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Will they ever update the Variax?


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So I have a Shuriken and a JTV-59US and they are both nice guitars. I bought them for things like a 12 string part or sitar and for that they work nicely. The other models remind me of the original POD years ago. It was not quite a toy and you could really hear the potentiel in it. A few years later with the Helix, they got it nailed. I feel the same way about the Variax....they are so close. Just like with the POD, there was a sterility about it that just wasn't quite right and then they nailed it just a few years later. I really doubt  that Line 6 is going to do anything more with this technology, but it is a shame as we all know it is possible. Like the POD years ago, serious musicians said "Yeah, well, not quite yet..." If they did a little bit of work on the Variax, I would be their biggest salesman ever. Now, people hear me and ask about it and I say that it does some things pretty OK but it is lacking, which is what I said about the early amp modelers.

C'mon Line 6....step up to the plate one more time and knock it out of the park. We know you can. There are a lot of Helixs' out there that were purchased because of my praises of it. I would love to do the same for the Variax.

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On 9/1/2022 at 10:51 PM, rwinking said:

…..

C'mon Line 6....step up to the plate one more time and knock it out of the park. ….

Note that Line 6 is now a subsidiary brand of Yamaha, and is part of the Yamaha Guitar Group. Your question is really for Yamaha to answer.

 

Prior to the Line 6 purchase Yamaha has been manufacturing guitars, mixers and speakers for decades. Their primary interest in Line 6 appears to have been the range of complementary products such as guitar multi-FX devices that do not directly compete with Yamaha products. Since the acquisition we have seen no further development on competing products including guitars (Variax), mixers (M20d) and speakers (StageSource). In these product areas Yamaha has acquired the IP and may or may not incorporate that into future Yamaha products.
 

This began to happen with Variax when the physical design of the Variax Standard guitar was based on a Yamaha Pacifica.  If and when we see a new generation of Variax-like technology it may well be released as a Yamaha, not Line 6, product.

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I would hope that if Yamaha went in this direction they would keep it to where it could still be integrated into the Helix stuff. That is the great thing about it....hitting button and having a new tuning on hand. I can't help but think that if they worked on the sound aspect and nailed it like was done with amp modeling, there would be no stopping this. Kind of like 15 years ago when serious guitarists would not have a modeled amp because of the fizziness of the sound or how sterile it was. Now days serious guitarists own or use amp models as a matter of course. I would never sell my 1962 Epiphone Casino but it would nice to have a serious model of it for live work. And BTW, the Casino models needs a lot of work....

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Just bought one of the limited edition emerald green Standards and it's reignited my interest in the Variax/Helix system. Have spent most of this afternoon getting caught up on Variax talk across all of the online forums I could find. Based on everything I've read, I don't think the Variax is dead. I do think a number of factors are in play right now:

  • Everybody's still dealing with the impacts of the pandemic (supply chain problems, etc.)
  • Line 6 is part of a worldwide brand (Yamaha) that probably moves slower than Line 6 did when the original Variax and JTVs were released
  • Variax will likely always be a niche product

There's a lot of great ideas out there about how to improve the product/expand its market. No telling what Line 6 may do in the future. For now, Variax, Helix, and all other types of gear are ultimately tools. Use them if they're right for you. If not, you can always try something else.

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The issue may be that Line6 ran up against limitations in the technology used to capture and model the guitars. Some for example liked the old 1.9 models better. The other problem may be that they lost the developers who built the product.

 

I have stopped gigging with my JTV-69S, preferring to use my Strat, Tele and Les Paul. Mostly this is because of some sustain issues in my variax, and those three guitars should be played. I do miss the quick open tunings, acoustic models, 12-string, and its my lightest electric. I put a lot of money into that JTV-69S (new neck and pickups) so it's not going anywhere and could appear back in the rotation some day. I do still use it for practice and rehearsals.

 

 

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On 9/4/2022 at 11:35 AM, amsdenj said:

The issue may be that Line6 ran up against limitations in the technology used to capture and model the guitars.

Maybe, but wasn't all of these captures done something like 20 years ago? Again, if they can move by so many leaps and bounds on the amps, they should be able to get rid of the sterility on the Variax. If we take it back even longer, look what they have been able to do with synthesizers in the past 60 years.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I'm speculating but: The capture process for modeling an amp is simpler than that for modeling a guitar. For an amp, you can put an input into the amp, stick a mic in front of the cabinet, and measure the output. Then you can use algorithms (Helix), profiles of fixed amp parameters (Kemper), or machine learning (Quad Cortex) to create the transfer function that converts the input to the output.

 

For guitar modeling, you have to find a way to input something into a guitar pickup that is similar to a vibrating string. That can involve some sort of inductor that sits above the pickup that is driven by an audio pattern that is induced into the magnetic coils of the pickup, depending on its position and the body its mounted in. That's a pretty complex process. 

 

I think Variax as done an incredible job producing realistic, usable guitar models. They aren't perfect, but they're often good enough for a live gig. 

