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Variax Guitars — 10 Year Lifespan?

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I bought a Variax 700 Acoustic in 2010. One of the main reasons to buy a Variax is for the custom tone-shaping available via the Workbench software. Unfortunately, Line 6 hasn't updated the necessary Workbench software to keep up with computer operating system evolution. I managed to mess around with Java versions, etc, to keep it going over the past several years, but the OSX move to Catalina seems to have broken everything. And with it, my trusty Variax. Ten years is a short life span for a guitar! Yeah, I can still plug it in and play it, but the custom tone-shaping feature is poooooft.

 

I also own a Variax Standard, which uses the newer Workbench HD. But one could logically predict that the HD software will be abandoned within ten years, just like for the earlier Variax models. The 10-year life span for custom tone modeling is something to keep in mind if you are considering buying a new Variax.

 

 

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5 hours ago, soundog said:

 

I also own a Variax Standard, which uses the newer Workbench HD. But one could logically predict that the HD software will be abandoned within ten years, just like for the earlier Variax models. The 10-year life span for custom tone modeling is something to keep in mind if you are considering buying a new Variax.

 

 

 

I hate to break it to ya, but we're basically already there for the current Variax generation. Yes, the Standard is a slightly younger, but it's sporting the exact same firmware as the JTV's, which are already right around the ten year old mark... the first ones started shipping in 2011, if I'm not mistaken. And they haven't seen an update in 5 or 6 years.

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IMO keeping also an old computer around just to run the still valid/useful but older generation softwares wouldn't be a bad idea.

 

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Windows 10 will still run the original Workbench fine. I don’t know if Windows will drop 32-bit support like Apple did, but I kind of doubt it given the ubiquitousness of older software in many corporate environments.

 

I think this particular case is somewhat special in that there probably won’t be another leap like this for quite awhile.

 

And to @cruisinon2’s point, the JTV line is actually over 10 years old now, as they started shipping in 2010. The original Workbench software was released back in 2004 or something like that.

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Thanks all. My basement has several pieces of musical hardware that was abandoned by software; its just something to be aware of when investing in stuff. At least the Variax still plays! In reality, one can't assume any manufacturer will continue to support old products via software updates — they gotta prioritize resources.

 

That said, I do have an old Mac that I think I'll hang onto for running "old" but essential 32-bit apps such as Workbench. And I wonder if someone might create a utility app that will run 32-bit apps under the 64-bit OS?

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I got one of the first Variax's and got the JTV when it came out. Unless Line 6 continues to update the Workbench software so I can continue to take full advantage of my older Variax, I will never buy a Variax again. My SG from 1975 still works. I expect the same from a Variax or at least if it is still working, to be able to still program it from Workbench. I know I'm not supposed to expect that. But, again, if I know it can't last more than 10 - 15 years, I'm done with the Variax. We'll see how it goes. I'll play the ones I have until they die. to me if you're going to make a Variax guitar, if you want people to buy them and continue to buy them, at the very least, if I have one that works, I think ya gotta at least commit to keep up with the Workbench software. Hardware will fail I guess but if in 10-20 more years my Variax hardware is still working, I want the Workbench to work as well.

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Mac has forced the hand with a complete drop of 32 bit apps... 

There are a few hoops to jump through with Windows 10, but at least it still works.

 

Old PC's are a dime a dozen.... and likely the best bet to keep this old gear alive and running.

 

I have a lot of older gear... and to be honest none of it more than 10 - 15 years old is still supported regardless of make/model. BUT - I agree with @brue58ski... it feels a lot different when it's a guitar.  

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20 hours ago, brue58ski said:

I got one of the first Variax's and got the JTV when it came out. Unless Line 6 continues to update the Workbench software so I can continue to take full advantage of my older Variax, I will never buy a Variax again. My SG from 1975 still works. I expect the same from a Variax or at least if it is still working, to be able to still program it from Workbench. I know I'm not supposed to expect that. But, again, if I know it can't last more than 10 - 15 years, I'm done with the Variax. We'll see how it goes. I'll play the ones I have until they die. to me if you're going to make a Variax guitar, if you want people to buy them and continue to buy them, at the very least, if I have one that works, I think ya gotta at least commit to keep up with the Workbench software. Hardware will fail I guess but if in 10-20 more years my Variax hardware is still working, I want the Workbench to work as well.

