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JamieCrain

With Helix 3.0, is Variax redundant?

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I use my Variax almost exclusively for alternative tunings. I play metal mostly, I have no real use for the different guitar models. The alternative tuning function on the Variax is good, I wouldn't say brilliant, but it is a little better than using my old EHX Pitch Fork stomp with my standard guitars. The Pitch Fork was good sonically, but the slight latency between picking and hearing the sound made it limited.

 

Now that Helix 3.0 is out with Poly Capo, does this make the alternative tunings on Variax redundant? Has anyone tried both and how do they compare? Artefacts? Latency?

 

Would love to see a side by side comparison.

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18 minutes ago, JamieCrain said:

I use my Variax almost exclusively for alternative tunings. I play metal mostly, I have no real use for the different guitar models. The alternative tuning function on the Variax is good, I wouldn't say brilliant, but it is a little better than using my old EHX Pitch Fork stomp with my standard guitars. The Pitch Fork was good sonically, but the slight latency between picking and hearing the sound made it limited.

 

Now that Helix 3.0 is out with Poly Capo, does this make the alternative tunings on Variax redundant? Has anyone tried both and how do they compare? Artefacts? Latency?

 

Would love to see a side by side comparison.

 

Interesting question. I suppose at some point I will get around to testing the differences between using the Variax and a standard guitar with the Poly Capo for alternate tunings.  

 

The Poly Capo or Poly Pitch move every string the same interval. You can't do more exotic tunings or something like a Drop D where only one one string is dropped. If you don't use your Variax for anything other than alternate tunings and poly covers all the ones you use, then I suppose you could use the poly blocks instead.  So many other things you can use the Variax for though.

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The Poly Capo can't do alternate tunings (neither can any other poly shift affect). It can only standard-tuning up/down by half steps (or micro tones on things other than Poly Capo). You still need a variax for Drop-D, DADGAD, etc.

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30 minutes ago, malhavok said:

The Poly Capo can't do alternate tunings (neither can any other poly shift affect). It can only standard-tuning up/down by half steps (or micro tones on things other than Poly Capo). You still need a variax for Drop-D, DADGAD, etc.

 

Yup, you are right. Dropping or raising all the strings the exact same interval from standard tuning is I guess not technically considered an "alternate tuning". I think we were both pointing out the same thing though. Thanks for the clarification.

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I did some comparison between variax detuning/uptuning (not Alt tuning, for the above reasons), and the Helix Poly does seem performing better for uptuning (better tone and attack), whereas Variax (JTV59) sounds to me more convincing when downtuning, even if does warble a bit more for lower drops. Acoustic sim on the JTV is still superior than using the Acoustic sim in the latest firmware imho, but I've seen some youtube using that new block in conjuction with acoustic IRs, and it was sounding just amazing. Still the Variax seems the right choice if you dont want to deal to much with presets and stuff.

 

I dont think Variax is now redundant, at all. Helix can't perform string recognition as the Variax, so I doubt it will ever be a complete alternative.

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8 hours ago, JamieCrain said:

I use my Variax almost exclusively for alternative tunings. I play metal mostly, I have no real use for the different guitar models.

 

As stated.... genuine alternate tunings are not possible with PolyPitch. 

 

If you only use the Variax to drop/raise the entire guitar a pitch or two (neither is great with large drops/raises).... I'd still give the edge to the Variax, but only a little. PolyPitch is quite nice out of the gate, but it will require a little more refining before it matches or betters the Variax (IMO of course)

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6 hours ago, HonestOpinion said:

 

Yup, you are right. Dropping or raising all the strings the exact same interval from standard tuning is I guess not technically considered an "alternate tuning".

 

Seems to me that anything that isn't EADGBE standard tuning is an "alternate tuning"... it's an umbrella term, encompassing every other tuning out there, from the commonplace to the weird. What else would we call it?

 

Now if we really want to get into a semantic argument, what the new poly features can't do is produce open or drop tunings, where different strings are shifted by different intervals, and/or one or more strings are shifted and the rest are left alone entirely. That's where the Variax has the edge... though in my experience, they're far from perfect.

 

 

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Besides doing alternate tunings, the Variax can do reasonable approximations or Resonator acoustics, banjo, and sitar.  Also you can turn the volume level of various strings up or down with the Variax.  For example, if you wanted to start with a twelve string acoustic, turn the bottom two strings off and retune the top four strings to 5ths, you can get a reasonable Mandolin.  Finally, the Poly capo and 12 string simulator blocks in Helix 3.0 eat up a lot of DSP and are prone to have weird artifacts if you don't play them perfectly, while the Variax 12 string sims and alternate tunings take NO DSP and do not suffer from weird artifacts.

