Hands-On Review:Line 6 Variax 300 Modeling Guitar
Variax 300 Modeling Guitar
Line 6's wizard guitar made affordable for all
By Seth Lazaroff
Two years ago, Line 6 introduced the first modeling guitar. With a single knob and a five-position blade selector, it provided access to incredible models of classic acoustic and electric guitars, resonators, even a sitar and a banjo—28 models in all. With the Variax 300, Line 6 has made this astounding technology available to the fiscally challenged bar gigger in a sweet-playing, great-looking axe. As icing on the cake, the models on the Variax 300 can be controlled from the PODXT Live.
Poor boy blues
When I reviewed the Line 6 Variax 500—the original Variax—in 2003, I was totally blown away by its cutting-edge technology. The sound quality of the guitar models was surreal in its precision. The guitar played great, looked great, and offered so much flexibility I could hardly balk at its price tag. I lusted after it, but I didn't buy one.
My main axe is a vintage LP, and in my setup the Variax would be perfect to fill in all those critical parts my usual guitar just can't handle—SRV's biting single coil tone on "Pride and Joy," say, or the sitar on "Paint It Black," or the banjo on "Man of Constant Sorrow." The acoustic guitar tones are phenomenal as well. The Variax gives you the magical ability to dial up any signature tone the song requires. But its price was just too steep for my pocketbook.
Here comes the sun
Two additional years of painstaking production refinements have enabled Line 6 to squeeze the exact same astounding technology that was in the original Variax down to a price that makes it silly for any full-range guitarist to do without one. Being a full-range guitarist myself (just ask me), I've already placed my order for a new Variax 300.
Until it gets here, I'm hanging on to the one Musician's Friend sent me for review. I'm like a kid in a candy store with all these amazing sounds at my fingertips. Particularly impressive are the models based on the vintage single-coil/single cut, electric 12-string, acoustic 12-string, tri-cone resonator, electric sitar, and banjo. Just a twist of the knob and I'm playing a whole different instrument.
Of course, sound isn't everything. This guitar has it going on in the touch department, too. The bolt-on maple neck is fleet and silky to the touch with a matte finish on the back and a flawless rosewood fretboard with 22 perfectly set and dressed frets. The action is low with no buzzing—it arrived perfectly set up.
Individual piezo-bearing saddles are fully and easily adjustable for height and position. Sealed in-line tuners are stable, geared low, and need only one string tree. The neck joint is sculpted to stay out of your way and the double cutaways are designed for effortless access with a deep rear scoop on the treble side. It's a very comfortable guitar to play, lightweight with a deep waist carve for your ribs and a nice rounded lower bout for your forearm. The balance is just right on your knee or on your shoulder.
What is most impressive about this guitar physically is its resonance. You can feel the kind of vibrant resonance that only comes from good wood and a tight neck joint. The string-through-body bridge no doubt enhances the vibration and helps provide this guitar's nearly limitless sustain. The chromed, knurled control knobs are placed in a familiar row on the tailing edge of the pickguard for easy pinky swells.
While this guitar is not huge on the flash, it's a long way from a plain Jane. Its unique body style is well balanced visually and the swooped three-layer black-and-white pickguard is the perfect enhancement. The lack of pickups gives it a very clean and distinctive appearance. The fretboard dots have a subtle orange cast for a smoldering three-dimensional effect.
Plugged into a standard guitar amp via its standard quarter-inch output jack, the Variax 300 rules. But connect it to the Line 6 PODXT Live via the guitar's proprietary computer output jack, and it becomes a true marvel of the 21st century. The PODXT Live provides all the amp models and effects of the PODXT on the floor with an expression pedal and special tweaking so it will sound great either through an amp or straight into the board.
The PODXT miraculously controls the models on the Variax. All of the presets in the PODXT automatically select the proper guitar model on the Variax 300. If you select "Cold Shot" for example, the Spank-5 guitar model is automatically selected on the Variax. When you turn the model selector or move the blade switch on the Variax 300, control returns to the guitar.
This is an incredibly cool feature. Just pick or create the exact sound you need for the part in question and save the whole thing—including the guitar model—in the preset patch. When you're playing, the touch of a foot button will call up everything just as you need it. It's so quick you can even do call-and-response jams with yourself using different guitar setups. I tried "Dueling Banjos" switching between the banjo and flattop models—it was a hoot!
With the Variax 300, Line 6 has made a huge host of classic guitar sounds available to all of us out here playing in the trenches. Without sacrificing any playability, the Variax 300 has a much friendlier price and all the electronic magic of the original model. It's the ideal second guitar for every working guitarist. For my money, it wins on all counts. Bravo, Line 6!
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