 

I sympathize with your plight... and I agree with the underlying sentiment. Unfortunately, the march of technology and the realities of the marketplace in a disposable economy that prioritizes the  acquisition of the "latest and greatest" above all else, means that this kind of problem is never going away. It's hard to marry that reality to something like a guitar...

 

It doesn't much matter for things that we tend not to develop emotional attachments to, like big black boxes with lights and footswitches... but for something like a guitar it's always gonna be a problem. I suspect that's largely why I've gravitated back towards my other axes over the years. For all the things the Variax does well, it's too tech-dependent and way too easy to upset the apple cart... that, and I can't be wireless without losing all the control capabilities. With all my other instruments, there's almost nothing that I can't fix myself with allen keys, a file, some contact cleaner, or 5 minutes with a soldering iron... but if the Variax guts $hit the bed or Workbench becomes obsolete and unusable, then I've got a $1K doorstop.

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15 hours ago, cruisinon2 said:

 

I sympathize with your plight... and I agree with the underlying sentiment. Unfortunately, the march of technology and the realities of the marketplace in a disposable economy that prioritizes the  acquisition of the "latest and greatest" above all else, means that this kind of problem is never going away. It's hard to marry that reality to something like a guitar...

 

It doesn't much matter for things that we tend not to develop emotional attachments to, like big black boxes with lights and footswitches... but for something like a guitar it's always gonna be a problem. I suspect that's largely why I've gravitated back towards my other axes over the years. For all the things the Variax does well, it's too tech-dependent and way too easy to upset the apple cart... that, and I can't be wireless without losing all the control capabilities. With all my other instruments, there's almost nothing that I can't fix myself with allen keys, a file, some contact cleaner, or 5 minutes with a soldering iron... but if the Variax guts $hit the bed or Workbench becomes obsolete and unusable, then I've got a $1K doorstop.

 

Yes I agree. I know electronics/computers can and often will fail after a time. But my first generation Variax still works after 15 years.  I'm almost positive I will not be getting another Variax, even if a new version comes out unless there is a commitment to keep the Workbench software working. I do not see that happening. I do have and keep an old computer, but it is a hassle to dig it out if I want to mess with my old Variax. Back in the day, I took my SG humbucking pickups (Seymour Duncan Jeff Beck) and rewired them. I had three switches. Two for the pickups and one for the pickup selector. Each had 6 positions. The positions of the two switches for each pickup caused the pickups to be wired 6 ways, Series/in phase, series/out of phase, single coil 1, single coil 2. parallel/in phase, parallel out of phase. Then the pickup selector also did the same thing for the two pickups, so 6x6x6 gave me 216 possible settings. Noisy as hell (noise gate was always on). I was just getting ready to put a new bridge in with piezos imbedded  for a simulated acoustic. Then.....the Variax came out. Still have the bridge (it's not installed). I guess if my Variax's fail, I'll be installing that piezo bridge. ;)

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I suppose an upside to the current Variax technology is once the tech is fully outdated we will still have some excellent electric guitars whose analog wiring can be wired just like any other electric. The original Variax technology, with its lack of physical pickups and circuit, would be left derelict. Or perhaps some gifted boffin will have developed a work around by that point to maintain the existing technology or even improve upon it. Either way I look at it the JTV’s and Standards have a pathway to be used beyond the end of firmware updates. 

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Ya know it occurs to me. The Variax does have the means for 6 separate string outputs with the piezo's. Perhaps, down the road, they could be repurposed. Maybe even reused for some new Variax guts. Just a thought.

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2 hours ago, brue58ski said:

Ya know it occurs to me. The Variax does have the means for 6 separate string outputs with the piezo's. Perhaps, down the road, they could be repurposed. Maybe even reused for some new Variax guts. Just a thought.

