Product Review: Line6 Variax and PODxt

May 20, 2003 16:03 · 901 words · 5 minute read

After too long a time away from music, I’m finally getting a little bit of time with it. It’s been 10 years since I bought my first guitar, a $200 Yamaha electric strat-style. For a while, I’ve been thinking that I’d like a new guitar, and now I’ve finally found the guitar for me: the Line6 Variax. I also decided to upgrade my guitar effects to the Line6 PODxt.

This article is basically my first impressions of the Variax and PODxt, since I haven’t spent more than a few hours with them at this point.

At first glance, the Variax looks like a pretty standard guitar. Looking a little closer, you’ll notice that it doesn’t have any visible pickups. That’s because its tone is not created by traditional pickups. There is a piezo pickup in the bridge that gathers the sound which is then run through digital signal processors (DSPs) to shape the tone. The final sound that comes out is that of one of many different instruments. Vintage Les Paul, Fender and Gibson electric guitars are all present. As are acoustic guitars, 12-strings and even a Coral Sitar and a banjo.

How realistic are these tones? Like I said, I’ve been playing a cheap Yamaha guitar, so I’m hardly the person to say whether a modeled tone sounds like the real thing. Elsewhere, people who have played (or even own) some of the modeled guitars have said that the models are very good. I have seen some criticism of the 12-string models, but I think they would sound good in a mix.

Overall, I’m very pleased with the timbres that come from my Variax. The acoustic models are very nice and are even designed to sound like a miked acoustic.

Unlike a standard electric guitar, the Variax requires power to run its DSPs. Typically, the power comes from the included footswitch. The footswitch gives you the ability to switch from the 14″ output (which I have going to my POD) to an XLR output which you can run straight to your mixer, which is perfect for the acoustic models. If, for some reason, you’re out playing somewhere and don’t have power, the Variax will run on AA batteries for 10 hours or a 9 volt battery for 2-3 (according to the manual, I haven’t tried it).

Speaking of the manual, I must say that I enjoy Line6 manuals. They have a pleasant style and covered all of the information I needed.

The POD is a good companion to the Variax. Whereas the Variax models guitars, the POD models amplifiers, cabinets, microphones and stomp boxes. A Variax and a POD together is like having a room full of guitars and amps.

Previously, I was running my guitar through an Ensoniq DP/4+. The DP/4+ has an amp simulator, but it’s rather noisy. The PODxt sounds fantastic. Again, I can’t compare the POD’s sounds to the amps they’re modeling, but I can say that I enjoy the tones and that the device has no (undesirable) noise.

The POD’s user interface is one of its strong points. It comes with a bunch of presets that are complete setups. In a number of cases, these presets are named after songs, making it easy to find the sound you’re looking for.

Once you’ve got a preset dialed up, you can just grab the knobs and tweak away. The POD has enough knobs that you can change many parameters without cycling through menu after menu. There are so many options that you can’t completely avoid navigating the screens, but I think a good balance was struck.

Once you’ve set the POD up with a tone that you like, you can save that setup for future use. The Variax does not allow modification of its tones, but does allow you to save two custom sets of guitars. A guitar tone is chosen by turning the knob for the different guitar types (“Acoustic”, “Reso”, “Lester”, etc.) and then moving the pickup selector switch to the correct position. The two “Custom” guitar setups let you assign any of the guitar models to any of the pick selection positions. This makes it easier to switch between guitars in a performance. Switching between a real acoustic guitar and a Les Paul electric would be a lot more work than flicking a switch, even if you have a bunch of roadies.

The PODxt has a connector for a foot pedal board that gives you control over the POD and provides volume control. Line6 actually makes two different foot board, the larger of which costs almost as much as the POD! Being a computer geek, I would likely buy a MIDI foot board instead and use that to control the POD.

The Variax has a connector that is reserved for future expansion. The connector is the same type of connector that the POD uses to hook up the foot pedals. There may be a connection there 🙂

At this point, I’ve written more about the Variax and POD than I had intended. It’s hard not to go on and on about them, though, because they are great pieces of gear. Guitar purists might not like the Variax’s emulations of classic guitars, but for those of us who want a variety of sounds, it’s unbeatable. The POD has been a leader for years and the PODxt shows that Line6 can just keep making them better.