I’d like to go on record as saying I have always loved and still love the sound of real analogue tube amps, and proper instruments. They have an infinite amount of nuance to them compared with their digital counterparts in the same way that light has an infinite amount of shades compared with a monitor screen’s 16 million. However good digital copies get, they’re never quite the same as the real thing, but having said that, they do a damn good job sometimes, and sometimes that’s enough.
There are certainly circumstances where a digital copy is a lot more useful and convenient. Enter the Line6 Variax guitar. This is a beast that can be used in a regular analogue way if you want, or with the push of a button, you’ve got a rack of guitars at your fingertips. I don’t own a Variax yet, but it’s on my shopping list, and having played one (a JTV 69) I can tell you – it’s a proper guitar; beautifully crafted, with or without the digital replication (it has it’s own selection of quality pickups, tone controls and pickup-selector). But being able to change the tuning at the flick of a switch or change from a Martin acoustic to a Gibson E335 and then to a Tele Thinline is just awesome for a gigging wedding band guitarist like me.
I also use a Line6 Pod HD500 for wedding gigs which has been essential in order to match the amp to the song – you can get a long way to being near the sound of a song with just one of these things – but of course, adding a guitar like the Variax into the equation allows you to pretty much mirror any sound from any song you can think of. Not only are these two designed to work together, but the Pod can store the tuning and guitar settings for the Variax, so for each patch you select, it can load up the guitar and tuning, as well as the amp and effects you need for each song. Amazing.
Of course, the benefits of having such a set up live can equally be applied to the studio where you may need to dial in a particular sound. Most of us can’t afford to own enough guitars and effects and amps to allow us to get the sound in our heads, and these tools, whilst not a patch on the real thing, get pretty close.
With the acquisition of Line6 by Yamaha, there is also now a Variax that most people will be able to afford in the guise of the Pacifica-based Variax Standard. Retailing at around the £400 mark, I don’t think I can afford not to have one!