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June 2017 Giveaway

Adjusting the Height of a Bigsby’s Handle

One of the coolest things about the retro line of Gretsch guitars is the fact that they come standard with the original “Gretsch by Bigsbyvibrato tailpiece. While not quite as precise as some other designs, there are a few features of the Bigsby (which has been around since the 1940s) that some players really like. In particular, the position of the Bigsby’s handle (or arm, if you prefer) falls at a comfortable place so you can play, but still keep a pinky wrapped around it and give it a little wiggle to add some animation (the late, great Chet Atkins developed a great technique for this). While other vibrato handles project all the way out to the neck pickup on most guitars, Bigsbys end at around the middle or a little in front of the bridge pickup, making them easier to access.

Most players like to have the handle floating about an inch and a half above the strings, while others may prefer it a bit higher or lower. To adjust the height, you’ll have to remove the strings (just once, thank goodness). Lift up the handle to expose the spring and you’ll very likely find one or two plastic (or rarely metal) spacers. These look like ordinary washers. To lower the handle, remove one of the spacers. If you’ve changed the string gauge on your guitar to a lighter set (like .09s or even .08s), you might want to remove both. Heavier gauge strings exert more pressure on the retaining bar and thus they tend to hold the arm down a bit more, so when you move to lighter strings the handle will likely be a little too high. In no case should you use heavier gauge strings than the guitar came with without first checking with the instrument’s manufacturer. That’s because strings can exert tremendous pressure on a guitar’s top (on hollowbodies) and neck. Need more spacers? Yup, you can just go to any hardware store and buy a washer of the same size.

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