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Building a Paul Bigsby replica guitar

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    I have looked in wonder at original Bigsby guitars for a long time. Of course, an original is hundreds of thousands of dollars. I love TK Smith’s work, but I can’t swing that kind of money. Gretsch made some replicas at some point; I think I’ve seen one on Ebay for around $3K, but that’s also too rich for my blood. I dream about being able to build one myself, but I’ve got no skills when it comes to wood and my hands: I failed shop in 8th grade!

    So I thought this whole thing would have to live in my mind as a fantasy. But…

    I met a young luthier who has been building for 4 years. His dad is a master carpenter. And he says he can build me a Bigsby replica. This is our goal:

    Bigsby guitar
    And here’s the deal: he’s making this very affordable. So much so that if what he builds isn’t up to snuff, at least I helped fund a kid on his dream of being a professional luthier, and maybe his next guitar will be even better. So it’s win-win.

    I will give reports along the way.

    Now, I just have to save up for some pickups!


    Sounds like fun. You’ll use TK’s pickups I suppose? I bet you have the book “The Story of Paul Bigsby”, there’s enough in there to get a good idea of how they are made so it sounds like Bigsby, not just looks like one.


    Good advice. The bigsby reissues don’t compare sound wise to a real bigsby. I would suggest the TK pickups for sure. If it’s a project why not go double neck!!!!


    TK’s got pickups, Fred Stuart makes them, too, and I’ve found a guy in the U.K. that makes them as well. Regardless, I have to start saving up for them.

    The double neck is a great idea, but I’ve already got the Carvin double neck, so I’ll stick with one (for now!)

    Speaking off, here are a few photos of the Carvin. This is how it looked when I bought it:


    You’ll notice that someone moved that bridge around quite a bit, leaving some unseemly holes.


    More holes on the back:

    Even more holes

    Once the guitar was stripped, more holes:

    More holes

    From my research, these Carvins were made with either a natural finish, or sunburst. And that became a dilemma: there was no way I could restore it to stock without those holes peeking through the finish. So I settled on a TV yellow finish, which felt right to me for the era. You can still see some of the holes through the yellow, but they don’t just jump out at you.

    Shout out to Avi Shabat at Shabat Guitars who did all the work for me.


    Here she is after the paint job:

    TV Yellow

    TV yellow

    Ta Da!


    You’ll notice I added a Bigsby. That’s because the original bridge (as seen a few posts above) was functional, but had a big piece missing in the middle. I have a buddy that makes jewelry for a living—he carves everything in wax before casting. He certainly has the skill to turn a chunk of white Bakelite into a bridge, but I couldn’t find any Bakelite in white. And I couldn’t find a replacement bridge anywhere.

    I wrote to Alex at TR Crandall Guitars for advice. He said:

    “Finding a replacement is unlikely. Many of them broke as it was a poor design. They were not made of Bakelite, as you are correct—it was not made in white. It was made from Plaskon, which is a urea based plastic using celluloid as a filler. Many radios were made from the stuff afters its creation in 1931.”

    A Bigby was the obvious solution, as it was period-correct. It’s my first Bigsby, so I’m still getting used to it.

    (By the way, if you’re looking to buy one, get the WD Music B5. It’s cheaper, and is exactly the same as a regular B5. There is no difference.)

    So that’s the story of my Carvin #1-MS. I’ve been thinking of writing an article about the restoration and sending it to Vintage Guitar Magazine. (I write for a living.)

    Now, all I have to do is learn to play the mandolin.


    Really cool. You definitely need to write a story. I’ve never seen Carvin p90’s up close. Cool how they were not routed into the guitar. Really thin. I would love to get a soundclip. Start working on your Johnny GImble and Tiny Moore Mando lines.


    Tommy, I would be honored if you would play it, so I will make it happen.

    The Carvin pickups are outstandingly great.

    BTW – I discovered that someone had auctioned off a Carvin lap steel with the bridge I needed and the same AP6 pickup for $200. Wish I would have known beforehand.

    I think Curtis Novak is making reproductions of the pickup, too.


    So I opted not to have a Bigsby replica built – I really don’t need another solid body, so my luthier is building me a Kay Crusader-esque hollowbody with a Bigsby-style neck. I’ve always wanted a guitar with Charlie Christian pickups – TK Smith makes them, Vintage Vibe makes them, Lollar makes them. Any recommendations?

    I am also lusting after TK’s Bigsby-replica pickups. Would it be weird to combine a Charlie Christian with a TK C.A.R?


    I haven’t used TK’s, I don’t doubt they are great but can’t say exactly how they sound. I have used Vintage Vibe and Lollar CC’s and they are different from each other. The Lollar I thought was a little P90ish but much smoother and sweeter sounding, less bark, a really nice sound. The Vintage Vibe seems to have a bit of a scooped mid and low end or low mid bump and clear top end ( think hearing the pick attack on the string). I liked this sound very much also but it seemed less common, more of a unique sound. In both cases I used the humbucker size versions.


    Hey brother it’s funny you bring up the TK CC and CAR. I have a student back east that got a custom build from Dan Dunham and requested those exact pickups. I will say they interface nicely with one another. the pickups are very clear and I am very impressed by them. I don’t know how they sound in a hollow-body. I saw Billy Pittman has a Harmony with two CC’s. I’ll have to ask him and get his feedback.


    Awesome. Let me know what you hear!

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