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  1. #1

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    Does a varitone suck tone? Is that why 345s are less desireable than 335s? I am only asking about the 50s implementations. Are they truly bypassable?

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  3. #2

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    The original 50's Varitone circuit is not truly bypassable - supposedly when in the #1 switch position there is no extra cap/choke in the signal path but that is not entirely so. There is a def. tonal
    difference between a bypassed Varitone and a Varitone in pos. 1. I had a tech perform this experiment many years ago on my own '63 ES-345 and I decided to have the whole thing removed, had the guitar re-wired to mono and it's been like that ever since. I just prefer the sound that way, it's somewhat more clear and direct. YMMV

  4. #3

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    Re value/desirability : I very much prefer the extra "bling" on the 345 model, the double binding on the top, the inlays .... and they are indeed a little cheaper than their little sister !

  5. #4

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    50's implementations? Are you referring to very rare actual 50's or some arcane era from the 60's onward?

    Yes the varitone (VT) has a bypass setting, and yes it (IMO) works. To me it's one of, if not the best innovation Gibson conjured up.

    Unfortunately, the VT got the "tone sucker" moniker from players who refused (or had no idea how it helped) to use a volume pedal, an important part of the system for many gits with varitone. Some VT are not so noticeable in volume drop while dialing away from bypass, others are.

    I currently have a 137 custom, 345, and blues hawk all with VT, all have a (play on words necessary) "variable" amount of volume loss when moved away from bypass, the Blues hawk the least, the 137 the most.

    While dialing away from bypass, the tone smooths out like silk... unlike any tone pot on a git or EQ an amp can offer. The silky tones are a perfect description, Think touching your GF's satin dress over silky hose versus corduroy over gym socks... you'll get the picture.

    Anyway, the stereo feature alone is (again IMO) very much worthwhile owning one, but getting VT as well as little niceties like gold plating put it over the top. Sound wise like 335's they're "variable" and some are better than others.

    Ask me if there's a 70's on up 335 I'd trade for my 2002 ES-345... go ahead... ask... time's up, NOPE! :-) For a late 50's 335? For sure, but then likely only to re-sell, I'm well beyond owning stuff for the sake of status.

    Varitone or VariTONESUCK?-varitone-gif

  6. #5

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    I've owned a number of 50s/60s 345s. To my ears, and many others who have played my guitars, without question the varitone sucks tone. I am absolutely certain of it. I tried to use and like the varitone, but it wasn't for me.

    Pulling the varitone not only makes the guitar sound better, it's lighter, too. Just pull the entire harness, drop in a 335 harness and keep the varitone and original harness for a potential future sale.

  7. #6

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    I have several guitars with Rothstein varitones that I wired in myself. The first position is supposedly a bypass. The other 5 positions are cool, too, IMHO.

  8. #7

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    Yes, real deal varitones do suck
    some and don’t truly bypass. There are some ‘varitones’ out there, not made by Gibson that only use capacitors to ground that’s different than the original circuit that uses inductors.

    ive been building and repairing audio and guitar gear over 20 years and you never get something for free, either in life or electronics: if you use an inductor in a passive circuit (without makeup gain), you’re going to hear it as a loss of something. Just how it works.
    Last edited by 6v6ster; 05-07-2021 at 06:38 PM.

  9. #8

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    Yes. The Varitone in my '64 ES-345 does, in fact suck tone. That is rather the whole point of the thing. Position one is indeed true bypass. From there on down, different frequencies are removed to give different tonalities. With a volume pedal, as noted by GNAPPI above, the resultant drop in volume can simply disappear. My own usage was to employ a modern amp with a gain channel, which gave me a variety of warm fuzzies without volume loss. I mostly used a stereo-to-mono adapter for a rich mono signal, but at home and in the studio indulged in double amp set ups. My prime rig was a Music Man 112 RD that I slipped a JBL D120F recone in; topped by a cab I built myself from 5/4 Cucumber heartwood which was a nice green shade that while not quite Jade in tone was not far off, and the 15" JBL D120F in it certainly added some low-end girth to the tone. Add the superb 3-spring Hammond reverb from the amp - it was an absolute joy to play - clear and full sound in any sized room.

  10. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by citizenk74
    … My own usage was to employ a modern amp with a gain channel, which gave me a variety of warm fuzzies without volume loss. I mostly used a stereo-to-mono adapter for a rich mono signal, but at home and in the studio indulged in double amp set ups. My prime rig was a Music Man 112 RD that I slipped a JBL D120F recone in; topped by a cab I built myself from 5/4 Cucumber heartwood which was a nice green shade that while not quite Jade in tone was not far off, and the 15" JBL D120F in it certainly added some low-end girth to the tone. Add the superb 3-spring Hammond reverb from the amp - it was an absolute joy to play - clear and full sound in any sized room.
    there you go, the final result is what matters. Think of your sound as a system and look at the result. How things work in in a recording studio and can be applied to live rigs too.

  11. #10

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    I agree with citizenk74. The right ones don't suck tone as much as they suck volume. I use an Xotic Super Clean pedal with mine.

  12. #11

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    I’m probably in the minority here, but I really like some of the funky tones you can get with the vt, especially with the pickup selector in the middle position.

  13. #12

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    Does the #1 setting bypass any additional filtering/capacitor influence beyond what the 335 has? Yes.

    Is this a newer idea? No.

    Does the #1 setting alter the sound compared to a 335 without a Varitone? No.

    There are many references on this. I've listed a few below.

    Instead of arguing circuitry or just subjective aural impressions, let me pose a rhetorical question. Were the Gibson engineers in the mid to late 1950s feebleminded? Would they offer a Varitone (which was available on the 335, 345 and 355 at times) that could not include a bypass? The Varitone was designed as essentially a notch filter to be an additional choice to the usual 0.02 microfarad circuit. The Varitone was an upgrade, not a tonal downgrade.

    I've attached the diagrams of the Gibson 335/175 and the late 1950s Varitone. You will see that the circuits in the 175/335 are the same as position #1 on the Varitone. ES335-ES175.pdf
    ES345.PDF

    There were quasi-experiments on the psychoacoustics, i.e., do people actually hear a difference. The answer is no when you take away the visual cues. High fidelity recordings with the same guitar and player in which position #1 vs. a fully external bypass circuit was used revealed that people could guess but they couldn't really tell the difference, nor should they.

    The expectations and the visual cues strongly paint what we hear. If you perceive a difference, for you there is a difference. Objectively, there is no evidence for this.

    Were the engineers, innovators and marketers dense at Gibson when they rolled out the semi-hollow series? Not hardly. In retrospect, the large majority of value in that series existed and exists in the 335. I've liked the 345s because I had one as a teen and bonded to the model.

    I was never a fan of stereo output, but some were. Gibson paired it with their stereo amp. The possibilities are large.



    Anyway I expect to hear the position #1 controversy the rest of my life. I've had the opportunity to ask some of those involved in making the early models with Varitones. Aaron Cowles was one of them who built prototypes in the late 50s and worked with Seth Lover, Julius Bellson, Ren Wall and Ted McCarty. None of them was dumb enough to not put a bypass on the Varitone. It would be amateurish, an insult to the PAF tone, and hurt marketing.

    The Varitone Circuit Demystified: Scott Sharrard and the | Reverb News

    Vary Your Tone With The Varitone Switch!

    The Gibson Varitone | GuitarNutz 2

    How does the Varitone Circuit affect Gibson guitars?

    I know this will not end the conversation.
    Last edited by Marty Grass; 05-09-2021 at 11:58 AM.