1966 Gibson ES-345 TDC Cherry faded to Orange
This is a pretty rare guitar: 1 of only 186 made in 1966 and all original including the Stereo output and Varitone rotary switch. You dont see many '66 ES guitars for sale.
This beauty has no cracks, breaks, refins, repairs. The original Cherry finish has faded to a lovely soft orange red with a lot of weather checking all around. At some point it had different tuners but the originals are back on. The nut is 40.2mm so pretty nice for this era and it comes including a Stereo- and Stereo-to-Mono cable so you can use it anywhere anytime! The case is a newer Gibson hardshell case.
The ES-345 was introduced in the April 1959 issue of the Gazette and sold for $345.00 in sunburst finish. Since its debut this classic has been seen on stage by everyone from Dicky Betts and Chuck Berry to Elvin Bishop, B.B. King, Freddie King and Marty McFly ;-)
The year before was a pivotal point in the evolution of the electric guitar for the Gibson company. Old models were changed and many innovative designs were introduced at the end of the this decade and the beginning of the next. The avant garde Flying V and Explorer were shaking off Gibson’s reputation as a conservative and traditional builder of instruments and the very first ES-335 and the Les Paul "Burst" would (later on) change the world of music forever.
Gibson was often just ahead of the competition in design changes, but they were truly inventing a new kind of instrument with the introduction of their double cutaway thinline electrics. The double cutaway design was almost immediately copied by the Fred Gretsch Company (redesigned Chet Atkins) as well as by Guild Guitars (Starfire series). The most important design innovation by far however was the semi-solid construction. The solid block of wood inside the hollow body gave both the sustain of a solid body with the appearance and feel of a hollow body. Up until 1958, Gibson guitar necks joined at the 14th fret. This new thinline series with it's double cutaway had a 19th fret neck joint that gave unprecedented ease of access to the upper registers.
The new ES-335 was an instant success and spawned a line of similar instruments with slightly different features. The first of these was the ES-355 which was essentially a 335 with the aesthetics of a Les Paul Custom i.e. multi-ply trim, an ebony fingerboard with block pearl markers, gold plated hardware and 5 piece split diamond peghead logo.
The next incarnation of the thinline introduced by Gibson brought back the concept of a stereo guitar that Gretsch had experimented with in the late 40’s (Project-O-Sonic). Rather than splitting the treble and bass strings into a stereo image like Gretsch, Gibson took the simpler solution of splitting the neck pickup from the bridge pickup with the use of a special “Y” cable into a newly designed Gibson GA-88S stereo amplifier. The new stereo guitar was also outfitted with a Varitone circuit which provided 6 preset tones. The new stereo guitar also sported gold plated hardware and split parallelogram fingerboard inlays.
* Small Crown headstock inlay
* split parallelogram inlays
* bound rosewood fingerboard
* gold plated Gibson Deluxe tuners with plastic tulip buttons
* nice medium C neck profile
* 16″ thinline double cutaway body
* full length internal sustain block
* 4 layer B/W/B/W pickguard
* volume and tone controls for each pickup
* (gold inlay) reflector knobs
* Original Stereo wiring
* 6-position "Varitone" switch with chicken head knob
* gold plated pickup covers and hardware
* gold Trapeze tailpiece
* Cherry nitro lacquer finish
* recent Gibson ES-345 case
If you’re a fan of Gibson ES-345s and ES-355s you’ll be aware that some models have an extra knob: the Varitone.
Even nearly 60 years after it debuted, there’s a lot of misunderstanding about what the Varitone switch does. Just a quick look at guitar forums and you’ll see phrases like “Sucks tone”, “Kills sustain”, “ruins fat jazz tone”... Huh? It’s quite easy to debunk such myths, but first it’s best to understand what the Varitone actually is.
What the Varitone is
Although a rotary design like a so-called “pot,” Gibson calls it the Varitone “switch.” Below the chicken-head knob lies a notch filter with six separate capacitors soldered to switch decks. The first position (1 on the dial) is true bypass, allowing the signal to go straight to the volume pot from the pickup, with no resistors or capacitors in the way. The other five steps on the switch remove certain frequency ranges, offering EQ “maps” that are set.
So unlike the regular passive tone pots elsewhere on your guitar, the Varitone doesn’t act as a low-pass filter, it’s effectively a notch filter. It takes preset slices out of the midrange. The result is a selection of tones that are increasingly more “nasal” than their full-fat bypass equivalents. If you’re into the science:
- A 1.5H choke is housed beneath the treble pickup and it fixes the range of the notch.
- Position 1 on the Varitone switch is the bypass.
- Positions 2-6 traditionally cycle through 1000pF, 3000pF, 0.01μF, 0.03μF, and 0.22μF capacitors.
- Each cap is paired with a 10M resistor to avoid “pops” when you’re switching from position to position.
Perhaps there’s so much confusion as none of the switch’s positions have ever had names: so you’ll get various people using terms like “squishy”, “underwater” or “transistor radio” sound.
The exact frequency slices taken out at each step vary – some say ‘70s produced models have notably different sounding circuits – but the basic idea remains the same: the Varitone allows for pre-set frequency “maps” that you can dial in with the flip of a switch.
What the Varitone isn’t
Although a lot of people also use the phrase “compression” when it comes to the Varitone, the Varitone circuit is not a compressor. But nor is it “just another tone knob” or even (not kidding...) “something like a wah pedal”.
- In position 1, the Varitone is true bypass (or as close as possible) so it cannot “suck tone”.
- Positions 2-6, it does “take out” a range of frequencies. If that is “sucking tone”... well, that’s exactly the point.
And remember, you still have your usual two volume and two-tone pots to bring into play. Plus, of course, your 3-way pickup selector. Due to the nature of circuits, you inevitably will see a change in volume on Varitone positions 2 to 6, but that’s why your guitar has a volume control. It doesn’t have to be on 10 all the time.
Maybe the Varitone just destined to be misunderstood forever. What we can say is that, in particular, some classic B.B. King and Freddie King tones need a Varitone switch-equipped ES. You’ll still get some players who have a (non-Varitone) ES-335 but say they can’t get the inimitable honk of B.B.’s “The Thrill Is Gone.” Have they tried a Varitone 345 or 355? “No,” they say, “Varitones ruin your sound...” Go figure. Suffice to say, B.B. King called the Varitone “The magic switch.”
The Varitone isn’t for everyone, that’s true. It is a “period” feature. But it’s definitely worth trying an ES-345 or 355 with one and you can always change the wiring loom so it becomes a straight forward ES-335 basically.