In praise of the Line 6 Helix and staff:
Synopsis – The Helix is an amazing piece of equipment that’s value far exceeds its cost. It has only improved over time AND the dev. team is incredible!
WARNING, this is going to be a lengthy post, so I apologize ahead of time. However, I believe I need to provide some personal history for context and believe it provides a solid foundation for my opinion. I have been reading here for a long time but never posted before.
I have been playing guitar for approximately 25 years and in that time have played and owned many high-end amps/effects. I started in the mid-90s for context. My first amp was a 15 watt solid state Epiphone tweed amp that was ok for a beginner. When I started regularly going to the gigs of a local band, the guitar players took me under their wing. They both had fantastic tones and were using tube amplifiers. One was using a Fender Twin Reverb and the other was using a 70s Orange Overdrive 120 through an Orange 4x12 with Celestion Vintage 30s. They both told me I needed to get a tube amp to have warm, full tones.
The first tube amp I could afford was a Carvin MTS 3212, which was a 100 watt 2x12 combo with 5-12AX7 preamp tubes and 4-6L6 power tubes. This was a huge improvement over my little Epiphone and I eventually bought the Carvin 2x12 extension cabinet for a total of 4x12 speakers. I had many tube related problems with this amp and had to have it serviced several times. Still, I kept searching for better tones, as I was gigging regularly and would hear other guitar players whose tones inspired me.
I saved up and bought a new Marshall JCM 2000 TSL100 head, Marshall 1960AV, and Marshall 1960BV for the full stack experience. I really liked this amp, it had great cleans, overdrives, and heavier tones, too. However, I also had multiple tube related problems with this head and had to take it to the shop more than once. Finally, they had to re-solder the entire circuit board and only then did it work reliably. I kept gigging with it but also wanted another high gain tone to pair with it. I saved up and went to a shop that carried a bunch of the boutique amps of that time period such as Soldano, Bogner, Mesa, Bad Cat, Deizel, Dr. Z, Matchless, etc. After playing through a bunch of different amps, I ended up getting a 100 watt Soldano Avenger to pair with the Marshall TSL. I also got a Bedrock 1400 50 watt amp head, too.
I played in a band with another guitar player that had an original 2 channel 100 watt Mesa Dual Rectifier that played through the oversized Mesa 4x12 Recto cab. I played in another band with someone that had a 70s Marshall JMP head and then sold that for a 2 channel Mesa Dual Rectifier. That player’s Recto did not sound as good as the other guitar player’s Recto, no matter what we did. This same guitar player had a Bogner Uberschall, too. I also got a Fender Blues Junior (American Made) for a Christmas gift in 1999, I think. As time went on, I had a huge pedalboard with too many pedals to talk about.
I had heard about the Line 6 POD and got one and the big controller out of curiosity. I played with it a lot and gave it a fair shake IMHO. There was no comparison, my tube amps sounded far superior to the POD. The distortion was not right, especially with high gain, and it didn’t react in the same way to dynamics or volume knob changes. I ended up selling it. For lack of a better term, the distortion sounded digital and not warm and organic.
Later, I got tired of hauling all the big heavy stuff and got a 100 watt Mesa Lonestar 2x12. That was a great sounding combo that I gigged for quite a while. That thing weighed 80ish pounds, and I eventually got tired of hauling that, too. Age, stairs, and heavy guitar equipment don’t go well together!
Another local guitar player had a Line 6 POD HD500 and had some good tones coming from it. He let me borrow it and said they got the tones right with this one. I was very skeptical but took him up on his offer. I gave it a good run through, and through my studio monitors it produced convincing guitar amp tones and also responded like a good tube amp to volume/dynamic changes. I got one for myself and started to do the FRFR thing. I was happy with the HD500 setup and tones, but still it didn’t have enough power to do a lot of what I wanted. When I saw the Helix, it was like a dream come true with the additional power and features. I bought one and couldn’t believe what I could do with it and the tones I was getting.
The Line 6 team has continued to provide free updates, which have given me almost everything I have wanted. 3.15 is absolutely amazing, the new reverbs are as good as any I have ever heard. I have operated a recording studio for myself and for hire for the last 15 years or so. Yes, I have heard quite a few reverbs in my own studio and also those of others. The team nailed these dynamic reverbs. I am so thankful, as that was a big part of what was missing, since I am used to studio quality reverbs.
I had a problem early on with one of the touch capacitive switches not working and contacted Line 6 while still under warranty. They sent me a shipping label and I sent the unit back for repair. It has been great ever since, and they totally took care of me. That was in 2017 so Helix is reliable.
Yes, this is a very long post and I could have made it even longer. Hopefully, this provides enough context to show that my opinion should count when I say that the Helix really sounds and feels as good as great tube amplifiers. They truly have nailed the modeling and have provided an extraordinary device to make music with. Oh, how I wish this existed when I was gigging 20 years ago! I do use third party IRs, as I feel like the stock cabs still leave something to be desired. Hopefully, they re-do the cabs for Helix at some point. Metallurgy has provided some hope that this might just happen.
I don’t have an account there but read TGP almost daily. It is really cool how Digital Igloo, Frank, and Ben Adrian chat about Line 6 stuff on their own time with those people. I have learned a ton from their posts and love their passion and knowledge. Thank you for your hard work on Helix and such great designs and tones. Keep up the good work, Line 6!