New Line6 user here. Wanted to share my thoughts on the JTV69S Variax (Made in Korea)
About me: I play every style of music from jazz to finger style to rock to pop to country to musical theater, so I have a diverse requirements--hence Variax.
My amp: Kemper
My cab: I use both the Yamaha DXR10 and the CPS Spacestation V3
Other guitars I have (or had/have a lot of experience with): Laurent Brondel acoustic, American Deluxe Strat and Tele, Gibson LP Junior, L-5/7, SJ200, Collings CJ
Review is based on the retail price of the guitar and I've played it for about 10 hours. Also, the review is written under the presumption that the JTV US is way out of everybody's price range. Let's face it, it's over priced, just like some of the crazy Gibson Les Pauls out there.
Bottom line (that echos what a ton of people say): The modeled sounds and tuning ability is really cool, useful, versatile, and there is nothing else like it, but the physical instrument itself is really rough around the edges which makes the whole thing bittersweet. I'll probably keep it because there's no other way to have a bunch of guitars packed into one for the price of a nice American made Fender, but I don't have that "lovin' feeling," "twinkle in my eye" for it that I have/had had for other guitars.
Modeled sounds: I love pretty much all of the modeled electric sounds. It gets you REALLY close to the actual sound of these instruments, and that is so useful and such fantastic versatility to be had. All the sounds are passable in a band situation for sure, and honestly they are really fun to play. Acoustics are passable too and sound better than any piezo acoustic guitar out there, but I wouldn't want to play an acoustic show with them--they work in situations when you need to switch quickly or when you don't want to lug another guitar with you, which I never do.
Mag pickup sounds: They sound good. It sounds like a strat. I won't comment here because all strats sound a little bit different, from alder to ash to different windings. Everybody has their own taste, but I'm honestly not too picky about strat sound. If it has the quack, and it has the spank, it gets the job done for me and surely gets the job done in the event your modeled sound craps out.
Workbench: Money!! Some of the modeled sounds didn't do it for me out of the box. For example, the Strat and Tele models were WAY bright and ice picky for me. I took the tele tone pots down to 50 kOhm. I kept the capacitance the same for all except i brought the neck pickup down to 11nF. I took the dropped the resistance and capacitance for the strats. Now the tone is thick and fat vs. ice-picky. I also spent a lot of time on the jazz boxes, which I think are really good. I opted for humbuckers on both the ES-175 and the Super 400 as my top choices, and moved the pickup position of the bucker on the Super 400 closer to the neck.
- Less redundancy with the pickups and maybe more variety/or more pronounced differences. Workbench is cool software, but there are pickups like "Semi humbucker" and "Lester," and if you swap these on the same body (i.e. on a super 400), and put them in the same position, the only difference I can tell is volume. Once I normalized volume, I was having a hard time discerning between them. Same exact thing goes between the "Jazz 90" and the "Semi 90." Instead, it would be nicer for me to either just have a smaller list to choose from, more discernible differences between pickups, or more pickups (for example, I would love to have a floating jazz pickup)
- An acoustic archtop for comping rhythm in big bands, musical theater, or jazz or country and western bands
- Nylon string, mandolin. Everybody says that and I will too.
Sarcasm alert: Thank god we have two resonator type guitars, two 12-string acoustics, two big-bodied acoustics (D28 and J200), two semi-hollows, three hum bucking solid bodies, a freaking sitar, and no nylon string or acoustic archtop. I definitely rather have two 12-strings and a sitar before I have an acoustic archtop or classical guitar. *ROLLS EYES SO FAR BACK*
- A way to blend the piezo in with the models. This might be nice to help out the acoustic models to have more oomph, if needed. Also, a way to modulate the pitch of the piezo blended in when alt-tunings are used would be cool too.
- A way to have just the piezo out for processing with other equipment
The Bads (Not in any particular order)
1. Palm muting, although it isn't as bad as people make it out to be. When playing clean, it is really hard to get that boom-chuck sound that you can get on a Tele or on a Gretsch. This is where the models are just "passable" and not knock your socks off. There's still room for improvement here.
2. Need options for the JTV69 neck. I actually like the shape just fine, and I like the satin finish on it just fine, but holy crap, even if you're ok with those things (which if you read two seconds of the internet, most people aren't), the nut width is terrible if you have normal sized hands. I “get it” that 1 5/8” is the vintage nut width, but people are bigger now and tastes have changed. In the very least, if you want to buy a Strat and spend >$1000 on a guitar, you have the option to get something that will be playable and comfortable for YOU.
