The ES-345 Resurgent

I think not. I don't use it all that much but the tone of a good 345 is as good or better than any 335 if it's used the way Gibson intended for it to be used. If you are just jumping on the bandwagon, beware. We have tests to prove it. I would like to hear from people who actually own one who believe that when used as designed, the tone sucks.

Not long ago, I wrote a post entitled “The Evil Tonesucker” which linked you to a paper written by one of my readers who knows about things electric. It discussed the much reviled Varitone and the fact that most of the guitar playing community (many of whom have never owned nor played a 345) think that the Varitone makes an otherwise very nice guitar sound like crap. And they’re right if you don’t use the guitar in the manner it was designed to be used. I’ve been getting a lot of emails praising the tone of the properly wired and played 345 and I have to agree. I’ve A-B’d these things to death. Through 2 different amps, through 2 channels of the same amp, through a Pete Cornish designed splitter box and through a “summing” stereo to mono cable. The phase issue has been explained over and over and the fact that the circuit is very clean when bypassed has been covered. Chris W. who wrote the paper and posted the video on You Tube with the true bypass A-B’d with the “number one” position on the Varitone, made it pretty clear that you gave up nothing when you played a 345 in stereo.  I keep hearing how it’s too much of a hassle to bring along a box or to bring 2 amps to a gig or any of a half dozen other reasons why the 335 is the superior guitar.  Well, it ain’t. Get a Y cable and use a 2 channel amp and you won’t have to bring anything to your gig other than a cable which you would have been bringing anyway. The “bandwagon” effect is huge here because there are some very knowledgeable folks around the internets who keep burning the 335 flame even in the face of overwhelming evidence. In my experience, the two best ES 3×5 guitars I’ve played are 345s. Number 3 is a 58 335 and number 4 is another 345. It’s common knowledge that 345s generally got the better wood and that the build quality was often better (if you’ve ever worked in manufacturing or assembly, you’ll understand why). The pickups are the same and only the circuit is different. I’m not going to start counting capacitors and resistors in the circuit-Chris has done that in his paper. I’m going by my ears. I’m always mildly amused by internet discussions of “tone.” I read one yesterday by folks who felt they could hear a difference between Gibson’s steel stoptail studs and an aftermarket stud. C’mon, folks, it’s a screw. It’s the same size and the same material. Do a blind test and then I ‘ll believe you. Maybe it’s these folks and the one’s who swear they can hear the difference between Indian rosewood and Brazilian rosewood fingerboards who have been badmouthing the 345 all these years. But, ya know, there is a huge upside to this. There is also a downside. A large percentage of 345’s have been stripped of their varitone circuitry and will never again be what they once were. That’s the downside and it’s a shame. Folks will tell you that they kept the Varitone harness in the case but there aren’t many who will endeavor to put it back in. It’s a fiddly, difficult and frustrating process. I’ve done it twice and I will never do it again. The upside is that 345’s cost less. Sometimes a lot less. I know of a beautiful 1960 (not the red one I just bought ) that is for sale for $9000. That’s about a third of the price of a 335 from the same year. I may have to buy it for myself. Keep the pro 345 emails coming. They make my day.

15 Responses to “The ES-345 Resurgent”

  1. Rob says:

    The ES-345/355 “evil sucking tone” argument rages on. How about this, varitone/stereo circuitry found on ES-345’s and 355’s (when in position #1) CHANGES the tone ever so slightly compared to mono ES 335’s and 355’s. And at position #2 and higher of course other things happen with the tone on those models. You may like it or you may not. And, there are so many other variables to consider as well … like which amp is used, amp EQ, the overall setup of the guitar, stop-tail vs Bigsby, neck profile, and since all PAF’s were handmade you know they don’t all sound exactly alike — it’s true they’re a few not so great PAF’s out there, and possibly most important of all – the talent level of the player.

  2. Chris W. says:

    The pragmatist philosopher William James once said “A difference that makes no difference is no difference”. My argument is that there are a lot of factors that can affect your tone. The Varitone in position 1 is not one of them (not even a little bit) 😉

  3. blewsbreaker says:

    I’ve been thinking about “upgrading” from my 60′ 345 to a PAF equipped 335 because of the added “value” and of course the better TONE…This is what I’ve found so far; using the same amp and cable ( a George L stereo to mono) I have compared 2 61’s, 4 62’s, 2 64’s, and a blonde 60′ against my 60′ 345. My 345 was bigger, more “open” and had LOT’S more chime in the center position (both pickups on) This was not subtle… anyone within earshot heard the same thing…
    The only thing I’ve done to my guitar was flip the magnet on the front PU so it would be in phase. I didn’t even bother with using the Y cable and A/B’d that with these guitars because that really would have been a slaughter! ES-335’s are worth more as an investment but right now, I honestly couldn’t give up a better sounding guitar to get one.
    My ears are pretty good, I’ve been a mastering engineer at Capitol Records for the last 20 something years….