 

Markets and technologies often move on. I really hope Line 6 or Yamaha have some future investment in Variax as I think its incredible what has already been accomplished and would love to see it move to the next level.

 

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On 9/4/2022 at 11:35 AM, amsdenj said:

The issue may be that Line6 ran up against limitations in the technology used to capture and model the guitars. Some for example liked the old 1.9 models better. The other problem may be that they lost the developers who built the product.

 

 

 

This is what I often wonder.  People often assume that Line 6 knows HOW to update the Variax. 

 

Well, it's possible, hopefully unlikely, that they haven't really figured out a way to improve upon what they did, what, twelve years ago now?

 

Personally, I do hope it gets an update someday that makes things a bit more realistic. I actually don't care if the electric gets CLOSER to a specific modelled electric - for me that's irrelevant. I just like having so many electric tones and I frequently mess around with them. 

 

I do think it would be cool if the acoustics got CLOSER to an acoustic. That'd be paydirt, but it may be a type of paydirt that no one has cracked the nut for yet.

 

Roland's recent guitar synthesizer work with the GK-3 pickup sounds good on youtube videos. I prefer Line 6's approach though, but it has me intrigued. It's also possible if I had the real thing I'd feel slightly let down. 

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The JTV's debuted more than a decade ago, and the Standards share the same modeling engine. In tech terms, anything that's 10+ years old is ancient. The last update of any significance that actually contained anything "new" (besides bug fixes and/or behind the scenes processing that no one would notice anyway) was in 2014... cross your fingers if you like, but the currently available models ain't getting a face lift....

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Several years ago I had a deal with Gibson. This was during the Henry years. Anyway, Gibson was working on an acoustic version of a Variax, modeling different acoustic guitars, mandos, banjos, etc. They were about to give me one to play and then the company blew up. My point here is that others were working on this including Fender. Did they all give up because of a limited market or because they could not pull it off past where we are at today? In the tech world, it seems that where there is a will, there is a way. As I sad in an earlier post, most people that play my Variax say something to the effect of " Wow! These are pretty close. I will get one once they get it closer...." which they never did. As stated earlier, that was my attitude on the POD. Once they got it closer everything kind of went crazy and the Helix is pretty much everywhere. It would be nice if they took a chance on the Variax.

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I would love to see the Variax technology evolve. I own a Variax Acoustic 700 and a Variax Standard and keep them around for gigs and recording. The single best feature for me is the ability to create custom alternate tunings and call them up at the flip of a switch. That ability comes from the Variax treating each string as a separate sound source. I would love to see this taken to a new level; better modeling, ability to create alternate + standard tuning for each string (for octaves and harmonies - the Standard will give you +12, but not -12), ability to send out audio (and perhaps MIDI) for each individual string, standard digital interface (eg USB), ...

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On 9/20/2022 at 12:23 PM, soundog said:

I would love to see the Variax technology evolve. I own a Variax Acoustic 700 and a Variax Standard and keep them around for gigs and recording. The single best feature for me is the ability to create custom alternate tunings and call them up at the flip of a switch. That ability comes from the Variax treating each string as a separate sound source. I would love to see this taken to a new level; better modeling, ability to create alternate + standard tuning for each string (for octaves and harmonies - the Standard will give you +12, but not -12), ability to send out audio (and perhaps MIDI) for each individual string, standard digital interface (eg USB), ...

 

I think we all would like to see it evolve... but given the years-long plateau, I'd say that one, or perhaps both of the following factors are at work here:

 

1) They haven't seen enough progress with any technical hurdles that have contributed to the various issues that have plagued these guitars over the years, and they don't want to market another iteration that has some/ many/ all of the same problems. 

 

2) The dollar signs just aren't there. It was always a niche product, and I suspect that their market research is telling them that there just isn't enough interest out there to bother.

 

My guess is it's a little of each...I was totally enthralled with mine initially. But the fascination waned after a while, as the limitations became more apparent. They're not "bad" guitars... but they're not great either. They do some things well, but others not so much. Mine mostly collects dust, now. 

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A Line 6 person once said something like the Variax is a labor of love. I take that to mean, they are currently commited to the Variax and they are still being made, but not many resources are dedicated to it. I love my Varaix. It may not sound exactly like the guitar it's modelling but I don't look at it that way. My Gibcon SG did not sound like a telecaster but I rewired it so that it could get close. And that was my SG's sound for that setting then. I didn't look at it like, here's an SG that sounds like this tele. It was just an SG with this sound that these pickups produce and I worked with that. I have a guitar that has way more variety of sounds than my SG did and they sound pretty close to a lot of guitars that are out there. My take is it's not a guitar that simulate another guitar, it's a guitar that sounds the way it does and that's all. It just happens to sound close to many guitars. In other words, don't get a Variax because it sounds like a strat or whatever. Get a Varaix because you like the way it sounds when it's on that strat setting. And let's not forget the workbench that can change the sound even more. I like it and use it all the time. Some of the best songs were created with what the musician had at the time, not what they would get if they had unlimited funds.