Also, the strings are so close to the edge of the fretboard!!! HOLY CRAP do these strings slip off the fretboard easily.
3. I don't think it looks that great, and people hear what they see. The finish job quality is ok. It's shiny. But honestly is very blasé as is the body style and pick guard. I knew this before buying it, obviously, and god bless James Tyler's reputation, but from the body style, paint, and a pick guard that looks like a scrap piece of plastic slapped onto the body with no harmony with the body style and no elegance, the design just doesn't do it for me. I might look into getting custom guard done that makes more sense. I think there are some Squier guitars have nicer looking paint and body styles than the JTVs. $1000+ for a crappy looking guitar isn't cool. Upping the ante to the JTV US’s are not an option because they are way too expensive.
4. The acoustic response of the unplugged instrument. This thing sounds and feels like picking strings strung on a pillow. No response. This isn't that important because when you're plugged in, it doesn't make that much of a difference. There are, however, times that I want to play, but I'm not at my rehearsal space and I don't want to make a bunch of noise, or I don't want to wear headphones. My Strat has a tremendous acoustic sound and the thing resonates like an acoustic instrument and I can feel it. It's fun to play because of that.
5. The switches and controls:
** The alt-tuning selector wheel already scrolls past it’s “model” detent position, which I would think would be where the switch would stop and no go further. I think it is already breaking/broken. Also, the detent and scrolling response is feels tactically weird because there is a lot of resistance to get out of a detent position, but it is easy to scroll past a detent because there is a lot of slop/play when you reach a detent. Just not what you want to see when you spend this much money on a guitar and it's new. This doesn't give me confidence that the guitar will have longevity.
** The pickup selector switch moves too easily as well (detent positions are not pronounced enough). This is crappy. I just feel like this is like a big F-U to the customer/real players. It is way too easy to hit the selector and move it to a new position.
The volume knob is also in a weird position that is going to take some getting used to because a it is farther forward (closer to the fretboard from the bridge) than a Strat is. This makes some picking awkward. Yes, it’s farther away from the e-string, but since it’s farther forward, it gets in the way because it's position along the length of the string is right in the picking sweet spot. The Strat's is farther back/ closer to the bridge and I don't play that close to the bridge except for one-off special effects.
6. Open string buzzing/sizzling/warbling (HELP!!!). I don’t know if the nut was cut wrong, or the break angle behind the nut is bad, but my high e-string sizzles/warbles at the nut. Raising string height at the saddle doesn’t help. I've read others having the same problem. Obviously not utilizing string trees was a design choice made for a reason, but this sucks on a very not-cheap guitar.
7. The ethernet jack on the guitar should be turned 180 degrees in order to position ethernet locking tab on the opposite side of the jack-cover’s hinge so you can more easily remove ethernet cables. Small deal but this is annoying. If you don't have the Variax supplied cat5 cable or you just have another cat5 lying around next to you, you cannot get it out of the jack if there is a rubber cover of the cat5 cable's locking tab unless you use needle nose pliers because the jack's hinge cover blocks your fingers access to the locking tab.
8. I think may tremolo arm is already broken, so this design sucks. It’s not screw-in, it’s not pop-in. There’s a thin sleeve on it that either gets stuck on the arm itself or gets stuck in the slot and seems there is no way to screw it in. This needs redesign since I think mine was broken before I even got it.
9. The guitar came with allen wrenches, but it didn’t come with all the needed wrenches. This is another not important thing, but it's just annoying and goes along with the rest of the theme of the feeling. It didn’t have a wrench for the set screw on the tremolo, nor a wrench for the saddle heights.
The guitar is so versatile and the modeled sounds are so close that the flaws can be overlooked. After writing all of that stuff above, here's how I feel: It seems like Line6 poured their blood, sweat, and tears (and $$$) into the modeling, and I feel like they gave up there, and as a customer, I don't feel proud. From the looks and the fit/finish/feel of the guitar, I don't want to go out and brag. Even though it does such cool things that no other guitar can do, I don't know, I still feel more proud and would brag more about my Fender American Deluxe Strat. The Variax is like a group of rental units that you own in the cheap/bad part of town--they are a great investment, but you don't want to show it off to people or tell them about it, and it's probably going to be a bit of a pain in the lollipop at some point. The difference is you don't take your rental property up on a stage and show it off. I wish it was more like a middle class duplex in a decent neighborhood. You'd pay just a little bit more, but still a good investment and you're happy to brag about it.
Questions? Thoughts? Shoot a reply or a DM! :)