Okay, I'm sold. (Feb. 10th)
After three days, four different amps, and several hours of playing time, I'm convinced; this is a cool bass.
Here's the part that surprises me; I think most of the models of Electric Basses are really really good. The Thunderbird has that growling, grinding thing just like my '65 T-Bird. The Dano sounds a lot like my old Dano. The Stingray sounds like I picture a 'Ray should sound. Vintage J's? Tight, burpy and funky.
It's not perfect, mind you; I've got some suggestions for Line6 and some plans of my own. I wish it wasn't so heavy. I wish it didn't have that Black Pearl pickguard - I can't warm up to that at all. I wish the acoustic models were better. I really wish Line6's web-site was better. I was trying to Register the bass and kept getting "Your serial number doesn't exist" and "You're not registered" messages. Apparently you have to register for every page. Convenient.
The next step is to get a fretless neck on there and start gigging the bass. I'm shooting for a Feb. 19th debut, but it depends on the neck I've got a line on. A new neck and a few gigs will give me a real good idea of what's right and what's wrong.
Fate and Serendipity equal Lack of Sleep. ( Feb 11th)
There are times when the planets converge, or the Gods smile down on you, or you're just damn lucky, that all is right with the Universe, and it leaves you as giddy as a little girl with a new pony.
Yesterday, a beautiful fretless neck fell into my lap, and now, the monster lives.
Danny Click called me about a parts bass that had shown up a E St. Guitars, and he thought I should have a look. The bass is an unfinished Warmoth PJ body, with gold hardware - nothing special - but the neck is a Warmoth (I think) Rosewood neck with Rosewood fingerboard, Jazz width, and it's absolutely gorgeous, and plays like the Autobahn drives.
Needless to say, my evening plans changed on the spot, and the next few hours were spent in surgery, of a sort. The results were even better than I had hoped. This bass is stunning to look at and to play. The tones are fantastic as a fretless, all right there at the flick of a switch. I stayed up way into the wee hours just...playing.
The models I keep coming back to are MODJ Green (2004 Fender deluxe Jazz), for it's tight, burpy Jaco vibe, then CLANG Green (1971 Ric 4001) adds some boom to the sound, and to get really deep grinding snarl, THUMP Green ('63 T-Bird). For a more acoustic feel, it seems the Hofner or the '66 Gibson EB-2 work better than the actual Acoustic Models. Also, the 8 and 12 string models seem to do the 'freak' tones better than the Synths. The 12string on a fretless with a E-Bow is worth the price of admission itself, practically!
The Variax will ride along as a backup this weekend, just to give me some time getting to really know it. I'll try her out a lot next weekend and then report back.
Gig Report! (Feb. 22nd)
I used the Variax exclusively on two gigs last weekend, and after a bout with the flu, I'm ready to try to arrange my thoughts.
Friday night was Classic Rock with Ellis Isle at The Huddle in Fremont. I hadn't played at The Huddle for some time, and after a few tunes I realized that it was going to be a very bad place to analyze a new bass. It's a fun enough club, with nice people, but the stage is a wooden box sitting on top of another wooden box. All bass frequencies drain into the stage and swirl around you until you feel like a mud-slide victim, while the highs get out of there as fast as they can. On stage all you hear is "FMM FMM FMM" while in front it's all "GINK GINK GINK". I couldn't hear the Variax enough to judge how it sounded. Even on the 12 String patch, I couldn't hear the top end.
The next night was the same band at Vinnie's in Concord. Much better! Big open room with a big open stage. My amp set up is a GK 1001 RB through an Avatar 2x12, and provides all the bottom end in the world. The Variax really shined. I used a lot of T-Bird for the rock stuff. The growl and sustain were perfect. Another tone that got a lot of use was the Danelectro; a huge airy sound! For more "acoustic" type of tunes I used the EB-2; good thump. And for real ravers - AC/DC and Audioslave - I used the 12 string, which just killed. As a three piece, the 12 covered a lot of ground, especially beneath the soloes.
Here's the thing about the Variax overall; It takes a little more thought and prep than I'm used to. This isn't a bad thing, but it is different. The bass can confuse me because I'm not used to "programmed tone". The fact that things like sustain and decay are pre-set within the patches is counter-intuitive to a "P-Bass, set and forget" player like me. I'm an old dog learning new tricks. It's going to take time to work up the experience with the different tones, so that when I reach for a certain feel, I'll know just what I'm getting. The CLANG settings I enjoyed goofing around with at practice volume, didn't work for me at Gig Volume; The Dano tone worked surprisingly well; things like that.
So, is it "The Last Bass You'll Ever Need"? No. Get real! For the money I have into it, it's the last bass I'm going to get for a while, I can tell you that!
Is it my new Number One? I don't think so. I'm not close to having the kind of empathy I have with my Antigua P; I know exactly what kind of noise it will make when I play it a certain way. However, the Variax is definately a solid Number Two right now, and that means it skipped way ahead on the depth charts right out of the gate.
The technology is exciting, and I'm curious where it will go. Will I be able to replce tones that make no sense to me (synths, Warwick)? How 'smart' can this bass get? It's 'open ended' design means that the evolution of the instrument is just beginning.
My wishlist is growing. I wish it was lighter! I think I'd like a magnetic pickup to blend with the Variax, especially for EBow work, as there are a few effects that won't work with the Piezos. Tort pickguard!
