In the late-'40s, American inventor Paul Bigsby pioneered the electric guitar. The legendary solid-body guitar he built for Merle Travis hugely influenced Leo Fender, as did Bigsby's instantly-recognizable flared headstock. In the '50s, Bigsby focused mainly on his vibrato tailpiece design, but his forward-thinking guitar designs permanently impacted the development of the solid-body electric guitar.
In 1999, Gretsch acquired the Bigsby brand, mostly so they could take over manufacturing and distribution of the famed Bigsby vibrato tailpiece. But in so doing, they also acquired the rights to much of Paul Bigsby's intellectual property, including his innovative solid-body guitar concepts.
In the early 2000s, Gretsch began producing a limited number of Bigsby prototypes, mostly at their Terada, Japan facility. While never officially offered as production instruments, these rare, often one-of-a-kind axes were available in extremely limited quantities for just a few years. Ultimately, the project was abandoned as Gretsch moved in different directions.
According to Bigsby's official website, "Bigsby has produced a very few, limited edition, prototype guitars using many of the design features and ideas originally crafted by Paul Bigsby. The Bigsby prototype guitars are unique and specifications may vary from model to model."
This Bigsby BYS48 prototype appears to have been built around 2002. It features set neck construction with a flat Maple top over a solid Maple body. Although Bigsby called this finish "Cherry," it's more of a burgundy/wine red that looks absolutely beautiful. The finish sets off with the uniquely-shaped three-ply pickguard (which matches the distinctive Florentine cutaway, too!). For electronics, the BYS48 sports two humbucking pickups designed by TV Jones. These function and sound exactly like TV Jones Classics, but their housing and style are unique to the Bigsby prototypes. Powerful and warm like classic humbuckers, they retain the clarity and bite of single coils.
We acquired this 2002 Bigsby BYS48 Prototype from the Gretsch Family Archives, and although it's a 19-year-old guitar and it shows signs of having been in storage, it's virtually unplayed. The plastic is even still on the pickguard. The finish is gorgeous, and it looks great over the Maple as well as over the Walnut peghead overlay. But when it comes to looks and stylings, the headstock is the most eye-catching—the mother-of-pearl Bigsby logo is just too cool!