Good day everyone. I am new to this forum and it is a great find. First a little bit about myself .. I am mid 40's, play in a classic/modern rock band, not for serious money (I have a day job) but it is a great weekly release to get together with the guys and jam out for a few hours. We take our hobby quite seriously and we do about 5-6 shows a year for charity functions or fundraisers.

I have been a Fender guy all my life. I own 3 strats, 1 tele and a musicman. I also own a PRS CE and I recently purchased an Alex Lifeson Custom Shop Les Paul Axcess in the royal crimson color on the secondary market for a steal. I absolutely love it and surprisingly, the playability of the guitar is much better than I expected.

I have taken a likening to Gibson and have always wanted a hollow body and was looking at a few Gretsch models but then came across a Gibson ES-355 that really caught my eye.

Given that I am not too familiar with the Gibson ES-355 I have one primary question. I keep reading that these are "Stereo" models and come Stereo Varitone circuit built into it.

I've been going crazy trying to research this and aftern being unable to find an answer I thought it best ask a community of musicians.

What I need is a good explanation for the Stereo Varitone functionality of this guitar. For instance, what does it do? How does it impact tone, how does it function, is the jack installed for stereo functionality or is it a mono jack etc etc. I just don't know anything about these guitars other than when I played a gig recently, the guitarist in another band on the bill had one and let me noodle on it for a little bit and I really loved the action on it and feel that it will compliment some of the stuff we play exceptionally well. Plus, seeing them, they are really lovely guitars.

So, after all that rambling, can someone help me understand what the stereo aspect of this guitar really does and how it does it.

Thanks again to anyone who takes the time to reply.


Last edited by DrFever at Nov 17, 2012,
The original, "Stereo Varitone" setup is not very practical. Modern versions of it are excellent, though. Basically the original idea was to have a stereo guitar that sent each pickup signal separately so you could use a different amp. The Varitone switch gives you a few different voicing options, but it turns out that for the Varitone and the stereo wiring to work, they had to put two varitone boxes in which adds a lot of weight.

It's set up for a stereo cable, though you can use a mono cable.
If you use a stereo cable, you need to split the stereo somehow, usually with a breakout box of some sort that splits the signal to two different amps. This is impractical because it's hard to find a good quality stereo guitar cable, and because you need the box and then two more mono cables form the box to your two amps. Those two signals come from each pickup, so you can have the neck pickup go to one amp and the bridge go to another.

If you use a mono cable you can go straight to one amp like a regular guitar, but then the volume controls on the don't work on the individual pickups any more.

Essentially, the original stereo wiring of the 355 was inconvenient and has not been used for a while.
The BB King Lucille has a much better setup, and I think a few other Gibsons have it. Instead of one stereo jack, you get two jacks. You just plug two mono cables into each jack and run those straight into their own amp. The best part of that setup is that if you don't have a cable plugged into the neck pickup jack, you still get the full function of both pickups and proper volume controls, just like you would on a Mono instrument. I absolutely love that setup and would recommend it if you are thinking of using two amps.

To make a long story short, most 355s and other ES variants don't have the original Stereo function, and for good reason. If you don't need the stereo setup, a regular 335, 359, 345, or 355 is going to play and sound great. If you want to use two amps, find something with the more modern stereo wiring. If you really have to have both the stereo wiring and the varitone (most people don't need either; very few find both useful) a Lucille is probably your best bet.
Wow, thanks for the great information!!

Roc 8995, isn't it impracticle using 2 jacks out of a guitar? I know my lifeson custom shop has 2, but not meant for stereo, meant for either the lif-o-sound piezo on its own or the magnetics and piezo.

I run my guitars through a pedal board. Hypothetically, if I run two jacks out of a stereo, they would need to go into something first right? But now that you've explained it, it makes it much clearer. I don't run Stero amp set ups anyways. My main amp is a Vox AC30.

Although off topic, I want to add an acoustic amp for the Lifeson custom Axcess .. Instead of using 2 jacks/patch chords, would I use an amp switcher and run a Y jack (double end out of both output jacks) and single into my pedal board chain thus alowing me to switch to the acoustic amp for when I decide to use the lif-o-sound (piezo only) pickup? I still want to be able to access my delays and reverb when switching to the clean acoustic amp. (Sorry for getting off topic)

On the main point, I think you've convinced me that I don't need a stereo. All that complicated wiring just to get stereo sound when I don't even use a 2 amp (stereo) setup. I can't imagine managing two patch cables coming out of my guitar. Time to narrow mu hunt to a non stero version.

The info provided has been fantastic and very helpful.

Regards!!! And Cheers!
Last edited by DrFever at Nov 17, 2012,
That's the tradeoff, yes. With a single stereo cable you only have one coming out of the guitar but you have to use a breakout box and whatnot to split the signal. I personally prefer two cables - you can always tape or zip tie them together, and I don't run around while I play - but I can see how it would be impractical for a lot of people.

As far as an acoustic setup, your method won't quite work. If you sum to mono with a Y-cable, you can't split the signals up again. If you want to switch the piezo system on and off from the guitar and switch amps via a footswitch, you can just use the 'Regular' output on your guitar, which sends both signals, and then use an A/B box after your pedalboard to send the signal to a regular and an acoustic amp.

The 'Life-o-sound' output can only be used with its own amp if it has a completely isolated signal path. So you have to have a cable from that jack to a string of pedals to an amp, and it can't get mixed with the magnetic pickup signal anywhere along the way. There's no way around using two guitar cables if you use a separate acoustic amp for the piezo.
Awesome info! Thanks again. You've given me all the answers I need to get going. Cheers and thanks!