Hands-On Review:Line 6 Variax Guitars and Workbench

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Virtual reality interface lets you custom-build dozens of guitars


Line 6 Variax Guitars and Workbench

With the Workbench software/hardware interface, Line 6 gives you access to, and control over, the brain of one of the most unique and far-reaching musical innovations of the past decade—the Variax. Comprising expertly crafted guitars and basses with L.R. Baggs hexaphonic and quadraphonic piezo systems, the Variax line gives you unbelievably accurate models of some of the world’s finest instruments, electric and acoustic. Variaxes have these incredible models programmed in with selector controls at your fingertips. The Workbench system lets you control precisely how each model is configured—body styles, pickups, pickup placement, open tunings, and more. Workbench is free to PODxt Live and Vetta II users and very affordable for any Variax owner.


Gotta have it all?


If you’re one of those players who never stops lusting after great guitar sounds, you have a whole bunch of kindred spirits at Line 6. Working with cutting-edge sound-shaping technologies, these ultra-music-nerds have achieved guitar and bass sounds that are downright spooky in their accuracy.


Though the first Variax debuted in 2003, there’s already a wide range of Variax instruments to choose from. The super-affordable 300 Electric, the 600 Electric with a sweet vintage vibe, and the luxurious carved-top 700 Electric all share the same original magical modeling technology that’s been undergoing steady improvement since its inception.


The Variax 700 and 705 basses feature their own unique modeling technology mounted in exquisitely crafted and eminently playable instruments. They allow you to play synth bass, acoustic upright, or vintage-style flatwound fretless with the simple turn of a knob.


The Variax 300 Steel String and 300 Nylon String acoustic guitars provide a wealth of tonal variation. Brilliant signal integrity is integrated with a totally innovative style of modeling technology that allows you to shape your own model and store it in presets. The Acoustic 700 provides precision models of the world’s finest acoustic guitars along with the industry’s first and only onboard alternate tuning technology and world music instruments.


Ones and zeros


Working with the Variax’s incredible array of tones, it’s hard to remember you’re working with software and DSP memory chips. Line 6 has done such an amazing job re-creating the classic guitars that inspire lust in the hearts of guitarists and bassists the world over, you soon start to think of them as wood and wire instruments rather than digital models.


The modeling system in the Variax 300, 600, and 700 electric guitars features models of 28 of the world’s most cherished instruments from all the great makers. Actual vintage guitars were sampled with extremely sophisticated equipment and the tones were re-created with the most advanced sound-shaping technology in the world. The models include not only classic electric guitars, but also acoustic flattops and archtops, resonator guitars, and even a banjo and electric sitar. The Variax Acoustic 700 features 16 models ranging from diminutive prewar parlor guitars to mid-century big-box jazz guitars, nylon string guitars, resonators, and even a banjo and mandola.


One of the coolest capabilities of all these Variaxes is their interactivity with the Line 6 PODxt Live and the Vetta II, both of which allow you to save presets in which the model of guitar, amp, cab, microphone, microphone position, and effects are all accessible with a single push of a button.


Elves’ shop


Now Line 6 has introduced a very cool software editing tool that gives you a tremendous amount of control over the Variax 300, 500, 600, and 700 Electric guitars, and the Acoustic 700. Your guitar connects to your computer through either the proprietary Workbench hardware interface, or a PODxt Live or Vetta II. If you’re using the Workbench hardware interface, you’ll need to monitor the sounds you’re creating using any standard guitar amp. The Variax Workbench software is easy to load and phenomenally easy to use.


The Variax Editor screen gives you a graphic of a guitar body that you can manipulate as if you were modifying an actual guitar. Choose your type of pickup for the bridge or neck positions, slide it into the exact position you want, cant it at whatever angle you want, and control whether it’s in or out of phase and whether it’s in series or parallel mode with the other pickup.


You can even modify the controls. Set the pot resistance and taper on your volume knob and the pot resistance and capacitance on your tone knob. You can also make the tone setting automatic for the model in question. If you have your guitar plugged in to your amp during these operations, you can hear exactly what effect these changes are having as you make them.


Beneath the body type, pickup, and control modification tabs is one of the coolest features of the Workbench–a graphic representation of a guitar neck mirrored on either side of the nut, giving you instant and total control over the model’s tuning. Choose from one of 25 preset special tunings or create your own by controlling each string up to an octave above or below its note in standard tuning. Save your tuning in one of the 25 preset slots and save it with the model so you can get alternate tunings of any model with the turn of the model knob and/or blade switch on your guitar.


The Tone Locker screen gives you complete control over the location, naming, and information regarding each of the models you’ve made and a single click makes the model you’ve created inhabit any spot you specify in your guitar’s memory so that the new sounds you’ve created can be played when you aren’t connected to a computer. (Workbench works with Pentium III 500 MHz or better running Windows XP or 2000 or Macintosh G3 or higher running OS X 10.3 or higher. 128MB RAM minimum.)


With the Workbench system, Line 6 has invited you into their labs to create your own models and turn your Variax into a huge collection of guitars that are all of your own design! Think of the Workbench as your personal vehicle to explore the Variax universe.