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Variax on a gig - long review

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by drivenmore, Jan 15, 2006.


  1. So with the coming of the New Year, I decided to reevaluate my gigging gear needs, and since I’m primarily playing in variety bands that play funk/R&B/standards/pop at casinos/weddings/festivals/occasional daiquiri shop (this is New Orleans, after all), I figured I give the Variax a try.

    My gig rig has consisted of a fretted and fretless Steinberger Spirit XT-25 through an Acoustic Image Contra amp; primarily for the portability, but also because they just seem to work the best together for an overall great tone. That said, I felt that having more tones at my disposal would be worth it.

    I wasn’t very hip on the body shape, and felt that I would get a replacement neck to slap on it. I chose an allparts vintage-style Jazz neck, rosewood fingerboard, bound with mop inlays off of the ‘Bay, which arrived before the Variax. The Variax arrived from BassNorthwest a couple of days later: a beautiful sunburst 4-string expertly set-up, right out of the box. I plugged in the directbox/powersupply, then into the Contra. Right away I was pleased with the P and J models; I then did the requisite “Jeremy” lick on the 12-string, “Old Friends” on the Alembic, and some “Roundabout” on the Rick. As many people who have noodled on the bass have said, the synth sounds suck straight out of the gate; it’s when you take the time to adjust the blend/filter/speed that you get some pretty usable (dare I say “kickin’”) sounds. Same goes for the other models; you can adjust the pickup blend/pickup placement and bass/treble and save them, which is absolutely necessary to get the sounds to more convincingly replicate what you are looking for. That said, after some tweaking, the Moog model gave way to a perfect “Fantastic Voyage”/”Let’s Groove Tonight” vocoder-esque sound; the modern synth now nails “Flashlight”.

    I was happy with the sounds, and found to my surprise that I was very happy with the neck: it’s actually perfect for my hands, with an incredibly fast feel to it. I was somewhat hesitant to actually switch it out with the Jazz neck, but I gave it a shot. Well, the bass gods were trying to tell me something, as the Jazz neck ended up having too wide of a heel to fit. I would have to shave off some of the sides in order to do it. So, I put the original one back on, and bought a complete Signature Jazz body off the ‘Bay and now have a kickin’ white Jazz :)
    (see: http://www.talkbass.com/forum/showthread.php?t=223510)

    Although tweaking the models gets you closer to an approximation of the basses offered, the real key is to alter your attack/playing style. The 12-string model has the tendency to waver out of tune as the software tries to catch up; you need to play a bit more staccato to minimize it, This is most apparent if you try doing the “Jeremy” harmonics. The upright bass is absolutely amazing with a palm-muted light touch. The synth basses don’t take too kindly to string bends, but with an exaggerated vibrato, your “Flashlight” is dead-on.

    So, last night was the trial by fire at a wedding reception at Latrobe’s in the French Quarter. We opened with “Boogie Shoes”, with the Variax set on the P; next was “Boogie Oogie Oogie” and the 8-string. Throughout the course of the evening, I used mainly Js and Ps, but switched to upright for “Chicago (My Kind of Town)” and “At Last” (which almost made me cry, how great that sounded), Stingray for “Easy” and “Carwash”, Thunderbird for “Honky Tonk Woman” and “Old Time Rock N Roll”, Danelectro for “Baby I Love You” and “Mustang Sally” and the Moog for “Kiss”. By the end of the night, my guitarist was beaming over how good the bass sounded, and I gotta say, I was right there with him.

    The Variax really outperformed my expectations; the one thing I think I’m going to do to modify it is to replace the tuners with some cloverleaf hipshots. I really feel that for my particular gigging situation, the Variax does an excellent job of giving me 23 of the 24 different basses that it claims to.

    The 24th is a fretless J, and I gotta concede, it’s a joke :)

    Hope this helps someone who may be on the fence about getting one.
     
  2. steve21

    steve21 Banned

    Wow, I will have to give them more of a try... I wasn't too impressed with the Variax's, but I didn't tweak them much. How are the controls laid out, exactly?
     
  3. Nice review, The one time I got to play one of them I pluged it in and all i got was feedback, must have been bad battery.
     
  4. Hmm, I remember a while back I was looking at these when they first came out, but now after hearing something like that, it makes me think of it some more, and so I'm gonna have to go out and try and see if someone around here has one, because it sounds pretty cool to me.
     
  5. IotaNet

    IotaNet Supporting Member

    Very nice review!

    I've been waiting to hear a review from someone who:

    1) Actually played one of their own in real world conditions -- as opposed to noodling around on one at GC.

    2) Actually took the time to learn how to use the instrument -- i.e. do what Line 6 suggests, which is to tweak each of the settings to shape the various tones to your liking.

    I've said it before and I'll say it again. I think the Variax is an excellent tool and in the hands of someone who is committed to making it work, it can be an outstanding instrument.

    Good for you!
     
  6. You've got Volume, pickup blend(on two-pickup models)/position (on one-pickup models like the P, you can move the pickup closer to or further from the neck; on the upright, it changes where the mic placement would be) stacked bass/treble knob, and the model selector. The model selector has 12 settings which are "green" patches (the LED lights up green); pressing the volume knob switches to the "red" patches. Once you've fiddled with the tone to your liking, you press and hold the model selector knob for a few seconds to save your settings.
     
  7. Wouldn't doubt that at all; I honestly don't see myself using a battery as I plan to use the DI/power box to send a signal to wired in-ear monitors to better hear the bass in bigger venues.
     
  8. Thank you so much!!! I've always had a strong feeling these things are better than what most people lead me on to believe. For an instrument so complex as this one, I don't 30 minutes in GC is adequate enough time to get a full 'feel' for this bass at all. I'm very glad to see that someone had the faith, and took the plunge.

    Say, how are those Thumb and Ric tones?

    -ryan-
     
  9. I got the Bass Pod Pro XT for Christmas. I am spending the time to learn how to modify the models to fit my taste and it seems to work very well. I am still exploring the product but it seems a quantum leap over the first model Bass Pod I got when they initially hit the stores. I have not given the idea of a variax much thought... I may have to rethink that.
     
  10. Having owned a Variax and taken it up and down the east coast for about six months, I can safely say that I was not too satisfied.

    If you simply search "Variax" you will find the reasons.
     
  11. phxlbrmpf

    phxlbrmpf

    Dec 27, 2002
    Germany
    Nice review, this thing sounds really intriguing to me now.
    So the "defretter" sounded terrible? Doesn't surprise me. Are there even defretter effect patches that actually come close to the real thing? And how are they supposed to work anyway?
     
  12. I really like the Ric; adding a little overdrive via a SansAmp, and really attacking the strings with your fingertips (or using a pick if you are so inclined) really nails the Geddy/Squire vibe. I haven't honestly fooled around too much with the Warwick, so I'll have to get back to you on that one.
     
  13. Like I said: it works very well for my purposes. I can definitely see how it wouldn't fit the bill for others.