Do you fret over whether the chicken preceded the egg? Or vice versa? OK, then you probably stew over whether your Bigsby equipped ES-335 came from the factory that way or was added somewhere down the road. This only applies to guitars with both stop tail studs and Bigsby holes. If your guitar only has a Bigsby and no studs (or other extra holes in the top), then that’s how it came from the factory. I may have mentioned that a lot of stuff happens to a guitar over 50 years. Surprisingly, there are a lot of ways to tell whether Gibson did the work or whether it was done by a dealer, a repair guy or an owner. On the other hand, how much does it really matter? Once the holes are there, the vintage value of the guitar is compromised although, as I’m sure you’re aware, that it will play the same holes or no. I don’t think it matters, value wise, if the guitar is a factory stop with an added Bigsby or a factory Bigsby but I get asked the question a lot, so I might as well give you the long answer. Easy stuff first.
If the Bigsby isn’t a B7, it isn’t factory (on a 335, 345 or 355). That’s the one with the tension bar. If there is no ground wire going to the Bigsby, it isn’t factory. Let me take that a little farther. A Bigsby B7 requires 4 holes at the butt end (technical term) and two holes in the top of the guitar. Most dealers and luthiers drilled the 4 holes in the butt and ran the ground wire into one of them. A factory Gibson has a fifth hole, drilled at an angle (coming out the side of the center black) just for the ground wire. No fifth hole? Probably not a factory Bigsby unless someone got lazy- which happens at Gibson. Next thing to look for is the ground wire that goes from the bridge pickup wire to the treble side stoptail stud bushing. Not there? Then the stop tail may have been added later and the guitar left the factory with a Bigsby only. Or it broke off and nobody bothered fixing it. Then you have to look for the solder or a broken wire coming off the bridge pickup. I know, too much work.
Here’s a fairly dependable tell-if the guitar has a “Custom Made” plate, it probably came from the factory that way-with the Bigsby mounted and the studs covered. Ditto for pearl dots, black dots and metal inserts. If the plate or inserts are long gone, it gets trickier. The guitars with the plate usually have two tiny holes made by the brads that hold the plate in place. If the guitar had pearl or black dots, it’s hard to tell if they were ever there. You can look to see if there is lacquer over the ends of the bushings-its more obvious on red guitars but you can see the clear coat on sunbursts. If it’s there, the guitar left the factory with the stud bushings which doesn’t tell you anything about the Bigsby. Then, there’s the “Bigsby beard”; the mark left in the finish from fading when a long installed Bigsby is removed years later. That tells you it had a Bigsby for a very long time but doesn’t tell you if it left the factory that way. If you suspect the guitar was a factory Bigsby with a stop added, look at the position of the stop -you can research it here. If the position is wrong, then it was added later. Gibson almost always got this right. The variation is relatively slight. As I said before, it really doesn’t make much difference value-wise but I understand the great desire to know as much as possible about your favorite guitar.