Hands-On Review:Line 6 Variax 600
Line 6 Variax 600
The Variax goes vintage!
By Terry Petersen
Anytime a review assignment for a Variax has come up, I've either been out sick or on vacation, which is disappointing because I've always wanted to spend some time with a Variax, if only to see what the fuss is about. I'm known around here for my burgeoning collection of guitars—especially the vintage ones I've acquired. I have a special affinity for classic axes, from the smell of the wood combined with years of sweat to the unique looks and tones. When the assignment for Line 6's Variax 600 came along—a Variax that not only replicates the tones but the feel and playability of a vintage axe—I jumped at the chance to finally try one of these guitars out.
Keeping with tradition
Line 6 has done a lot to impart a traditional look to the Variax 600. It has the same one-piece North American maple neck as the Variax 700, but it's the first Variax to have a maple fingerboard as well—complete with an amber-tinted gloss finish and skunk stripe down the back. Line 6 also offers new colors for the 600—a gorgeous two-tone sunburst, antique white, and blue. Black is also available, and is the only color for the 600 that was available previously. The colors were chosen specifically to match the neck, as well as the aged look of the off-white pickguard. The colors are all equally eye-catching, and I think the antique white and sunburst will especially appeal to vintage axe lovers.
A true player's axe
I really fell in love with the neck on this guitar. I've played many, many guitars, so I know a good neck when I've got my hands on one. The fretboard radius is 9-1/2", arched just enough for comfortable chording while still allowing you to bend away with no buzz. The nut width is 1-5/8", which is a bit narrower than the modern 1-11/16" measurement on other Variaxes. What all this translates to is a fast neck that responds extremely well to whatever your fingers throw at it, whether it's subtle chordal phrases or blazing leads.
Another feature that makes this guitar a joy to play is the floating tremolo bridge. The bridge plate is adjusted so it doesn't contact the body, only the posts. This results in increased sensitivity and the ability to pull up or down for more expressive trem action.
It's apparent that I love the way this guitar plays, and I'm completely sold on its look and feel. Of course, the element that has played the biggest part in the Variax's success is its modeling capability, so I was really hoping I wouldn't be let down when I plugged in. Using a standard 1/4" cable, I hooked up to my 60W tube amp at rehearsal and began experimenting with the models and five-way switch.
With the turn of a knob, I could instantly call up the tone of some of my favorite guitars, as well as entirely different instruments like a sitar and banjo! From jangly models based on classic Telecasters to the rich, warm humbucker sound of classic Les Pauls, the 600 delivers the goods. I was especially impressed by the Gibson ES-335-inspired model. A coworker has a 335 that I'm always lusting after, and the Variax delivered a reproduction that was astoundingly accurate—something I would have never thought possible from a solidbody guitar. We ran through our cover of "Little Sister" by Queens of the Stone Age and I was finally able to capture the raw semi-hollowbody sound of the original.
As powerful as the Variax 600 is when connected directly to an amp, it has amazing potential when you use the digital I/O jack to connect to Line 6's PODXT Live, Vetta II amp, or Workbench software.
The Workbench software for Mac and PC is a virtual custom shop where you can craft your own custom instruments and save them to the Variax. You can even share your creations with other Variax players by simply emailing the profile to them.
Connect to a PODXT Live or Vetta II and you've got Line 6's arsenal of amp, cab, and effect models to complement the killer tones of the Variax. Use the presets or create and store your favorite guitar, amp, cab, and effect configurations and recall them with a simple push on the PODXT Live or the Vetta II's footswitch.
The Variax 600 also comes with an XPS A/B footswitch that lets you switch between a 1/4" output and an XLR output. The latter is perfect for sending the instrument's acoustic guitar models directly to a PA. With a tap of the switch, you can shift over to the 1/4" output for going directly into your amplifier.
After spending time with the Variax 600, I have to thank Line 6 for helping me realize that I spend way too much money on guitars. Vintage axes will always be sought after and collected—there's no question about that. But for the average player on a budget that would love to have access to the tones, playability, and style of a vintage axe, the Variax 600 is perfect.
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