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1 hour ago, DBCrocky said:

...while the Variax 12 string sims and alternate tunings take NO DSP and do not suffer from weird artifacts.

 

Experiences with the Variax are all over the map, and you'll find plenty of players who'd argue this particular point all day long... over on the Variax forum there have been numerous discussions over the years of strange artifacts, particularly with the 12 string acoustic model. I can hear some if I listen closely with headphones... in a live mix, not so much. It's it a deal breaker? Not for me, but I do think the 12 string sounds somewhat artificial.

 

Bottom line is none of this stuff is perfect, and as far as the Variax goes the individual unit one gets, and the player him/herself weigh heavily on what "works well", what doesn't, and who can hear this, that or the other thing when it's isolated under a microscope all by itself.

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5 hours ago, cruisinon2 said:

 

Seems to me that anything that isn't EADGBE standard tuning is an "alternate tuning"... it's an umbrella term, encompassing every other tuning out there, from the commonplace to the weird. What else would we call it?

 

Now if we really want to get into a semantic argument, what the new poly features can't do is produce open or drop tunings, where different strings are shifted by different intervals, and/or one or more strings are shifted and the rest are left alone entirely. That's where the Variax has the edge... though in my experience, they're far from perfect.

 

 

 

I own the same umbrella . Have to admit that is how I always viewed the term "alternate tuning" and how most musicians I know have used the term. When Malhavok made that post though I went and looked that term up and the descriptions I saw did not include raised and lowered tunings from standard. So maybe he is technically speaking correct even if common usage includes those tunings under the catchall "alternate tunings". Any Berklee graduates or music majors want to weigh in on this?  Now I am curious. 

 

One thing I think is unanimous in the posts responding to this question is that a much wider range of tunings is available using the Variax.  The Variax also includes an additional layer of integration with the Helix such as auto-select of the Variax's pickup models as well as the ability to use the guitar's tone and volume controls to manipulate parameters on the Helix.  So at others have said, "no" the new Poly capabilities will probably not make the Variax redundant for most players. Just in case though if I were Line6 I would put a hex pickup in the next generation of Variax guitars just to help guarantee its longevity :-)

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I believe the correct terms are alternate tuning and detuning. Alternate tuning being where you change the relative tuning of the strings so the intervals between the strings are different than EADGBE. Detuning is taking the whole EADGBE tuning and lowering or raising the whole thing, keeping the intervals between the strings the same. I think that's it. I could be wrong.

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16 minutes ago, brue58ski said:

I believe the correct terms are alternate tuning and detuning. Alternate tuning being where you change the relative tuning of the strings so the intervals between the strings are different than EADGBE. Detuning is taking the whole EADGBE tuning and lowering or raising the whole thing, keeping the intervals between the strings the same. I think that's it. I could be wrong.

 

LOL, and the confusion multiplies. To me "detuning" always means lowering the tuning or maybe even just taking the instrument out of tune. I have never used that term to indicate a raised tuning.

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1 hour ago, HonestOpinion said:

 

LOL, and the confusion multiplies. To me "detuning" always means lowering the tuning or maybe even just taking the instrument out of tune. I have never used that term to indicate a raised tuning.

 

Lol, well despite it being my native tongue, English is a stupid language...and while this is no doubt becoming more than a little silly now (and unless I miss my guess, it'll probably devolve further), you are correct. ;)

 

Deflate, defund, decaffeinate, delete, descend... detune

 

With precious few exceptions, "de-anything" means lowering, removing, subtracting from, etc etc.... not raising or adding to something.

 

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Thanks all. Perhaps to clarify, and save us from a discussion on definitions, I am only really interested to know the quality of the down-tuned sound coming from the Poly vs the Variax. I use mostly standard tuning when I down tune, and a bit of drop tuning for which I can just turn the tuning peg. I don’t go for alternate/weird tunings very often.

 

Variax needs a lot of tweaking to get down tuning sounding good, there are so many artefacts and a “tinny” tone if you don’t make several adjustments. And with the Variax, anything other than half or full steps tuning sounds horrible, it’s unusable IMO.
 

My normal guitars are stereo with piezo so I can get great acoustic tones without the Variax models. All in all, I just find using the Variax a lot of hard work, so I’m looking for a simpler solution that can drop me down a few steps with good quality.

