Gibson ES-355 + THD Quintet = SHAZAAM!!!

1977 Gibson ES-355TDSV, minus the S. And, if we're being picky, the V as well. More like TDMQ now. But, can you find the hidden control?

I mentioned in a post last week that I was in the midst of installing/modifying the THD Quintet, a self-contained replacement for the Gibson Varitone. Well, it’s installed! We’ve also taken the trim pot off of the board and wired in a thumbwheel pot, mounted snugly and unobtrusively on the rim of the f-hole! Now I’m able to adjust the intensity of the effect without the headache of removing my entire wiring harness (via the bridge pickup cavity) or drilling an unsightly hole in the face of my guitar.


Feel free to look back through the archives to read my thoughts on the Quintet’s range of tones! I still wish the same strange tones from the original unit were present, but having used the ‘4’ position frequently at a gig on Thursday, I can say that it performs admirably and sounds great live.

Ah, there it is!

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10 Responses to Gibson ES-355 + THD Quintet = SHAZAAM!!!

  1. michaeladams says:

    Friend, thank you so much for adding to my collection of 355 photos. I’m unabashedly obsessed with the model, and I’ve tried to catalog every musician I can find that plays one. That shot of Noel is beautiful, and that’s a gorgeous guitar. Remember the video of him being hit by a fan onstage? Tragic, him wearing that guitar while it happened!

    Good call on the Klusons and the Antiquity pickup! I love Seymour’s Antiquity line, but these days I find myself more partial to the pickups of Seattle’s own Jason Lollar. He’s seriously committed to his art, and his Imperial set breathed new life into my oft-neglected Les Paul Standard. They have a vocal airiness that I’ve only ever heard in the ’57 Goldtop I had the good fortune of playing just before it was traded for a really, really nice house. Mmmm.

    I totally understand working within your means, and for the money the Epiphone Dot guitars are exceptional. I have one hanging on the wall right now (it was the guestbook at my wedding!) and I’m planning to someday bring it up to par, probably with the same Bigsby you mentioned!

    A Varitone is a great addition and certainly adds to the versatility of your instrument. I miss it when I’m playing my Jazzmaster! Still, I’m sorry to hear about your switching problem. It sounds as though your switch is on its way out or at the very least a broken wire somewhere in the signal chain. Hope it’s easy and cheap!

    It’s been great talking with you! So glad to have met an ES enthusiast like yourself! If you’re ever in Seattle, we should talk shop and have a drink. My treat!

    Keep me up to date on your future modifications!

  2. Diederick says:

    Michael, my Epiphone Riviera has been a long project of mine. I bought it about 10 years ago, but after my Marshall amp died several years ago I barely touched. I did however upgrade the tuners to Kluson’s and the bridge pickup to a Seymour Duncan Antiquity. For a long time now I’ve been planning to install a Bigsby B7 and the matching neck humbucker. So, in fact I’m upgrading it to my own poor man’s 355. I love the 355 that Noel Gallagher has been using for the last 9 years.

    Adding a Varitone to the guitar would make it more versatile. Especially now that the stock pots and wiring have started a life of their own. For instance, with the pickup switch in the middle position I get no sound. Therefore, I want to swap the whole wiring and pots for better quality units.

    Anyway, the guitar is a joy to play. I love the sound of a semi-acoustic, in fact if I were to buy me a new guitar I’d be tempted to go with the Dot Studio. Then I’d swap the humbuckers to attain a beefier sound with more bass. Sadly though, a true Gibson is beyond my means at the moment. But that time may come.

  3. michaeladams says:

    Diederick! No problem! This is one of my favorite subjects, so it’s no chore to have a conversation!

    No, I have my original Varitone in a bag around here someplace. I’m toying with the idea of putting it back in and taking the Quintet out- as I’m sure you’re aware of my love of the quirkier sounds- but I just can’t be bothered to take the whole harness out of my guitar again. At least, not at the moment. Maybe next year?

    And yes, it’s a space-age version of the venerable but niche Varitone unit!

    What’s in my guitar is all Quintet with the external volume control for the unit’s intensity, which is actually amazingly useful. It’s a silly idea to have that pot mounted to the board of the Quintet, so moving it to the F-hole gives me a huge amount of control over how subtle the midrange shifts can be. Great for the studio, but a bit difficult to use on the fly in live situations. Still, I’m really loving position 4 on my Quintet, giving me a total Brian May experience every time I cycle through.

    The Big D stuff is great, I would recommend it in a heart beat. What kind of guitar would you be using for this experiment?


  4. Diederick says:

    Cool stuff and thanks for your reply! I read up on the Quintet module and it looks to be a very intricate gadget. I suppose it’s basically a 21st century re-enactment of the Varitone?

    The thing is that I am considering a Varitone switch by BigD, which is quite similar to the original but rather smaller and it would still use the original switch.

    Or am I mistaken and did you hook up the original varitone switch to the Quintet and added the hidden control for the sake of intensity?

  5. michaeladams says:


    Nothing was wrong with the Varitone per se, other than the fact that it requires two large (and heavy) inductors to be mounted inside the guitar. Also, in its original stereo configuration, the Varitone is always on even in bypass mode, sucking tone and eating away at treble. The quintet is completely true bypass and is self-contained, so it was no problem to simply run a new wire between the switch and output jack.

    I will concede and say that in the time since I’ve installed the Quintet, John and myself have studied the Varitone wiring and have discovered a way to eliminate the Varitone’s “tone suck” problem, which we did on the 355 of a customer. It worked flawlessly and sounded great.

    Thanks for the compliment- I think she’s dreamy!

  6. Diederick says:

    Lovely guitar! Just wondering and I hope you don’t mind me asking but what was wrong with the varitone that you replaced it with this Quintet switch?

  7. Mr Peace says:

    What a wonderful world!

  8. michaeladams says:

    Thanks, man! It’s working out great!

  9. Jim McConnell says:

    The thumbwheel is genius. Elegant work-around for what could be a serious pain!

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