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Miniature Line 6 Variax Bass review.

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Benjamin Strange, Jan 8, 2005.

  1. Benjamin Strange

    Benjamin Strange Commercial User

    Dec 25, 2002
    New Orleans, LA
    Owner / Tech: Strange Guitarworks
    So we finally received a Variax bass in my store this week. I played it for about 15 minutes, and here are my preliminary thoughts:

    - The gigbag is awesome. Wow. I'd expect this kind of bag with a much more expensive instrument. Really cool.
    - The bass feels like the quality of the Japanese Fenders. Nothing to really write home about, but adequate. The neck is like a cross between a P and a J. Didn't feel like home to me - I prefer a P style neck. It's also a gloss finish on the neck, which I don't really dig. Too sticky. I don't really like the thumbrest, either. It's scooped, so you can sort of ignore it if you want, but not enough to ignore it completely. They should have left if off the bass and stuck it in the bag for those who wanted to install it later.
    - The J bass tones are excellent, but a litte undefined. Didn't quite have the growl that I wanted, but not terrible. It would fool most people, methinks. The P tone was terrible - really nasally, and rather honky. No good. The MM was ok, but not aggressive nor clanky enough. This was passable, but didn't really capture the essence of the MM bass. The other tones didn't leave much of an impression on me, with a few notable exceptions: the hollowbody was really cool, as was the 12 string (even though I could tell it was digital). The acoustic bass sound completely sucked, and the synth was absolutly awful.

    Overall, I have to give this one a big "meh". Nothing really jumped out and grabbed me, especially for a $1600 MSRP bass. Granted, I didn't spend tons of time with it, but I'm of the opinion that you can know enough about an instrument to tell whether it's right for you within the first 30-60 seconds. I bet it would be a great bass for guys who want a ton of tones in one bass, but none of them will replace the real thing. I will say that it didn't sound overly digital nor cold sounding (which I expected), but the tones weren't 100% accurate either. Hmm.

    As a point of reference, I'm a dyed in the wool tubes guy who doesn't care for active basses at all. I generally respect the idea of Line 6 stuff, but I still see it as a technology in it's infancy that will probably be a force to reckon with in the next 5 years or so. But for now, it still seems like it's a pale imitation of the real thing. Next!
  2. kingbrutis


    Aug 10, 2003
    Phoenix AZ
    Thanks for the review. I was very seriousy considering one. I'd love to play one though. Mabey the sam ash of guitar center close to me will get one in. The main thing I want to know is how was the upright sound? What does it sound like if you pop on the upright setting? Thanks for the info. Joe
  3. yeah, i just played one for the first time today as well...i wasn't greatly impressed...it just sounded like the same bass, only with different eq presets, except for the last three settings, which were the 8 string, the acoustic (i'm guessing its the upright they were trying to do) and the synth...i wasn't impressed with the upright either, it did sound a bit like a midi upright bass on my keyboard, but just barely...i actually liked the synth, i played it through an SVT-5, with an octave control, and the synth by itself was alright, but with the octave running full blast, it was actually pretty cool...i just didn't like the huge volume difference from when you play hard and soft on the synth mode...its almost like its got two volume settings, either loud or really quiet, and nothing between...overall, it looked like line 6 just wanted the product out quickly, i think it will get better in the next few years
  4. tplyons


    Apr 6, 2003
    Madison, NJ
    Glad you reviewed the gig bag first, seems to be the best part of the bass.

    PS, it'll never cure GAS, so why bother?
  5. Kelly Coyle

    Kelly Coyle

    Nov 16, 2004
    Mankato, MN
    I thought this was going to be a review of another miniature bass, like that Warwick you had.
  6. Benjamin Strange

    Benjamin Strange Commercial User

    Dec 25, 2002
    New Orleans, LA
    Owner / Tech: Strange Guitarworks
  7. Jarrett


    Jan 19, 2004
    Waxahachie, Tx
    I just bought one today. The 15 minute demo was enough for me to take one out on a GC 30 day trial. I wanted a 2nd (4string) bass to plunk around on. I thought the tones were decent in the store. I wish I would have known pressing down the volume knob would have unlocked the other 12 models while I was demoing, so I only got to get the "Green" models. Going to gig it this weekend and see how it goes.
  8. De Teng

    De Teng

    Oct 27, 2003
    Utrecht, Holland
    Very true... I can't believe why the Variax Bass would set the rest of years and years research apart by being better. For alround perhaps it 'would perhaps be ok'... but no more....

