Advice please - I'm installing magnetic pickups in my Variaxes!

Discussion in 'Pickups & Electronics [BG]' started by DanielleMuscato, Oct 25, 2006.

  1. DanielleMuscato


    Jun 19, 2004
    Columbia, Missouri, USA
    Endorsing Artist, Schroeder Cabinets
    Hey folks,

    I have a pair of Variaxes, and I love the playability and versatility I get from them. However, they eat batteries - 6x AAs last only 10 hours - and the included power supply is a major pain in the butt.

    I want a passive pickup so I don't have to worry about batteries or an extra outlet & setup time for a power supply when I practice, for lessons, jamming, or open-mic and sit-in situations.

    There seems to be a large empty space where I could have a pickup installed - the Variax uses only piezo pickups in the saddles, so the entire magnetic-pickup area is free. There is a pickguard, but I don't think there's anything under it until you get down to the knobs. See attached picture.

    So, here's my question to you all: Do you think it would be possible to have a passive pickup installed, and also add a 1/4" jack on the top of the instrument (where a P-bass jack would be, or thereabouts)? What pickups should I consider? Just to reiterate, I wouldn't be using this pickup for recording or "real" performances, so tone isn't really that important. I'm looking for something I can squeeze in around the existing electronics that would take a minimum of routing to install.

    Thanks for your help,

  2. DanielleMuscato


    Jun 19, 2004
    Columbia, Missouri, USA
    Endorsing Artist, Schroeder Cabinets
    Here's a good-sized picture of a Variax. As you can see, there seems to be plenty of room for any type of pickup. I'd like to install a seperate 1/4" jack on the top, sort of between the knobs and the bridge, but close to the edge, where it would be out of the way, specifically for the (passive) magnetic pickup.

    What do you think?
  3. luknfur


    Jan 14, 2004

    Interesting and some thoughts.

    To me routing is a last resort.

    It sounds like you just want something to play to save on batteries when it’s not crunch time. I can’t imagine an adapter that would be so inconvenient that it wouldn’t even meet that minimal standard; but I can easily imagine Roland or Line 6 pulling it off - having had exposure to both.

    I’m curious as to exactly what makes this adaptor such a pain?

    I’ve got a Lightwave that uses a battery and has an adapter that amounts to nothing more than a second cable coming out of the bass, is no hassle at all - really less so than that 13 pin python cable coming out of a V bass.

    You may think the tone doesn’t matter but unless you’d be satisfied with just the tone of the bass unplugged, my guess is it matters. Once you get used to a decent tone, anything less is unacceptable.

    Rechargeable batteries and a charger would be a consideration. I use rechargeable 9’s and AA’s for preamps and my dig cam. Roughly about $5 for each and they last for…………LLLLLLLLLLong time. I have used them all regularly for a couple of years and I’ve only pitched one pair of AA’s. They don’t carry as much charge and they don’t last as long as alkalines but just keep two sets so you can be recharging/storing one set while your using another. You might even be able to find a charger that will charge 6 at one time. I’m guessing the rechargables would last at least 5 hours play time. Less than $50 investment, you don’t have to mod the bass, and you‘ve got a supply of AA‘s for emergency backup for whatever else you‘ve got that uses them.

    I’m guessing you don’t have a backup bass? Otherwise you’d just play it. If not, I would buy a cheap backup bass before I’d route the Vari. First, everybody needs a backup bass - reasons TNTC (too numerous to count - old micro phrase). Imperative with something like the Variaxe - which can go south in heartbeat any way.

    Given the above, I’d wait till it does eat the big one, then you can pitch all that dig stuff and go the traditional route. May be tomorrow or you may send the bass packing before it happens. At any rate, you’ll still be able to use the backup bass regardless - or the batteries. So you’re not really out anything.

    You may be right about the electronics but a pic of the outside of that bass may be like a pic of an iceberg.
  4. andrewd


    Sep 5, 2003
    why don't they use 9v?
  5. DanielleMuscato


    Jun 19, 2004
    Columbia, Missouri, USA
    Endorsing Artist, Schroeder Cabinets
    You can use a 9v in a pinch, but they only last 2 hours or so in the Variax.

    Luknfur, I actually do have a backup bass... another Variax, haha. Obviously, I have the same power issues with the backup then as I do with my main one.

    I did use lithium batteries once, but it occurred to me that I would never want to gig with lithium batteries unless they were brand new, just in case, and if I'm going to be changing them each time anyway, I might as well stick to alkalines.