It's a 'Wishlist'.
So I highly recommend the Variax bass. But don't buy it because you think it's the only bass you'll ever need, or because you think you'll get to sound like a bunch of cool vintage basses. I recommend it to the player who want's the expanded pallette of tone in an easy to use package. Or better yet, buy it because it's a brand new intsrument, and tucked away somewhere in there is a brand new voice waiting to be let out. This is a bass for Explorers, not Historians.
Yet Another, Different Gig Report (March 14th)
Last night I used the Variax at a weekly Blues gig I've been doing (plug ON) from 6 to 8 on Monday Evenings at JJ's Blues Lounge in San Jose with The Sinners (plug OFF). I thought this would be an ideal chance to try out some of the models that wouldn't get used in a Rock situation.
Instead of leaning on the 12 String and T-Bird tones, I went with the more Hollow body options. The EB-2 patch worked really well; lots of "Boom Boom". The most interesting one was the Hofner - very whump-y, with a fast decay. I could get a real 'doghouse' feel using this one, and then for the big finish, hit the Red/Green selector and close out with the Dano tone; boomy, butwith a slightly grindy edge to it. Oddly enough, I never got around to the acoustic models because I was having too much fun with the ones I was using!
Even on this stuff, I was having a hard time staying away from that T-Bird patch. It's a great tone on the fretless with the flat wound strings. Definately my favorite.
I got a lot of compliments on the tone of the bass, especially from the singer. I suspect he secretly wishes I'd play upright.
Hey! Where ya been? (October 4th)
Okay, so it's been pretty quiet around here lately, and thanks to a little prodding (David!), I thought I should do a bit of catching up.
First off, the Variax got another new neck. I put a Moses Graphite fretless neck I picked up second hand on the bass, and even though I'm not a huge fan of Moses Graphite Neck tone, it does seem to improve the quality of the "tracking" on the Variax. I'll add a new picture.
I have to say that, frankly, I'm not playing the Variax very much lately, and I'm contemplating selling it. There are two reasons; one logical, the other petty and selfish. The logical is that I'm not using it as much as I thought I would. The Variax lends itself brilliantly to Cover Band or Classic Rock type gigs, where a variety of tones at your fingertips are an advantage. However, I'm not doing as many of those gigs as I was. The majority of my gigs are Blues and R&B gigs, where my fretless P-Bass just fits better. Plus, I'm lazy, so less cords to set up and less gear to lug, not to mention the weight of the Variax, all come in to play in deciding which bass to grab as I head for the door.
Secondly, the petty issue. I don't expect a lot from music companies. They make and sell me what I need and I'm fine. I was pretty jazzed about the Variax, and went out of my way to deliver an honest yet positive review to anybody who asked. I got, and still get a lot of hits on this site from people who have searched the web for info on the Variax. Frankly, I've probably sold a few of them. So when I wrote to Line6, and asked if I could be listed and linked on the Artist page of their website, I didn't think it was totally out of the blue. I didn't ask for any money, gear, or discounts. I told them I already had a nice Line6 Bowling Shirt from one of their reps, a friend of mine who would vouch for me. I figured, the worst they could do is say 'no'. But it wasn't really. They just never bothered to answer. Nothing. Not a peep. Deleted.
That to me signifies a pretty crappy company, without much consideration for their customers. I'm not really sure how much I want to promote this bass anymore. I still get a lot of hits on this page, so I'll keep it up for a while, until I decide what exactly to do. Tell me what you think; drop me a line.
I recieved an E-Mail from Thomas Gotthard of Copenhagen, and we had a short exchange about the Line6 Variax and different things about the Line6 company. Thomas had written an E-Mail to Line6 asking if they were planning a Bass version of the Workbench, which would allow tweaking of the parameters and models. Line6's response was this;
"Response (Michael Murphy) - 10/25/2005 03:56 PM
Thomas- unfortunately it is against company policy to talk about future products. If Workbench becomes available for the Variax Bass there will be an announcement on www.line6.com."
Wow! Hows that for customer service! Well Thomas, at least they answered you!
Well, I've put the Variax Fretted neck back on the bass, put the bass in the gig bag, and haven't even thought about it the last two weeks. Seems like it's on it's way, slowly, out the door.
The Variax has been sitting in it's bag for almost a month now, and I had forgotten about it until someone mentioned it last night. I'm feeling guilty; it's not a bad bass. In fact it's pretty good for what it does; it's just not for me. Dang...so close.
So it's on the block. Offers? I'd love to trade it for a Fender Roscoe Beck five. That'd be great.
And so, the end. December 29th.
It's over. The Variax has been shipped off to Texas, and a Shoreline Gold Roscoe Beck Five is winging it's way towards me as I write. Maybe you can't teach an old dog new tricks. Maybe 'simplicity' is my mantra. Maybe I'm lazy.
A little advice for Scott, the new owner; the most common complaint is that the G string doesn't track as well as the others. This can usually be remedied by loosening the string, "Seating" it securly over the saddle, and re-tightening the string. Not that Line6 would listen, but this would be helped greatly by making the bridge 'string-through body'. Also, check how the ball-end is seated against the bridge plate.
I'd like to thank everyone who took the time to read all these mini-rants. I hope some people got something out of it. I've been amazed by the traffic on this page.