Giveaways January 2015

January 15
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Titans of Tremolo

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TitansFEAT


A Gibson 1963 SG Custom with a Maestro Vibrola. Photo by Sellenman

Gibson Sideways and Maestro Vibrolas
Some of Gibson’s most coveted guitars from the 1960s came with vibrato designs that looked handsome but were fairly impractical due to their limited range and tuning issues. First available in early 1961 on ES-355s and Les Paul SGs, the “sideways” Vibrola—so named because its jointed, foldable tremolo arm moves parallel to the body—is paired with a Tune-o-matic bridge, and its pitch-changing apparatus is encased in a long tray that extends from the bridge to the strap endpin. Under the tray’s elegantly molded cover, the handle connects to a mechanism that moves two piston-like springs on either side of the whole assembly. When the arm is activated, the springs alter the lateral position of the piece to which the strings are anchored (the section with the triangle-shaped hole). According to Lin Crowson, repair and appraisal specialist at Gruhn Guitars in Nashville, the amount of pitch variation possible with a sideways Vibrola varies by the tension adjustment on the two internal springs, though it can go anywhere from one-and-a-half to three full steps or more.

Available on Gibsons SG Specials in late 1961, the Maestro Vibrola was quite simple compared to other tremolos of the day. Viewed from its side, it is essentially a question-mark-shaped metal base that attaches to the guitar top with three screws. A separate piece of metal—the piece to which both the strings and the vibrato arm are secured—slides over the top of the curved “question mark.” Pushing on the arm changes the curvature of the base, thus altering tension on the strings. Gibson later introduced a model with a “Lyre” portion that extended from the bridge to the endpin, similar to the sideways Vibrola. In 1962, SG and SG Customs were also available with a version of the tremolo that had an ebony block with art-deco-like inlays behind the bridge. Both the Lyre and the block were purely cosmetic additions. According to Gruhn Guitars’ Lin Crowson, though the original Maestro Vibrola and ebony-block versions attach differently than the Lyre version, the mechanisms of pitch transposition are the same. All three offer a subtler vibrato effect than other designs, with treble strings being affected more due to their proximity to the point of arm attachment. Typical pitch changes can be from one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half steps, depending on the angle of the bar, string gauge, and how much spring is left in the metal.


A vintage Mosrite Ventures model featuring one of the earliest Vibramute tremolos. Photo by Deke Dickerson

Semie Moseley—Apprentice to the Stars
In the late ’50s, Semie Moseley—a former apprentice to both Rickenbacker luthier Roger Rossmeissl and Paul Bigsby—started a quirky guitar company called Mosrite, which soon became a favorite of many country and rock musicians. One of Moseley’s first instruments was a doubleneck he built for country picker and TV star Joe Maphis in 1954. It featured an aluminum Vibramute tremolo. The Vibramute bears some visual similarity to a Bigsby but is exclusively top-mounted and has a foam-rubber string mute. Strings are fed through a string stop, to which the tremolo arm is connected, and mounted to saddles with individual string rollers that move with the string when the bar is used. A few years later, Moseley changed the trem to a die-cast design, did away with the mute, added a longer arm, and called the resulting model the Moseley tremolo. It appeared on popular Mosrite guitars such as the Ventures models used by the surf-instrumental icons, as well as Johnny Ramone.

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