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.

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.

The Line 6 Variax Dilemma

I’ve had a Line 6 Variax 500 for a couple of years now. Of late it had been relegated into a dusty corner of the music room, losing its place to my own built guitars, my amazing custom Benford, and my 78 Telecaster. I had resolved to list it on eBay so dusted it down, put a fresh set of strings on, and took a couple of pictures for the eBay listing. Unfortunately I made the mistake of playing it for 5 minutes.

I had forgotten what a great piece of kit this is. When it comes to recording flexibility there is nothing to beat it. I’m not playing live much these days but it makes a perfect second guitar. As a backup, it can do it all. As a supplement to a main instrument, it can fill in all of those odd slots, for the strange requests of which the British public is so fond.

Ho hum. It is going back on the rack and will be hanging around a wee bit longer.

Here’s a quick recording of some of my favourite acoustic models from the Variax. It starts out with the three 6 string acoustics (Gibson J200, Martin D-28 and Martin O-18), the two 12 string acoustics (Guild F212 and Martin 12 D-28), a resonator (1928 National Tricone) and a banjo (Gibson Mastertone).

It was recorded in Reaper, using the Line 6 PodXT Live with just a touch of reverb.

My guitar setup

I’ve evolved a fairly non-traditional guitar setup for playing live, recording and practicing at home. I am convinced that it gives me a combination of great sound, flexibility, portability and reliability.

At the heart of all of it is a Line6 Pod XT Live. A floor board that does just about everything I could dream of. When playing live it goes straight into the desk. Practicing it goes into a hi-fi amp. When recording it plugs straight into my laptap with a USB lead. As a backup, when playing live, I also take along a Behringer VAmp2. A perfectly adequate amp simulator but not perhaps up to the functionality or build quality of the Pod XT.

With amp modellers and simulators there is always going to be a compromise in terms of the quality of the sound, however slight. Is it as good as a Fender Twin or Marshall stack at full chat? Nope. But I realised that the opportunities to turn an amp up to a decent operating volume are remarkably few. I also suspect that the vast majority of people, myself included, cannot tell the difference when you slot it in amongst the mix with drums, bass and vocals.

In terms of the guitars, it all depends… The one “ever present” is the Line6 Variax 500. It is an astounding piece of kit in it’s own right, being able to model instruments as diverse as Strats, Les Pauls, Gretches, 6 and 12 string acoustics and even a banjo and sitar. Pair it up with the Pod XT and it really starts to fly. The ability to switch from screaming Les Paul through a Marshall to jangly 12 string Rickenbacker with a touch of chorus, all with the tap of a footpedal, opens up new possibilities for live performance.

In addition to the Variax I’ll vary the main guitar, depending on whether it is an acoustic or electric focussed set, and knowing that the Variax can fill in the other type as required.

The main electric guitar of choice is my much loved late 70s Fender Telecaster. The acoustic is a newish small bodied Takamine.