Played a Variax Today (Lengthy Review)

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by tplyons, Mar 15, 2005.

  1. tplyons


    Apr 6, 2003
    Madison, NJ
    Went out with a buddy of mine to try to find a nice padded strap for myself, went to Sam Ash (which just opened across the street from Guitar Center here) and was literally dumbfounded at the quality and condition of the instruments on the wall... I played a few and EVERY bass had absurdly high action, and the prices were on the high side. And they were trying to off a used Geddy with a warped neck for $575. I found the strap I wanted, but it had a huge chunk missing, and they wouldn't give me a discount so I walked out, went across the street to Guitar Center.

    Lo and behold, aside from GC's Guitarmageddon which we walked in during the middle of the event, there were two basses I've been itching to try: the Mike Dirnt P-Bass, which wasn't bad, but I wasn't allowed to plug in for fear that I'll interrupt the contest, but they did let me plug in the Variax Bass that I've been oogling for a while. After waiting 20 minutes for the only person in the store who knew how to hook the thing through the power supply into one of the new Bose stick speakers, I got to play.

    First of all, in the time I spent waiting for a Guitar Center goonie to help plug me in, I noodled on the bass unplugged, and noted that it resonated quite nicely, and between the piercing cries of the guitarists in the background, I noted that it rang out quite solidly. The bass was obviously built quite well, and the neck and body were matched beauitfully.

    The neck, surprisingly fit my hand like a glove. I've played anything from Stingrays, Precision Basses, Jazzes and more Soundgears than anyone can name, and this is probably one of the best fits. The nut width seemed to be somewhere between a jazz neck and a Precision neck, and the 34" scale was much more inviting than some of the modeled instruments with 35" and longer scales. The sample bass had low action and no buzz anywhere on the neck and all over was intonated quite nicely and proved very comfortable. The fretwork was divine, and slid through my hand very nicely.

    The neck joint was tight, and I felt access to the upper frets was considerably much better than the Fenders I'm used to. The body was pretty light and resonant, and the funky looking thumbrest was quite comfortable in retrospect. Before plugging this pseudo-beast in, I decided it was a 9.5/10 in playability.

    After my goonie arrived, I plugged straight into the Bose speaker, with no preamp of my knowledge. I flipped through the settings with no clicking or noticable changes in volume after pounding an open E. Here I began to systematically scroll through all the presets. Mind you, a few settings were changed to a synth bass, so I didn't get to try a few, but the rest were quite nice.

    I was fond of both the Vintage Jazz settings, and found the J with flats quite warm and inviting. The Modern Jazz was a bit harsh to the ears, but I must admit I didn't put too much effort into tweaking the sound, and the fretless jazz, unfortunately was overwritten.

    I was fond of both the "PreBass" settings, but once again, found the one with rounds a bit on the harsh side. The flatwount P-Bass sounded quite nice, and was quite comparable to a vintage P strung with flats that adorned a wall. Kudos to Line 6. I found the Manta to be a quality copy of the Stingray, but nevertheless wasn't perfect. I found the blend knob let me dial in a convincing Ray, however the preset was a bit off. The Flea bass setting (alternate Manta)was good, but I couldn't compare it to a real Flea.

    The Clang setting provided a fair Rickenbacker sound, but once again, the roundwound Ric was a bit harsh to the ears, and I started to think it was due to the Bose. Ideally, I would've run everything through a GK for more objective judgement, but Guitarmageddon wouldn't allow me to. Unfortunately, both "Hollow" and both "Thump" settings were overwritten as well. Does anyone know if there's a reset button on this thing?

    The green Modern setting, which was modelled after an MTD 535 was quite good in my opinion, as the tone was well balanced in the preset, but adding a little bass certainly made the bass feel more like home. The opposite red setting, gave a good Warwick growl, which I was fond of. I love that Warwick sound, but can't stand the feel of most of their bodies.

    The Alchemy models were designed after very modern instruments, Alembic and a Steinberger, neither of which I've ever played, so I can't judge the accuracy. However, both were rich in overtones, however, after a bit of tweaking, the red Steinberger copy was able to give me a very nice growl.

