Hands-On Review:Line 6 Variax Bass 700
Line 6 Variax Bass 700
Cool look, sweet feel, and a fat bag of bass tones
By Larry Stearn
There have been so many cool bass guitars made since Leo Fender started it all with the Precision Bass. Classic after classic has taken the stage and won the hearts of players. Fender, MusicMan, Rickenbacker, Steinberger, Hofner, Gibson, Warwick, Tobias—all have made contributions with instruments that have their distinctive look, feel, and sound. We would own them all if we could.
Now Line 6 has taken a big step toward making a collection of great basses—at least their sounds—a possibility for every player. They've modeled an exceptional lineup of the biggies and packed all their sounds into one instrument. The Variax Bass 700 has arrived.
My first concern was with the instrument itself. Would Line 6, being focused on the electronics and processing end, overlook basic bass considerations? In short, would the Variax Bass 700 play? I also questioned the models. Would they have that close-to-the-bone, real-life bass tone, or would they seem over processed? I was less concerned about their absolute accuracy, but wanted to hear strong, workable sounds that could deliver big bottom.
Traditional on the outside
What I pulled from its very nice gig bag proved to be a smart-looking, conventionally styled instrument. My first impression was of overall quality, the equivalent of a top American-made production bass. Nice sunburst finish. Three-layer tortoise pickguard with a flowing shape. Good weight and balance. Nicely contoured alder body. While the Variax Bass has a unique style, the balance and neck feel will be very familiar to J Bass players. What really gives it a distinctive look is the lack of visible pickups (it uses under-saddle L. R. Baggs piezos), so it's cleaner and less cluttered.
The neck is rock maple with a standard 34" scale and a 21-fret rosewood fretboard, tightly grained and smoothly finished. The jumbo frets (standard these days) are well-dressed. The fretboard has a 12" radius and medium thickness and width. I found it played with an easy, natural feel.
The hardware is the good stuff. The tuners are sealed, lubed, and have the gear ratio that makes tuning easy and sure. The bridge is hunky and fully adjustable. Since there are no pickups to plant your thumb on, a thumb rest has been provided to give you both forward and bridge hand positions.
Revolutionary on the inside
Having assured myself that the Variax Bass is well-made, well-designed, and very playable, I proceeded to plug in and see what its inner processor could do. You can plug in normally and run the bass off batteries. A better way is to use the power supply, DI box, and TRS cable (all provided). This setup powers the bass, and the DI runs to your amp with a standard cable and/or to a PA or recording system using an XLR cable.
The controls are standard—a volume, a pickup blend, and a pair of stacked tone knobs—but they change with each model. The model selector is a simple knob that clicks through 12 positions, each with a name. There are two models for each position, and you click between them by pushing down on the volume knob. A green LED indicates Bank One. For Bank Two it turns red. Also, the LED is cleverly located so that it illuminates the name of the selected model. Another neat feature is that once you have a model tweaked to perfection, you can save your settings by pushing down on the selector knob for a few seconds.
A gallery of greats
The Variax Bass' brain houses 24 models. Twenty-two of them are of basses you're familiar with—the standouts from the '50s through this decade. The other two are quite expressive synth bass models that are polyphonic—all four strings can be played simultaneously—and the tracking seems excellent. The bass models have been selected for being famous basses played by legendary players. Jaco's defretted axe is one of the models, for example. The models include fretless basses, eight- and 12-stringers, a hollowbody acoustic-electric, and a surprisingly convincing upright.
A few curious bass buddies and I thumbed, strummed, and argued over how authentic the sounds were. There were differing opinions on some; on others everyone agreed that Line 6 had nailed it. And all agreed that the models do capture the essential character of the basses they replicate. The important point is that where standard basses give you one sound set to work with, the Variax Bass gives you 24.
Apart from the question of model accuracy, the sounds of the Variax Bass have a presence, substance, and depth that makes them usable, viable bass sounds. They have reality. They don't seem at all processed or artificial. This is a resonant, high-output instrument, and in some cases I think its sound is more effective than that of the original bass it models.
It certainly can offer sound-shaping beyond the capability of the modeled instrument. For instance, the Variax Bass models several single-pickup basses that have limited tonal range, but since the blend control on the Variax has nothing to blend, it functions instead to move the pickup position. It's the original's sound but the Variax Bass can do more with it.
I found the Variax Bass impressive. The design, construction, and playability earn it a thumbs-up, and the models with all their tonal variety ice the cake. For players who cover diverse musical styles, those searching for their own sound, and adventurers in the realm of tone, the Variax Bass 700 is a perfect tool.
Features & Specs: