Varitonectomy. Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr.Howard….

Don't let just anybody do the Varitonectomy. Get a competent tech. These guys did a great job on this rare blondie.

Sue me, I’m a purist. I’ve never pulled the Varitone from a 345 for my own use. I’ve done the work when asked by a client and only after giving them the standard lecture. That lecture says, essentially, pull the entire harness and put in a 335 harness. It doesn’t matter (to me anyway) if it’s a new harness or a vintage harness. My point is to keep the original stereo Varitone harness intact (except for the pickups, of course). That way, when you decide it’s time to buy a real 335, the next owner has the option of returning the guitar to its original state without too much fuss. It isn’t that hard either until it’s time to get the stereo VT harness back into the guitar but even then, it’s not as much of a pain as it is to take the original harness apart and reconfigure it to a 335 harness. Here’s why.  To make the conversion to a 335, you would have to pull the harness, disconnect the chokes and the Varitone switch and change the jack to mono but wait, you aren’t done yet. What you probably don’t know is that the pickups in a stereo guitar aren’t soldered to the pots like in a 335 or LP. They go directly to the three way. So, you have to disconnect the pickups from the three way (and the ground wire) and solder them to the pots. But wait, there’s more. The 345 harness has 3 shielding cans covering all but the bridge pickup tone control. The reason for that is that the shielding can for the bridge pickup tone control won’t fit. So, you would have to open the two shielding cans over the volume pots in order to attach the pickups to the pots. And you still aren’t done. You need to properly configure the three way switch for mono as well (and don’t forget the ground wires). Oh, and the caps in a 345 are those crappy disc type-not the bumblebees or black beauties that most folks want in their 335’s. They used the disc type because they fit in the shielding cans. OK, so disconnect the caps-oh, wait, you have to open the other shielding can to get to it. OK, now solder a set of bumblebees where the ceramic discs were. Don’t bother with the shielding cans because they are tough to get back on with the big capacitors. Now, what are you going to do with the hole that the Varitone switch was in? You can put a dummy pot there or even leave the disconnected switch there. Still not done. You need to flip the magnet in one of the pickups since a 345 is made with the pickups out of phase. If you leave them alone, the middle position of the three way will sound thin and reedy. It should be pretty clear by now that this isn’t meant to be a “how to” post. It’s really meant to dissuade you from converting your stereo VT harness to a 335 harness. Go buy a Mojotone or a Dr. Vintage or an RS and use that. leave the original harness intact. You will thank me, the next owner will thank you and your tech, who didn’t really want to mess with it either even though he could have charged you more than the cost of the new harness, will thank both of us.

3 Responses to “Varitonectomy. Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr.Howard….”

  1. RAB says:

    Ack! Lotsa work for sure! When I had my ’59 345 I just used a stereo to mono cable and had a trusted luthier flip the magnet in the neck (double white) pup…

  2. Rob says:

    When he was in his 80’s, my father told me that he had one last guitar to give me and referred to it as an “L5 Gibson”. So I was anticipating a hollow bodied jazz box that would have fit perfectly for what I play. So a couple of weeks later, I drive a couple hours north to pick up the L5 and he opens the case and here’s a 355. He explains that it is a stereo guitar and that there’s a special cord in the case for hooking it up to an amp so I take it home and plug it into my Twin with a regular mono cord and damned if I can hear any difference between it and any other of my twin pickup electrics. Later I figured out that it had been rewired mono. Now the Varitone was left in tact and I fooled with it for a couple of hours and got into it. Now I’m a tinkerer by nature and was thinking about how much lighter it would be without all those bulky caps etc. but thank goodness I never touched it.

  3. OK Guitars says:

    And a most unusual one at that. Yours is the only sunburst, bound f-hole early 60’s 355 I’ve ever seen.

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