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What makes a Bigsby sound so good?

11/12/2003 9:22 PM
What makes a Bigsby sound so good?
Hello, I love old Western Swing music and the sound of the Bigsby steel guitar sure is unique on those old recordings. I would love to build my own lap or console steel one day that had the "old" sound. Do any of the heavy hitters on this board have any experience in working with an old Bigsby or Bigsby pickup? If so, would you please share what their properties are, or any opinions on how one might approach trying to replicate one? Chances are that I'll never see one in person in my lifetime.  
Thanks in advance,  
11/13/2003 7:19 AM
Jason Lollar

Bigsby and Moserite must have had some connection, both of them made pickups the same way.  
the steel guitar pickups with the blade pole are really hard to get your hands on, Bigsby guitar pickups with adjustable poles not quite as rare but still hard to find and they are more like a shoddily made P-90 than anything. the poles dont even line up.Wait till you see one if you ever do.  
Never having seen the blade pole I only know the 8 strings come out to 1.8K so its probably 38 gauge wire 5000 turns like many old steel pickups.  
the guitar pickups used segmented magnets probably from bunting arranged like a P-90, i would guess the steels used the same magnets  
If you want old steel guitar sound the only way to get it is to get your hands on alot of old steel pickups and analyze them.Play them to get aquanted with each design and take them apart and put them back together, wind them this way and that, pull your hair out.... take a look on my replacement pickups page down towards the lower third, thats probably a thousand hours of R+D or most likely more.
11/13/2003 6:59 PM

Jason, thanks for the reply, and the advice as far as the research, and the good first-hand info. When you describe the Bigsby guitar pickups using "segmented magnets probably from bunting", do you mean like the P-90 project on page 42 of your book?  
Also, I did some searching on the Steel Guitar Forum and found a thread by a man named Paul Warnick dated April 2003 in which he says this:  
"Bad news from Dave Peterson my partner in the (Bigsby) P.A. Re-Issue project-The foundry which we have used to cast the iron cores for the pickups has gone out of business-This means that we will not be able to (at least temporarily) provide any more individual Bigsby steel guitar pickups (like the one Ry got) for sale-The few cores that we have left in stock are already dedicated for use on the next two triple neck P.A. Re-Issue steels that we are tooling up to build again (probably for the very last time)"  
I would love to know what the hell the "iron core" is. Would this just be the blade? Does this item have to be cast? I'm tempted to try to contact Mr. Warnik, but am fearfull he won't tell me much.  
Thanks again Jason, and thanks to the people that put so much effort into this group. What a tremendous resource!  
11/13/2003 11:48 PM
Jason Lollar

The segmented magnets are kind of like what I show on that page of my book. they are made in strips and you can break off pieces, they are a bunch of small bar magnets cast together.  
This is what Semi and bigsby a search on moserite, someone pout a site together showing the guts of the pickups on a resoration job they did, it shows the magnets in detail. From the outside the blade pickups look similar to the guitar pickups but there has to be some difference to wind them with 38 gauge, that would make a coil way to big to fit onto the guitar pickups.  
The casting is the first I have heard of that, very possible the blade is larger in the center of the coil than what shows through the cover.  
What I do and I can get away with it is post on the steel guitar forum I need to examine a ---- to make a repro pickup and people will often send me instruments. they know me there and will do it. the rest of the time I just get alot of that type of work in so I see them quite often other than the pickup in question.
12/12/2003 11:25 PM

Jason, this info was passed along to me by a buddy who is also wondering the same thing, and emailed Mr. Warnik about the Bigsby Steel pickup:  
"The 5000 turns of #38 wire is the correct specs for the eight string Bigsby steel guitar pickup-the cast iron coil core consists of a "doggie milk bone" looking base (lobes are for mounting screws) with the right angle "blade" that comes up out and protrudes slightly through the pickup cover (1949 and later) the coil is wound on a form part which sets down over the blade-two bar magnets (one on each side) are taped to the outside of the wire coil".  
I can picture everything except the magnets taped to the outside of the coil. Does this make sense to you, or have you seen this type of arrangement before? Or do you think by "outside" they mean the bottom of the coil like a P-90?  
Thanks again,  
12/13/2003 7:06 PM
Jason Lollar

That info on the coil would match with the resistance readings I have and would be common for the period.  
Sounds to me like hes decribing side view  
l coil l coil l  
mag pole mag  
That doesnt seem familiar but alot of that old stuff gets whacky
12/13/2003 7:51 PM
Jason Lollar

I just remembered a few pickups similar to that, some national and Kay designs.

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