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@JamieCrain, agree wrt drop tuning on variax but I personally don’t use poly on helix for drop tuning either and for the exact same reasons. I’m not knocking it. It just isn’t my cup of tea. I wouldn’t hesitate to use either in a pinch but I tend to avoid those pinches. Another benefit of Variax drop tuning is saving 50% Dsp. YMMV and only you can say if your variax is no longer needed. Mine gathers dust (and is, in fact, listed for sale on Reverb as of last week but has nothing to do with Helix 3.0 as I haven’t really played that guitar in about 15 years).

 

As for the useless and completely subjective semantics discussion, I wonder why articles like https://www.sweetwater.com/insync/easy-alternate-tunings-for-guitar/ never mention things like “Van Helen Tuning - down 1/2 step” as surely it’s the easiest “alternate” tuning that ever existed. 

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3 hours ago, malhavok said:

...

 

As for the useless and completely subjective semantics discussion, I wonder why articles like https://www.sweetwater.com/insync/easy-alternate-tunings-for-guitar/ never mention things like “Van Helen Tuning - down 1/2 step” as surely it’s the easiest “alternate” tuning that ever existed. 

 

You're kidding right? Your post is what kicked off the "useless and completely subjective semantics discussion" when you essentially double-posted what I had already said with what appeared to be a semantic correction. Not that I mind an occasional digression into semantics as long as someone doesn't become the self-anointed grammar/semantics police. Not that you did. Hey its COVID quarantine. Many previously unwanted digressions have become welcome amusements. Cheers :-)

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No sir. I was only offering an answer to the OP. No correction on you was offered or intended. 

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I've played around a little with the poly stuff, but not a ton.

Seems like it handles small changes best, as does Variax.

 

So with that in mind, if you wanted to go down to, say, "drop D" tuning but in C#, would it make most sense to use Variax to get you the drop D, and then poly to add in the additional half step down?

 

I haven't done any combining of the effects yet in any real detail other than just quick messing around.

Anyone have insight into combining them?

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On 12/14/2020 at 1:27 AM, firehawkkwah said:

So with that in mind, if you wanted to go down to, say, "drop D" tuning but in C#, would it make most sense to use Variax to get you the drop D, and then poly to add in the additional half step down?

 

Yeah I don’t think I would be doing that, programming the Variax to do everything I want takes enough time without having to combine it with additional pitch-shifting, but thanks for the idea.

Perhaps when I finally get my helix I will try all the different combos and report back!

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On 12/13/2020 at 9:27 AM, firehawkkwah said:

So with that in mind, if you wanted to go down to, say, "drop D" tuning but in C#, would it make most sense to use Variax to get you the drop D, and then poly to add in the additional half step down?

 

 

"The more complicated the plumbing, the easier it is to clog the drain" - Capt. Montgomery Scott. ;)

 

You can try it, but piggybacking pitch shifting effects probably won't end well. The algorithms are imperfect as it is, and now you're gonna shift an already altered signal even further... you're practically begging for wierd artifacts.

 

Besides, the Variax can do what you want all by itself anyway... why complicate matters?

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17 minutes ago, cruisinon2 said:

 

"The more complicated the plumbing, the easier it is to clog the drain" - Capt. Montgomery Scott. ;)

 

You can try it, but piggybacking pitch shifting effects probably won't end well. The algorithms are imperfect as it is, and now you're gonna shift an already altered signal even further... you're practically begging for wierd artifacts.

 

Besides, the Variax can do what you want all by itself anyway... why complicate matters?

 

Scotty: I've never beamed three people from two targets onto one pad before!

-- Scotty

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Variax is not obsolete by any means since it can do so much more than move the entire guitar tuning up or down a few semitones.

 

If that's all you ever use it for then sure, stop using it.

 

I stopped using and sold my variax many years ago because it was clear that the technology hardware (the cpu and electronics that ARE variax, within the guitar) were not being improved upon and updated in the line6 R&D plan, so I realized then that any issues I had with it would not improve in the future.

 

It was cool, I used it to record the guitar solo for rock around the clock in a chinese language movie about bruce lee (Bruce Lee, My Brother is the english translation of the name).  It did the tone of a vintage hollow body gretsch style guitar great when I didn't have one around.

 

I also used it's sitar sound on some album work.

 

But as a guitar itself, using the variax sounds was never all that expressive or satisfying to me compared to using any other good guitar with magnetic pickups, and I'm not doing much live work any more (this is even before covid, just too busy to gig), so it was clearly not for me. 

 

I do think that live they are super valuable.

 

But if I want to play in drop C, for example, even a variax has it's issues compared to having a 25.5" guitar with proper string gauges tuned that way.


 

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Variax of course has many more features than the poly tune blocks including: alternative tunings, different instruments, MIDI controls, and rich integration with Helix.

