Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Line 6 Variax and Fender VG Stratocaster

In my early years of playing guitar, I noticed two phenomena regarding guitar players.

1. Many guitarists wish their guitar would sound like a different guitar. Why they didn’t buy that guitar in the first place is a mystery. Subsequently they modify the instrument to make their Strat sound like a Tele or their Tele sound like a Les Paul.

2. Guitarists and those innovators associated with the guitar want the guitar to sound like a different instrument. When I was 14, I bought a Maestro Fuzz Tone.

In the instructions I was promised this “synthesizer” would make my guitar sound like a trumpet or trombone and get fantastic effects. All I wanted was to sound like Keith Richards guitar on Satisfaction. It never delivered on that sound.

My personal pedal board
So from the 1960’s to now, a plethora of stomp boxes, rack-mounted modification units and guitar modifications have hit the market. These are all designed to make the player get his or her “sound.”

The guitar synthesizer allowed players to use their instrument as a “trigger” to summon up all sorts of guitar and non-guitar sounds. Though they have come down in price considerably, guitar synthesizers are still fairly expensive.

The Line 6 Company launched a patented technology in 1996, with the world's first digital modeling guitar amplifier, the AxSys 212.

This was the first amplifier to provide the player with models of classic guitar amplifiers, as well as a complete arsenal of stomp boxes and effects..

In 1997, Line 6 launched the next guitarist tone revolution: The POD. This kidney bean-shaped desktop device went beyond just the modeling of many classic amplifiers; it was created to solve another critical problem that had plagued guitar players: recording great guitar tone. In 2000, the company went on to develop a POD for bass players, a professional version of the POD and a rack mount version. Line 6 also came out with the Flextone II amplifier.

In 2001, the company created the Vetta amplifier, which allowed the player to have the stereo sound of two amps playing together at the same time.

Variax 500

It was in 2002 that Line 6 engineers hit upon the idea of using the electric guitar as a stand-alone processor of differing sounds and alternate tunings, all of which were at the players’ fingertips by just repositioning a knob. This guitar was dubbed The Variax 500. The guitar used as the controller was an inexpensive bolt-on instrument.

Variax 700
The other guitar was an upscale solid-body instrument named the Variax 700. The guitar was expensive, $2009 suggested retail as opposed to $599 for the model 500, but the guitar was a beauty.

The body was mahogany with a carved ash top. The neck was maple. The 22 fret finger board was rosewood.

Variax 300
The model 300 and 500 had apathies bodies, while the model 600 came with a basswood body. All three guitars had maple necks. Models 300 and 500 had rosewood fret boards, while the Model 600 came with a maple fret board.

Variax Acoustic 700
In 2003, Variax produced two upscale versions. One was an acoustic guitar called the Variax Acoustic 700. This instrument came with a basswood neck, a mahogany body and a solid cedar top. The top was later replaced with solid spruce.

Variax Acoustic 300

Line 6 also came out with the less expensive Acoustic Model 300. This guitar came with steel strings and was available as a nylon string instrument. These acoustic/electric guitars featured modeling technology allow the guitar to sound like over a dozen acoustic instruments as well as play in alternate tunings, all done through the Variax control. The acoustic line-up was discontinued in 2010.

In 2005 a budget model of the Variax became a hit on such sites as Musicians Friend, American Music Supply and Sweetwater. The model 300 retailed for around $600, but was deeply discounted to about half of that price.

The guitar unit was functional, but nothing special. Many players bought a Variax 300, took out the inner workings and mounted them in a nicer instrument.

The Variax solid body guitar provides the user with 26 different models of electric and acoustic guitars, plus a model of a Gibson Mastertone Banjo and a Coral/Danelectro Sitar. You can quickly change from playing a Telecaster Thinline to a Rickenbacker 360 twelve string, then to a Gibson Super 400 and finally to a Martin D-28 just with a twist of a knob.

Here is the list of possibilities:

* 1960 Fender Telecaster Custom * 1968 Fender Telecaster

* 1968 Fender Telecaster Thinline * 1959 Fender Stratocaster

* 1958 Gibson Les Paul Standard * 1952 Gibson Les Paul "Goldtop"

* 1961 Gibson Les Paul Custom (3 PU) * 1956 Gibson Les Paul Junior

* 1976 Gibson Firebird V * 1955 Gibson Les Paul Special

* 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 D 12-28

* 1967 Martin O-18 * 1966 Guild F212

* 1995 Gibson J-200 * 1935 Dobro Alumilite

* Danelectro 3021 * Coral/Dano Electric Sitar

* 1928 National Style 2 "Tricone * Gibson Mastertone Banjo

The original Variax models were made with no visible pickups. The bridge of a Variax electric guitar has individual piezoelectric pickups for each string. Each of these 6 signals is converted individually to a digital signal in the guitar's electronics. This allows for separate processing of the signals from each string. This allows two technologies to occur. The modeling of effects caused by one string on the others, and virtually altering the pitch of each individual string, allowing guitarists to switch between different tunings using a pedal or a switch on the guitar.

The newer Line 6 Variax guitars are comprised of three models designed by James Tyler. This 2010 line up of instruments replaced the original models. All of the newer models incorporate the original piezo based bridge along with magnetic guitar pickups.