    The 8 String Hagstrom copy was overwritten, but the 12 String Hamer almost made me wet my pants: it was the easiest playing twelve string I've ever played, and the volume of the the octave strings was even all the way around, something I personally could never mimick. The largest drawback, however was that string noise was also synthesized with the octaves, providing a touch of inaccuracy.

    The Acoustic settings were probably two of the most valuable and useful in a recording session. I've NEVER been able to track an acoustic bass well without that overpowering click of the pick, or balance the tones without hundreds of dollars in mics and hours of troubleshooting to find that perfect mic positioning. The tone was comparable, I'd say it was fairly accurate compared to a Tacoma Thunderchief. Even tricked a few GC employees (but that's not hard) who couldn't find someone playing an ABG by me.

    The red Acoustic setting blew me away. The synthesized version of a Kay M-1 Contrabass was simply phenominal. Playing a vintage M-1B at school, I found the Line 6 to provide a much more pleasing, much warmer and fuller tone than my vintage school instrument. The blend knob seemed to let me pan between steel and gut strings (my favorite, inexpensive alternative to buying two sets of strings and spending a half hour switching them), which would be wonderful for recording, however the design of the bass left no room for arco. I played bass in the pit for the Sound of Music at my high school, and played my EM-1 up until they realized an actual DB was too big for the pit, so they switched me to my Fretless Jazz bass, and missed the tone of the amplified URB. This would've been an idea and logical alternative.

    And lastly were the two synth settings. The first, the MiniMoog bass had difficulty tracking with light plucking, but digging in certainly gave me a wonderful tone, fairly accurate, but didn't offer anywhere near the versatility of an actual Moog device. The Line 6 synth, I hit an open E, fell in love with the sound and immediately broke into Herbie Hancock's Chameleon. Almost a match made in heaven.

    Regarding all the sounds on this bass, for the price I would rate them about a 9/10, certainly a much cheaper alternative, and for someone who simply doesn't have room for a vintage plywood DB or doesn't have the patience to learn, that setting alone is worth the price. Most of the sounds were good right after turning the model select knob, but almost all needed to be tweaked with the tone knob for something more convincing. All and all, with a bit of tuning to ear, the settings could be saved for more accuracy, and the bass would provide a convincing plethora of tones for recording in one playable package.

    At first the looks left something to be desired, but after playing for about twenty minutes, I noted that the bass's appearance had grown on me. Much better looking than a Bongo, but that's not hard either.

    Overall, I would rate the bass a 9.0/10.0, very useful for a home or pro studio on a limited budget, with outstanding playability. A price tag of $1200 leaves little to be desired, other than a hardshell case.
  2. Trevorus


    Oct 18, 2002
    Urbana, IL
    I played this bass in my local store, and I wasn't too impressed myself. I played it through a full eden rig, and couldn't get a good sound. The settings were mediocre, and I thought the feel of it was cheaper than my old Squier affinity. I think the idea was good, but the execution was sub-par. I may have just gotten a hold of a bad apple.
  3. cetera


    Apr 29, 2004
    Surrey, England
    Endorsing Artist: Spector Basses & Cort Basses
    I'm with you.... I wasn't particularly impressed either. Some of the vintage tones were pretty good but I didn't like the more modern models at all... :meh:
  4. wulf


    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    Good review! I've tried one a couple of times - I like it but not enough to spend the money at this time. I thought some of the sounds were really well done, although I'd hesitate to describe any of them as phenomenal. On the other hand, I think I sounded more like a double bassist when using the "Kay" sound than when playing a real double bass!

    If I had a real need for some of those tones - for example, an "upright" sound in a setting that would be forgiving if the visuals didn't quite match up, or a clanky Rickenbacker tone (again, where the ugly beauty of the Rick design wasn't so important) - I'd perhaps consider it more seriously. However, for the moment, I'm content to wait and see what they do next (eg. software to give much more tweakability or the option of retrofitting the electronics into another bass).