 

Assuming that the next generation is also piezo driven, then sure... that's possible. It's highly unlikely that the next one will have backwards compatible guts to drop into existing guitars, though. It simply isn't in their financial interest to do so. They want to sell you a new product, not update an old one. Besides, 10+ years in,  the official party line is still "don't touch anything yourself". Hell, they expect you to drag it to an "authorized service center" for a friggin' setup...I seriously doubt they're gonna want anybody trying to retrofit an old instrument with a new brain. They'd be drowning in repairs from butchered DIY attempts.

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Piezo, EXA and MIDI guitar are almost 40 years old, and tech behind these things it's still more or less the same as when I was a kid...

 

Apart the Synthaxe and Variax, I cant think of other milestones along these decades.

 

Saying that because this market is niche of the niche (which means snail's pace R&D), and as today, Variax is still a thing, with basically no competition.

 

Would be great to see a new gen, with same tech, but with much more DSP for better sounds and less latency (especially for low tunings). I wouldnt change anything else honestly. Maybe a revamp of the software UI, which looks a bit rusty in 2021...:P

 


 

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5 hours ago, cruisinon2 said:

 

Assuming that the next generation is also piezo driven, then sure... that's possible. It's highly unlikely that the next one will have backwards compatible guts to drop into existing guitars, though. It simply isn't in their financial interest to do so. They want to sell you a new product, not update an old one. Besides, 10+ years in,  the official party line is still "don't touch anything yourself". Hell, they expect you to drag it to an "authorized service center" for a friggin' setup...I seriously doubt they're gonna want anybody trying to retrofit an old instrument with a new brain. They'd be drowning in repairs from butchered DIY attempts.

 

I would disagree with the first part in the sense that the Variax just doesn't seem to sell very well. So the new product they would sell me would have to be newer processing that I, (or an authorized Line 6 dealer) could put in. I say this because I will never buy a new full Variax again. A thought that has been expressed by other current Varaix owners. It's a $700 guitar with $700 worth of electronics. I'm not doing that again.  I would be up for replacing a mother board (something I am familiar with as I have replaced the VDI assembly in my Variax which looks like it's the hardest thing to replace as well as built my own computer). So since the market for the Variax is small and a portion of it consits of former Variax owners, (at least it was for the last iteration of Variax) they need to find a solution for the loss of these customers from an already small pond. If they can't or aren't going to provide the guts then go to my other idea which was the isolated outputs of the 6 strings. I'm guessing with the VDI you can get the six signals out out of the Variax into a black box. That would require no work on the part of the Variax owner. The likeliness of these ideas can be debated forever and I certainly have heard nothing to indicate it's even being considered. They're just ideas that I personally think could work despite your doubts. But, to be clear, I do think it's pretty unlikely.

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I wonder what are the technology limitations that prevent a Variax upgrade. Could be modeling skills - lost resources and intellectual knowledge. Could be processor speed limitations. But it could also be limitations of the overall process of capturing guitar bodies and pickups. It might be that Line6 has taken this technology to its logical limit, and simply adding more processing power isn't going to improve the models. The limitation might be in the capture approach itself.

 

That said, I make very good use of my Variax JTV-69S. Its the guitar I play the most at home, and (when we had gigs) the one that got played most in gigs. There's lots of reasons for that, including the models. But to me, Variax still has a lot of value.

 

 

 

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crusinon2,...

" It's highly unlikely that the next one will have backwards compatible guts to drop into existing guitars "  ---  No more

so drop-in than existing JTV, Standard or Shuirken. And no more so than the original Variax. 

 

" They want to sell you a new product, not update an old one. " ---  All tech companies are like that. Variax firmware gets

updates when there's a need, and a software engineer available to do the job (at least from where I sit and can see).

 

Regarding set-ups,... had too many people in the past say they knew what they were doing, only to have it end up on

my bench two weeks later, neck relief or action that has more in common with a violin than with a guitar, or zero set

on a tremolo that's way-off.

 

But there are those out there who are capable. Things like action or pick-up heights and such. I drop a setting or two on

the Facebook Variax page now and then, along with do's and don't-s to go with it. 

 

" I seriously doubt they're gonna want anybody trying to retrofit an old instrument with a new brain. They'd be drowning in

repairs from butchered DIY attempts. " ---  For a time, I was, until people starting taking my advice. Having done my share

of custom work on a number of these for Artist endorsers, and working on guitars for about 50 years now, I know the pitfalls.

