54305: 1949 Bigsby Birdseye Maple Solid Body Electric G
Based on the serial number, this Bigsby guitar was completed May 16, 1949. This guitar appears to have been the cover girl for the Bigsby brochure and catalog. It is the only example seen of the bridge posts mounted directly into top like Gibson eventually did on Les Paul guitars starting with the 1954 Les Paul Custom. This instrument has a decal logo as usually seen on the steel guitars Bigsby made. This can also be seen in the cover photo of this guitar on the brochure. The figure of the wood matches the guitar on the cover as well.
While it originally had a wooden pickguard (also seen in cover photo) the current guard was most likely the third version installed. The second one is broken and in the case with the name Freddie Hilst engraved in the plastic (Freddie Hilst was a musician that played on TV in the early 50s in Los Angeles). This is not dissimilar to the examples in the Bigsby book of other artist guitars. It is doubtful that this guitar was made for Freddie but the pickguard and engraving may have been done by Semie Mosley, employee of Paul Bigsby at the time. It is a slightly different font than most of the Paul Bigsby-made guards and somewhat lacking in the detail Paul would have exhibited. There is, however, one example in the Bigsby book showing identical letter type.
Included with this lot is a letter from Bigsby expert Deke Dickerson titled "Assessment of Bigsby Guitar #51649". It is quite detailed and methodical in its examination of this instrument. He lists his qualifications ("My educated opinion comes from owning two original Bigsby electric guitars..."), the "Points of Evidence," the "Anomalies," and his conclusions, in part: "In my educated opinion, the guitar being offered by Heritage Auctions, serial #51649, is a genuine Bigsby electric guitar. There are several details on the guitar that are unusual, and may lead some to believe that this guitar is not an original Bigsby, perhaps a copy, but in my educated opinion based on the guitars I've seen and several guitars that share identical characteristics; this is an original Bigsby electric guitar... I believe this instrument is the fourth electric standard solidbody Bigsby made. The first was made for Merle Travis. The second was made for Bigsby's neighbor George Grohs (and is currently owned by R.C. Alien). The third guitar was made for Ernest Tubb's guitarist Butterball Paige (and is currently owned by me). The completion date of this instrument, May 16, 1949, would place it a month and a half earlier than the next known Bigsby instrument, the single-neck guitar made for Grady Martin serial #7149, completed on July 1st, 1949." The complete text is available on our website.
Paul Bigsby (1899-1968) is maybe best known as the designer of the first successful vibrato tailpiece (or "whammy bar" as it's often called) for the electric guitar. It was so successful that, to this day, his device is still in production and known simply as "a Bigsby." In 1948, at the request of friend and fellow motorcycle and country music enthusiast Merle Travis, Bigsby built a custom electric guitar with a strangely-shaped headstock featuring the six tuners in a single row, and with the strings anchored in the body instead of a tailpiece. This was a revolutionary instrument that had incredible influences on most of the solid body electric models that would follow. He only built a few of these and the current Bigsby company website states that: "After 15 years of research, we can document only 47 steels, six standard guitars, one tenor guitar, two double neck guitars, two mandolins and six neck replacements that are still around today." Another chance to purchase one of these legendary, museum-worthy electric guitars may not come along in some of our lifetimes. Don't miss out! Original hard case included. Condition: Good.