By Conner Baldacci 8/18/2020
There are tens of thousands of guitars on the market that you can choose from… if you landed on this page, it’s probably because you were thinking something along the lines of the title, why should I try a Bighorn? That’s a bit of a loaded question and i’m not trying to get sales-pitchy in this post, but I’m going to try and touch on the appeals of this instrument and what makes it unique from the rest.
Almost every year, I work the Cheyenne Frontier Days in Wyoming. This event provides a unique insight into the inner workings of stage life for some of the biggest names in the music world. After doing that for several years, I started to notice a pattern across the vast majority of artists that rolled through: across many genres, players were using a tele for the utilitarianism, and PRS customs or Les Paul’s for the aesthetic. Obviously, that’s a broad generalization, but guitar vault after vault had some combination of those three. From these observations (and long discussions with countless guitar players and techs) the Bighorn was developed. It started off as a project in combining the versatility-with-simplicity of a Telecaster with the absolute beauty of a PRS Custom. Thus, the designing commenced.
While a student at Roberto-Venn School of Luthiery, I took the opportunity to trace and make copies of every single guitar body template they had; everything from Jerrycasters to Jazzmasters.
When designing the shape, I drew a centerline and traced ALL of them onto my paper. Then came the painstaking task of finding which lines worked and which didn’t. The point of this was to make a brand new guitar that, from the moment you pick it up, it feels worn in and familiar no matter what camp you come from. The design was far from perfect in the beginning (you can still see old versions in ended listings on our Reverb page), but over the years we have tweaked it here and there, to the point where we now feel we have accomplished our body shape goal. The offset shape combined with the length and material of the neck creates an exceptionally balanced guitar that sits well on your lap or with your go-to strap. We wanted something slightly brighter than a 25” scale length, but not as snappy as 25.5”. Through trial and error in the first few builds, we landed nicely on 25.125”. Bright enough to shine through, but won’t make your ears bleed if you bump the treble up a bit. Once we were happy with these designs, we moved on to materials.
In the beginning, we played around with a lot of different woods ranging from afromoisa to zebrawood before circling back around to ‘ol reliable, Mahogany and maple. In a medium-thickness electric guitar, especially with stud mounted bridges, this combination best showcased the exact tonal profile we were looking for. Most Bighorn standards feature one-piece mahogany bodies with a bookmatched figured maple top. A one-piece, quartersawn mahogany neck with a rosewood fretboard. The mountain inlay is a story for another time, but we saw that increasing numbers of guitars are being released without a fretboard inlay. To us, that’s no fun so we wanted to include a personal touch into the 12th fret.
Hardware: this is one area that I always wanted to be fluid. Every guitar player has their own preferences and we would like to keep those options available while also utilizing standard hardware that works WITH the instrument instead of trying to dictate a certain sound. Note, the hardware listed current as of the time of publication but is subject to change. Starting from the bottom and working our way up, our standard hardware includes a PureTone output jack which increases the contact surface area of the prongs on the cable by 100%. Not only does this give the jack a much more stable connection (always make sure it clicks twice when inserting the cable), but the high and low frequencies are greatly improved, creating a much more balanced instrument all while eliminating frequency spikes and crackle caused by standard pressure grounds.
We tested hundreds of control cavity components before landing on the current cavity layout. Our original idea was to use a blend pot for the pickups, however we could never find any consistent quality there so we turned our sights to three way switches. We purchased samples everywhere we could and found the ones with the least play and crackling. Same goes for the 500K volume and tone pots. We now use CTS pots that have been upgraded with brass components and a heavier duty wiper to handle any abuse that might be thrown its way.
Nowhere is our commitment to quality shown more than perhaps in our pickup options. It is our belief that 85-90% of your electric guitar’s tone comes from these magic tone bars and it was critical we get these right.
These aren’t your everyday stock pickups…
We worked closely with the folks at Darkmoon Pickups to develop two standard bridge options and one neck option to pick up and enhance what you hear and feel when playing the guitar without plugging it in. The pickups are voiced to work with the instrument instead of dictate its sound. Our Mountain bridge pickup (8.2K A4) is more of a vintage output whereas the Buffalo pickup (12.4k A5) is a bit hotter.
Our standard stoptail bridge is a Gotoh 510 Series Wraparound bridge. This is a heavy-duty, brass tailpiece. One of the reasons we went with Gotoh over others is because of the counterbalance it provides. One issue Wraparound bridges have is the string tension from the string wrap has a tendency to pull up the studs over time. The rear counterbalance on the Gotoh helps to counteract this. By having a larger area for the strings to wrap around, the torque distribution helps to hold those studs in place and keep your guitar stable and in-tune for years to come.
That takes us to the neck. We use the hardest fret wire we can get our hands on and make sure our frets are seated securely before they’re glued in place to help ensure you spend less time tweaking and more time playing.
Our standard 16:1 locking buffalo tuners feature a thumbscrew on the top to lock your strings in place and keep everything in tune even on the craziest of bends.
So all this talk about hardware and you’re probably thinking, “okay, get to the point”. The underlying theme with all of these parts is they create a guitar that is unique to the person playing it. A guitar that doesn’t feel or sound one specific way, but rather an instrument that can be used in any way your heart desires. There’s no such thing as a “perfect guitar”, we all have different ideas in our heads of what perfection is. To us, a perfect guitar is a guitar that is an extension of the soul that is playing those strings. How you play the guitar has more to do with the sound than any spec we could possibly list. The starting goal with the Bighorn was to create a utility guitar- not a versatile one. Versatility comes in the form of too many knobs and switches, utility comes from simplicity and fluidity. We believe that we have captured something truly unique in the Bighorn and hope you will feel the same.