Bigsby tremolo bars, also known as whammy bars, vibrato bars, and tremolo arms, are a beautiful piece of spring and metal that can alter the sound of your guitar. First, let’s distinguish tremolo and vibrato, because though the terms are frequently interchanged, they are different things. Tremolo and vibrato may seem identical, but they are separate entities and they get mad when you confuse them.
So don’t say “Mary Kate” when you mean “Ashley”. A Bigsby, as it turns out, actually creates VIBRATO, though everyone calls it a tremolo bar. (So, wait, is that Mary Kate or Ashley? Oh god, I’m so confused…)
Now that you know that vibrato is a change in pitch, let’s examine how a Bigsby works. A Bigsby attached to the bridge of a guitar, and changes the pitch of the strings by actually lowering or raising the bridge. When pushed down, the bridge lowers and thusly lowers the pitch, and up means up and up. Just don’t go too far up or you’ll bust it– there is less flexibility on up-bends. What gives Bigsby its unique flavor is that its spring-loaded. This makes it more suited for slow and subtle bends, and helps your guitar stay in tune better than a floating bar, which more directly shifts the bridge. (Some Fender vibrato bars also have a spring, such as on our Jaguar)
In conclusion: Vibrato? Put it on the pizza.
Don’t get us wrong– we love repairing your gear. But there are some common mistakes we see over and over again that are so easily preventable it kills us. Today’s lesson should provide a little guidance in Not Breaking Your Own Stuff 101.
Lots of folks take a look at a cable with 1/4″ phone plugs on each end and see a dual-purpose speaker and instrument cable. However, pick the wrong cable for the application and yes, it will plug in, and it will even work (ish), but best case scenario it will not perform well and worst case it’ll catch your output transformer on fire. We’ll be happy to fix that for you, but why not save yourself the surprise of a blowout mid-gig and let us fix the really interesting (read: confusing) issues that are bound to occur all on their own.
So what’s the difference between speaker and instrument cables, and how can you tell?
An instrument cable is coaxial. That means there is just one small diameter center conductor. That’s all you need to transmit the low power signal from your instrument to your amp. Your amp then boosts that signal to a usable level. This center wire is encased by a braided shield conductor and insulators that keep that small, sensitive signal from experiencing any interference. An instrument cable will often be smaller, lightweight, and more flexible than a speaker cable, but some are beefed up with tweedy covers or other accoutrement that confuse their application. Sometimes there is a helpful identifying mark– such as the word “instrument” printed on the cable jacket. Speaker cables are usually marked as such while instrument cables may or may not have an indication as to their application.
Now that you know what an instrument cable is– DO NO USE IT FROM YOUR AMP TO YOUR SPEAKER! I don’t care what your band mate says– it will not sound awesome. You may not notice much badness at low levels, but once you crank it, all the power coming out of the amp can’t make it through that little instrument cable, so its going to turn into hot heat. You can probably guess that electrical heat can be a bit of a safety concern, plus you’re working your poor output transformer (you are playing a tube amp, right?) to death.
A speaker cable needs to transmit a lot more power than an instrument cable. Generally, it’ll have two equal gauge wire conductors (as opposed to one signal wire and a shield) and the wires will be beefier.
Using your speaker cable for your instrument isn’t so much of a fire hazard, it’ll just hum like crazy. The reason for this is that, as you may recall if you’ve been taking notes, the instrument cable is well insulated, because the sensitive little conductor easily picks up outside interference. The speaker cable is left unshielded, so when you plug it into your guitar you’ll get buzzing from the fluorescent lights, other power supplies, and swarms of electric killer bees. If you want overdrive and distortion, this is not the way to get it.
Take five seconds to figure out what kind of cable is in your hand, and use them correctly– you will be rewarded for your diligence with more massive rocking potential.
Thanks for tuning in. Oh yeah, and we have lots of appropriate cables in store, so no excuses.
Electrolytic capacitors, or caps, make a huge difference in the sound of your amp that you may not be aware of. Thusly, there’s a pretty big divide between those who get all excited about original caps and those who’d rather switch them out for quality control.
If you’re a musician, and you don’t know about these guys, you oughta. While obsessive behavior about any single component may drive you (or your uninterested friends) mad, being aware of what you’re working with will make you a higher functioning shredding machine. This is going to be a fairly elementary overview, so if you’re bored, please skip ahead and look at some pretty things.
In your power supply, the caps function as filters. Electrolytic caps stabilize voltage by sourcing or sinking current as it’s demanded by a load, preventing a sudden change in potential. You see, you need science to rock.
Despite semi-popular belief, caps only really last about 6-10 years. Given, that’s a big range, but its all dependent on how and how much they’re used. Even idleness can deplete their quality (through corrosion). They need periodic charging to maintain the oxide layer and stay formed. After a time, they start to leak either chemical or current and can fail to filter at all, which will cause humming (or joyful motorboating) in your amplifier. The leaking of current can also cause a strain on other components and possibly lead to blowing a fuse.
So why keep ‘em if it may compromise the sound? Because, much like your Star Wars figurines that gather dust in their plastic cases, vintage amps are more valuable when completely intact and original. Hardcore collectors and dealers want the amp to look like it did the day it was born, even though time and (albeit limited) use may have taken their toll. But there’s something to be said for a vintage commitment and rebellious streak– those crazy sounds you’re getting could make you intensely happy.
You can fully swing either way or define your swaying needs on a Kinsey scale of audio affiliation. Your parents probably won’t flip when you come out as cap jobber (or not), so choose your own adventure and rock on.
Tube Amp Talk for the Guitarist and Tech. Gerald Weber, 1997.
Welcome to Sherwood’s Music!
We just opened in October, 2011, as was faithfully reported by all the important news outlets.
180 Patton Ave, downtown Asheville, NC