Photo 3 — To ensure your new Bigsby has comfy, squishy action right out of the gate, place the spring on the floor and put all your weight on it 30–45 times.
One thing I like to do with new Bigsby vibratos is eliminate the break-in period for the spring—which can otherwise yield rather stiff arm action for quite some time. In the spirit of generosity, I pass this trick onto you: Place the spring on the ground and step on it 30–45 times (Photo 3). I’m telling you, it works! Oh, and one more tip—toss the nylon washer that’s supposed to go under the spring in the trash, and use a penny instead. It’ll last longer and yield to pressure less.
The only Gretsch alterations that required some slightly more significant alterations were the potentiometer holes. I had to gently enlarge the existing holes to accommodate the new Emerson parts. This is a common distinction between most U.S.-made instruments and those made overseas—in fact, we encountered it with every instrument modded for this article.
Photo 4 — As with most import electrics, the G5426’s potentiometer holes are a bit narrow to fit higher-end Emerson pots. I used a 1/4" drill bit—operating in reverse—to very carefully widen the holes and minimize the likelihood
of unsightly wood tears.
With the Gretsch, making the pots fit required a 1/4" drill bit and a technique called reverse drilling that’s as self-explanatory as it sounds––you’re literally drilling in reverse: When the drill turns counterclockwise, it eliminates the chance that the bit will grab the wood and tear it out, which comes in handy when you need to get rid of a little wood in an area that may be partially visible. After only a moment, the new pots fit right in place (Photos 4 and 5).
For the wiring tweaks in all four of these instrument-modding projects, I prewired harnesses to make quick work of pickup installation—in this case, Curtis Novak’s brand-new Guytone gold-foil humbuckers. I’m really excited to try out these pickups, which are based on the old Guyatone pickups but in dual-coil format.
Photo 6 — The Jet Club’s original pickup rings had holes for three (rather than the standard two) height screws. To accommodate the new pickups’ two-screw setup, I drilled a new hole in the center of the two-hole side of each ring, then rotated the rings around so the unused holes would be obscured by the pickguard.
The one problem I ran into with the pickups should have been obvious from the start, had I been paying closer attention: The Jet Club’s original chrome mounting rings have three holes for pickup-height screws, not the standard two. Remedying the problem wasn’t too tough, though: I simply used a 3/32" drill bit to drill a new hole in the center of the side of the pickup ring that had two holes, then rotated the rings so that the side with the two unused original holes was hidden under the pickguard (Photos 6 and 7). Problem solved!
Once everything was in place, I restrung the guitar and put in some extra maintenance that often gets overlooked on trem-equipped instruments. Often the reason vibrato units get a bad rap isn’t because of any shortcoming with the whammy itself: It’s due to a poorly cut nut, bad stringing techniques, and bridge saddles that weren’t intended to have strings grinding away at their rough edges. A little filing of the nut and saddle slots, some lubrication in key areas, and the Gretsch G5426 Jet Club was good to go.
The guitar we started with was pretty good, but the one we ended up with had far greater depth and dimensionality to its tones and playing flexibility. Dressing the nut and fret ends made worlds of difference for playability, and the Curtis Novak pickups are fantastically dynamic—every bit as vocal as any good gold-foil I’ve heard, but far quieter. The guitar now has a bright midrange character that just sings. It’s equally at home with clean tones and gritty fuzz. Honestly, this Gretsch may be the biggest surprise of the group!