But then, crusinon2, you also know my history here, and are one of the sharper ones in this group.

 

Brue58ski,...

"... provide the guts then go to my other idea which was the isolated outputs of the 6 strings. I'm guessing with the VDI you

can get the six signals out out of the Variax into a black box. "  --- Someone company already tried that, and wanted us  to

give material support. Too many complications with them, a company with unknown history. And all the service and repair

would fall upon me. Not that I wouldn't mind, but I already have my hands full with what there is.

 

For now, the current Variax is still out there and being bought and used, so will continue go on for some time. And I'll be

here to keep them going, doing their check-ups and adjustments.

 

Enjoy, and keep on ROCKIN'!!!

 

 

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On 2/4/2021 at 5:12 PM, psarkissian said:

Brue58ski,...

"... provide the guts then go to my other idea which was the isolated outputs of the 6 strings. I'm guessing with the VDI you

can get the six signals out out of the Variax into a black box. "  --- Someone company already tried that, and wanted us  to

give material support. Too many complications with them, a company with unknown history. And all the service and repair

would fall upon me. Not that I wouldn't mind, but I already have my hands full with what there is.

 

For now, the current Variax is still out there and being bought and used, so will continue go on for some time. And I'll be

here to keep them going, doing their check-ups and adjustments.

 

Enjoy, and keep on ROCKIN'!!!

 

 

 

I am glad to hear it is still selling. Is there any chance you could tell us whether there are plans to eventually give the models another look (referring mostly to the acoustics) or provide other options (more pickups bodies etc.) or is it going to stay as is? I know how Line 6 are regarding you guys talking about future things but if there's a chance you could say something........  :D

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1 hour ago, brue58ski said:

 

I am glad to here it is still selling. Is there any chance you could tell us whether there are plans to eventually give the models another look (referring mostly to the acoustics) or provide other options (more pickups bodies etc.) or is it going to stay as is? I know how Line 6 are regarding you guys talking about future things but if there's a chance you could say something........  :D

 

The last update of any significance was in 2014... interpret that however you like. But imho, that's a pretty good indication of where the product currently ranks on the dev's list of things to do...

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Brue58ski,... 

Unfortunately, I'm not privy to what goes on at that level. They don't bring me into the loop until

something breaks and they need me to fix it.

 

crusinon2,... last update was for a glitch I found with the way Shurikens were interfacing and displaying

in Workbench HD, hence the v2.23 Flash update, circa 2018. So that is solid now.

 

Sharp eyes guys.

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59 minutes ago, psarkissian said:

...last update was for a glitch I found with the way Shurikens were interfacing and displaying

in Workbench HD, hence the v2.23 Flash update, circa 2018. So that is solid now.

 

Bug fixes are fine and dandy, and appreciated. But nobody asking about new/revised features considers that an "update"...it's fixing a screw-up. Nothing "new" has been added in nearly 7 years,  and the smart money says there's nothing coming down the pike either. Hell, marriages start and end in less time than that, lol...Just because something is still on the shelves, doesn't mean it's still being actively developed. And the more time that passes after a legitimate update, the less likely another one becomes... the market demands new products, not re-tooled old ones. Business is business...

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More time passes more bugs gone, less for sustaining to do, it still gets reviewed.

Updates and features,... Idea Scale for requests for updates is the place to go. Some

of our product and updates were created because of that. So it still continues.

 

CoVid, trade politics ans such have slowed things down a bit, but assumptions and rumors

of a product lifespan without official word, is like chasing the rainbow of vaporware, or chasing

unicorns that really aren't there.

 

Wait for official word, then we can all have a good rant over it.

 

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Ideascale? We aren't talking about ideas; we're talking about basic maintenance and bug fixes. And I don't think we are chasing rainbows or unicorns or krakens. We are simply asking that our Variax guitars live on. So far the unspoken official word seems to be that they were abandoned because many can't get Workbench to work on modern computers.

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18 hours ago, soundog said:

We are simply asking that our Variax guitars live on.