 

I have found that when comparing Variax with the poly tune blocks, Variax has slightly better tracking, and a little less intermodulation errors. This is probably because Variax has a separate pickup for each string and does not have to try to separate them from a single analog wave. 

 

And Variax doesn't have any DSP overhead in Helix.

 

Bottom line, Variax + Helix + Powercab is an incredibly flexible and powerful platform for guitar. I am still thrilled with my investment in Line6 products. I'll be first in line to purchase and updated Variax. 

 

Wish I could be playing gigs again!

 

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3 hours ago, amsdenj said:

Variax of course has many more features than the poly tune blocks including: alternative tunings, different instruments, MIDI controls, and rich integration with Helix.

 

I have found that when comparing Variax with the poly tune blocks, Variax has slightly better tracking, and a little less intermodulation errors. This is probably because Variax has a separate pickup for each string and does not have to try to separate them from a single analog wave. 

 

And Variax doesn't have any DSP overhead in Helix.

 

Bottom line, Variax + Helix + Powercab is an incredibly flexible and powerful platform for guitar. I am still thrilled with my investment in Line6 products. I'll be first in line to purchase and updated Variax. 

 

Wish I could be playing gigs again!

 

 

I feel the same way about Variax + Helix + Powercab. Having everything in your signal path from guitar to amp communicating. Genius!  Probably never happen, especially now that the Line6 family now includes Yamaha guitars, but one thing I wish Line6 had done with the original Variaxes was partner with for example Gibson/Epiphone, Fender, ESP, etc., to install Variax electronics in a line of their guitars. Maybe that would have pushed the price up too high but I would have paid extra to get a brand of guitar I love to play with or without Variax electronics installed.

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10 hours ago, HonestOpinion said:

Maybe that would have pushed the price up too high...

 

Gibson and Fender are already comically overpriced for what they are... I can only  imagine what exorbitant prices they'd demand with Variax guts on board. Maybe they'd have half a chance of working something out with some of the less expensive Epiphones or import Fenders... but then again, that's basically what the JTV's are... the only tangible difference would be the logo on the headstock. Though now that I think about it, anything would be better than having "James Tyler" emblazoned on it 43 times...;)

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10 hours ago, cruisinon2 said:

 

Gibson and Fender are already comically overpriced for what they are... I can only  imagine what exorbitant prices they'd demand with Variax guts on board. Maybe they'd have half a chance of working something out with some of the less expensive Epiphones or import Fenders... but then again, that's basically what the JTV's are... the only tangible difference would be the logo on the headstock. Though now that I think about it, anything would be better than having "James Tyler" emblazoned on it 43 times...;)

 

There's more than one "James Tyler" logo on there? Hadn't noticed :-)  I hear you on the pricing for some of the traditional guitar companies. It has gotten exorbitant and that could well have been the sticking point but as mentioned some of the stuff at the middle-bottom of the line might have worked and Line6 would not have had to reinvent the wheel. Those companies already knew how to make a very playable inexpensive guitar. I would have preferred the flexibility of selecting a guitar that could have for the most part replaced one of my more frequently used gigging guitars and would have been willing to pay a bit extra for it.   I never tried one of the USA made custom Variax models which were an option if you wanted a higher end guitar and maybe they are fantastic but at that price point I would tend to look at other brands first. To be honest though, I have been playing mostly PRS guitars for years and perhaps nothing else would have fit the bill. For the most part the sweet spot for Line6 is probably to keep making fairly inexpensive guitars with Variax electronics installed and offer a few high priced models for those with the means and inclination to buy one.  Time IMHO for a Variax electronics reboot though. There is a lot more they could do with them and I think they would fly off the shelves if they found a way to merge their modeling with a hex pickup(tired old debate).

 

I never felt the original Variax and even the JTV(still have and use one) were exactly the right guitar for me. Just not overly fond of the build on them. It is the electronics and especially the interoperability with the HX ecosystem that are so compelling, the guitar itself left me nonplussed. Although I enjoy playing and employing the JTV for limited use it is not a "primary" guitar for me. Very cool when used with the Helix and PC+ and incredibly useful for alternate tunings but not an instrument I want to play all the time.  Could just be a personal preference thing. Haven't tried the new generation of Variaxes, I would not be surprised if the build has improved and there is the potential for them to get even better now that Yamaha is involved.  I have always been impressed by how well Pacifica guitars played and sounded for a relatively inexpensive guitar.

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3 hours ago, HonestOpinion said:

I never tried one of the USA made custom Variax models which were an option if you wanted a higher end guitar and maybe they are fantastic but at that price point I would tend to look at other brands first.

