Gamechanger Audio Bigsby Pedal Review
Deconstructing mechanical vibrato leads to bold and bizarre sonic ends.
Unconventional approaches to pitch shifting yield creative results. Clever design on hardware and digital fronts. High-quality build.
Can be less than intuitive. Considerable learning curve. Expensive.
Gamechanger Audio Bigsby Pedal
It’s impressive to consider the ways Bigsby vibrato systems have been thrashed, massaged, and otherwise put to work in the service of making guitars sing in more emotional, weirder, and more humanly vocal ways. For my money, it’s one of the coolest improvements to the 6-string guitar concept ever.
There is something about the primitively mechanical manner in which a Bigsby works and feels that makes it uniquely fun among vibrato systems. Even the way it looks like a very beautiful motorcycle grafted to the face of a guitar is cool. But what’s interesting about Gamechanger’s Bigsby digital pitch shifting pedal is that it doesn’t merely reproduce the function of a conventional Bigsby. Instead it explodes the basic functions and capabilities of mechanical vibrato, making this very vintage-inspired piece of gear into a modern funhouse of polyphonic pitch-shifting possibilities. It’s full of surprises, and in the get-to-know-you phase, you’ll probably experience more than a few “what the hell?” moments. But for a lot of players these quirks will be delightful revelations. Indeed, someone out there may well invent a whole style of playing with this pedal.
Moving the Goalposts
Gamechanger puts a lot of time and resources into developing brilliant, mutant, and far-out pedals. That’s a compliment, and the guitar world is a better place for having these people around. It’s a delight to imagine the brainstorming that led to conceiving and executing this pedal. But the Gamechanger Bigsby is complex enough that there were probably a lot of challenges and headaches to deal with, too. The Gamechanger Bigsby is an ambitious design, and with MIDI control capabilities, 10 preset slots (which are accessible via MIDI program change messages), and a trove of interlaced functionalities that yield unexpected sounds and profoundly change the manner with which you interface with the pedal, Gamechanger must have had their work cut out for them to fit it all in.
“It’s a delight to imagine the brainstorming that led to conceiving and executing this pedal.”
On the surface, the pedal doesn’t look that complex. Apart from the foot-actuated vibrato arm—which here echoes the look of a traditional Bigsby, in an elegant “7” shape—there are three, dual-function, sideways-oriented rotary knobs. The three knobs can be adjusted pretty readily with your toe and illuminate in different colors and in various intensities and pulses to indicate status and level. They regulate depth (the number of semitones the pedal will detune over the pedal’s travel), wet/dry blend, and rate (which controls how precisely the pitch follows the travel of the pedal). In secondary mode, which can be accessed via a small button on the pedal’s face, the knobs regulate detune, a function that emulates the asymmetric detuning of different strings, and tone, which adds brightness to the wet signal. In secondary mode, you can use the depth control to regulate entirely different semitone ranges for pitch-up and pitch-down actions. The pitch-up-/pitch-down orientation of the rocker pedal can also be switched so that heel-down positions pitch up, and vice versa. You can even use the pedal to double as an expression pedal for other effects.
Wobbly on Yer’ Feet
Gamechanger says that the Bigsby can be set to approximate the sound of a traditional vibrato. I didn’t achieve those results so easily—there’s just no way to make your ankles and feet move in concert in quite the way your wrists and fingers do. And if, like me, you’re the kind of player who keeps a vibrato arm in hand for much of the time you play, you’ll find some nuances of that technique hard to replicate. Nevertheless, by using the pedal’s arm in the fashion of a wah treadle, applying a tender touch, darkening the tone, and keeping the semitones of travel within a modest range, you can color chords and spacious single note lines with sweet, organic pitch feathering that can animate a simple instrumental section beautifully. At these same settings, you can also twang away in classic Duane Eddy style as heard in audio Clip 1.
Transforming the Gamechanger Bigsby from a vibrato arm stand-in into something entirely different doesn’t take much effort. Quick changes to the depth and rate controls can turn the pedal into a pretty sweet-sounding vibrato/chorus/rotary speaker pedal that you can manipulate to create pitch wobbles of subtle or pronounced intensity (Clip 2). Changing the rate and darkening the tone yet again enables sleepy warped record textures that can transform and deconstruct pedestrian instrumental sections (Clip 3). And, if you put the right fuzz on either side of the Bigsby, it’s possible to replicate Kevin Shields’ melting Jazzmaster vibrato haze with a very vibrato-less Telecaster(Clip 3, section 2).
The textures described here really only scratch the surface of what the Gamechanger Bigsby can do and the demented ways in which it can twist the mechanical vibrato concept. There are easier ways to achieve many of these effects, but the unexpected paths the Gamechanger takes to those ends is a deep creative well, and it’s a great tool for those that savor unexpected musical results. Is it easy to use? Not exactly—at least in the early going. It takes practice to master the basics. The mechanical action of the pedal can feel a touch alien, and extracting the most from the pedal takes a bit of deep diving that, in the end, is well worth it, but takes time. On the other hand, it rewards blind experimentation, and this approach to using the pedal yielded some of my most fruitful discoveries. However you approach it, the Gamechanger Bigsby is an instrument that starts to live up to its creator’s bold company name. And if you like non-traditional, off-kilter, and unsubtle applications of pitch shift, the Bigsby is a riff machine in waiting.