    It's not so much the cost of batteries as it is the hassle of dealing with one more thing to plug in (the power supply). The power supply is heavy, cumbersome, and the cords coming out of it are not heavy-duty at all. It would be fine in the studio, but I just can't picture taking this thing on the road and expecting it to hold up night after night. One misstep and the plug would rip right out of the transformer. It's rather like having a chipboard case instead of a flight case. It *works,* but do you really want to risk it? Seeing as the Line6 power supplies are only replaceable by special order, I would hate to be stuck at a gig without one if something happens. I would just feel better if there were fewer things to go wrong.

    Gotta run, but I'll check in soon.

  6. Dave... the battery/power supply issue was the very same reason I sold my Variax 4 well over a year ago. I gigged weekly and I hated the weight of the powersupply - not to mention the fact that it took up space.

    What I would suggest in your case is that you simply buy another backup bass, especially if you really like your Variax.
  7. A local music shoppe here in Queensland had a Variax bass for sale for $3K! Two months later, I go to the same shoppe and they're trying to offload it for $699!

    hmmm...I tried it out the first time I was there, I dug the feel, although it was gawdaweful heavy!...the only models on it I was digging was the P-bass (have a couple of good approximates at home) and the Jazz Bass (gotta get me a Jazz bass someday, but not for $3k)

    why don't you just offload the variaxes and get yourself a good P-bass and a good Jazz bass? You really don't need anything else, ya know.
  8. luknfur


    Jan 14, 2004
    Ok, I see where you said you had a pair of them now, 1st thing.

    Sounds like you know your situation and what is really not an option. I would be inclined to mount the adapter and anchor the leads from it so they couldn't be pulled out. But I don't have the stuff to know how practical that would be. For my Lightwave, there's no issue. The adapter cord runs along with the guitar cord and plugs in a strip at the amp and that's that.

    You might be able to run off the existing peizo's but it would be piezo tone and the way Roland and Line 6 rig this stuff it's pretty untouchable in terms of modifying. Even their own stuff isn't compatible.

    First thing would be to find out what's under that pickgaurd. What you've got to work with between the gaurd and the bridge doesn't look very doable unless something like a J is angled - and it would probably be undesirably bright.
  9. go on super mod it, put on a decent looking pickguard and make it a p bass :)
  10. junkman510


    May 2, 2005
    Lebanon, PA
    You could make a stereo 1/4" plug cable for your bass and have it plug into a power supply that has a signal output to the amp. Using the ring and common ground for the 9v. Easy to build. You just have to put a stereo jack in the bass and rewire the the + voltage input to the ring connection. You should put in a hidden switch to to go to the onboard batteries when needed.
  11. pharaohamps

    pharaohamps Commercial User

    May 30, 2006
    Garner, NC
    Owner, Disaster Area Designs / Alexander Pedals
    From the pictures I've seen of the insides of the Variax basses, the electronics look like those on the Variax 300 guitar. That is, the main board, pots, and model selector switch live inside a big can underneath the 'guard. Here's a pic of the insides of a 705:

    I'd say anywhere that's not routed on the stock body would be fair game. That pretty much means a Jazz-type rear pickup, sadly.

    What I do on my Variax 500 guitar is carry a spare "battery cartridge" in the gig bag. I bought an extra black plastic AA holder from here:

    and I keep it loaded with batteries. Takes less than 20 sec to pop out a dead pack and slot that one in place.

    Matt Farrow
  12. DanielleMuscato


    Jun 19, 2004
    Columbia, Missouri, USA
    Endorsing Artist, Schroeder Cabinets
    Thanks for the link, Matt! I will definitely order one or two of those. I appreciate it.

    The only problem with routing where a rear Jazz pickup goes is the battery cavity on the backside. Doesn't the battery pack go right there, but underneath?

  13. WillBuckingham


    Mar 30, 2005
    I bet you could stick a regular piezo on that bass that would work fine. Check out the DB side for lots of info on piezos, including do-it-yourself options. I would be tempted to just pick up a used acoustic bass pickup (the kind that clamps on somewhere, not that goes under the bridge) and see if you can't make that work for you.
  14. CaseAce12


    Oct 15, 2006
    You should check out the Institute of Noise Forums.
    Alot of people on there have done Variax guitar conversions with passive pickups, and one guy has started on a Variax bass conversion, although I don't know if he's including passive pickups. The Variax bass electronics style do not seem to allow for putting pickups on them, unless the electronics were cut up and rearranged. All of the guitars I've seen modded with passive pickups used the old Line6 electronics style, where the electronics were all rear mounted, as seen below...
    One option is to figure out a way to move the electronics so that the pickups can be placed where they need to be. The guy doing the current bass conversion chopped the metal cage under the pickguard up for flexibility in electronics placement.
    I'm sure he would love to help you out if you ask him. His name on the institute of noise forums is midirose. Good luck!

