Bigsby vibratos: charting the history of the game-changing guitar hardware

(Image credit: Future / Phil Barker)

“If you asked someone, ‘Do you know what a Bigsby is?’ they’ll probably tell you it’s a vibrato,” says Andy. “But they might not be able to tell you it was invented by someone called Paul Bigsby, and that he was the same guy who made the first solidbody electric guitar [for Merle Travis in 1948]. 

“The very first Bigsby vibrato was also made for Merle [in 1951]. The guitar came first and he was experimenting with pedal steels, so the idea of pulling the strings in and out of tune was kind of natural. When Paul first met Merle, they got to talking about guitars and he told him, ‘I can build anything – I’m a patternmaker.’

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Rod Brakes

Rod Brakes is a music journalist with an expertise in guitars. Having spent many years at the coalface as a guitar dealer and tech, Rod's more recent work as a writer covering artists, industry pros and gear includes contributions for leading publications and websites such as Guitarist, Total Guitar, Guitar WorldGuitar Player and MusicRadar in addition to specialist music books, blogs and social media. He is also a lifelong musician.