I recently finished a goldtop Lesquire guitar for Tristen Smith of Big Machine Records. Normally last-minute changes aren’t good, but his late request for a Bigsby tremelo led me to a new product that raises the bar of the lowly Bigsby to a precision instrument.
Kinman P-90 Pickup
A while back, Tristen told me his new tunes were leaning toward a gritty sound, and his traditional single-coils weren’t going to give him the mid-range warmth he wanted. He was looking for a fatter sound but with clarity. To avoid the muddiness of full-size Humbuckers, I suggested using a P-90 pickup, which has been experiencing a resurgence in the last decade. I recommended the Kinman P-90 to get the combination of midrange growl and clarity that he described. His new music used more gain and distortion on his amp, and the Kinman, being noiseless, would allow him to get the traditional P-90 sound without all the extraneous noise.
He wanted my Lesquire model (he already owns two) with his preferred 25.5 inch scale neck, only a little thicker. He wanted it painted like a Goldtop, and I suggested adding ivoroid binding to complete the classic Goldtop look.
His other guitar necks are maple, but I steered him toward a mahogany neck to get more mid-range warmth. Keeping with the need for clarity, we talked about using a lightweight Spanish cedar body, which wouldn’t compromise the warmth. I tinted the back and sides a mahogany color to match the neck.
Bigsby Style Tremelo
Half-way through the build, Tristen decided a Bigsby might be cool. After talking to Bill Callaham about his new Bigsby style tremelo, I thought it would work well for this guitar.
Tristen prefers Tele bridges, and Callaham’s system allowed me to use a half-Tele bridge with scalloped back walls for the strings to clear and slotted compensated saddles so the strings wouldn’t wander. And…There are no more stupid pins for attaching the strings! This makes changing strings so much easier, and it really helps the tone of the guitar. Also, Callaham has designed an oversized slotted front bar for better ramping and his slots keep the string alignment from wandering. Like all of his products, the quality was top-notch. It looked like a piece of jewelry and felt unbelievably smooth.
To make sure I had this guitar dialed in for Tristen, I wanted to hear if the Callaham tremelo changed the tone. First, I assembled the guitar stringing it through the body. This allowed me to do all my set-up and fretwork in my normal style so that I could get used to how the guitar sounded.
Then, I installed the Callaham tremelo. Everything lined up easily due to the slotted front bar and slotted saddles. I was amazed how well it stayed in tune right out of the box. The unit worked as smoothly as you could ask for. But how did it sound? After a lot of playing, I heard no difference than when strung through the body. Needless to say, I was impressed. It kind of sounded like a big Tele on steroids.
To experiment further, I removed the Callaham and installed a traditional Bigsby. While it did work, it was nowhere near as smooth and felt stiff and clunky. Plugged in, it was even a bigger change. It sounded like a different guitar. Gone was the punchy bottom end and the mid-range throatiness that P-90’s are known for. Basically the guitar sounded hollow and thin, which wasn’t the sound Tristen wanted. Needless to say the Bigsby came off and the Callaham was back on.
When Tristen first plugged it in, he was amazed at the combination of fatness and clarity. Of course, it didn’t hurt that he was playing through one of Brad Paisley’s Trainwreck amps! But he was just as excited the next day when he called me after playing it for hours through his own rig. He was already thinking about what upcoming songs he would use it on in the studio and how he could incorporate the Bigsby.
This build was both challenging and rewarding, and it was great to give an up-and-coming artist the guitar he had in mind.