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The Towner Down Tension Bar

Paul Bigsby’s vibrato concept has proven to be one of the two most successful vibrato designs; the other is Leo Fender’s Stratocaster bridge/trem unit (which has itself spawned countless versions).

The Bigsby has gone in and out of popularity, as it offers a much milder effect than the Fender design. However, the gentle shimmer that’s easy to get from a Bigsby is harder to get from anything else.

Retrofitting a Bigsby unit has always been an issue because of the height of the string bar roller; there are a number of concerns, such as having a unit that will physically fit on a guitar, whether the neck set will allow enough downbearing on the bridge saddles, and whether it’s desirable to drill mounting holes in the top.

Lately, a few creative people have turned their minds to these problems and come up with good solutions. The Vibramate folks have made a number of kits that allow mounting a US-made Bigsby on many guitar models with little or no modification to the guitar; however, these kits won’t work with the many ‘Licensed’ Bigsby models as the mounting holes won’t match.

Christian Towner has had a great idea for putting a single-roller Bigsby on any guitar that has a stop tailpiece. This idea, the Towner Down Tension Bar, has a number of advantages over any other system and permanent modifications to the guitar are limited to holes on the tailblock for mounting the Bigsby hinge. The kits are reasonably priced and very simple to install.

The brilliantly simple Towner Down Tension Bar replaces the stop tailpiece with a hinged, rolling bar. Simply remove the stop tailpiece, unscrew the studs, pop the Down Tension Bar in, and put the studs back in. Add the three or four screws for the Bigsby, string up, and the installation is complete.

Here’s an install of the Towner Down Tension Bar and a Bigsby B-3 on a Gibson SG.

Here’s an other view of how the Towner Down Tension Bar goes together and installs.

The Towner Down Tension Bar provides a tension adjustment that you can’t easily get othewise. The angle the strings take down from the saddles to the bar (or the front roller on a dual-roller Bigsby) affects not only sustain and clarity of tone, but also the feel of the Bigsby arm. Turning the tailpiece studs is all that’s needed to find the ‘sweet spot’ providing the ideal feel and tone.

There are two optional extras with the Down Tension bar, the V-block adapter and the Hinge Plate Adapter. The V-block effectively shims the end of the Bigsby away from the end of the guitar; if your guitar is a bit short for a Bigsby, as many Les Pauls are, the V-block helps with this, and should not affect its ability to fit in the case. The Hinge Plate Adapter provides a surface for the strap pin; on some model Bigsbys, the strap pin can be nearly inaccessible without the adapter.

Added features of the Towner Down Tension Bar system – it does not have a ‘handed’ orientation, and is identical for right or left handed instruments. If you have a US made Bigsby or a ‘Licensed’ metric version, the Towner system works equally well. There is only one caveat about fit – some tailpiece studs are larger than .256 inches, and in that case the must be replaced at a reasonable cost.

Visit the Towner USA site here

Read Christian Towner’s interview with ToneQuest magazine here!

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The Twelfth Fret

Guitarists’ Pro Shop
2132 Danforth Avenue
Toronto, Ontario  M4C 1J9
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