 

In principle, I agree... but you might as well go ahead and ask for that unicorn. It's a disposable world, and the march of technology will only speed up, leaving countless good products in its wake that end up marginally supported (if not outright abandoned) because keeping them endlessly forward-compliant simply isn't cost effective or practical. They won't stay in business selling you one guitar that you go on to use for the next eleventyone years, with updates till Doomsday... this is largely why my 69 isn't a big part of the arsenal anymore. I saw the writing on the wall years ago.

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Lives on, yes. I've been seeing to it.

As for the latest Apple OS compatibility, I don't have any say in that.

 

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On 2/3/2021 at 5:03 AM, cruisinon2 said:

 

 Besides, 10+ years in,  the official party line is still "don't touch anything yourself". Hell, they expect you to drag it to an "authorized service center" for a friggin' setup...I seriously doubt they're gonna want anybody trying to retrofit an old instrument with a new brain. They'd be drowning in repairs from butchered DIY attempts.

 

I would say if they did decide to offer to give you a board to plunk in your old Varaix, it would be with a very clearly presented caveat the gist of which would be, "good luck but remember YOU DO THIS WITH THE KNOWLEDGE THAT YOU ARE ON YOUR OWN. YOU ACCEPT ALL RESPONSIBILILTY FOR THE RESULTS OF THIS PROCDDURE IF YOU CHOOSE TO DO IT YOURSELF. PERIOD." And that would be acceptable to me.

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55 minutes ago, brue58ski said:

 

I would say if they did decide to offer to give you a board to plunk in your old Varaix, it would be with a very clearly presented caveat the gist of which would be, "good luck but remember YOU DO THIS WITH THE KNOWLEDGE THAT YOU ARE ON YOUR OWN. YOU ACCEPT ALL RESPONSIBILILTY FOR THE RESULTS OF THIS PROCDDURE IF YOU CHOOSE TO DO IT YOURSELF. PERIOD." And that would be acceptable to me.

 

I wouldn't complain either... and I'd probably do it,  because I know that I can without f*cking it up...but there are guys out there who are afraid to change their own strings. 

 

I just deal in probabilities. And this scenario seems about as likely as me waking up tomorrow to find that I've sprouted wings. For it to work, they'd have to make the form factor of the guts essentially identical to a decade old product... possibly several. I don't even know if the boards in the various JTV's and Standard are all the same thing or not... if not, then it'd be a huge undertaking to tool up and produce multiple variations of hardware to retrofit all the old fiddles out there. Anything is possible I suppose, but I just can't see that being cost effective for the handful that they'd sell. Hell, the entire guitar doesn't exactly fly off the shelves, and the DIY-ers of the world are an even rarer breed than Variax owners. Just my 2 cents... time will tell.

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31 minutes ago, cruisinon2 said:

 

I wouldn't complain either... and I'd probably do it,  because I know that I can without f*cking it up...but there are guys out there who are afraid to change their own strings. 

 

I just deal in probabilities. And this scenario seems about as likely as me waking up tomorrow to find that I've sprouted wings. For it to work, they'd have to make the form factor of the guts essentially identical to a decade old product... possibly several. I don't even know if the boards in the various JTV's and Standard are all the same thing or not... if not, then it'd be a huge undertaking to tool up and produce multiple variations of hardware to retrofit all the old fiddles out there. Anything is possible I suppose, but I just can't see that being cost effective for the handful that they'd sell. Hell, the entire guitar doesn't exactly fly off the shelves, and the DIY-ers of the world are an even rarer breed than Variax owners. Just my 2 cents... time will tell.

 

The main thing in my opinion is that for the replacement idea to work, they would have to use the same circuit that is used for the piezo's in the currentyt JTV's. Like I'm pretty sure the original Variax's piezo's ouputs were low and not amplified as much as they are in the JTV's. I suspect that's why there seems to be so many more plink type audio anomolies amongst other stuff like that. If they were to change the way the piezo's initial signals are processed then the put the board in yourself idea would be mute anyway. I'm pretty much aware of all of the reasons my thoughts/idea wouldn't be implemented and was when I posted them. And, to be honest, I did and do see them as something that I'm pretty positive will not happen. But a guy can dream can't he?

