Hands-On Review:A Fantastic Range of Tonal Flexibility
By Boyd Holt
Let's start out by saying that I'm an obsessive tone freak. Over the years, I've owned countless guitars and amps in the pursuit of the elusive "killer" tone: Voxes, Fenders, Marshalls, Boogies, Soldanos, and pricey boutique stuff. My friends say that I belong to the amp-of-the-month club. I've always loved the warm, dynamic tone of tube amps, but I rarely could get more than one good sound out of a given amp. I ended up using three amps, complete with a custom system to switch among them and a custom stand to mic them all up for the sound-man. Don't even get started on pedals-the drummer in our band was done setting up before me!
I recently went and saw a friend's band at local club. Although this guy's a smokin' player, his tone was never great, but walking through the door, I was knocked out by his guitar sound. Suddenly, he's getting chimey clean sounds, huge crunch tones, and solo tones ranging from warm and syrupy to totally vicious. When I looked to see what he was playing through, I was floored. All of the sounds he was getting were coming out of a small combo-a Line 6 Flextone II.
A mystery revealed
The next day I phoned Line 6 to find out how the amp got its sound-something called "digital modeling." The guy I talked to told me how it works, and it's a pretty simple idea. Line 6 looked at what the different components of an amp did to the guitar signal and created a set of digital "virtual components" that they could then piece together to build the amps in software. They did this for some of the all-time classic amps, like AC-30s, Twins, Plexis, Bassmans-all of the really cool amps. One thing that struck me was how much respect these guys had for the tone of tube amps. Talking about modeling the amps, he told me about the actual amps and cabinets that they had bought as references, and you could hear the reverence in his voice. I left the conversation feeling like the guys at Line 6 shared my obsession with tone. Now I wanted to buy a Flextone. I decided on the Flextone II HD, 4x12 slant-front cabinet (412s), and floorboard controller, because my bass player pushes 1500 watts, I need the horsepower, and a half-stack just looks so darn good! Besides, Musician's Friend had told me about the radical new power-amp design for the HD that delivers an honest 100 watts a side. When I got the amp, I dialed up Brit Blues (based on a JTM-45) and I was calling up great Clapton and Hendrix tones in no time!
The amp responded to my touch as if it was blasting away at a deafening level, but I was playing at a level I could comfortably speak over. The distortion sounded very "power-amp" in nature, not a buzzy pre-amp sound. I next went to Black Panel, based on a '65 Deluxe. I set the controls as I would on my real Deluxe: volume ("Drive" on the Flextone) at 7, bass at 3, and treble at 6. Bang! I was playing a great Deluxe sound. I turned down my guitar and the amp cleaned up nicely-just like my Deluxe. I dialed up the Rectified sound and was knocked out! Unbelievable amounts of gain poured out of the speakers-Wes Borland had nothing on me! I dialed up some great Tom Petty-esque tones from the Brit Class A setting (based on a Vox AC-30 Top Boost). I played around with the effects a little, dialing up some delay and tremolos. The rotary speaker gave me a cool Stevie Ray thing. Recording muscle too
The amp is also a very powerful recording tool! Flextone II has Line 6's POD 2.0 recording technology built into it! Switch the amp into Studio mode (a switch on the back panel), the speakers go silent and you get great direct sound; like an amp with a mic in front of it, inside a great studio, from the XLR outputs! Turn the switch to Live mode, the speakers come back on and the XLRs provide a cabinet-simulated sound that is optimized for PA cabs.
Thousands of sounds
Because the amp has MIDI built in, you can trade sounds with other Flextone users. Line 6 calls this ToneTransfer, and they have thousands of sounds on their website you can download to your amp. You can even post your own sounds on the website! It also comes with software so you can edit and store sounds on both Windows machines and Macintoshes. The proof of all of this is, of course, in the tone. On my first gig with the Flextone, I had the shortest setup in my career! During soundcheck it sounded great-I did a few minor tweaks and saved 'em easily. During the gig the amp had great feel and tone, with the punch and in-your-face quality that I've always associated with tube amps. On one song, I felt I didn't have enough treble during a slide solo in the patch that I had saved, so I walked up to the amp, grabbed a knob and turned it up-very easy! During the breaks, people came up and said how good my sound was-even my girlfriend complimented my tone. The best part of the night was tear-down. I was out of there before my singer! All I had to do was grab my guitars, stack my head and floorboard on the cabinet, roll it out the door, and I was done! One trip to the car!
In summary, you could use Flextone II for any kind of gig: Blues, Jazz, Metal, Industrial, Reggae, or Country. There aren't many amps out there you can say that about. It's as simple as you want it to be, yet as deep as you need it to be. Line 6 is run by a bunch of guitar players, which is probably why this stuff works so well. Thanks, Line 6! Check out the great Musician's Friend deals on the whole Flextone II line. Our Platinum Card makes it incredibly easy to buy just the one you need.