Heads up, Southpaws... this might be the coolest Leftie on the planet!
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 BY50LH prototype appears to have been built around 2003. It features a stunning Birdseye Maple top that accented by carved Rosewood features—the pickguard, the armrest, the tailpiece, and "mustache" underneath the bridge.
We acquired this 2003 Bigsby BY50LH from the Gretsch Family Archives, and—although it's a 20-year-old guitar and it shows signs of having been in storage—it's virtually unplayed. In particular, the finish on the headstock is slightly clouded, and the metal parts show tarnishing from storage. There's also some cloudy finish in the cutaway (see photos).
When we got this guitar, the pots and switch were frozen, and the pickups weren't functioning properly. We sent them to Tom Brantley Rewinds, and he rewound the coils and brought them back up to speed. The pickups are a recreation of Paul Bigsby's single coil "dog ear" pickups. With an EQ similar to P90s, they pack a ton of clarity and have a wide dynamic range. It also didn't have a switch tip, so we added a Top-Hat Tele switch tip.
This left-handed Bigsby prototype is one of the coolest guitars in the shop. The style is unlike any other guitar. These prototypes are rare enough on their own, but a left-handed one? Come on! Too cool.