an old guitar player article about Chet and the Bigby

Discussion of history's greatest guitar player.

an old guitar player article about Chet and the Bigby

Postby Norm » Thu Jan 14, 2016 2:32 pm

I was cleaning out some old files and came across an old Guitar Player Magazine article “Talking Ax with Mr. Guitar”

I have no idea what year it was printed.

I took the time to copy out his discussion with the interviewer about the advent of the Bigsby vibrato tailpiece on his signature line.
The devices described are actually mechanical “vibrato” units but the article sometimes refers to them as “tremolo” units which is wrong because, technically, a tremolo on a stringed instrument is a rapidly repeated single note like you hear on mandolins or in classical/flamenco guitar applications.

I’m just writing what the article has to offer. I occasionally interject a note in parentheses…

Some of his descriptions of how the stationary rod was shaped and why are a little confusing but were probably made for the interviewer with him holding a guitar in his hands that had the “Chet handle” on it so we’re reading what the interviewer got from his audio tapes


About the Tremolo:
“I started using a Rickenbacker (Note: marketed as a “Vib-Rola”) back in 1940 when a friend picked one up for me in New York. I didn’t know at the time that they made the bridge rock, but I knew that it would get out of tune once in a while and the string would slip across the bridge. Later, Bigsby fixed that problem (Note: with the Bigsby rocking bridge) and came out with a better tremolo. Their vibrato worked up and down instead of sideways but I still like the old Rickenbacker, I never use it anymore but I have it hanging on the wall at my home. (Note: this would indicate he had, by this time, sent the D’Angelico to John D. for a new top)

Chet did some modifications on his Rickenbacker back then, “I made that myself. Rickenbacker vibrato was stationary, like it just moved from side to side and that was the way you got your vibrato. I got so used to that that when I got a Bigsby I couldn’t use it because it was in the wrong position. I’ve gotten used to playing the handle under my hands, bent under the bridge to play a quick muted string, so I called Bigsby and had him make me an attachment so that I could put a rod of my own choosing on it. (Note: I’m pretty sure Merle Travis had the first stationary bracket. Chet may not have been aware of it at the time) After that I went to the store and bought some quarter-inch steel and bent it around to match the old Rickenbacker. I made a knob for the bar and had it chrome plated.

We’re going to put out a model with that same handle on it soon, but we’re going to have it movable so that you can keep it out of the way. A lot of guys can’t my guitar because it gets in the way. It comes up over the bridge and you can’t hold your hand on it or you get a muted effect. It should be bent down under the bridge and up.”


Here is a clip of Chet playing “Jean’s Song” (Poor People of Paris) on a TV show. He’s using a Gretsch 6120 but that is clearly not a Bigsby but a Rickenbacker Vib-Rola. I’m just guessing here, but I think he either had a spare unit or had just pulled the Rickenbacker unit off his D’Angelico and had it on a 6120 to use as a transitional guitar as described in the article while getting settled in with the new Bigsby units. ... 832500C181
...that's how it looks to me...The opinion expressed above is my own and does not necessarily reflect the views of this station. Your mileage may vary...

Audio samples:
That should do it.
Posts: 1333
Joined: Wed Aug 31, 2011 12:36 pm
Location: redwood city ca

Re: an old guitar player article about Chet and the Bigby

Postby Scott Taylor » Thu Jan 14, 2016 4:54 pm

My first amp was a Magnatone (1966). It had 3 built-in effects: reverb, tremlo and vibrato. I never knew what the technical difference was between the tremlo and vibrato, I just knew they were different. I could change the level and rate for each effect. When I read your post it reminded me of the 2 effects I used.

Here's what Magnatone says about it:
Over the years the terms Vibrato and tremolo have been used interchangeably. This is inaccurate because they are two distinct effects. Tremolo is the amplitude change of the signal, or simply put, modulating the volume up and down in a cyclical manner. Vibrato is the pitch change of the signal or bending the note up and down. As a musician applies vibrato to their instrument they are changing the pitch, not the amplitude. Magnatone was one of the very first companies to produce a true pitch-shifting vibrato effect where the others were doing tremolo only, but calling it vibrato. This misnomer has been perpetuated over the years with most guitar players not knowing the difference and using the terms interchangeably.

I just knew it sounded cool in certain songs. I didn't realize it was changing the pitch and simulating a little wiggle of a Bigsby.
Scott Taylor
Posts: 29
Joined: Sun Dec 26, 2010 8:14 am

Return to Mister Guitar, Chet Atkins

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 3 guests