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Thread: Bigsby/ TK Smith 5 String info......please

  1. #1
    gary nava; luthier GarY Nava's Avatar
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    Default Bigsby/ TK Smith 5 String info......please

    Ok Mr. Spruce, I was blissfully ignorant of these wonderful instruments and now am fascinated!
    I was wondering what the scale length, tuning and gauges of strings were- I just watched the Chris Scruggs video and whatever the dimensions are they seem perfect.
    Thanks Gary

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    wood butcher Spruce's Avatar
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    Default Re: Bigsby/ TK Smith 5 String info......please

    Hi Gary...

    TK built 3 (I think) bench copies of the Glen Tarver Bigsby 5-string mandolin, but now has his own design, which rocks...

    Not sure of the scale length (mine's out on loan), but I'll measure it when I get it back on Tuesday...

    The key to the whole deal are the wonderful pickups, which TK makes...
    I've been chasing Tiny's tone on "Back to Back" for years, and this instrument does it in spades...the neck pup tone by itself is to die-for, and is a dead ringer for "that" tone...

    After watching that Chris Scruggs video, I really want a Bigsby on mine...


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    Registered User Tom Wright's Avatar
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    Default Re: Bigsby/ TK Smith 5 String info......please

    Quote Originally Posted by Spruce View Post
    The key to the whole deal are the wonderful pickups, which TK makes...
    I've been chasing Tiny's tone on "Back to Back" for years, and this instrument does it in spades...the neck pup tone by itself is to die-for, and is a dead ringer for "that" tone...
    The key to Tiny's tone is the pickup location, which no other electric offers. The Bigsby stops at the 17th fret (as does my Buchanan). This allows a neck pickup to get a much deeper "neck" tone, more like a guitar. It's a big-coil single, but the fat tone is due to the placement. I get the same rich jazz (or rock) tone from a similarly placed single-coil on my Buchanan.

    My solid-body electrics can't get that same fat tone, as they both have 20 frets and the pickup is closer to the bridge.
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    wood butcher Spruce's Avatar
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    Default Re: Bigsby/ TK Smith 5 String info......please

    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Wright View Post
    The key to Tiny's tone is the pickup location, which no other electric offers.
    Ya know, I think I could get along with just the single pup...
    ...but on a 5-string please...
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    Default Re: Bigsby/ TK Smith 5 String info......please

    Quote Originally Posted by Spruce View Post
    After watching that Chris Scruggs video, I really want a Bigsby on mine...

    That sounds great!
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    gary nava; luthier GarY Nava's Avatar
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    Default Re: Bigsby/ TK Smith 5 String info......please

    Thanks guys,
    Does make you wonder how something built so early on in the days of electric instruments can be so right.
    There’s no doubt that the 17 frets helps enormously with the pick-up positon and therefore tone- all my e-mandos have had 21 frets, which of course places the pick-up nearer the bridge giving a brighter tone. I guess one question for players is- “what would you prefer more frets or better tone?”
    Damn, I feel a project coming on!
    Cheers Gary

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    Default Re: Bigsby/ TK Smith 5 String info......please

    Chris Scruggs---The Jedi Knight of Hillbilly Music!
    That's from his introduction on an old BR-549 live recording of ShotGun Boogie by the way---is there anything this guy can't play or sing better than just about anyone?

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    Default Re: Bigsby/ TK Smith 5 String info......please

    Quote Originally Posted by GarY Nava View Post
    Thanks guys,
    Does make you wonder how something built so early on in the days of electric instruments can be so right.
    There’s no doubt that the 17 frets helps enormously with the pick-up positon and therefore tone- all my e-mandos have had 21 frets, which of course places the pick-up nearer the bridge giving a brighter tone. I guess one question for players is- “what would you prefer more frets or better tone?”
    Damn, I feel a project coming on!
    Cheers Gary
    I went for 19 frets on mine. I do prefer the tone to my previous electric. I think that has 22 frets. My daughter claimed it, it’s tuned as a Ukulele But at least it gets played.
    I did have the Bigsby in mind when I was designing the mandolin, however I decided to split the difference. Seems to of worked out well, I cannot see me building one with 22 or more frets again.
    I did consider making a four string and routing out so you could position the pickup anywhere between bridge and neck. It would be interesting to see what the difference in tone would be. All other things being equal.

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    Default Re: Bigsby/ TK Smith 5 String info......please

    Regarding the relationship between neck length, pickup placement, and tone: some of us have been very aware of this for years. Please witness the attached image of my personal 5-string electric mandolin. This is built by Michael Stevens of www.stevensguitars.com. It's semi-hollow -- plays and sounds like a dream. Here's the mandolin-specific page. https://www.stevensguitars.com/models/mandolin/Click image for larger version. 

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    Paul Glasse
    Driftwood, Texas
    http://paulglasse.com

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    Registered User mreidsma's Avatar
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    Default Re: Bigsby/ TK Smith 5 String info......please

    This is an interesting thread - I've been a fan of the Bigsby mandolins for a while, but never considered the pickup and bridge locations and the comparatively shorter necks. I have an electric Vorson uke that I've restrung as a mandola, and I've tinkered with the pickups to get them working pretty well and replaced the hard tail bridge to get a narrower string spacing. I'd been considering making a new neck for it to be mandolin scale (it's currently 17") but I was worried about the lack of fret access. Going to a ~14" scale would leave me with room for only 17 frets, but hey! If it was good enough for Bigsby and Tiny, then it should be good enough for me!

    For kicks I tuned it up a step and capoed at the 3rd fret. (I'm still a full step lower than mandolin tuning, and at about a 14 1/4" scale) but it's giving me an idea of the tone of the shorter scale on this instrument.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Thanks for the great idea! (And apologies for putting a tele style instrument in this thread of beautiful Bigsby mandolins!)

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    Default Re: Bigsby/ TK Smith 5 String info......please

    Part of the neck length issue for electric mandolins is related to pickup placement, as discussed above. To my mind, I also don't want to hear a fretted electric instrument playing super high notes. It's just not a pleasing thing, to my ears. When we designed the "Paul Glasse Model" shown above I said I wanted to be able to play the high G note -- 15th fret of the E string. Anything else was gravy and not needed. I've never regretted that decision.

    Making a great electric mandolin is not just a matter of making a really small guitar. Mandolin has its own issues and builders need to learn what those are and adapt accordingly. To me, the classic Fender electric mandolins (though they look really cool) are among the worst offenders (no pun intended). The neck is way too long -- making ideal pickup placement impossible. Then they didn't even make the best of the available "real estate" for pickup placement.

    All of the above is just IMHO. Your mileage may vary.

    All the best,

    Paul
    Paul Glasse
    Driftwood, Texas
    http://paulglasse.com

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