Line 6 Variax 500
Line 6 Variax 500
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MGR/Kevin Alan Mattson 11/07/2005

Line 6 Variax 500 : MGR/Kevin Alan Mattson's user review

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Here in his magnificent International Garage Studio headquarters, Kevin Mattson continues to create inevitable fame and riches as a singer/songwriter/guitarist/philosopher (whose wife has a real job). I'm a guitarist in general and 12-string specialist in particular. Just turned 50. Yikes.

I stumbled onto a closeout of the Variax 500 at, for a little under $500.

I've got several 12-strings left after giving my seldom-used sixes to my kids over the years. But lately I wished I had access to a few good electric and acoustic sixes.

The demo at made me curious so I took a chance.

It's ramarkable what the Variax can do. Good to excellent electronic models of 28 separate instruments are available with a turn of an on-board knob and a flick of the "pickup" selector switch. (See below for technical details.)

The variety of instruments is well chosen, including Strats, Telecastors, Pauls, thin- and big-body electrics, and a range of resonator and wooden acoustics--including banjo and sitar.

The sounds rate mostly very good, with a couple excellents and a couple "nice try's."

The acoustic 6-string guitars all sound very good or even excellent, in the sense that they sound like real Martins and Gibsons which have high quality piezo pickups installed. And of course, the Variax 500 is built like a hard-body electric. So you have to get used to the odd sensation of playing an "electric" and hearing a big body acoustic sound.

I'm mainly an acoustic and jazz player, so I can't judge the rock guitars properly. To my ears, the rock axes all sounded authentic through my practice amp. But please note, the Variax's modeling is strictly the sound of the dry guitar. Amp effects (distortion, etc) have to be produced the way you would with the regular version of these guitars.

The set-up was poor. Action and intonation were way off, but easily fixed with included hex-wrenches--if you know what you are doing.

I could do with out the tacky white pearl pickguard.

No tremolo bar. The replacement model (Variax 600) has one.

The 12s are the weakest of the models. The sounds of the string pairs are purposely de-tuned to add to the jangle sound, which non-12 players think is expected. But Line6 over did the de-tuning, so the the 12s sound cartoonish. Also, the electronics can't seem to handle the 12 sounds when you strum. But arpeggios are OK. Fortunately I own plenty of real 12s.

There are no coil pickups on the Variax. Rather there are piezos for each string under each adjustable saddle element. So the "pickup" selector does three things. For some guitar models it mimics a pickup selector. It also can switch between models.

The volume and tone control act as they should, except for the acoustic guitars. For them, Line6 uses the tone control to model varying mic placements. It's a very useful control in those cases.

The basswood body is nicely contoured with a bolt-on maple neck with medium frets. I like the feel of the neck, except the frets are a bit high--I'll have them dressed when I get a chance. The tuners seem solid. The guitar is balanced nicely.

It comes with a well-made power supply/A-B foot switch. The A-B switch box allows you to choose between a standard 1/4 inch output, or an XLR out. The XLR is preferred for the acoustic guitar models. The Variax can be powered from the switch box, or six AA batteries in the guitar will give you 10 hours or so of play time directly into any amp.

The Variax 500 is remarkable value. Several of its 28 built-in instrument sounds would be worth the price alone.

It's great fun to play. It's a godsend for gigs where you want a variety of fretted instrument sounds.

If you can find this model, and you don't need a tremolo bar, it's worth more then every penny.

This review was originally published on