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  • 6 months later...

Well, I own a Shuriken and a Standard, and they are my main guitars. I still use traditional guitar for practice, but thee pieces of equipment are definitely something incredible and when I play with other people, they're my go-to choice. 

The pros are so many that it'd take a huge amount of words to describe, but what I find really game changing is the ability to switch tunings. The versatility of this instrument is just out of this world.

The con I see is basically just one: they are not user friendly, at all. There is a learning curve, and it's kinda steep.

 

Once you understand what you are doing, then there's no going back, this guitar is the ultimate instrument, you can create tones for any genre from good to great.

 

I hope there will be more Variaxes in the future, and I'll definitely buy them. If I hope for something in the update, is some bigger manual, maybe more tutorials, stuff to learn better how to get the best out of your instrument. Also, a feature that self balances volume of strings would be awesome.

 

I may sound a Line6 fanboy, and I may actually be one, but Variax is the work of geniuses, and in my opinion is underappreciated in a huge way, I really can't get why every guitarist in the world doesn't have one in their guitar rack, if you give yourself the time to learn how to use it, it's really really the best purchase you can do versatility-wise. 

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I agree with everything you said. Unfortunately, I don't think that's going to happen. The first Variax, which had no magnetic pickups, wasn't as popular as they were hoping. The current Variax, JTV et al, do have magnetic pickups, but it still wasn't as popular as hoped. I also don't know why most guitar players don't have one. Or at least, wasn't that popular. It could be it's essentially a $700 guitar with $500 worth of electronics. There have been issues with the piezo's outputs being uneven. There other things. But I am aware of all of that and I still love it. I also think technology may render a guitar like the Variax obsolete. There's something called the Sim1 ZT-1 guitar profiler and it will take your guitar and make it sound like others. You first have to "imprint" your particular guitar into the device and it will then use that to determine what to do to make it sound like an electric, acoustic or whatever. I've never used one and I haven't listened to it lately but it is there and technology can only get better (usually).

 

One of the big issues seems to be, part of playing the guitar is the guitar itself. So if you're playing a hollow body guitar model with a Strat style guitar, it doesn't feel like a hollow body guitar physically. People have commented on this ever since the first Variax came out. If they have a strat style body and pull up a Les Paul model it doesn't physically feel like one or react exactly like one. For some it's the neck, for others its the scale length, others the body and how it resonates. I am fortunate that the only "real" guitar I've had for decades is an SG so I haven't had that issue. I've never had any of the guitars modeled. Just my thoughts.

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I looked up the guitar profiler. It is actually the ZT-1. The company has actual guitars that have the software installed like the Variax. It honestly (at least on the videos....) sounds better than the Variax, which leads me to believe that Line 6 could update their technology. I use the variax for  a sitar and some other stuff that sounds kind of ok. However, most of the models sound hollow and sterile. The XT-1, at least on the video really sounds like an actual guitar. I would have to play one in order to really see what it is like. Pretty much everything they sell, except the app, is out of stock though.

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I don’t think there will ever be updates to the current line of Variax guitars. However, I think the concept may still be alive within the Yamaha Guitar Group, who now own Line 6. Yamaha is a guitar maker, and in fact the Variax Standard model is based on a physical Yamaha Pacifica guitar. For whatever reason YGG has been sitting on the Variax IP for years now. Is a new Yamaha branding (not called Variax) with updated features and firmware in development? As usual we’d never know until it’s ready for release but I wouldn’t rule it out.

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  • 1 month later...
On 5/3/2023 at 10:13 AM, brue58ski said:

It could be it's essentially a $700 guitar with $500 worth of electronics.

 

This is it, for me. It just wasn't fun to play for long periods of time when I've got a couple of Music Man guitars, a Les Paul, etc sitting right next to it. 

 

Put this technology in a guitar serious guitarists would want to buy even without the modeling tech, and they'd sell every one of them. I mean, the 'standard' is what, $800? So let's say it's $500 in technology...just add that to the price of a really nice guitar, and I think lots of people would pay the premium. 

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On 5/3/2023 at 6:58 PM, rwinking said:

I looked up the guitar profiler. It is actually the ZT-1. The company has actual guitars that have the software installed like the Variax. It honestly (at least on the videos....) sounds better than the Variax, which leads me to believe that Line 6 could update their technology. I use the variax for  a sitar and some other stuff that sounds kind of ok. However, most of the models sound hollow and sterile. The XT-1, at least on the video really sounds like an actual guitar. I would have to play one in order to really see what it is like. Pretty much everything they sell, except the app, is out of stock though.

I have the XT1. And it is really better than the variax. It sounds like an actual guitar. It has really great acoustics. And can be used with any guitar. I have a JTV 69S, Variax 700 and variax 300. All collecting dust so far...

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