Hands-On Review:Line 6 Variax 300 Acoustic Guitars
Stage-quality sonic excellence made amazingly affordable
By Christen Breen
Line 6 has done it again with a low-priced pair of amazing acoustic modeling guitars that sound better onstage and in the studio than many high-end fully acoustic instruments. The key word here is "many"—you get not just one great acoustic sound but an infinitely graded range of them, each so completely adjustable it’s like having dozens of guitars miked and processed in a lot of different ways. A single push of a button lets you store your own tweaks, to be retrieved at another touch of a button. A built-in tuner plus mic position, reverb, and compression controls—not to mention great playability—all add up to another definite success for Line 6.
The right approach
There are a lot of truly fabulous acoustic guitars out there. Unfortunately, we rarely hear them as they actually sound acoustically. Whether they’re used in recording or playing to a sizable live audience, the real beauty of their sound gets lost in electronic translation. In order to avoid feedback, most people play through some kind of pickup system. While many pickup systems—such as the most common piezo—capture a lot of sound information, they also introduce unpleasant tonal artifacts. External processing is always required to end up with a pretty sound.
Enter Line 6’s great idea: take that piezo signal, remove its non-musical artifacts, and give it the processing needed for a great tone—all inside the guitar. Then just plug straight into the board for great acoustic tone.
Creating a "modeling" acoustic guitar is a tricky proposition. Acoustic instruments each have their own character and, while there are a number of perennial favorite models, they don’t lend themselves to easy characterization. The critical question is never "Does it sound like a prewar Martin 00?" but rather, "Does it sound good?"
On this score, it’s obvious that Line 6 has attacked the acoustic problem with an ear toward creating beautiful sounds, rather than mimicking old guitars. And the results are brilliant! The full range of variations on the Variax 300 Steel String and the Variax 300 Nylon String, while different from one another, present beautifully musical essential tones that respond well to the onboard sound-shaping tools.
Just push the tuner button on the side-mounted control panel to access a tuner that’s accurate but not picky. I found it very easy to master. Pressing another button scrolls you through all 10 editable presets. But the real engine of tonal transformations is the Body knob.
On the Variax 300 Steel String, the Body knob gives you a range of sounds from, say, a little Martin 0 with a sophisticated ringing midrange to a sound resembling a classic Gibson jumbo with robust lows and a perfectly balanced tone. There are two obvious approaches to finding your sounds. Start from the very well-crafted presets, adjust to taste, and resave them as your own. Or you can start from scratch using various positions of the Body knob, adding effects, and saving them in your presets.
I experimented with both options and was really jazzed about how much control I had. The mic placement slider gives you a subtle but quite audible range of presence, room, and tonal variations—just like moving your guitar around in front of a real mic. The reverb is subtle enough to be usable through its entire range. And the compression is very handy for controlling the instrument’s dynamic response to fingerpicking, strumming, or lead playing. It’s actually much easier to control onstage than any acoustic setup I’ve gigged with. Following a little practice, you can even change presets between parts of the song.
The Body knob on the Variax 300 Nylon String ranges from a snappy, scrapping flamenco tone on the zero setting to a mellow, round classical tone when cranked. Hearing a lot of different steel string sounds from one instrument is amazing, but hearing such a broad range of possibilities from a classical guitar is truly spooky. The presets on the nylon guitar were so musically constructed I found several I would love to use for solo performance without tweaking them at all.
The Variax 300 guitars feature spruce tops on one-piece Spanish cedar back/bodies that are heavily routed to leave X bracing for the steel string model and fan bracing for the nylon. This closed-chamber design makes these guitars virtually impervious to feedback problems.
The bolt-on maple neck with beautiful rosewood fretboard on the steel string is fast-playing and light but still substantial. The action is superb. Likewise with the nylon-string version, on which the neck has a very traditional feel with typical 2" nut width. (Though it’s not intended for purely acoustic performance, the steel string version’s extremely midrange acoustic tone sounds great with a slide.)
I am surprised and very pleased by the sound quality and playability of these guitars. If you’re only going to have one acoustic guitar onstage, you can’t go wrong with a Variax 300.
Variax 300 Steel String
and Nylon String Guitars
- Spruce top
- Spanish cedar back
- Maple bolt-on neck
- Rosewood fretboard
- Rosewood bridge
- Chrome tuners
- Included TRS cable and XPS mini power supply (or runs on 6 AA batteries)
- Piezo under-saddle pickup
- Internal modeling processor
- Body control knob
- Volume control knob
- Mic slider
- Compression slider
- Reverb slider
- 10 customizable presets
- Built-in tuner
Variax 300 Steel String:
- 3-ply rosette
- Sealed die-cast tuners
- Pinless bridge
- 12" fingerboard radius
- 25-1/2" scale length
- 1-11/16" nut width
Variax 300 Nylon String:
- Traditional marquetry rosette
- Open-gear classical tuners
- 20" fingerboard radius
- 26" scale
- 2" nut width