    Developing a decent bass is more than a few digits on a piece of wood.
  9. keb


    Mar 30, 2004
    When the gig bag got good marks right off the bat, I had the feeling the bass itself was headed for a "meh" rating. ;)

    (And I, too, thought "miniature Variax?")
  10. Wolfehollow


    Jan 21, 2003
    Pensacola, FL
    I liked it when I tested it... the synths sound better with some tweaking... you can set the sweep and Q. I agree with the digital 12 string sound, but thought the P was closer than your estimate... yet... I enjoy a rick/zon/modern type sound, although I do own to p basses. I also liked the jazz sound but couldnt tell much difference with the stingrays . This bass would be great for a pit gig or dance band where one could make use of the many tones... just my .02.
  11. bluemonk


    Dec 17, 2002
    Anyone have more to say about its playability? What's the neck like? Is it heavy?
  12. Benjamin Strange

    Benjamin Strange Commercial User

    Dec 25, 2002
    New Orleans, LA
    Owner / Tech: Strange Guitarworks
    It plays ok. It's not amazing, but it's not bad either. I'd say the quality of the bass, build wise, is on par with the Japanese made Fenders.

    I've tried it out a little bit more in the store, and some of the tones are sounding a bit better than at first - the P bass and the Alembic mostly. Some are sounding even worse - the acoustic, the upright, and the stingrays.

    Overall, I think it's a cool idea, and not a bad first attempt. I bet with some software/chip upgrades in the future this will be a really cool bass.

    While I'm at it, I think it would have been a cool idea to have a Roland ready 13 pin jack on this thing. It's already got all the right ingredients in there for it to be a really cool synth bass; why not make it compatible with the VBass and other synths?
  13. MikeBass

    MikeBass Supporting Member

    Nov 4, 2003
    Royal, Oak, MI.
    This is a copy of an e-mail I sent to a friend of mine on the bass. The ironic part is we met at a local music store today that had it to check it out again.
    My opinion didn't change today from the first time I played it.

    Anyway, heres the e-mail:

    Yeah, I played one last week.
    I'll sum it up like this:
    It's like a scratch and sniff book. Remember those? scratch a spot and it "smells" like something. Anyway, you scratch what they say smells like a banana for example. Sure enough, it smells like a banana, until you smell a real one. Get it?!?!!

    I went through all the samples, sure, what they say is an MTD 435 with a wenge fingerboard sounds, well like a active bass of some sort. Did it sound like a MTD 435 with a wenge fingerboard? How the hell could you tell unless you had a MTD 535 next to you. You have to take their word for it.

    One sample or model that did sound real good though was the Hofner with flatwound strings.
    Was it a Hofner? Umm..........the hell if I know, did it sound sorta like a hollw body bass with flats on it? sure.

    Anyway, it's like a scratch and sniff book. Or licking a steak, man it tasted good, but when do I get the real thing????

    I played the Music Man "model" and it sounded like a Music Man, until I picked up a StingRay and did the A/B test. It isn't a Music Man.

    And the Jazz basses sound like generic Jazz type basses. Be it a 2000 American Deluxe or a KSD or a Schecter. They list the exact basses they modeled as well. Ya know, you think they would have at least picked good sounding Jazz basses!!!"

    That was the e-mail from a few days ago. And I still feel the same today.
  14. Funky Doctor

    Funky Doctor

    Aug 28, 2003
    Damn. I thought you were doing a review on a mini Variax Bass. That would have been cool.
  15. wwittman


    Apr 21, 2004
    Westchester, NY
    >>will probably be a force to reckon with in the next 5 years or so. But for now, it still seems like it's a pale imitation of the real thing

    and some day, it will be a strong imitation of the real thing.

    But not the real thing.
  16. Bass Player mag gave the Variax bass a glowing review.. interesting to see the disparity between that review and the comments we've seen here from TalkBass players.

    One wonders what potential advertising revenue was at stake for BP.

    So, we are left wondering the following as well:

    Is the bass actually good, or mediocre?

