From Kalamazoo to Manchester: The Gibson Varitone, and how we developed our bestselling Varitone Stompbox


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Varitone Fever! How we developed our Varitone Stompbox


Varitone Front View
The Tiny Tone ‘Varitone Stompbox’

Gibson first introduced their varitone in the ES-345 in 1959-or-so, intended as a new innovation to help their guitars sit better in the mix by notching the mid frequencies. It went on to feature in several other guitars and basses by Gibson, perhaps most notably B.B. King’s Lucille guitar… the varitone was in Lucille by no accident- combined with the out of phase sound of both his pickups on at the same time (like many Gibsons, his was wired out of phase from the factory; either a daft mistake indicative of iffy QC, or an intentional stroke of genius depending whether you’re a Gibson fan or not…) … regardless of whether the phase thing was an issue though, this sound suited B.B. perfectly and it can be heard throughout his back catalogue, including hits like The Thrill Is Gone (1969) and albums like Live At The Regal¬†(1965). As a result, the varitone circuit has become a cult classic amongst blues fans and those wanting to shape their sound in a way that’s hard to accomplish with modern EQ.

Lucille Varitone
Lucille Varitone

With this in mind, back in 2011 Jack first started adapting the classic varitone design into pedal format after receiving several requests from customers at Jack’s Instrument Services who wanted the varitone sound but without drilling an extra hole in the front of their prized Gibson guitar for the additional wiring required.

Phatcat Jazzmaster Varitone Custom Wiring
Phatcat Jazzmaster Varitone Custom Wiring

After painstakingly auditioning hundreds of capacitors, and studying several versions of the original circuit diagrams, Jack finally came up with a winning formula. His varitone circuit included an authentic sounding set of capacitors to capture the sound of the original circuit, but also an additional sixth position(replacing the bypass found on the original circuits) which accounted for how capacitors sound darker as they aged… starting from the darkest position to the second-brightest position is a close representation for how a 1959 Gibson 345 would sound today after decades of capacitor degradation, and starting from the second darkest to the brightest position sounds closer to how a 1959 Gibson 345 would have sounded when new. The star of the show however, and the hardest part to choose, is the ‘choke’, or inductor- finding one which responded correctly to the circuit was a real challenge, but after auditioning several, we settled on the one that simply sounds the best and captures the spirit and tone of the original.

Varitone Stompbox
Varitone Stompbox By Tiny Tone

Determined to make our pedal even more useful than the original however, we’ve added a depth control, so you can blend in as much of the effect as you like, and an additional switch to the unit- as well as the bypass switch, there’s also a mode toggle which allows the user to choose the traditional ‘hi pass’ mode, or a ‘hi cut’ mode.

Hi-Cut mode works exactly like the tone control in a guitar, but instead of having just one tone cap to choose from, you instead have all six of the caps from the varitone circuit at your disposal. Depending on the position selected, this can range from very bassy sounds to almost cocked-wah esque tones.

Varitone Front View
Tiny Tone Varitone Front view

Each unit is lovingly wired up by hand, to order, here in our Manchester workshop. We’ve sold many hundreds of these over the years, and are continually adapting it into the best format possible- most recently we gave the pedal a major facelift to include an engraved fascia plate, smaller knobs, and by popular demand, a 9V pedal power supply input. This is optional- all it does is power the status LED on the front of the pedal… some folk use this as an ‘always on’ option, so having a light to show it’s on it’s always the most important thing. More importantly, we’re constantly trying different brands of capacitors to find the best-sounding options… above all, we want this to be the best pedal it can possibly be, worthy of the 1950s Gibson guitars which inspired it.

Best way to hear what we’re talking about though is to

try it for yourself! Order yours here

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Varitone By Tiny Tone UK
Varitone Pedals, Made with love in the UK