  4. OK Guitars says:

    I’m gonna have to disagree with Rob. What is there, a 100K resistor in the circuit path? Isn’t it true that unless you are playing flat out (all pots on 10) that there’s more resistance than that just from the pots being backed off? If you listen to Chris W’s “true bypass” demo, you’ll hear that it makes no difference-at least on whatever speakers you have in your computer. I think maybe I’ll set up a booth at the next big guitar show and bring 2 or 3 of each along with a couple of amps and do a live shootout to prove the point once and for all. On the other hand, this probably keeps the price of 345’s down so those who are in on the secret can get them cheaper. Both Bob and Chris know their stuff when it comes to this and they seem to agree that the Varitone isn’t messing up your tone. Yeah, if you use a mixdown cable, it’s going to sound like shit with both pickups hot. We get that… but that isn’t how Gibson intended the guitar to be used. They supplied a stereo Y-cable with the guitar and it works great. I have a fancy custom box made by Pete Cornish for 345’s and I still prefer the Y cable into 2 channels of my old tweeds.

  5. blewsbreaker says:

    If you flip the neck PU’s magnet (which puts both PU’s magnetically in phase) using a stereo to mono cable works just fine…it’s not the ultimate because all the volume and tone pots slightly interact with each other, but if your not a volume and tone pot “tweaker” it’s not a problem at all…in fact it still smoked 9 335’s using it this way and I’ve used it this way on many a gig… I still want one of those 345 boxes though…..”Chris are you there?”

  6. Rob says:

    Okay, uncle. I want to believe so would somebody send me their fave 345 w/varitone so I can compare to my 335 for a month or so?

  7. blewsbreaker says:

    Are u local in L.A. ? It should only take 5 minutes….

  8. RB says:

    Perhaps the best way to “settle” this … is to have a nice early stop 335 AND a nice early stop 345 – all bases covered. Just pick the cut the works best for you. Oh, and the RIGHT amp? Ahhh, here we go again.

  9. OK Guitars says:

    I volunteer my 60 345 for the test. Unless I can borrow the 59 red 345 I sold a few months back. That one had a neck pickup that blew everything out of the water ( at 9.2K, I think). If I thought that would end the controversy/bad mouthing of 345’s, I’d fly anywhere and make an event out of it. Maybe I can get Vintage Guitar to do something. Get some impartial judges with good ears and end this once and for all. Who’s in and where?

  10. Thinline says:

    I have a totally original tobacco burst 345 from early (shipped in April) ’65 with all ’64 specs except for, I think, 5 original double line Klusons. Only one is a single line, which might be more ’64ish?????, but all appear original and the guitar is extremely clean. Perfect ’64 style neck with a nut just a hair under 1-11/16”. The Varitone sounds great, but not all positions are really useful. I use it more with a band – number 3 position seems to make the sound fit in the mix better sometimes, but I usually bypass it. I can hear Varitone sounds on Sticky Fingers. It’s illogical, but is there some variance in the Varitones themselves? I had one on a so-so ’68 355 that didn’t seem as dramatic or good sounding. I owned a factory black ’68 335 for years and now have a gorgeous deep unfaded red ’66 cherry 335 which I’ve compared my 345 to. Both are warm as toast and punchy; the 345 is a hair darker. THANKS for an excellent and intelligent site on these beautiful guitars. We dig ’em.

  11. blewsbreaker says:

    Man I’d love to be there with my guit!

  12. OK Guitars says:

    Read todays post.

  13. OK Guitars says:

    Because the main components are capacitors, the tone can be all over the place because they drift over time. I’ve used some VTs that don’t seem to do anything and others that are quite dramatic. The early ones were soldered by hand with all separate caps. By 63, I think, they used a multi pin, multi spec cap )or two-actually). I can see why. The job of soldering 5 different caps on a switch must have more than a little time consuming

  14. Thinline says:

    Thanks for the answer – guess it’s wasn’t my imagination that the VT unit itself can vary. Overall, I’m not a huge fan of VT, but I love 345s and agree that hullabaloo over VT effect on tone is probably way overstated. It didn’t seem to bother Mick Taylor on “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”. But the Shootout At The OK Corral could settle it once and for all. Good luck to The Great 345.

  15. Dr. Howard says:

    So, I have a completely stock ’71 ES-345. I just got my hands on an Xotic X-Blender, which allows me to blend both pickups accordingly (from Stereo to Mono), and flip the pickup phase! The results are staggering! It’s like I’m hearing this guitar for the first time! Oh, and the varitone is very useable! Several very cool tones to be had! So, keep those 345s STOCK!
    You’ll be pleased you did – And, you’ll blow those 335s away! hehe
    PEACE, Howard

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