    Of course, this may be rather complex to do, so maybe buying a backup or practice bass might be a better approach. I just wanted to make sure you knew of this option.
    I don't understand why people think Variaxes are unreliable. I love my Variax 500; never had a problem with reliability at all. It's probably the most solid and reliable guitar I own.
  15. CaseAce12


    Oct 15, 2006
    The power supply already uses a TRS cable (at least on my variax it does.) The power supply is a box, with 1/4" stereo input from the guitar and 1/4" and XLR output. The box is powered from a dc adapter, which I assume is the offensive dinky cable.
  16. lug

    lug Supporting Member

    Feb 11, 2005
    League City, Tx
    This is one of those decisions you may be kicking yourself repeatedly for in a decade or so.
  17. CaseAce12


    Oct 15, 2006
    Whoops, found these pics after I posted. Midirose apparently made the under the pickguard electronics rear mountable, which means free space for pickups. You might be able to rearrange the electronics under the pickguard in the existing pickguard cavity route.
    That area where the cables are not connected to anything is where the main board goes, you can see the pots' board there, and the the bridge and the output jack are all that's left of the Variax electronics. Hope that helped!:D
  18. luknfur


    Jan 14, 2004

    Duh, all you’d have to do is look at the bay guard to know where the electronics go. Don’t know what I was thinking. That routing is actually a direct parallel with a Lightwave route. You’ve got the bass but looks like a close call. A pup route usually extends roughly ½” or so beyond the string width. To get a good ballpark you could make a paper template of a J pup (whatever) and lay it on the back centering it off that “bridge line” (in the pic it almost looks like a string through for a bridge but too far forward) on the back of the bass.

    The plus with a pup with screw towers on the sides is it doesn’t eat up more top/bottom route, as opposed to something like an MM which would just extend it closer to control bay route. A screw to the edge of that control route would be less than desirable at any rate.

    I would also give some thought to how you use mag pups regarding locating. I’m pretty much exclusively a bridge player so no brainer for me. For someone who would play both J’s maxed then a single J located with the neck side of the pup to the a center line between standard J routes would make sense. Even as a bridge player, I’d probably mount a single J one pup width (¾”) towards the bridge of standard route. I don’t have routes in my basses so I can mount any pup anywhere and I’ve done a fair share of that with a variety of pups. I mounted an EMG LJ-5 mid position once and was surprised how passive it sounded. I also don’t normally have any onboard controls cause I get better tone and more variety from external control.

    J would be a good choice because there’s been more J’s made than all other pup shapes combined, they come in myriad of coil configurations, and they all sound different. So you could change pups to significantly vary your tone - including as compensation for location, which you can’t vary once you’ve routed. You could also use a neck J which is about an 1/8” shorter than a bridge J. I’ve located plenty of neck J’s at the bridge and they read the strings fine whether strings line up with the poles or not - the mag field picks up the strings. The only issue is if you locate the route so far back that perimeter strings are at the outer edge of the poles and you bend the string out of the magnetic field. Not as much concern at the bridge as at the neck cause strings don’t bend as much.

    I wouldn’t be concerned about any value loss on the bass. If something superior doesn’t come along, digital will get better and the Variaxe and V bass of today will be comparative junk in the future. Regardless, It’ll go south at some point and won’t be worth the repair. This way you’ve still got a bass to play. Also something to think about in terms of location - later you may want to put a pair of pups in it.

    Probably not an option with the Variaxe but one thing that’s cool with the V bass is you can mix the digital tone with a mag pup - like a blend control between digital and mag. An extreme variation can be the difference between a synth and vintage J tone. Pretty cool.
  19. westland


    Oct 8, 2004
    Hong Kong
    I'm not sure exactly what your objective is Dave. If you just want to control battery usage, then use the DI box ... it's a hassle, but insures that your power is there, and if you use a house PA system, actually is the only thing you need to bring.

    If you want a pickup tone, and you don't want to blend it into the Variax sound, then there is probably enough space (barely) but you will need to add a few control pots on the front (messy), but you could use the Variax battery pack (better than a 9v). Seems a bit odd though to buy a Variax then circumvent the modeling circuitry.

    The circuits are energy intensive because they are a computer, doing lots of ops every microsecond. You normal amp is just taking pickup output to line level ... not much work done there. I think Line 6 has done a good job in controlling power consumption given what they are doing.

    If you must use batteries, then I might suggest that you get several of the battery holders they use (I pick them up for around 50 cents each) and start using rechargables... just bring along 3 or 4 packs and you are set. I might also but a bigger knob on the battery cover (which now uses a screw) and change from the two-button battery plug to something like the ones used in model airplanes.

    I think lithiums or sealed acid batteries are a non-starter. The packs are safe, convenient, and cheap. Just get several of them, and buy an upscale charger (from a model airplane shop) to quickly charge them up.

    Just my $0.02
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