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Bigsby B5 Vs B50: What’s the Difference and Which Is Better?

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If you’re interested in the Bigsby B5 vs B50 tremolo bridges, you’ve come to the right post!

I’m not exactly an expert on these bridges, but I have played the guitar since 2003 and know a thing or two about this instrument.

So how does the Bigsby B5 compare to the B50?

The B5 is an American-made Bigsby piece with higher quality construction and materials. The B50 is a less expensive licensed tremolo typically made by non-US third parties with slightly different dimensions, construction, and materials.

I’ll discuss these differences more in the following sections!

Bigsby Tremolo: What’s the Deal?

The world of the guitar just wouldn’t be the same without tremolo bridges. However, tremolo bridges aren’t as simple as they seem. In fact, most tremolo bridges come from Leo Fender’s concept. That said, there are some other variations, like the Bigsby tremolo.

(If you want to read more about tremolo bridges, check out my article where I discuss locking tremolo bridges.)

Their story begins in the late 1940s. Paul Bigsby was a motorcycle repairman. But he ended up creating a completely new vibrato system for his friend, legendary guitar player Merle Travis. It was an important step forward from the Kauffman Vibrola, the first patented vibrato guitar system.

One thing led to another and Bigsby vibrato systems appeared on many different guitars. Gibson, Gretsch, and Epiphone are just some of the names. To this day, the Bigsby vibrato systems still remain the same in many ways.

The main trait is that the vibrato mechanism is on the tailpiece. This is opposed to today’s standard Fender-style vibratos. They use the bridge itself for the vibrato mechanism.

The tailpiece of a Bigsby system is attached to the end of the body or where the Gibson-style tailpiece goes. It also comes with a spring-loaded arm. And the arm controls a horizontal mental cylinder where the ball-ends of strings are attached.

The strings simply loosen up as the cylinder rolls. Just like with any other tremolo, it technically lengthens the usable part of the string. Bigsby vibratos also allow players to go slightly up in pitch. But, overall, such a design can bring more vibrato control in some settings. This system is especially useful for chords rather than individual notes.

Bigsby B5 Vs Bigsby B50

Of course, there are plenty of Bigsby vibrato models to choose from. However, the ones I’ll be examining in this article are the B5 and B50 variants. They’re both pretty common. So let’s compare them, check out all the differences, and see which one is better.

Bigsby B5

The B5 variant belongs to the Kalamazoo series or the Original Kalamazoo Line. These are also known as horseshoe Bigsby vibratos.

The B5 is designed for flat-top solid-body guitars. This means that you can’t really use it on most of the Gibson Les Paul guitars. You could pair them with LP Special or LP Junior models. But LP Standard, Studio, or any other won’t cut it. However, they’re quite popular for SGs, Telecasters, Rickenbacker 325, and similar models.

Just like the B7 variant, the B5 comes with an idler bar or idler roller. This is an additional horizontal metal cylinder that’s closer to the bridge. Essentially, it breaks the string’s angle. The strings then go at a steeper angle towards the saddles on the bridge.

Other than that, the B5 is 4.75 inches long and 3.75 inches wide. It’s a cast aluminum tailpiece, weighing just under 290 grams.

Bigsby B50

And then we have the B50 bridge. This one belongs to the Lightning Series, or the so-called Lightning Series I. Of course, the B50 is also a tailpiece vibrato for flat-top solid-body guitars. But here, we have die-cast aluminum construction. Once again, we have a horseshoe design, as well as some other similar features.

For instance, there’s also the idler bar. But the B50 comes with slightly different dimensions. It’s about 4.3 inches long and 3.8 inches wide. The weight is just slightly different and B50 comes in as a bit heavier option.

There’s also a different distribution of holes. This means that these two aren’t interchangeable. You’d either need to drill new holes for this one or just use it on a different guitar.

The most important thing to note here is that B50 is a licensed Bigsby. Technically, it’s kind of like Fender and Squier. The Lightning series are not manufactured by Bigsby directly. This also includes the B50 model as well. 

Bigsby B5 Vs B50: Which One Is Better?

Now, Bigsby’s B5 and B50 have caused some serious dilemmas and discussions among guitar players. Plenty of people are asking about it online. And they look the same. So they seem a bit tricky to compare.

As you may already know, these two are almost identical. But the first noticeable difference is the price. The B5 is significantly more expensive. Secondly, as I mentioned, the B50 is a licensed version. This means that Bigsby is outsourcing them.

B5, and other American-made Bigsby vibratos, come with all quality parts. Although outsourced ones, like the B50, are okay, they have some cheaper parts. For instance, you’ll notice plastic sleeves. In the longer run, this makes B5 more reliable and durable compared to B50.

Finally, it’s important to note that these two aren’t completely interchangeable. The distribution of holes isn’t the same. And, of course, the dimensions are different. But things aren’t that simple.

The main advantage of a B5 here is that it fits the standard Vibramate adapter frame. To those who are not familiar, Vibramate allows you to install a B5 and other Bigsby vibratos without drilling additional holes in the body. These are usually designed for Gibsons, but there are Telecaster options available as well.

Another advantage of a B5 is that it feels better. The classic aluminum cast design makes it more comfortable and reliable compared to the die-cast one.

And its overall build is of better quality. In short, the whole vibrato will feel much different. The lever action is smoother and more articulate.

The B50 is usually included with some lower-end or mid-priced guitars. Meanwhile, B5 is present on some Gibson Les Pauls and other higher-end models.

Is Bigsby B50 Worth It?

This, however, doesn’t mean that B50 is a bad choice. It can serve you well if you want to hot-rod some of your guitars. So it’s far from a bad product.

Overall, it’s a cheaper and decent alternative to B5. And it can actually come in handy if you don’t have a super high-end guitar. However, just bear in mind that B5 is a standard for flat-top solid-body guitars.  

For more information, you can check out this guide about different Bigsby vibrato models.

Conclusion

I hope this article has clarified some of the differences between the Bigsby B5 vs B50 tremolo bridges.

And as usual, feel free to message me in the comments if you have further questions about this or another guitar-related subject!

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