Paul Bigsby Story

mayfly

Senior member
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So for my birthday I got a copy of "The Story of Paul Bigsby".  I've been reading through it.  Here's some thoughts and observations.

1 - Paul Bigsby was a very interesting guy, and the book is a very interesting look at the early years of electric guitar development.  If you're a guitar history buff, you need this book.

2 - Paul invented the pedal steel guitar - He built the first one in the world for Speedy West.  This appears to be undisputed.

3 - The first Spanish (i.e. not slide) solid body electric guitar was built by Paul in 1947.  He built at least two prototypes in 1947, including one for Les Paul.  There are photos of these guitars in the book.  But the one that put him on the map was one he built for Merle Travis in 1948.  Bigsby built the guitar, but Merle designed it.  It featured through neck construction, string through body design, a single pickup near the bridge with a tone selection switch, a single cutaway, and a six on a side headstock.  Paul came up with an ingenious idea of cutting the tabs on the kluson deluxe tuners to get them closer together.  Merle made this guitar famous and suddenly Bigsby had a 2 year waiting list for guitars. 

3.5 - Merle's guitar is made to the highest standard using high quality materials (the body and neck are birdseye maple for example) - but it's butt ugly :)

4 - This is where it gets interesting.  According to Merle Travis, Leo Fender borrowed the solid body Bigsby for a week some time in 1949.  Soon after that Leo had a broadcaster prototype that he was showing folks that featured many of the ideas on the Bigsby guitar. Leo went to his grave without ever admitting that he had borrowed the Bigsby - which bugged the hell out of Merle:  "I don't want a penny from him (Leo),  I just want him to say where he got the idea for the guitar.  That's all!"  and "I let him borrow it (the Bigsby) and it bugged me for years that he wouldn't admit it."  Bigsby was also pretty annoyed.  His daughter Mary remembered: "When Fender copied the head (stock), we sure heard about it!"

5 - Bigsby had patented the idea of the 6 inline headstock (apparently with Merle's permission) and tried to get Leo on a patent infringement.  It didn't work - Fender's lawyers found some "prior art" (some existing instruments with the 6 inline headstock).  This is pretty funny considering Fender's recent attempt to patent the headstocks of the Tele and Strat.  :icon_biggrin:

6 - Paul was more careful when he came out with his vibrato tailpiece - he had a rock solid patent on that.  In the late 50's and early 60's he was making so many that he stopped building guitars.  He was supplying all the big names from a little shop behind his house.  He only had 4 or 5 employees, including his daughter Mary.

7 - Paul sold his company to then Gibson president Ted McCarty in the mid 60's.  Ted kept making the vibratos the same way using the same patterns and molds up until he sold the company to Fred Gretsch in 1999.  The vibratos are still made the same way today.  Interestingly Ted was running Bigsby for much longer than he was running Gibson.

8 - oh yea - Bigsby was heavily into motorcycles  :headbang1:
 

smavridis

Senior member
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710
mayfly said:
4 - This is where it gets interesting.  According to Merle Travis, Leo Fender borrowed the solid body Bigsby for a week some time in 1949.  Soon after that Leo had a broadcaster prototype that he was showing folks that featured many of the ideas on the Bigsby guitar. Leo went to his grave without ever admitting that he had borrowed the Bigsby - which bugged the hell out of Merle:  "I don't want a penny from him (Leo),  I just want him to say where he got the idea for the guitar.  That's all!"  and "I let him borrow it (the Bigsby) and it bugged me for years that he wouldn't admit it."  Bigsby was also pretty annoyed.  His daughter Mary remembered: "When Fender copied the head (stock), we sure heard about it!"

what can i say, we greeks invented everything without help from ANYONE. EVER.  :icon_jokercolor:
 
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mayfly said:
5 - Bigsby had patented the idea of the 6 inline headstock (apparently with Merle's permission) and tried to get Leo on a patent infringement.  It didn't work - Fender's lawyers found some "prior art" (some existing instruments with the 6 inline headstock).  This is pretty funny considering Fender's recent attempt to patent the headstocks of the Tele and Strat.   :icon_biggrin:

Leo died in '92, so the recent patenting of the headstocks would have nothing to do with him, unless it were his posthumous wishes.  But, I thought he patented the headstock way back, it was recently the body shapes that were rejected for a patent, they waited too long.

You ever see the original patent (or lack of) for the mouse and windows.  It was neither Apple or Microsoft.  Who stole it first?

Radio?  Marconi or Tesla?

Buddy Guy says he invented the 5-way switch (but never used it with a RW/RP mid pickup) and gave it to Leo.
 

Unwound G

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835
I read that Merle dabbled as a cartoon artist when he was not playing guitar.  He casually drew a cartoon-like guitar and asked Paul Bigsby to make it as a bit of a joke.  If according to what Bigsby's claim about Leo Fender borrowing his designs, some of the stuff we built or building actually began life as a joke.
 

mayfly

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8,234
Unwound G said:
I read that Merle was a bit of a cartoonist,  He casually drew a cartoon-like guitar and asked Paul Bigsby to make it as a bit of a joke.  If according to what Bigsby's claim about Leo Fender borrowing his designs, some of the stuff we built or building actually began life as a joke.

Yea - there are some of Merle's cartoons in the book.  Oh - and here's the guitar:

log2.gif


Joke or not - you decide  :eek:ccasion14:
 

mayfly

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8,234
oh - forgot to mention that headstock "B" was Fender's prototype before he saw the Bigsby, and headstock "C" was Fender's after examining the Bigsby.  At the very least Fender 'borrowed' the idea of 6 on a side tuners and cutting the tabs off the Kluson tuners to get them closer together.  The tuners he would not have known about unless he had the Bigsby right in front of him.