    Do any Talkbassers have positive or very enthusiastic responses to the Variax?
  17. Having seen the demo at the Line6 website, it seems like anybody checking this bass out might benefit from digging a little into the manual before trying it out.

    You know how if you go and check out a new synth, plug it in, play a few presets often you get that "meh" feeling? Of course not, we're bassists. But those presets are just "demo's" of the sounds. Since things like pickup position and EQ are tweakable it may be that you can dial in something a bit more useful for each sound and then save it for later. Seriously - check out the demo video at the website. The session player there does this and seems to get reasonable results.

    Having said that, a "sound modelling" bass ain't ever going to sound "exactly like" a Stingray or Jazz or P-Bass. But if it gets close (within the mix) then it's probably a fairly useful tool. Depends on whether your band / job needs you to be able to switch styles or sounds between songs...

    Anyhoo.. I'd be interested to hear how Jarrett's longer term tryout went.

    EDIT: Oh yeah, and if they come out with the editor program for the bass like they have for the guitar then I think it will open up flexibility LOTS.
  18. wulf


    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    I've tried one a couple of times - see my comments in another thread.

  19. lbanks


    Jul 17, 2003
    Ennui, IN USA
    I tried one and if it had Cost $700 and was a 5ver, I'd bought it. $1300... no.
  20. westland


    Oct 8, 2004
    Hong Kong
    I just thought I'd reiterate my own take on this thread (repeating myself from another thread). Anyway I have a Variax bass on order. I haven't played one, but studied the concept. This is Rich Lasner's new project (he developed the Modulus Genesis line with Tobias). That said, I'm not expecting miracles (I'll explain why). But the bass appears to be online-firmware upgradable (as are all Line6 products) and will improve not just with future hardware, but as as Line6 develops its Variax Workbench software. After that you should see 3rd party models and steady improvements from Line6. I think the hardware will be stable for some time, since faster chips aren't going to buy you any additional sound modeling capability (but will buy you cheaper products).

    The Variax is not a MIDI tracking synth bass, and I doubt there is anyway to output to a Roland system (I mean, Line6 could, but with almost certain significant degradation in sound).

    With MIDI tracking (Y / R systems) the MIDI pickup processes the motion of the string above the MIDI bar, and computes a set of MIDI parameters (maybe a dozen) then applies these to a database of sound samples. The computation takes an absolute minimum of half a cycle (about 1/50th of a second for the B string) ... more likely around 1/10th second counting MIDI, DSP and sample lookup delays (just enough to mess up your groove!). But the sound is sample perfect, because it is the sample database that determines the accuracy and quality of the sounds. Basses present the most difficult trackng problem, because the sound is low, and it takes a noticable amount of time for the computer to figure out what the string is doing. Guitars, being more treble, have less noticable latency.

    With modeling basses (only Variax for now) the signal from the individual piezo pickups on the bass are sent directly to the DSP (digital signal processing chip ... basically a dedicated fast fourier transform / matrix processor) and converted from its raw form into something else. Since the attack-sustain-decay-finger-technique-etc. of the piezo+wood of the variax will not exactly match that of a P-bass, J-bass, whatever, the transformation will have to 'fudge' on some of the modeled factors. But there is zero latency (given the speed of DSP chips these days).

    It is much more difficult to get the DSP algorithms right on the modeling bass than the MIDI tracking. On the MIDI tracking, you just lookup a sample. Modeling is art! You keep tweaking until it sounds right.

    I haven't been motivated to try Roland's system (it seems too complex) but I understand that it is a tracking system, with superimposed modeling (they call it COSM) and you can choose one or the other. The modeling sounds are supposed to be pretty artificial. You can apparently change instrument parameters (Variax has some software that is supposed to do this too).

    This sort of modeling is Line6's forte, as their Variax equipment does the same thing that the POD and Vettas do ... takes sound input from a physical instrument, and 'filters/modifies' the sound in the same way that a physical amp (or a physical guitar in the case of the Variax) would. At its root, I bet all their products are a variation on a common hardware/software bundle.

    I don't mean either to diminish their accomplishments -- having musicians critique the work of your computer engineers strikes me as a manager's nightmare. Congrats to the talented Rich Lasner and others for making this all work