(A what? See our page on Line 6 Variax Guitars.)
I bought one recently, so it’s time for a mini-review. I’m in no position to comment on the accuracy of the modelled instruments – I don’t own any of them. It all sounds pretty good to me, though. Certainly nothing like digital guitars used to be – it feels and sounds just like any other electric guitar – it’s changing the sounds in real-time, not sensing what note you’re playing and then playing samples. It’s not cheap, and you could get a better guitar body for the money, but it wouldn’t be this flexible.
OK, we’ll start with the backstory – how I came to get this guitar. If you’re not interested, feel free to skip this bit.
Years ago, when I was at school, I had a Squier Strat, and had guitar lessons. I never became much good, but I had fun. In the end, I stopped playing whilst at university, and sold the guitar. I regretted it shortly after, but never really fancied taking it up again enough to buy another. My parents decided recently that a similar guitar would make a good surprise gift for me, so they bought me a Squier Strat kit – guitar, amp, leads, etc. I had a bit of fun with it again, but didn’t really get into it much.
Sam, on the other hand, took to it straight away, and soon wanted an upgrade. We couldn’t afford the Kirk Hammett signature series, so she bought an ESP M-50. A while later, I stumbled on the Line 6 Variax, and was fascinated. Further reading around their site lead us to the Pod, and Sam decided she wanted one. The Variax was far out of reach, though – far too expensive. I’d started playing a bit more by that time again, so I decided an upgrade might be in order for me too, if I could find something I really liked. The Ibanez AXS-32 looked like just the thing, so we went out to our local Ibanez dealer to have a look.
The didn’t have any, and after a good poke and play of various guitars, nothing appealed too much to me, so we bought the Pod and carried on to the shop where we had bought the M-50. By this point, Sam seemed to have developed a slightly surprising Telecaster fixation, but we’ll not talk about that here.
The next shop, Fox’s Music, had a Variax 500 second hand. For slightly more than our budget – Â£350. I had a play. I liked. Sam liked. So we figured the bank would get over it given time, and bought it anyway.
So what is it?
By this point, you’ve probably worked out that it’s a guitar. The clever bit about the Variax is that it can pretend to be lots of different guitars. It has piezo sensors instead of standard pickups, and the insides are filled with electronics to work out what noise your chosen classic guitar would have made, given what each string is currently doing. It sounds like it would never work, or it would work but would just feel wrong, but it does work. Really. It even picks up the sound of your fingers scraping along the lower strings. You can choose from various guitars, mainly from the 50s and 60s, including a Stratocaster, three different Telecasters, Gibson Les Pauls and Firebirds, Semi-accoustics, accoustics, resonators, and if you’re feeling in an odd sort of a mood, even a banjo or a sitar.
How accurate is it?
I’ve no idea, really. Sounds good to me, but I’ve never played any of the guitars it models. Other people who have seem to say it’s pretty good – not perfect, but close enough for most people. It’s certainly more portable and cheaper than 25 classic guitars would be.
How does it play?
Again, I’d have to say that I’m no expert on this. My experience is pretty limited, but it feels pretty good to me. Mine has a bit of buzz on some of the lower strings, but only in certain places, and only when treat fairly roughly. My Strat buzzes far more. It all feels quite nice and smooth, and the electronics don’t get in the way at all. I had a bit of a problem with the tuning drifting, but a change of strings seems to have helped a lot with that.
How does it look?
I’ll grab some pics of it at some point, but if you go to the official site, it’s the sunburst finish one in the middle of the pic.
No, I Meant Inside
Oh. OK. I got a couple of snaps of that earlier…
(Sorry, images are missing – I’ll try to get them replaced soon.)
Sweeney seemed to want to know what made it go too.
(Another missing image.)
Looks like the main stuff is all on the one little circuit board, with some extra boards on the controls and connectors. Everything’s nicely socketed, anyway, which bodes well for any potential repairs.
The future should hold even more interesting things for the Variax. Line 6 are currently working on their ‘Workbench’ software. This will come with an adaptor to connect the computer’s USB port to the guitar’s RJ45 connector. The software will allow you to pick from various different bodies, pickups, etc, to build your own guitar. It will work out how that guitar would sound, and upload it to your Variax. Impressive stuff. I’m guessing that once they finish it, people will start building models of all sorts of popular guitars and swapping them online.
Update: Workbench finally exists. We’ve seen it in a shop. Unfortunately, we couldn’t afford to buy it.
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