who has everything? Variax Workbench, of course: Think soldering iron, router, drill, and a parts bin full of pickups, wire, pots, and capacitors.
Or rather, don’t think that.
Instead, virtualize all of the above so you can customize your Variax (not the bass or acoustic versions, though) without drilling, solder fumes, or stripping insulation — or for that matter, trying to figure out how to make the screw holes you drilled in the wrong place disappear. For $139.95 list, you can do a whole lot of “virtual wiring”:
- Change pickup positions — even put them on top of each other, or in the neck itself
- Angle pickups in relation to the strings
- Do series/parallel, in-phase/out-of-phase pickup connections
- Change the tone control potentiometer value and capacitor
- Alter the volume control value and taper
- Balance string levels
- Create alternate tunings
- Tweak the 12-string model by changing the detuning and level between string pairs
- Swap out guitar bodies
And what accomplishes this magic? Variax Workbench is a hardware/software combo with a cute little Variax-to-USB converter box, cable for connecting the Variax to the converter, another one to connect the converter to USB, and cross-platform editing software (requires at least a Mac OS X 10.3 with a G4, or Windows XP/2K with a 500MHz PIII). USB can be 1.1 or 2.0 — the program doesn’t care. But a word to the wise: Hit the Line 6 website to grab the latest hardware and Variax firmware before you warm up your virtual soldering iron. And a word to the wiser: Variax Workbench software is available as a free download for guitarists who also own either a PODxt Live or a Vetta II. Both of these can connect digitally to a Variax, and also to a computer (via USB on the PODxt Live, and any USB-to-MIDI interface for the Vetta II).
In addition to the editing-related pages — one for the body type, one for the pickup wiring, and another for the controls — there’s a “Tone Locker” patch librarian function. This is where you save preset bundles, swap presets around, copy and save presets, etc.
Although this is all great fun, I was surprised that the ability to create Alternate Tunings became one of my fave features. Slide guitar, anyone? Tune up the bottom two strings an octave? Capo the whole thing? Drop the low “E” to “D”? Sure. The strings don’t break when you tune them up several semitones, either.
So is Workbench an essential accessory for the Variax? Probably not. The Variax by itself should have enough sounds to keep you busy for quite some time. But if you’re a tweaker, like the idea of creating guitar models that couldn’t possibly exist in the real world, get a certain satisfaction from violating the laws of physics, and like to hear sounds you haven’t heard before, Variax Workbench is a most excellent stocking stuffer.