Blast From The Past
If you’ve not been following my previous blog posts about the Line 6 – James Tyler Variax guitars, then click here: https://rowbinet.co.uk/category/line-6/line-6-variax-newsinfo/ There’s also a separate JTV59 in depth review from fellow Line 6 User Expert and Rowbinet guest blogger Nick Mattocks which you will also find via that link.
So what’s the point of me reviewing the same model of JTV59 too? Well everyone has different opinions, as well as having different physical guitars of the same type (which should of course be almost identical)…
A single guitar that sounds like a Strat, a Tele, a Les Paul, an acoustic, a 12 string acoustic, a sitar and more…. If you had said such a thing to Leo Fender or Les Paul 50 years ago, you’d have been laughed at and generally ridiculed as a mad man. But roll forward to a world where technology allows certain restrictive barriers to be broken down. For example, imagine trying to explain the many things you can do with an iPhone to a business man in the 1980’s whose mobile phone was larger than a brick, or to a rapper with a ghetto blaster from the same era… The Variax is of course a similar type of technological step forward, that totally changes the way in which guitarists can access different types of guitar sound.
There are of course many factors that contribute to a Strat sounding like a Strat, and a Les Paul sounding like a Les Paul, so building an actual guitar that can do both would be very difficult. Pickups are an obvious difference, then there’s the scale length, typical body woods, bolt on vs set neck, fixed vs trem bridge. So having a guitar like the JTV that takes string vibrations captured by some clever bridge mounted piezo pickups, and feed that information into some ground breaking Line 6 guitar modelling technology to produce the sounds of a number of guitars is truly amazing. The strat sounds really do sound like a Strat, and all of the other guitar simulations are equally accurate. The reason I call out the Strat sound is because I’m reviewing the JTV59, which is the Les Paul style of body. So hearing what sounds like a Strat coming out of my amp is remarkable, when my brain is telling me I’m playing a Les Paul, so I should sound like a Les Paul. The other huge surprise is being able to change the tuning of the guitar instantly at the turn of a knob, and that the guitar can ‘learn’ any tuning you need to use that it doesn’t already have stored. The tuning features are perhaps the most important features as far as I’m concerned, and the fact that they work so well is what makes it so important to me.
The Devil’s In The Details
If you’re anything like me, you will have at some time had to play a gig with a set list requiring various sounds, styles and tunings. Ordinarily this would mean having a ridiculous number of guitar changes and tuning changes between songs. Of course such things take time and so can compromise the flow and atmosphere of a gig. Those are the main reasons I love the idea of the variax and in particular the latest incarnation: The James Tyler Variax, or JTV.
Some additional benefits are the very occasional ‘once in a blue moon’ requirements for some more obscure sounds, like a sitar, a dobro, or a banjo. All of those it does very well.
With the latest free software update v1.8 for all JTV guitars, you can not only enjoy all the original features, but there are some interesting new features that make the JTV an even more interesting guitar.
Now you can:
Store your own tuning settings in your POD HD500 or HD Pro, and recall the JTV tuning on a per preset basis. This also requires the latest POD HD v2.0 software and a VDI connection.
Get the benefit of improved acoustic guitar simulations.
Control some POD HD parameters using the volume and tone control on the JTV.
You can still make the use of many stored tunings, or create custom tunings on the guitar.
Variax edit software still allows you to create custom guitar models, using all guitar bodies and pickups from the built in 25 models, to mix and match.
As a guitar, the JTV59 I have here plays very well. The neck profile isn’t what I’d call a modern slim profile, and reminds me very much of a Gibson Les Paul Goldtop 1957 reissue (Vintage Original Spec) I played recently, and it fits perfectly in my hand. The action and setup was also great straight from the factory, and the tuning stability is good.
Importantly the balance of the JTV59 when on a strap is perfect, and although it is certainly a nice solid weight of wood, it’s not so heavy that it’s painful to wear for a whole gig. That is a problem with some Les Pauls, so Line 6 and James Tyler have certainly thought about things like this a lot.
Always Room To Improve
There’s not much I would improve with the JTV59, but here’s a couple of slight things:
The LED indication on the alternate tuning knob isn’t perfectly lined up with the tunings printed on the knob. It’s not exactly difficult to read but it could be a little better.
The only other slight issue was a couple of small cosmetic marks near the 3 way pickup selector. Now my selector switch is one of the new ones (earlier ones had some issues), and was likely changed at Line 6 after it was manufactured. A bit of polish and care and it’s all fine now, but of course it’s a shame that was required. As it is, other guitars I own in a similar price range have had similar small issues, and I must remind myself that this isn’t a custom shop hand built guitar. Sure JTV guitars are around £1000, which is hardly a price point that could be called budget, but no matter how you dress it up, the JTV guitar cost is made up of 50% guitar cost, and 50% electronics for the guitar modeling. So looking at it as a £500 guitar, with £500 worth of electronics neatly ‘crammed in’, you start to compare it to other mass produced mid-range guitars that do occasionally have small QA issues. It also seems that Line 6 have been working very hard to resolve any issues for existing JTV owners, and to resolve any production and QA issues, so that all new JTVs are free from any known issues. So buying a new JTV means you can buy with confidence.
Line 6 and James Tyler have done a great job of bringing this second generation Variax to the market. It’s certainly a massive improvement in features, functionality and playability compared to the original Variax.
I don’t feel that the JTV guitars can totally replace Strats, Teles, Les Paul’s or acoustics in our guitar collections. But for convenience, the guitar emulations and alternative tunings that are all available at the flick of a switch make the JTV a seriously interesting product for rehearsals, studio sessions and live gigging.
Pros: Modelling and detuning works very well, tuning stability is good plays very nicely. Stock pickups sound good for general classic humbucker tone. Balance of body very good. Overall QA is good compared to similar instruments.
Cons: Small surface marks near 3 way switch (polished off). Illumination of tuning selector knob slightly offset. Some slight background hiss when using magnetic pickups via VDI. 3 way switch isn’t central in recess.
Rowbi’s Verdict: Flexibility at its best. A must have for any player, 9/10
For more information on James Tyler Variax guitars, please visit: http://line6.com/guitars