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On 2/8/2021 at 10:43 PM, psarkissian said:

As for the latest Apple OS compatibility, I don't have any say in that.

It would be nice to get a response from someone who does have a say in that.

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These days, I would not be surprised to people creating raspberry pi + DAC solutions that fit in the bay and run off 5v@2.4a and provide similar effects through custom IR's and midi-out (or just MIDI-out from a hexaphonic breakout board or a hotwired FTP board), once the current series of Variaxes end up obsolete. ...and I see this being more of a thing than it possibly would be for the old line, because the JTV/Standard line are still fully functional guitars otherwise, so they're worth  keeping around. 

I also bet that we'll see a fully-Yamaha-branded Variax HX first.


 

Edited by netabuse
additional thoughts

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Now that's an interesting thought, but I suspect they'd want to keep the product lines separate. Maybe a higher specced 'Standard' would be an idea but that would only clash with the JTV models that fill the next slot in the price spectrum.

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The only way I've been able to realistically continue using my old Variax Acoustic 700 has been to 1) keep an old laptop running an old version of OSX, Java, and Workbench, and 2) learn how to do basic home repairs on the guitar and XPS A/B power supply. Its like owning a Model T to drive on the weekend or take to car shows. As long as I can find parts for the darned thing I can keep using it. If the software and hardware walls start to cave in on my newer Variax Standard, I'll probably do the same thing. Hey! I can probably use the same old laptop!

 

Maybe I'll be like the old great grandpa that lives next door who still uses his push lawn mower. Go ahead and laugh at him! He doesn't give a damn!

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Electronic music gear is always evolving.  Example when good tubes became obsolete and hard to find we learned ways to still find them because folks liked how they sounded in “obsolete” equipment.  

 

Those who like/love older Variax mostly use older computers to talk to em.  There’s literally tons of cheap older OS computers out there.  If it’s critical to gigging best grab a couple load em up and continue to enjoy your guitar.  

 

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I’ve been shopping for a JTV-69, and the only ones available are either used with no warranties or refurbished with 90d warranties. It seems the only new Variaxes on the market are $$$ USA models and Shurikens. I’m invested in Helix and Variax, and it’s becoming harder to find a backup or replacement I don’t also have to worry about. I don’t want to pack 4 guitars again. It’d be a shame to just stop gigging with Variax for lack of support.

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On 3/9/2021 at 5:20 PM, johnbeamon said:

I’ve been shopping for a JTV-69, and the only ones available are either used with no warranties or refurbished with 90d warranties. It seems the only new Variaxes on the market are $$$ USA models and Shurikens. I’m invested in Helix and Variax, and it’s becoming harder to find a backup or replacement I don’t also have to worry about. I don’t want to pack 4 guitars again. It’d be a shame to just stop gigging with Variax for lack of support.

 

Wow. That's really interesting. Saw this scratch and dent one it you'r interested. Should have the full warranty.

 

https://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/JTV69SE3TSdns--line-6-jtv-69s-variax-dent-n-scratch-3-tone-sunburst-with-ebony-fingerboard?cond=JTV69SE3TSdnsd1

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On 3/11/2021 at 9:58 AM, brue58ski said:

 

Wow. That's really interesting. Saw this scratch and dent one it you'r interested. Should have the full warranty.

 

https://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/JTV69SE3TSdns--line-6-jtv-69s-variax-dent-n-scratch-3-tone-sunburst-with-ebony-fingerboard?cond=JTV69SE3TSdnsd1

I found apparently the last new JTV-69 in the Musicians Friend/Guitar Center network, and it's blue. The blues are super rare anymore. 9 out of 10 blues you see listed online are from Japanese sellers on ebay, all using the same stock photo.

To pick a very fine point, the s&d you found at Sweetwater is a 69s. I was preferring a 69 humbucker if I could find one, just to fill a very particular need. There are a couple on the used market, but 2 of the 4 second-hand Variaxes I've handled have arrived broken. I've bought and sold a fair number of used things, but this finicky cyber-unicorn guitar was where I finally had to draw the line and get a factory warranty. I may have gotten the last new non-S 69 on the market. I hope it has a cool serial number like "10000".

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