When Line 6 first introduced the Variax modelling guitar back at the Namm show in 2002 there was a sharp intake of breath – while not the first modeling guitar getting 25 guitar tones from one instrument was a real innovative step – getting it into a mass produced guitar was something else.
These days there are three main models of the Variax Electric guitar – the 300, 600 and 700. The 700 is the top of the line, with attributes such as a Carved ash top over mahoganny body, maple neck, 22 Fret rosewood fingerboard, Gotoh Tuners and one tone, one volume control.
On first glance the 700 is a really handsome guitar – it’s nicely crafted with a nice strat-esque shape to it with a double cutaway design, it’s nicely contoured which means it’s comfortable to hold and it balances nicely when playing.
One of the first things you notice when you pick it up is how heavy it is – this is not a light weight guitar by any means. We’re not sure if it’s the mahogany body or the added electrics but it does take some getting used to.
Acousticly there’s a nice twang to be had before it’s plugged in – it sounds nice and bright – the neck is responsive enough and the sound sustains well enough.
There’s two outputs for the guitar – a standard jack socket and a Digital I/O that can be used to attach to a PoD XT, Vetta or the included footswitch (this will also help power the device).
The variax features an integral bridge mounted Piezo pickup, there’s no visible pickup which for traditional guitarists renders the variax slightly strange looking. The sounds are responsive and articulate, the piezo is very quiet leaving the natural sounds of the guitars to shine through.
Switching between the emulated guitars is a dream – simply select the type of guitar you want e.g. Spank for Stratocaster, flick the pseudo pickup selector switch for the model you want and go for it.
What Line 6 have managed to achieve with the Variax is nothing short of astonishing and although some of the sounds that are produced are a little on the synthetic side – notably the 12 strings the sounds all useable – in our opinion the Strat sounds, Les Pauls, Gretsches and the Jazzboxes are superb – close your eyes and you really wouldn’t know that there coming from the one guitar.
Select any of the strats and your dialled in to strat heaven – responsive with enough bite, the Semi’s all have that natural sustain that comes with a hollowbody and that rounded woody tone even the Les Paul (Lester on the dial) has that authentic Gibson tone going for it. Throw in the dead on takes of the resonator and Jumbo acoustics and you’ve got a smile a mile wide.
One question levied at the Variax is how accurate the sounds are – well there won’t be too many of us with the vintage guitar collection that the sounds are based on so this is open to interpretation – however for a very usuable mixed pallatte of sounds the variax excels.
One thing to note is that the sounds on offer with the 700 are the same as are on offer with the 300 and with the list price for the 700 being three times as much as it’s counterpart – those just looking for the range of sounds may opt for the cheaper instrument – however the 700 is the better guitar with a wiser choice of materials going into the final product.
The variax has a number of applications from those wanting to pad out a home studio to those in covers band looking to reproduce the authentic sounds of a variety of bands – the Variax fits in nicely.
Add into the mix the limitless options with the Workbench software and PoD XT then you could argue that you have a sound for all purposes.
There’s a certain romance attached to guitars and the sounds they make are often associated with the way a guitar looks – and a fun game to play with the Variax is to play around with the settings with your eyes closed and see if you can guess the model -
At around $1400 the variax 700 is always going to be a guitar that splits the guitar community – some will love it – the purists may take some convincing. With the price you could afford a quality guitar with albeit with a little less tonal options – and there’s no doubting that the likes of Fender and Gibson have the edge over the quality of the end product and while that can’t be entirely forgiven Variax can be partially forgiven. The important thing here is that the market has forever changed – and over the coming months/years we’ll see more and more guitar modelling hit the marketplace.
For more information visit Official Line 6 site