 

Me neither, but I simply cannot fathom paying nearly $4K for a guitar with a bolt-on neck...that's just insane. I don't care who's building it, unless it's got diamonds embedded in it, there's nothing they can do to make that level of construction worth 4 grand. 

 

Quote

To be honest though, I have been playing mostly PRS guitars for years and perhaps nothing else would have fit the bill.

 

I have an SE Custom 24 that's twice the guitar the JTV is, as far as build-quality is concerned. Already told the wife I want a Core model when I hit 50 in another couple years...we'll see, lol.

 

Quote

 

For the most part the sweet spot for Line6 is probably to keep making fairly inexpensive guitars with Variax electronics installed and offer a fewer high priced models for those with the means and inclination to buy one.

 

Yup... the path of least resistance is to keep cramming the guts into Pacifica bodies.

 

Quote

 

Time IMHO for a Variax electronics reboot though. There is a lot more they could do with them and I think they would fly off the shelves if they found a way to merge their modeling with a hex pickup(tired old debate).

 

No argument there, lol.

 

Quote

 

I never felt the original Variax and even the JTV(still have and use one) were exactly the right guitar for me. Just not overly fond of the build on them.

 

Totally agree... putting a Warmoth neck on my 69 improved it considerably, but it never became a workhorse. I always gravitate towards other instruments first. Curious to see what the next generation Variax has under the hood... one would assume that something is on the horizon. They haven't updated the current products in years, now.

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4 hours ago, cruisinon2 said:

putting a Warmoth neck on my 69 improved it considerably

 

A bit off topic, but I have been considering doing this for a while now. Any tips/caveats? I suppose the first one is to not buy one pre-routed for Strats?

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Staying on the subject of the last few posts.... 

 

I own the pesky kid brother of the original Variax line... the 300.

When I bolted on a mid 80's Fender Tele neck it completely transformed how the guitar played. It went from feeling like a novelty to becoming a real guitar. 

 

My Variax is used as a utility guitar... when I need to swap out acoustic or banjo sounds and electric sounds on the fly. I would like a nicer model with magnetic pickups but don't have a lot of faith in Line 6 support for this product. "Guitars" and "planned obsolescence" don't go together well.... IMO. 

 

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10 hours ago, LesSand said:

 

A bit off topic, but I have been considering doing this for a while now. Any tips/caveats? I suppose the first one is to not buy one pre-routed for Strats?

 

So here's the thing with Warmoth... if you buy one of the "in-stock" necks, you'll save a considerable chunk of change, but most of those will already be pre- drilled for a Strat. If you have them build you one from scratch, you can opt to not pre-drill for the mounting bolts, but not only is there an up-charge for not drilling the holes, the whole thing will probably end up costing ~25% more than one they've already built, and it's a much longer wait.

 

Fortunately, it doesn't really matter. You can buy a neck that's already been pre-drilled for Strat mounting bolts. Only one hole is offset on the Variax body... the other three will line up just fine. So that one hole will have to be doweled and re-drilled (it's too close to just drill a new hole and leave the existing one) but this quite simple to do, and even if you don't trust yourself to do it, any competent local tech/ luthier can do it in their sleep, and it's not expensive... you'll spend less money doing this than the extra $ it'll cost you to build one from the ground up.

 

Either way you choose to go, Warmoth makes great stuff. I'm not affiliated with them in any way...but I've had probably 5 or 6 of their necks on various guitars over the years. I've also built both Strat and Tele "parts-casters" from Warmoth necks and bodies, and they're two of my favorite guitars. As far as I'm concerned, they do Fender better and prettier than Fender does, and for 30-50% less money depending on how figured/ exotic the piece wood, the finish you choose, etc etc.

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Adding to what Cru is talking about, a picture is worth a thousand words. ; )

 

 

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3 hours ago, cruisinon2 said:

So here's the thing with Warmoth...


Couldn’t have asked for more helpful answers, cruision2 and spikey, thank you!

 

Now back to the original programming... or not. :-)

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Regarding the Varaix being redundant, one thing it does that is very cool is you can control Helix parameters from the Variax with it's volume or tone knobs. So, if you're trying to create a Tom Scholz type "Space Echo", which needs you to control two echo parameters at the same time, you can control one parameter, let's say the feedback, with the tone knob and the other, lets say, the delay time, with the expression pedal. One very cool thing the Variax does do well.

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I changed the pickups and neck on my JTV-69S and now its one of my nicest playing guitars. Only other thing I might do is change the volume and tone knobs to something with a slightly lower profile. The volume knob tends to gets in the way when picking. 

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