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Variax models vs. mags with amp sims

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I am running a JTV-59 through a Yamaha THR 10C into an iMac via USB or just jamming with headphones plugged into the THR.  The magnetic pickups sound great with the amp sims built into the THR.  In fact, I'd say the tube amp sims in the THR are some of the best hardware or software (external device or computer plugins) I have come across so far. Granted, I don't have an Ax FX or Kemper Profiler. 


But when I switch over to the Variax models with the same amp sims (both THR and Guitar Rig), it just doesn't sound that great. The mags sound much better.  Then I finally got around to turning the THR to the "FLAT" setting where no amp sim is applied to the signal. I only had a light hall reverb on. When I started going through the models I was blown away!  Especially by the SEMI, JAZZBOX, and ROCKABILLY models. To me they sound so much better without an amp sim coloring their sound, even when the amp sim is set to low-gain, clean tones.  The sound is more expressive and sounds less "gimmicky". I am starting to have more respect for what Line 6 has accomplished here.  I am not disappointed at all because I really like to play with very clean tones, and no distortion. 


I know this probably has a lot to do with the preference of my ears. I'm just very puzzled why there would be such a difference between mags and Variax models when using amp sims. Do we get better results using simulated instrument and real amp, or amp sim and real mags, but things start to break down with simulated guitar AND simulated amp?  

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Do we get better results using simulated instrument and real amp, or amp sim and real mags, but things start to break down with simulated guitar AND simulated amp?  


I think the only correct answers to that question are:


- It depends; and

- It's more complicated than that.


When I want to really understand the difference between things like this, I try as much as possible to eliminate variables. Otherwise it's like comparing a sour apple to a sweet orange and concluding that the orange must be sweet because it's a citrus fruit, and therefore all citrus fruits are sweet and all apples are sour... If you don't separate out the different aspects, then there's a danger of jumping to premature conclusions - which makes for a big surprise when someone hands you a Golden Delicious and a wedge of lemon.


There are a lot more factors besides just real vs. modeled when comparing any two guitars (real or modeled) and how they respond through an amp:


- Dark vs. bright instrument sound (real or modeled)

- Output volume per pickup (real or modeled - makes a BIG difference to how the amp responds)

- Resonances in the guitar body (real or modeled)


Let's say Line 6 let you borrow for the weekend all 25 (or however many) of the real, physical instruments which they measured to create the Variax models. To the extent to which they were accurate in their models, you'd have extremely similar results when swapping out guitars and leaving the amp settings unchanged as when switching Variax models.


Each guitar would also show off its personality much clearer without an amp; that's not a model vs. physical thing.

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As you found out, amp settings and guitar models go together.  One amp setting may sound great with one guitar model and like SH$T with another.  Tweak your amp settings for each model and they can all sound very good.  I like to start with an acoustic amp setting (no amp) to hear the models with full response on my PA speaker before I try it with an amp.

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The modeling isn't going to be perfect. It's a piezo pickup using algorithms and impulse responses to emulate the frequency response of said emulated guitars' pickups and bodies.


With that said, it's very close, but there will be a little nuances off that you will have to compensate with through amp settings.

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mdmayfield, great analogy with the fruit! He he!  Everything you said makes sense.  I think, for one thing, the modeling is very good, but not perfect.  I like the sound of the JTV59 magnetic pickups much better than the LESTER model in the Variax, but I don't think that means the LP they modeled was mediocre. As you said, "to the extent they were accurate", and I think there are still some limitations, as clay-man points out. 


I did notice I could improve some of the Variax-plus-THR sounds by adjusting both the guitar volume and tone, and amp settings, as you say, Charlie Watt.  I also noticed just raising the overall model volume by 2 to 5 db in Workbench helped improve some models. Made them sound less anemic, more alive. I do realize the volume/output is modeled after the real instrument (single coils have less output, and some single coils are hotter than others). I still think, even after tweaking to suite each model, that the magnetic humbuckers have more depth and detail when played through an amp than most of the Variax models.


mdmayfield, I think I probably just discovered (in my lack of experience) what you described, in that real or modeled, a guitar will "show off its personality much clearer without an amp".  To be honest, I expected the opposite.  I thought an imperfect model might sound better when an amp is covering its imperfections, or that it would be harder to tell the difference between the model and the real guitar. But I'm learning that amps seem to muffle the direct sound of the guitar, and I think this might have more to do with the speaker/cabinet.  Because when I play around with some amp sims in the computer with no cabinet, it's a very harsh, brittle sound that adding a cabinet simulation seems to soften up a lot. 


I like a bright but full, expressive clean sound, which might partly explain why I'm less than impressed with Variax models when they are colored by an amp sim. I am probably finding this discovery fascinating when it's just some things you guys have understood for years.  

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Not using a cabinet/sim will always sound like garbage. A cabinet will shapen up the sound and round out the highs to give it a sweet mid range based tone.


Distortion is basically clipping, and clipping cuts off the high points of the input, giving it a harsh sound. Unless you like going deaf, always using a cabinet simulator. An impulse response loader will work the best.

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I like to use both at the same time. I added a second DT25 to my rig recently, and started programming the HD500 patches to split the mags and models with the VDI. Amp model 1 gets the variax mags, goes to one DT25, amp model 2 gets the variax models and goes to the other DT25.


Sound is stellar! I typically have to balance the mag / model volumes, but since they are going each to their own DT, that adjustment can be a simple knob tweak on the DT's, then save the patch at volume once they sound leveled.

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clay-man, I've had good luck with using a LePou LE456 with no cabinet model.  It sounded very sparkly and had a nice tone when tweaked, but that is an unusually clean amp model, and probably not a good example of most amp sims. It sounded very muddy when I applied the cab sim via IR response loader, as you suggested.  Obviously I don't know what the heck I'm doing!  I should bone up on my knowledge of plugin-based amps and IR cabinet sims.


ColonelForbin, that sounds like quite a setup!  You almost have two "dream rigs"... lucky guy.  That brings me to another question related to my original post: Would a Variax, developed by Line 6, sound better with a POD 500HD versus another $500+- multi-effects amp sim unit?  Better with a DT25 than a Fender or Marshall? Probably a subjective thing where people have different preferences... Just wondering if Line 6 products are likely to sound better together than with third party gear.

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