- electric strings
- slides and bottle-necks
- volume and expression effects
- electric guitars
- lap steel guitars
In the 1940s, Paul A. Bigsby was a foreman at a machine shop in Los Angeles owned by Albert Crocker of the Crocker Motorcycle Company. Paul’s interest in motorcycles and Western music brought him into contact with Merle Travis and they became good friends. Merle brought his Gibson L-10 guitar to Bigsby for him to fix its worn out Kaufman vibrato. On seeing the problems with the Kaufman design Travis ended up designing a whole vibrato mechanism which worked much better. The new Bigsby design quickly became the vibrato of choice for most guitar manufacturers.
In 1946, Merle passed Bigsby a design sketch for a new electric guitar. This became the iconic Bigsby-Travis solid body electric guitar with six-in-a-row tuners as played by Merle. This compact-sized electric guitar changed the sound and look of guitars forever and several local players ordered a copy. To meet demand Bigsby set up workshop next to his house on Phlox Street in Downey, California. By 1947 Bigsby was also making lap-steel guitars. Bigsby’s instruments were built on a custom basis, so there was typically a waiting list of two or more years. Being a machinist by trade, he had the ability to make each and every hardware part himself (even winding his own pickups) - the use of self-made parts however slowed his productivity to around one guitar a month.
As time went on he devoted more and more time to producing the Bigsby Vibratos and his instrument making dwindled. According to research by the Grestch Company there was documentary proof of 47 lap-steels, six standard guitars, one tenor guitar, two double neck guitars, two mandolins and six neck replacements by Bigsby that were still around circa 2014.
Bigsby's ill-health led him to sell the company to Ted McCarty of Gibson guitars who bought the Bigsby name and all inventory effective in 1966. Paul Bigsby died in 1968. In 1999, the Gretsch Guitar Company bought Bigsby Accessories from Ted McCarty.
Source: Bigsby catalog 1963