It's really not the fact that Leo used these ideas that bothered Merle and Bigsby - just that he never admitted that he did.
 

Unwound G

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835
mayfly said:
oh - forgot to mention that headstock "B" was Fender's prototype before he saw the Bigsby, and headstock "C" was Fender's after examining the Bigsby.  At the very least Fender 'borrowed' the idea of 6 on a side tuners and cutting the tabs off the Kluson tuners to get them closer together.  The tuners he would not have known about unless he had the Bigsby right in front of him.

It's really not the fact that Leo used these ideas that bothered Merle and Bigsby - just that he never admitted that he did.

Like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles never admitted they took the character drawing from Warmoth  :dontknow:
 

Alfang

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WOW Mayfly, what a nice read so far, I am gonna find his book tomorrow, or the next day.
 

stubhead

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4,669
There's been a number of books out from former Fender associates, George Fullerton, Forrest White among them. Leo Fender had a habit of "remembering" things in a peculiar order, about many other things as well.
 

-CB-

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I wonder if it mentions that Paul and Leo had a long history before that - with Paul leaning on Leo for the electrical stuff.  Paul and Leo were damn near neighbors, btw.  Les lived only a few miles away, as also did Merle.

Leo said, and George mentioned in one of the books, that the headstock design for the Tele was played with, and originally going to be what we call the Strat peghead, but production problems made the rounded Tele headstock the way it was brought to market.  Later the Strat (and everything else) had the full headstock shape.  That shape, also according to Leo/George was taken roughly from the shape of a "quarter rest" in musical terms.  Not for any reason but because it worked well.  Some have speculated that the shape is also that of a classic violin head turned 90 degrees.

Fender did not, has not, and cannot "patent" the headstock shape.  It has "a copyright / trademark" on the headstock shapes.  The shapes are trademark shapes of Fender.  Patents expire, trademarks do not, etc etc etc.

As for Buddy Guy, he might have suggested that Fender use click stops so you didn't have to "tape" the switch in place, but he didn't invent it.  The three-way switch, the jacks, the plugs AND the five way switch trick were all part of the stuff invented by Western Electric, makers of all the phone company stuff up to the time of the ATT/Bell divestiture.  Western Electric was the manufacturing and engineering arm of ATT/Bell, but the switches and components were farmed out to companies like SwitchCraft, CentraLab, ElectroSwitch etc etc.  Western did the designs and assembly, not component manufacture.  If you ever have a chance to go to the ATT Telephone Museum (West Palm Beach, Fl) you'll see phone equipment from the 1910'a through the 1940's that had lots of guitar jacks and plugs, tele switches, etc.  Even the light Leo used on his amps was Western Electric, made by Chicago Miniature Lamp Co.

Leo was, however, clever.  Cleverness as in pressing blood from nickles like the cheap bastard he was.  He was a work-aholic, and always looked for innovated ways to stretch a penny.  If he could stretch a penny into copper wire, he would have.

And thats that.
 
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The Buddy story to me was BS, but those were his words.  He said he filed a notch in there so it would stick halfway.  The problem though, a 3 position switch on a 3 pickuped Strat produces no sound in the in between positions.  It takes more than just filing a notch.  Besides, when Strats used 3 position switches, all the pickups were the same polarity and winding direction.  Other than adding an extra sound, it didn't add a good sound.
 

-CB-

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5,427
Strats with CRL or other original type switches were make-before-break, and they do give the in-between tone when so selected.  The old trick was to tape the switch in place so you could actually play it that way and not have it move on ya.  Aftermarket, cheap inports, wannabe and poser switches might do as you say.
 

stubhead

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4,669
A lot of people can tell you with great authority that the three and five-way switches are "better" because they are:

a) self-cleaning
b) more positive contact
c) less likely to break

Some/all of this may even be true. However, when "genius" Leo Fender decided to use them on the Telecaster & Stratocaster instead of the more conventional "Les Paul"-type switch, it was because he had gotten a great price on a whole boxcar full of them to use on steel guitars and then the steel guitars weren't selling so fast, so he figured he better use 'em up. A lot of "genius" in the world is retroactive, that way. :toothy10:
 
O

OzziePete

Guest
Wow, =CB=, sounds like you knew these guys. Not dissing on you or anything like that, it's just that your interpretation on events sounds so real and like you were there when it happened - or know someone who was.

From the first time I saw a pic of that Travis/Bigsby guitar I always wondered how incestuous the guitar manufacturing industry must be. I realised it predated the Strat headstock AND the Gibson Les Paul (1952), so as it looked like an amalgamation of those two designs, I wondered who knew who and who 'borrowed' what, from whom? Kinda naive of Travis to lend Fender the guitar for a 'look see', if his story is true, don't you think?

And to think, also, that Fender was working with Kauffman - who was an ex employee of Rickenbacker!

So in one area, you have Bigsby - who would in turn have a relationship with Gibson and Gretsch, then Fender who knew Travis -a  link to Bigsby, hence Gibson and Gretsch, Travis must have known Les Paul - Gibson/Epiphone, and Fender had Kauffman with him (Rickenbacker). Talk about 6 degrees of separation! :doh:
 

Mor Paul

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Well, my mom is friends with my physics teacher's dad.
And one of my friends at school is my old girlfriend's younger brother's best friend's older sister.
And my middle school english teacher is my mom's mom's friend's son's wife.
 
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