I have a love hate relationship with the Variax which ended in mostly hate. The Variax guitar concept is a great one. Have one guitar that can emulate dozens of popular other ones. How wrong can it go. Well read on and find out.
Like I said before, the concept is great. The Variax's manufacturer, Line 6, has been modeling amplifiers for years and now they've brought their expertise to guitar modeling. The Variax comes in three different flavors. The Variax 300, 600 and 700. Each model has the same electronics, the only difference is that the build quality is better with the higher numbers. I’m reviewing the 300 model because it cost $299 and the other Variaxes were out of my price range.
When using the Variax, you have three different knobs and a 5 way selector switch. Two knobs represent the volume and tone controls. The third knob lets you select which guitar model you want to use. The 5 way selector switch selects a different variation of the guitar. A variation might be a Fender Stratocaster model with the bridge pickup selected or a Fender Stratocaster with the neck pickup selected or a Fender Stratocaster from a different year.
On the side of the guitar are three ports. One port is for power. Since the Variax uses extra electronics than a standard guitar it either needs to be plugged into a wall jack or through batteries. The next port is the guitar cable port that is on any guitar. The last port is a digital port that lets you connect the guitar to the PC and create your own guitar models and tunings. This is done through the optional Variax Workbench software.
Switching between guitar models is very easy. The model selector is labeled after different guitars. These aren’t the actual guitar names, but a similar sounding name (e.g. Les Paul=Lester, Strat=Spank). I can only assume the reason for this is because of copyright issues. Now, like mentioned earlier, when you have a certain guitar model selected, you can pick different variations of that model. Like when the spank model will have Stratocasters from different years at different pickup positions or different tunings. Here is a list of guitars that are emulated.
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
Coral/Dano Electric Sitar
Gibson Mastertone Banjo
1928 National Style 2 "Tricone"
The custom tunings feature is very helpful. You can instantly switch between different tunings with having to retune the guitar yourself or have another guitar setup at a different tuning.
The feel of the guitar is also quite good. I like the completely flat neck. It also has 22 frets. The strings that come with it are .10 gauge strings. The guitar even comes with the tools you need to perform your own setup.
No software comes with the Variax but you can purchase the Variax Workbench for $99. This kit is a combination of hardware and software. The software will actually let you create a custom guitar. You can select the type of guitar (Lester, Spank, acoustic, etc.). You can also select what tuning each individual string is at. Also the exact position of the pickup can be moved. The software is all visual, so it’s very easy to use.
Now comes the best part of the guitar. The sound quality is great! I’m not a guitar expert but I find each and every guitar model to have good tone. What impresses me the most are the acoustic models. You'll be amazed at what comes out of your amplifier. Here is a link to the manufacturers website that lets you preview what it sounds like. http://line6.com/variax/sounds.html
Ok now comes the worst part of the guitar. This thing is prone to break down. Mine broke about 9 months into owning it. The electronics just stopped working. Luckily it was under warranty and I had it repaired. But guess what? The darn thing broke again! That totally pissed me off and I decided to forget to repair it again and use its neck on another one of my guitars. I've heard many other people had problems with this guitar.
I really loved this guitar………… when it worked! The fact that it broke down twice, with the same problem really turned me off to it. Maybe the more expensive models are more rugged, but as I understand it's the electronics that broke and all the guitars use the exact same electronics. I have a hard time saying this because I loved it so much when it worked but, I’m gonna have to give this guitar a big thumbs down!