Hands-On Review:Line 6 Variax- A closet full of classic instruments in one guitar?


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By Seth Lazaroff

The creators of the amazing POD amp modeler have now accomplished something that strikes me as a far greater engineering feat. The Variax expertly models the tones of 28 instruments, including solidbody, semi-hollowbody, and hollowbody electric guitars, flattop acoustic guitars, resonating guitars, banjo, and Coral Sitar. All of these models have real-world vibration dynamics and tonal variability, and the models of electric guitars are set up to behave like the original guitar when the tone and volume knobs are adjusted. The accuracy of these tones is nothing short of astounding, and the thing plays real nice, too.
Line 6 Variax

Tangible excellence

The Variax guitar is very cool looking and extremely functional in design. Double cutaways and a sculpted neck heel are combined with independent bridge saddles and a fast, comfortable, bolt-on maple neck with rosewood fretboard to make an eminently playable axe. The frets are finished nicely and clean fretting is easy. Carefully set sealed tuners in a three-per-side array with a well-shaped head nut make tuning hang-up free and quite stable. The neck joint was so tight I couldn't slide a piece of the thinnest vellum into it. The basswood body has an elegant narrow waist that's easy on the eyes and comfortable on the knee. The upper waist is deeply sculpted, as are the high-end cutaway and the spot where the right forearm rests on the guitar. The unit sent to me for review features a brilliant sparkling candy apple red paintjob and uniquely-shaped three-layer white-black-white pickguard.

 

Ingenious operation
Other than its very touchable fleshly form, the Variax bears little in common with mere mortal guitars. The signal comes from six independent piezo pickups mounted in the bridge saddles and feeds into the guitar's humongous brain. The original signal is manipulated directly rather than through MIDI. So every nuance of pick attack, string bend, and finger vibrato is rendered faithfully and instantly with no latency or tracking issues. That claim is not just hype, this thing is intimately faithful to what you play.

The signal leaves the guitar via a (very fancy) TRS cable, which plugs into an XPS footswitch, which plugs into the wall. The extra conductor carries power to the big brain from the footswitch. The switch selects between a mono 1/4" and an XLR out. You run the 1/4" into your amp or front-end effects and the XLR into the board for totally clean acoustic sounds. Or you can skip the XPS footswitch, load six AA batteries into the guitar and run a normal mono cable into the amp.

Perhaps as amazing as the sounds produced by the Variax is the totally intuitive ultra-simple interface through which they're accessed. One 12-position knob and a simple blade-style five-position pickup selector give you access to all 28 models and allow you to program two banks of five favorites. To access them, just turn the knob all the way one direction and select your favorite model with the pickup switch. Spin the knob the other way and have five more totally independent sounds available. (And if you need more than ten guitar sounds in one song, you're working too hard.)

Transcendent tones
I'm an LP fan, so the first sound I went for when I plugged this baby in was the Lester. I chose the model based on a 1958 Gibson Les Paul Standard with both humbuckers blaring and ran it through my vintage 50-watt tube amp. The initial effect was eerie, like meeting a total stranger who speaks with your mother's voice.

After a second to adjust to another guitar sounding just like my old favorite, I was off and running. It was a full fifteen minutes of Jimmy Page meets Al DiMeola (in my dreams) before I even bothered to check out the other sounds. The sustain was thick and dark as cold chocolate syrup, with instant and gritty attack. The guitar responded just like a '58 Les Paul would, right down to the subtle tone changes that come from rolling off the volume.

The Spank setting is based on a 1959 Fender Stratocaster with all 5 pickup settings. They nailed it. This one wasn't so eerie, since the guitar has more of a Fender feel. It was every bit a '59 Strat with all the edgy crunch and searing scream I could hope for. The T-Model setting is based on 1960 and 1968 Telecasters and delivers a whole barn full of tasty twang. The acoustic guitar models are based on well-miked standards such as a 1959 Martin D-28, a 1966 Guild F212, and a Gibson J-200. On these acoustic models, the tone knob mimics the effect of moving a mic around to various positions in front of the guitar. The result is truly moving-clear, full, warm acoustic tone.

Probably my favorite tones are found under the Reso setting. Played with a slide, these produce crisp, greasy resonator tones that are almost indistinguishable from the real thing. I particularly love the one modeled on the Gibson Mastertone Banjo. The Coral Sitar is also extremely cool, and the tone knob changes the level of the drone strings. Right down the line, the Variax astonished me with its tonal integrity, from woody semi-hollowbodies to full-bodied jazz guitars to rockabilly favorites and even an electric 12-string. For the gigging player who doesn't want to lug around a truck full of guitars, or for the home-studio ace who wants it all but doesn't want to BUY it all, the Variax is a godsend. It may just change your life.

 

 

Features and Specs:
  • Contoured alder body

  • Maple neck with rosewood fingerboard

  • 22 medium-profile frets

  • 25-1/2" scale length

  • 10" fingerboard radius

  • Custom-fitted, heavy-duty gig bag included

Variax models are based on:
  • 1960 Fender Telecaster Custom

  • 1968 Modified Fender Telecaster

  • 1968 Fender Telecaster Thinline

  • 1959 Fender Stratocaster

  • 1958 Gibson Les Paul Standard

  • 1952 Gibson Les Paul Goldtop

  • 1961 Gibson Les Paul Custom

  • 1956 Gibson Les Paul Junior

  • 1955 Gibson Les Paul Special

  • 1976 Gibson Firebird V

  • 1959 Gretsch 6120

  • 1956 Gretsch Silver Jet

  • 1968 Rickenbacker 360

  • 1966 Rickenbacker 360-12

  • 1961 Gibson ES-335

  • 1967 Epiphone Casino

  • 1957 Gibson ES-175

  • 1953 Gibson Super 400

  • 1959 Martin D-28

  • 1970 Martin D12-28

  • 1967 Martin O-18

  • 1966 Guild F212

  • 1995 Gibson J-200

  • 1935 Dobro Model 32

  • Coral Sitar

  • 1965 Danelectro 3021

  • Gibson Mastertone Banjo

  • 1928 National Tricone

*All product names are trademarks of their respective owners, which are in no way associated or affiliated with Line 6.