By Christian James Towner
I founded Towner Vibrato Guitar Systems in 2007.
Earlier in 2007, I bought a 2006 Gibson ES-335 Dot and wanted to install a Bigsby vibrato tailpiece. I soon found out I’d have to drill too many extra holes—and the two stop tailpiece stud inserts would be left useless.
Somewhere along the way, a guitar tech suggested I install the Bigsby B3 so that I wouldn’t have to drill into the guitar body as I would for the Bigsby B7, so I did.
As soon as I strummed the guitar, the strings fell off the saddles. I figured there was a “down tension bar” created already, looked around the internet for a solution—and there was nothing out there.
I went to a machine shop and fabricated the prototype for the Towner Down Tension Bar. It was a 1/4-inch tube with cuffs and it worked, but the break angle was too steep. I then refined the down-tension bar from 1/4-inch to 1/8-inch wire with a shoulder. I also discovered the studs can act as controllers, providing the ability to raise or lower the bar honing in how much string tension is desired.
Goin down this path wasn’t impulsive or planned; the process was happenstance. In the moment of creating the idea for the Down Tension Bar, I saw more challenges than possibilities. I then carefully developed the down-tension bar while working full time, thinking it would be something that could bring in extra income. How I was going to share it with the entire world of guitar players and guitar technicians is the game.
In 2011, I ordered my first run of 125 Towner Down Tension Bars. Each year after that went up to 1,000 units at a clip. It was a relief to see people from all over the world excited about the Down Tension Bar, and the responses were very satisfying.
One of the first people to find the Down Tension Bar online was Los Angeles luthier Pavel Maslowiec. He called after he ordered a couple to thank me for inventing them. He’d call them the “Towner Genius Bar.” Sometime in 2013, Travis “Scratchy” Wammack called out of the blue to thank me for inventing the Down Tension Bar and Hinge Plate Adaptor system and was going to install them on all his ES-335 guitars. The customer excitement was one “thank you” after another—and still is. I felt all the work to develop and patent the products was worthwhile; I had something to contribute.
In 2013, the company began to show real growth possibilities. By this point, I had gone all in and created one more product called the Towner Hinge Plate Adaptor. If the down-tension bar was going to work out, it needed more support, making the Bigsby B3 and B6 installations screwless. The Hinge Plate Adaptor acts as a retainer with a 2-inch strap-button screw. The installer is relieved of drilling the extra hinge plate screws that come with the Bigsby. The Hinge Plate Adaptor also provides a flat surface for strap-lock buttons such a Dunlop, Grover and Schaller strap locks.
I also brought on the V.Block, which was introduced by Maslowiec. The Bigsby B3 is too long for Les Paul bodies, and the V.Block acts as a shim. Customers with Les Paul Jr.’s found they could replace the wraparound bridge with a tune-o-matic bridge and use the Towner V.Block and Hinge Plate Adaptor to install a Bigsby B7.
Towner Vibrato Guitar Systems don’t only provide a retrofit solution installing Bigsby vibrato tailpieces such as the B3, B6, B7, B11, B30 and B60; they also contribute to how well the Bigsby performs for the player. The Towner Down Tension Bar is an innovation in string-tension control that no other company provides for Bigsby products.
The Towner Hinge Plate Adaptor also provides a flat surface for strap-lock buttons to sit above the hinge plate, making it easier to access strap-lock buttons. It also relieves the installer of having to cut off a portion of Dunlop, Schaller or Grover strap-lock buttons to fit between the slot of the Bigsby B3 and Bigsby B7 hinge plates.
For more information, visit townerusa.com.