What makes a Varitone a "good one"?

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Let's skip right past the "Varitones suck, just pull it out." responses and get down to why some Varitones sound better than others. For example...I had access to a '63 ES-345 that was unmolested and the Varitone sounded stellar. All six positions on the switch had very distinct tones. Quack/honk/out-of-phase, BB/Freddie tones...they were all there. Last week I took delivery of a new '59 ES-345TD reissue and the Varitone is lacking, like an anemic version of the '63 Varitone. I know that Gibson made some changes to the Varitone over the years but were there any that would be so drastic that it would become almost unusable? How about stereo vs. mono wiring, could that mess with the sound? What about pickups, do they factor into the equation at all? Thanks!
 

OlAndrew

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I'm not an expert, but I have looked into this somewhat.

The modern Varitones (I have one in my Blueshawk) use much smaller components, especially the inductor, than the old ones. There were complaints about the weight of the old inductors.

I've heard the ones from Big D

http://www.bigdguitars.com/varitone.html

Are some of the best contemporary replacements, and an improvement over current Gibson ones.

I've only run mono rigs, I have no idea what a stereo setup would sound like.

A couple of threads of interest:

http://www.seymourduncan.com/forum/showthread.php?238301-That-Mysterious-Vari-Tone-Circuit

http://www.seymourduncan.com/forum/showthread.php?238301-That-Mysterious-Vari-Tone-Circuit

THe one guy is wrong about the Blueshawk though, I've had mine apart and it's a true Varitone with the inductor and all, the pickup selector switch does the pickup mixing. THe parts on the Vari are very small, the inductor is less than the size of a thumbnail wide. THe old ones had a fairsized little choke on there.
 

Wildwind

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OlAndrew - your sig song - a long-time favorite, one of the best ever IMO. Playing it now on iTunes, enjoying the chills. Thanks for the reminder.
 

s2y

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There's also the Stellartone. I have one in my latest guitar and it's likely to be installed in everything from now on.
 

OlAndrew

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I'm a curious critter, and I like kinda weird stuff (as anyone who knows some of my former girlfriends knows), so I hunted out some more info.

Here's a couple of links with more detail about old vs new circuits and ES 355 vs "Lucille" circuits:

http://www.es-335.org/2011/09/27/more-varitone-stuff-cue-the-scary-music-again/

http://www.harpamps.com/micKguitars/Gibson-VariTone.html

and finally, GFS has some Epi Lucille Varis for sale - $24.95

http://www.guitarfetish.com/Genuine-Epiphone-Lucille-Varitone-replacement-boards_p_11664.html

Not a bad price for experimenting with.
 

Sweetfinger

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What does the inductor do?
It is kind of the opposite of a capacitor. In a varitone circuit it is used as a low pass filter. If you put it in line with a capacitor acting as a high pass filter you get a circuit that will only pass frequencies that are in the "overlap" area. If you put that combination inline with the guitar signal you'll get all midrange. If you put that filter between the signal and ground, you lose that midrange but everything else passes through. With different cap values, you change how much of the midrange drops out. Just as different inductors in wah circuits sound and respond differently, so do different inductors in varitone circuits. For a while, Gibson made their own inductors from hardware store bolts and plastic bobbins. You just know that's got to sound a little different than an audio grade transformer.
 

vortexxxx

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It is kind of the opposite of a capacitor. In a varitone circuit it is used as a low pass filter. If you put it in line with a capacitor acting as a high pass filter you get a circuit that will only pass frequencies that are in the "overlap" area. If you put that combination inline with the guitar signal you'll get all midrange. If you put that filter between the signal and ground, you lose that midrange but everything else passes through. With different cap values, you change how much of the midrange drops out. Just as different inductors in wah circuits sound and respond differently, so do different inductors in varitone circuits. For a while, Gibson made their own inductors from hardware store bolts and plastic bobbins. You just know that's got to sound a little different than an audio grade transformer.

Thanks for the info!
 

=JL=

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Bear in mind also that Varitones are very sensitive in the way they react to different guitar circuits. For example, having your tone caps wired 50s-style will give you very different results from your Varitone at different volume settings from modern wiring.

The differences between pot tapers and values, treble pass caps, tone cap values etc all seem to be greatly exaggerated by some Varitone settings, and I spend a good deal of time fine-tuning those things on a guitar-by-guitar basis.
 

gadzooka

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I haven't heard complaints about the Varitone in newer guitars, although there aren't too many of them around. I love it in my 2011 ES-345. The wiring in the new 345 is probably a lot different than in the vintage ones, and I suppose the VT itself might be engineered differently. Anyway, the VT works well in my guitar, and does not mask the pure sound of the guitar as far as I can detect. I think it may have in my older guitars (my early 70s ES-355 comes to mind).
 

treeofpain

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In the 2 examples in the OP, there are other variables other than the Varitone, each of which will contribute to the difference in sound between guitars. I am betting that the guitars would sound significantly different from each other with the Varitones removed.

I know that doesn't answer the question about differences on Varitones through the years, but it is important to isolate one variable in order to characterize its effect on the total sound.
 

BMF Effects

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Sorry for the late follow up to this thread.

The '59 Reissue 345 got sent back. It was a great guitar but I bought it specifically for the Varitone and as I mentioned before, it was less than stellar. Could I have bought a vintage Varitone and swapped it out? Sure but the guitar was too expensive to have to put more money into.

Before sending it back I took it up to Norm's Rare Guitars and played it side by side with a '61 345 and a '70 345 and here's what I found.

1) The '61 had PAF's in it which sounded killer but the Varitone was not nearly as pronounced as the '63 I had played a couple of years ago.

2) The '70 had very good sounding pickups and a thin neck which is a deal breaker for me. The Varitone however was amazing. All the tones I remembered were there. I wanted to yank the Varitone out of it and drop it in the reissue (the '61 was way out of my price range)

3) The reissue compared to the vintage ones sounded like someone's poor attempt at making a Varitone, it didn't even come close.

Unfortunately I'm no closer to unlocking the secret but at least I know I wasn't imagining things, some Varitones kick much ass while others not so much.
 
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i owned an early Catalinbread Varioboost prototype that was a Varitone in pedal format with both blend and gain boost. I never did get it to sound good, though the eventual production model fixed many of the issues I had with it.
 




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