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Line-6 Variax

10/9/2003 7:41 PM
Mark Hammer Line-6 Variax
I tried out one of these briefly yesterday while waiting to pick up my kid from parochial school. the fingers are a bit stiff lately and I only tinkered for 15 minutes so I wouldn't claim to have "put it through its paces" in any way. Played it through a re-issue blackface Twin set to clean, clean, clean.  
First, not an especially inspiring guitar acoustically, but comfortable enough and nicely balanced. Not the best neck I've ever played but far from the worst.  
The "pickup switch" is unusual in that it mimics a Strat 5-way in some settings, a 50's Tele in others, a 3-way with tapping options in others, and in others it seems to function like an effects submenu. Takes a bit of time to get used to but I imagine one can get used to it. The biggest difference is the "model" switch. This is a rotary switch that looks like a volume or tone knob but switches (with detentes, not those bloody continuous rotary encoders) to different virtual models which are listed in tiny print on the knob. Much like the assorted Line 6 modeller pedals, they use suggestive names rather than saying "Strat", "Martin", "Tele", etc. The pickup switch produces a distinctive setting within each of the models. I don't know if it was me or the one I was playing, but I couldn't get anything useful out of the tone control. Perhaps it was only relevant to those model/settings where I *didn't* try and tinker with the tone.  
A few things surprised me about it. First, when you switch "models", in some cases you detect very little difference. Maybe one has to push the instrument/strings more but there were a whole lot of times when the difference within a model with different pickup settings was a whole lot bigger than the difference *between* models. Second, some of the settings were essentially an existing setting with chorus and that sucker is *bright*. I mean seriously crisp. Perhaps the tone pot is used for altering the tone in those settings and I neglected to explore it (worked without a manual).  
The acoustic sound was nice, but I found it wasn't a whole lot different than the cheap "Woody" acoustic simulator pedal I made ( There seemed to be something vaguely Grestch-like that wasn't bad, and the "Lester" setting wasn't bad either. Like many of the reviewers in the Guitar Player write-up a few months back, I had great fun with the electric sitar simulation and found myself reflexively playing Eric Burdon and the Animals' "Monterey". There is an ersatz dobro setting, and again I was unimpressed. Any of the cheap-o DIY LoFi effects could do the same thing.  
As much as they tried to nail a variety of different instruments, I found myself wanting the actual body that comes along with the instrument. The tones that different sorts of guitars produce are a product of the electronics but also a product of the body resonances, the way they feel against your chest, and the way they force you to pick and phrase. The broad expanses of a Gretsch big-body with a floating bridge make your hand behave differently, and the way the weight of a 335 feels against your chest does the same thing. Imagine sticking those electronics into something like the recent Yamaha Silent Steel "frame" instrument and you'll quickly realize how much you need to have the feel of a Tele bridge against the butt of your hand to actually do chicken-pickin. Having the timbre simply isn't enough to reproduce the soul. It's like trying to play your favourite instrument by moving someone else's hand.  
I'm not sure who they intended to market this to. It isn't priced to be a toy. Those who have that kind of cash to spring could easily nab a decent MIM Strat or Nashville Tele plus an Ibanez Artcore semi for the same overall cash and have a couple of decent axes that make you play differently as opposed to simply sounding different.  
So, no sale here. On the other hand, I just realized I forgot to play "Every Time You Go Away" while I was trying it out. Maybe I better head back. ;)
10/9/2003 10:38 PM
I think it's targeted at:  
studio guys who want a variety of tones without lugging 8 guitars  
guys that a want a do-it-all instrument  
guys who love gimmicks and gadgets  
guys who have too much $ to spend and need a new toy to impress their friends  
I seem to remember reading an article a few years back, an interview with several guitar manufacter reps, who all basically said people don't want anything new. guitar players are a conservative bunch, they want a strat, a tele, a LP or a ES-335, or some slight variation.
10/10/2003 6:14 AM
Steve A.

    Thanks for your observations! FWIW Boz Scaggs and his guitarist Drew Zingg both played Variax's on tour this summer. Boz usually plays one of his custom built ES335's while Drew would switch between a Gibson 335, a strat and a tele. I mention all of that just so you know that they have some killer guitars but still would pick up the Variax for a song or two, presumably to get a different tone or timbre for a rhythm guitar part.  
    While you could get different sounds by plugging in different foot pedals, it can work better on stage to just unplug one guitar and plug in another one rather than repatching foot pedals.  
    Not that I'd run out and buy one... ;) I think it'd be better to get a Roland hex pickup and run it through their synth module or COSM modeller, that is if you are looking for different sounds from your guitar.  
Steve Ahola
10/10/2003 4:10 PM

*While you could get different sounds by plugging in different foot pedals, it can work better on stage to just unplug one guitar and plug in another one rather than repatching foot pedals.*  
Tom Petty and his team take advantage of this and it works extremely well for them, IMHO.  
10/17/2003 9:59 PM
J Gagan
Line-6 Variax on my track
recent example from a new demo of mine:  
Sent the track to LA for mixdown and 'polish'.  
For a quickie 4 bar intro redo, a well known studio guy replaced my tele - into pedals into vibrolux tone with a line6 variax set to "P90 into AC30" setting.  
When my tone savvy engineer /producer brother Jon heard the new part, he felt that the line 6 tone lacked sparkle, punch , and most of all personality.  
I agreed. I will be replacing the 'replaced ' intro with a tele and vibrolux ( again)
10/20/2003 12:37 AM
caffeine head Add amps to the model
What I don't get is, why don't they "model" an amp sound into this thing also?  
A '59 LP or '52 Tele tone won't get me very far if I still pump it through a crummy Crate amp, after all.  
Why not model the LP AND the Marshall AND the Uni-Vibe into the Variax output?
10/20/2003 1:30 AM
Mark Buckingham
Why not model the LP AND the Marshall AND the Uni-Vibe into the Variax output?  
Because then they couldn't soak you for another $1500 for the amp, maybe?

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