a good one after all).  Now the time has come to restring the guitar and who could have predicted how something that looks so simple could go so wrong.  Lets face it Bigsbys look cool… they sound cool… they make you cool.  I have a tendency to add them to every guitar I own and with products like the Vibramate systems its easy for those who have a fear of commitment to install one with out drilling.   I’m sure there are as many ways of stringing these things as there are players but for the uninitiated, this is my head-ache free method.  For our demonstration purposes I’m going to use this lovely 1966 Gibson Es-330 with a factory equipped Bigsby.

Before we get started you will need the following things or their equivalents:

-lemon oil
-wire clippers
-needle nose pliers
-1-2 craft brewed beers
-a quick release capo
-a string winder
-paper towels
-a little bit of patience


Step 1

Remove the Old Strings

They are nasty. They are old. They need to go!

Just slack them a couple of turns before you clip them so there isn’t so much tension that the strings fly up in your face.  Be sure to dispose of the strings right away so you don’t step on a string end by accident.  It hurts.   A lot.

Step 2

Adjust the tension

You can just skip this if you like the “action” or “play” of your Bigsby arm.  A lot of people wish the arm was a little stiffer, higher, and responsive.  New Bigsby sets come with plastic rings to place under the spring but a penny is the old stand by.   Just lift the arm, and place a penny under the string.  Its easy to take it out even with the strings on (though you will have to slack them) so why not give it a shot and see if you like it better.

Step 3

Apply Lemon Oil for Rosewood or Ebony Finger Boards

Got a maple fingerboard Telecaster?  Just skip this step.  Lemon Oil is a bit of a controversy in the guitar world and there are a host of products specifically designed for fret boards.  One thing is certain.  If your fingerboard becomes too dry it will crack and no one wants that.  If you are in the “rehydrate your fingerboard 2-3 times a year” camp as we are then now  is probably the time to do it (if not then.. well don’t).  With lemon oil, apply a liberal amount to the fingerboard with a paper towel.  Leave the lemon oil on the fingerboard for 5-10 minutes and let it soak in.  If the fingerboard is very very dry you may need to apply even more.  Wipe away the excess oil with a dry paper towel and you are ready to go!

Step 4

Preparing to string!

To begin take your guitar string of choice and use the pliers to create a 90 degree or greater angle a bit away from the ball end.  This will help the string stay on the posts of Bigsby axle.  Now feed the string under the front bar of the Bigsby and above the bridge BEFORE you attempt to get the ball end on the post (see the second picture above).

Step 5

Capo that thang!

Now your ready to curve the end of the string around the axle and affix the ball end to its post.  Keep  tension on the string  with your right hand (or left if you are a lefty) and pull the remaining slack forward with your free hand.  Now capo the string to the neck around the 5th fret.  This is the hardest step and almost always the most frustrating.  It is easy for the ball end to slip off the post but with a little practice you will be able to do it without a problem. Now that the string is secure you can line it up with the bridge saddle and move on the headstock.

Step 6

Stringing up the Pegheads

There are probably as many ways of doing this as there are guitar players and many of them are perfectly acceptable methods.  If you have a way string your guitar that works for you by all means stop reading here.  For those who are curious I’ll show you how I like to string my guitars.  First run the string through the appropriate tuner and pull it taught.  Take a pair of wire cutters and clip the wire about 1.5 to 2 inches after the tuner (I generally eyeball this.. it is about two tuners worth of space).

Step 7

Wrap the String

Now that the string has been cut to the appropriate length, pull it back so just a quarter of an inch or so remains past the tuner.  Wrap the slack string over and around so that the remainder is on inside of the tuners.

Step 8

Wind it!

Easy enough right.  Hold down the string with your right hand so that subsequent winds go under the string tail.  This will create one loop over and a few under effectively locking the string in place (see the next set of photos below).  On a Gibson the back angle is taken care of in the design of the headstock.  On a Fender guitar you need to make a back angle happen yourself by keeping the part of the string above the nut angled down as you wind it.  The break angle after the nut plays a significant part in the sustain and tone of your instrument so you do want to pay attention to it.

Step 9

Avoiding future puncture wounds

You’re pretty much done now.  The last step for me is turning down the extra string tail at a 90 degree angle.  This is to prevent nasty string end puncture wounds which hurt way more than they should.  Just be careful not to dig into the headstock with your pliers and make sure the string is not so long  that it is touching the head stock.  Now that there is some tension on the string you can remove the capo, tune the string to pitch, stretch it, tune it, stretch it, and you should be ready to go… now just five more!

If you have any questions or comments feel free to leave them here or email me at: empireguitarsri@gmail.com

One Comment

  1. Posted December 2, 2014 at 4:34 am | Permalink

    This was seriously helpful! Thanks Man!

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