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Varitone Followup

This is a cool old fiddle but it sounds a little nasal. Maybe a Varitonectomy would help? I can't believe I just said that.

The Varitone controversy will probably never go away but at least I have something relatively new to add to it. In the last post I did about it, I talked about the “old” hand soldered Varitone and the “multivalue” switches. Well, I’ve had a whole passel of 345s and 355s in my hands since then and I’ve come upon something. Every single early (pre 62) 345 and 355 sounded big and fat and full in the bypass position. Every one of them and we’re talking 5 or 6 of them in the past few months. Lately, I’ve also played 6 post 62 Varitone equipped guitars. Interestingly, 5 out of the 6 sounded a little nasal (honky, pinched) in the bypass position. It’s not a huge difference but it’s audible. What I don’t know-and would like to know-is whether these big multivalue “circuit caps” that came into regular use around 1962, I think, are prone to drift. Our resident electronics genius/wizard, Chris W. believes that drifting components could theoretically change the bypass tone. I believe he is right but I also believe that for some reason, the later version is more prone to that phenomenon. While I’ve been an advocate of leaving Varitones alone, most of my experience has been with the older type (I’m a sucker for 59s and 60s). Now that I’ve gotten a few more 63, 64 and 65s in and out of the door, I’m rethinking my formerly rigid stance.  In fact, I may yank the VT circuit this weekend on the white ’65 ES-355 I have now and see if it opens up. As always, if you’re going to do this, pull the entire harness out and get a replacement 335 type harness. I like to leave the switch in place but it will make your task harder when you want to reinstall it (because you’ll have to reattach the leads and the ground to the switch). Getting the VT harness back in is not for the faint hearted (or the non ambidextrous). You think it was hard to learn the lead break to Bodhisattva ?(that’s Steely Dan, kids), wait ’til you try to get 3 yards of Varitone circuit back into a 2 yard space. And, just for the record, I can’t play the lead break to “Bodhisattva”.

3 Responses to “Varitone Followup”

  1. Dave K says:

    What’s the backstory for the guitar? I was glad that clicking on the image loaded one big enough to make out the signature.

  2. Michael McCullen says:

    That is a beautiful 355. I wish I had the kind of disposable income to get my hands on on of these vintage lovelies, but I am currently the owner of an Epiphone Elitist Riviera. That’s about the limit of my budget, but I hope one day to have something from the early 60’s with a Gibson logo on the headstock and some PAF’S.

  3. OK Guitars says:

    It’s an early 65 with the wider fingerboard. Here’s what I know but it’s third hand since I didn’t buy it from the original owner. He thought it had been refinished at the factory in 1980 (which would explain the 80’s strap buttons). It was autographed by BB King in 1990 (the autograph is dated) so we know its been white for at least 21 years. It’s almost certainly a factory finish since Gibson has some strange ideas about white guitars-like painting the bindings so the whites match. What struck me is the lack of oversanding anywhere. I usually check to see that binding still has a ridge where it joins the body. Sanded guitars usually don’t. The ridges are strong. There is also no red anywhere to be seen (since all 355s start as red guitars unless its a custom order). I called Gibson and they checked the log but, like many entries, it had no description.

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