Mod Squad(3)

September 19, 2005

It’s time for me to introduce you to Elliot John-Conry, who, at age 24, has been working with me for 10 years, and is well along the road to guitar-repair greatness. John-Conry came up with the perfect fix for the ’71 Gibson SG Deluxe shown here. The guitar arrived for a routine refret and nut replacement. Additionally, we were asked to remove the factory-installed Bigsby horseshoe vibrato and replace it with a stop tailpiece, because the owner preferred the easier string bending of his friend’s SG equipped with a stop tailpiece. (A Bigsby-equipped guitar has several more inches of string length between the bridge and the string retainer bar than a stop-tail setup, and a longer string is noticeably stiffer to some players when tuned to the same pitch as a shorter string.) However, John-Conry—a big Bigsby fan—didn’t like the idea of removing the Bigsby, and didn’t want to “mess up the pretty wood” by drilling the guitar for studs and a stop tailpiece.

Clever man that he is, John-Conry came up with two non-invasive modifications. Plan A was the simplest, while Plan B was the best-looking solution (and probably the better-sounding solution, as well). In Plan A, John-Conry moved the string retainer bar to the front, and used it as a tailpiece to hold the strings. Very clever, indeed! In Plan B, however, he really showed his stuff, as you will see.

[1] The owner had been playing this SG with most of the Bigsby parts removed, using the Bigsby as a tailpiece, not as a vibrato. He even removed the domed thumb-wheels that Gibson used on models equipped with Bigsbys (look closely at the wheels laying on the guitar—they have a slightly domed top that allows the ABR-1 Tune-O-Matic bridge to roll with the string movement when the vibrato is in use). Without a vibrato, the more-common flat thumb-wheels have better coupling with the bridge.

[2] John-Conry used circlip pliers (retaining ring pliers) to remove the retainer clip on the roller bar shaft, and he slid the roller and shaft from the vibrato base, setting the parts aside for a future Bigsby-loving SG owner. The vibrato arm-mount was fastened to the retainer bar with a cup-point Allen set-screw.

[3] After using Vise-Grip pliers to pull the string pins from the retainer bar, he removed the bar from the base, and re-installed it in place of the front roller bar. He re-installed the arm-mount backwards to act as a solid stop under string pressure.

[4] So that the six pin holes would be on center in the base, John-Conry slid three serrated toggle-switch washers onto the bass-string side of the bar as an alignment spacer. The two large nylon retainer bar bushings were stored away with the other unneeded parts. “Plan A” worked great, but it looked funky with the “bass-ackwards” arm mount and the serrated washers.

[5] Next John-Conry went into Plan B, machining an aluminum spacer to replace the vibrato spring. Then, he used a long wood screw to fasten through the new spacer and into the body. This provided great “coupling” for good tone transfer.

[6] Finally, John-Conry unveiled his plan, and surprised me by making an aluminum stop bar to replace the roller bar. The purple color is machinist’s blue, used as a temporary colorant on metal for layout (it rinses off easily with acetone).

[7] The final rig not only worked and sounded the best—it looked cool, too! At the customer’s request, we replaced the old, caved-in ABR-1 Tune-O-Matic with the TonePros AVR-II, our favorite T.O.M-style bridge these days.

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