Using the Variax Workbench to “prototype” body, pickup and wiring combinations

As you’ll have seen from the last couple of posts, I’ve been spending some time with my previously neglected Line 6 Variax 500. Last night I stumbled across a use for it that had just never occurred to me before. On my to-do list are a couple of projects, a Tele with either a pair of Filtertrons or P90s and enhancing the Rockmangle to add phase and series/parallel switching options and experiment with different pot values.

Last night I was able to try these out to see if I liked the sound. Not only that, I was able to try each virtual guitar with a number of amps using the Line 6 PodXT Live. I hadn’t really explored the Variax Workbench software much before. Like most people, when first presented with something that offers so much control, you do a couple of weird extreme things (Jazzbox tuned down a 5th with a Dano lipstick bridge pickup anyone?) and then put it to one side.

Aside from filling in a couple of gaps in the standard guitar models that the Variax comes with (a full set of pickup combinations for a Thinline Tele and a P90 Les Paul Goldtop) and being able to play around with a couple of alternate tunings, I hadn’t seen very much use for it.

Here are a screenshot and a recording of the various pickup switching options for combined P90s on a Goldtop, which is the model that sounds closest to my Rockmangle. In order the switching combinations are;

  • In phase, in parallel (the standard mid position),
  • Out of phase, in parallel,
  • Out of phase, in series.

And here are the various Telecaster bridge pickup options I tested.

  • Standard Telecaster bridge,
  • P90,
  • Filtertron.

All recorded in Reaper using the Line 6 PodXT Live – Plexi 100 amp sim.

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More examples of the Variax

Following on from yesterday’s post, which featured the Variax’s acoustic and resonator models, here are some examples of my favourite electrics.

The guitar models/pickup combinations featured are:

  • 1960 Tele Custom – Bridge
  • 1959 Strat – Neck & Middle
  • 1961 Les Paul Custom (3 pickup) – Bridge & Middle
  • 1958 Les Paul Standard – Bridge
  • 1959 Gretsch 6120 – Bridge
  • 1966 Rickenbacker 360-12 – Bridge
  • 1953 Gibson Super 400 – Neck

All of these variations come directly from this one unassuming guitar with no more than the flick of a switch (or press of a footswitch if connected to the PodXT Live).

Recorded in Reaper via the Line 6 PodXT Live. Using the “Line 6 Clean” amp model with the drive and all EQ at “5” (i.e. flat).

And here’s a quick picture of all of the models available as presets.

Shaftesbury Les Paul: Finished

I could bear it no longer so, during the week I flatted, T-Cut and polished the body. On Thursday evening I assembled everything and fitted most of the hardware. On Friday I wired it up and today I finished setting it up by cutting the nut.

So I’ve reached the end of my first guitar refinishing/upgrade project. And was it worth it? Oh, yes. Before starting out on this it always played beautifully. Now it looks and sounds as good as it plays.

Shaftesbury Les Paul: Shielding

The guitar’s control cavity had previously been unshielded. This is not always an issue, particularly for a guitar fitted with humbuckers. Now, whilst to start with, I’m going to refit one of the old humbuckers, it will eventually getting some variant of a P90. Because single coil pickups are much more susceptible to noise, I decided to make sure the control and pickup cavities were well shielded.

I found just the stuff on eBay; slug repellent tape! This is 30mm wide self-adhesive copper tape, which is supposed to (but doesn’t) deter slugs and snails.

I ran a quick test first to see if two pieces of tape, stuck together, would allow a flow of current. Unfortunately it didn’t. Luckily the copper tape solders very easily.

I cut strips of tape to length, peeled off the backing paper and lined each of the cavities. I then put small dabs of solder to join each piece to it’s neighbour. Once that was done I used the multi-meter to check that each piece of tape was properly connected.

If you’re doing a similar job, don’t forget to shield the cavity cover(s) too. I made sure that the lining of the cavity folded over the lip, so that it’ll contact the shielding on the cover. Hopefully the screw running through should provide the electrical connection. I’ll test this by checking that, once assembled there is a current flow from screw head to one of the other earth points on the guitar.

I used two rolls of the tape and, at less than £2.00, it worked out much cheaper than I’d expected.

Shaftesbury Les Paul: Applying headstock logos

By this morning, all of the materials for creating the headstock logo had arrived so I set to it.

First, finishing off and tidying up the logo design I was going to use.

I then printed this onto the water-slide decal paper.

Coloured the lettering in with the gold and silver inks.

I left them to dry for an hour, trimmed them to size and dropped them into luke-warm water.

These were carefully applied to the lightly sanded headstock and left to dry.

A light coat of lacquer.

This was followed by three heavier coats, each of which rubbed down with well soaked 1200 grit wet and dry paper. Here’s the headstock just prior to the final coat.

And following the last coat of lacquer.

That brings me to the end of the painting phase of the project. There are a few flaws, but loads fewer than I expected there to be. All in all I’m delighted with the result. All that remains is to store the neck away with the body for a couple of weeks and then finish off with a light rub down with 2000 grit wet and dry, T-Cut and a final polish. That’ll just leave assembly, wiring and the setup.

Shaftesbury Les Paul: Logo for the vibrato

When I had a test dry fit of some of the components at the weekend I noticed that the unbranded Bigsby style vibrato has a space where the logo would normally appear. This got me thinking… I set to with Inkscape and The GIMP to see if I could come up with something that I could print on to water-slide transfers and fill the hole. There are the two designs I’ve come up. The first is somewhat hubristic. The second, and probably my favourite, is dedicated to the fine folk at the Six String Bliss forum, whose own guitar refinishing projects inspired me to take on this job in the first place.

I also spent a minute or two properly sorting out the jack socket. Many guitars I’ve seen have the socket bolted tight into the plate, meaning that the shank of the socket sticks out. This sort of annoyed me and struck me as easily damaged if it gets a knock. I tracked down a second nut to place at the rear of the plate, ensuring the face of the jack socket aligns perfectly.

Of course, none of this really matters, but I’m desperately finding small finishing jobs to fill the next three weeks, whilst the lacquer hardens to the point where I can start the cut and polish. Better to harness my impatient nature, rather than set it free on soft lacquer!

[update 1st Sept, 22:25]

Water-slide transfer paper arrived today, so have given it a go. Pleased with the result!