By Greg Domeier
I purchased a Line 6 James Tyler Variax (JTV-69) in January of this year from Sweetwater. In that time I’ve had a chance to get familiar with the guitar and experience its strengths and weaknesses.
First off is the fit and finish. The guitar came from Sweetwater setup nicely. The variax weighed about the same as my USA strat. The neck felt very similar as well. There were no buzzing issues with the neck, and playability was good, but the action could be a bit lower.
I haven’t spent much time using the magnetic pickups, but when I have, they sounded fine. I haven’t had any gas to replace them.
The modeled guitars are why I purchased the Variax. Mostly I wanted it for the acoustic tones. All the acoustics (including the reso and banjo) models are excellent. I recently installed the new firmware update (1.81). There were significant changes to the 5 acoustics. I feel the 12 strings sound better. With the other three acoustic models, they added a noticeable amount of “room” sound. I don’t like it when playing dry, but it really sits nicely in the mix when recording (which is why I got this in the first place). The six string models sound even less piezo than before, and they were already good sounding imho. Also, the tone knob now makes more useful changes on the acoustic model. Prior to the 1.81 firmware, the tone knob didn’t make a whole lot of difference on the acoustic models.
There a tons of great electric models. I have been very impressed with the Les Paul goldtop as well as the jr and strat model. I haven’t gotten results I like with most of the jazz models.
Some of the negatives I have found. Many of the models seem way too loud. When compared to the magnetic pickups on the varaix or to my other guitars, the variax model guitars are much, much louder. This can be corrected with the varaix workbench software.
The tone knob control has an odd quirk. If you have the tone full on, then slowly roll it back, the guitar volume gets noticeably louder. Kind of odd.
There is a noticeable amount of noise when muting the strings and working the trem. It sounds like a mechanical noise being picked up by the piezo pickups and then amplified. I have corrected this by tightening down the trem arm “swing”. Now the arm doesn’t fall away when I release it, but at least the creaking noise is gone.
I was getting some tuning stability issues when working the trem. Mostly the g string was sticking. Since I just changed strings, I put on my usual 9’s. The g string no longer binds. The nut could use a little work to correct the binding on 10 gauge strings.
In the past few weeks, the model select knob has been more difficult to engage. Also, the tone knob was loose. I thought I would correct those problems when I had the strings off. Once I got the strings off, I unscrewed the pick guard. The pick guard is oddly shaped under the neck, so I was a little tough to get off. It needs to be slid directly back and then up. The problem is the bridge humbucker is in the way. That needed to be lowered to pull the guard back and off.
Once it was off, I realized I couldn’t fix my two problems from the underside, so I buttoned it all back up. I didn’t see any set screw on the tone knob, and pulling directly up didn’t budge the knob. I put a thin piece of cardboard on the pick guard and gently pried the knob up from the bottom. It finally came off and I was able to tighten the tone knob.
I stumbled on a fix for the sticky model selector knob. It gets pushed too far down over time, causing it to be more difficult to engage. A quick fix is to pull the knob up. That helps for a while, but eventually it will happen again. Some have reported that putting a little tape on the control shaft, then putting the knob back on fixes the problem.
The battery life has been excellent. I get many hours before need a recharge.
The other great feature about this variax is the alt tuning modes. It is a real time saver to be able to change from standard tuning, to drop d, e flat and various open tunings with the roll of a knob. You can even create and save your own custom tunings (which have not done yet).
Here are a couple samples of my Variax in action. These clips were done using the old 1.7x firmware
Acoustic with banjo: http://soundcloud.com/project-dome/hills-and-bills
Resonator guitars using variax open tune mode: http://soundcloud.com/project-dome/dirty-reso-slide
Les Paul model using baritone tuning mode: http://soundcloud.com/project-dome/baritone-metal
Overall, I feel the James Tyler Variax is a great tool for the recording guitarist.