The JTV59 is a single cutaway guitar, with a modified Les Paul shaped body comprised of mahogany with a flamed maple top. It comes with two PAF-style alnico humbucking pickups and a tune-o-matic style piezo bridge fitted with the R.L. Baggs Radiance Hex piezo pickups. The mahogany set neck is capped with a rosewood fret board and the headstock features 3 on side tuners. This is the most expensive model with a street price of $1500.

The JTV69 is a Strat-style body that is comprised of an alder back with a flamed maple top. The bolt on neck is maple capped with a rosewood fret board. The tuners are 6 on a side style. The bridge pickup is a custom wound humbucker, designed by Mr. Tyler, while the neck and middle pickups are single coil. These are controlled by a Strat-style blade switch. The guitar comes with a tremolo unit that has been updated from the usual Fender through-the-block style. The bridge on this guitar contains the R.L Baggs Radiance Hex piezo saddle pickups. The guitar is topped with a Tusk XL nut that makes staying in tune easier. This guitar has a street price of $1400.

The JTV89 is a Super-Strat style guitar that comes with dual custom wound humbucker a five-way blade switch. The body is solid mahogany, the bolt on neck is maple capped with a 24 fret rosewood finger board that has a 14” radius, which is designed for the shredder. Additionally the neck heel is recessed to make reaching those high notes easy. The headstock is reversed. The tailpiece is designed with an R.L. Baggs Radiance Hex piezo system. This guitar sells for $1300.

There are some unique features on the guitars in this line-up that were not found on the original models.

The dual-core processor allows for faster tracking and a cleaner, clearer sound. This makes the guitar respond more like a traditional electric guitar.

Line 6 has designed a computer program the call Variax Workbench Software. This can be downloaded for free from the Line 6 web site. Custom models can be created on your computer and downloaded to the guitar via its built-in USB port.

The new Variax line up comes with an Alt-Tuning knob that provides for 12 settings. The knob has Model and Standard settings. The Model function allows you to create tunings using Variax Workbench and save them.

The Standard setting overrides the saved tunings to set to standard tuning. The remaining 10 settings are made up of commonly used alternate tunings.

The guitar also has a virtual capo, which allows the player to transpose your playing to any key. Ever try to play in Db, Bb or Eb? With this baby, you can play everything is C or G.

These are the built in alternate tunings:


*1/2 DOWN: Eb Ab Db Gb Bb Eb *DROP Db: Db Ab Db Gb Bb Eb





The digital signal processor is powered by a lithium-ion battery that stores up to 12 hours of performance time. An LED meter shows you how much life you have in the battery. By rolling down the volume knob, the battery is put to sleep. It wakes up instantly once the volume control is re-engaged, thus saving even more battery life.

Fender VG
Not to be out-done, The Fender Musical Instrument Company came out with the Fender VG Stratocaster. This guitar is not only a virtual synthesizer, but a high quality American Standard Stratocaster as well. The technology is much different than the Variax. Fender teamed up with the Roland Company to design this model. It comes with the normal three single coil Stratocaster pickups, plus a built-in Roland GK Hex pickup right above the bridge that controls the guitars built in synthesizer features.

The guitar is made of an ash body Ash body, along with a maple neck and a maple or rosewood fretboard. The 3 ply pick guard comes with 3 single-coil pickups and chrome hardware.

Aside from the single Volume and Tone controls are two smaller knobs that are labeled Mode and Tuning.

The Mode Control Knob between a Virtual version of the Ash bodied Strat (for use of the tuning function), a virtual Telecaster, virtual 2-humbucker Strat, and an assortment of 5 acoustics, from Dreadnought to Resonator. The 5-way blade switch switches you between sounds in the modeling modes just like on a regular guitar.

The Tune function knob lets you choose between regular tuning, Drop D, Open G, DADGAD, Baritone/Low B, and 12 string. The tuning function does not work in Normal mode when circuit is bypassed. Tuning function is also relative. For instance, if you tune down to E flat, all of these tunings will transpose down a half step. The benefit of the tuning feature allows the strings to stay at the same tension, although the sound of each will change.

The sounds of the VG Stratocaster include:

*American Series Strat® (no synthesis) *Virtual Ash bodied Strat (for use of tuning function)

*Virtual Telecaster *Virtual Two-Humbucker Strat

*Plus an assortment of 5 acoustics, from Dreadnought to Resonator

The Tune function rotary control allows for:

*Normal — regular tuning *Drop D


*Baritone/Low B *12 string

The guitar runs on four AA rechargeable lithium batteries with a 10 hour life. A small blue LED found between the Volume and Tone Controls dims when the batteries are low. Even without the batteries the guitar continues to function as a normal Stratocaster.

On the back of the body are 3 compartments. The center one houses the tremolo unit, as found on most Strats. The upper compartment is for battery storage. While the bottom compartment houses the synthesizer.

I believe this guitar was an excellent idea, but it just didn’t sell. It was introduced in 2007 and discontinued two years later.

This video features a custom-built guitar with the Variax built in to give and idea of the different sounds.

Here is the Line 6 James Tyler JTV69

Here is a video released by Fender Musical Instrument Company about their VG Stratocaster featuring Fender demonstrator, Greg "Gristleman" Koch.


JD said...

Never heard of Variax before this, anyway I sometimes wish I could make my electric (strat) sound more acoustic.. And this actually does that!!

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