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pudge (1)

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Journal of pudge (1)

Friday October 27, 2006
11:09 AM

Guitar Modeling, and New Song

[ #31434 ]

Last year I bought a PODxt Live, made by Line 6. It is a guitar processor: it has many built-in amps, cabinets, and effects in it. Mostly they take real physical products and emulate ("model") them in software.

I've used the PODxt for a few of my songs before, most notably for "Osama Bin Laden, You Ruined My Birthday," where I had it model an old Fender Bassman amp to get a nice '50s rockabilly feel, a perfect complement to my Epistrat with Fender Fat '50s pickups.

So a few years back Line 6 came out with the Variax. It does for guitars what the POD did for amps and effects: it takes real guitars, and models them in software.

And it really works well. So I bought a used Variax 500 a few weeks ago, and I just put up the first recording I made with it, a song I first recorded a little while ago called Wasting Time. I held off on putting it up when I first recorded it because I could not get the guitar sound the way I wanted it, mostly because the music is just a vocal and electric guitar, and I just couldn't get rid of the hum (even when using humbuckers).

But the Variax doesn't have that problem, because it doesn't use magnetic pickups. It uses piezo pickups, one for each string, in the saddles of the bridge, that register the vibrations directly. Then it takes that sound and runs it through algorithms to model what that string would sound like if it were on the particular guitar, with the particular pickups, that you selected. And all with no interference.

(Since each string is picked up and modeled separately, that also means the Variax is capable of modeling 12-string guitars, and it's got three of them: Martin and Guild acoustics, and a Rickenbacker electric.)

So for this song, I dialed in the '58 Les Paul Standard sound, with both pickups active. I set the tone control to max. The vocals were a bit low, so I bumped the key up a half step. And instead of physically retuning the guitar or using a capo, I created an alternate tuning in software and uploaded that to the guitar.

Oh, did I mention that the Variax connects via Ethernet cable to my PODxt Live? The PODxt connects to the computer via USB. The PODxt thus supplies power and program changes to the Variax, and receives the audio signal and program changes from the Variax. And allows my computer to upload new firmware and presets. (The Variax can also be powered via a stereo audio cable from a special footswitch, or by onboard batteries.)

So when I record this song in Logic, I tell Logic to set the PODxt to program 25A, which is a preset for this song, and the PODxt sets itself up with a '68 Marshall 100 watt Super Lead (overdriven to 140V AC) through a Marshall 4x12 cabinet, classic MXR Dynacomp and Phase 90 pedals for compression and phaser, a basic stereo delay, and some vintage plate reverb. All with my chosen settings, and all of it modeled in the PODxt. And at the same time, the PODxt tells the Variax to set itself to the uptuned '58 Les Paul with both pickups active and the tone cranked.

So when I am ready to record, regardless of whatever guitar or amp or effect settings I am using, I just hit "record" in Logic, and it configures everything for me on the fly. It even sets the tempo for the delay and flanger to match the tempo of the song in Logic.

And it sounds just great. Maybe for someone with better ears than me, they could tell you that it doesn't sound exactly like a Marshall Variac or a '58 Les Paul. But it sounds very good. And I don't know if I'll be recording with any other electric guitar any time soon. Even if the tone weren't as good as it is, the complete lack of hum is worth it.

I think my next recording needs to include a banjo (the Variax includes an electric sitar and banjo too) just to show Nat that it sounds a little better than the sample on the web site.

BOSS has some nice guitar processor products too. They offer more for more. Less than $100 more, and you get two amps at the same time, lots more effects (and lots more simultaneous effects), and more goodies. But I really liked the integration with the Variax, and the software integration, and I was happy with the sound it produced, and people I knew and trusted used and liked it, and I tend to not need (or want, or like) a lot of effects (or multiple amps) anyway.

Now that I have the Variax, I am convinced I made the right decision. Neither the PODxt or Variax is perfect. But they are very cool and loads of fun and sound awesome.

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  • When I was in the Guitar Center a while ago, they had some sort of setup (Roland, I think) that had many presets including "Keith Richards." It was fun to quickly dial in the open G tuning and crank out Stonsey riffs. And then to crank the tuning up to 'C' and play "Can't Get Enough" (Bad Company). Heck, I could probably even play Sonic Youth songs w/o constantly breaking strings while retuning (or w/o having 47.3 spare guitars). It was all a little too rich for me though...someday I hope to have some dispo
    • The nice thing about my setup is that the PODxt was $400, and the Variax was $400. $800 for the whole setup, plus $100 for the bass expansion pack (which turns the PODxt into a Bass PODxt). Plus $100 for my bass (used Ibanez Roadstar II). $1000 for the whole band! :-) I don't know your budget, of course, but for music equipment, it's pretty damned cheap.
  • ...the BOSS GS-10 to similar effect and it is also a great little box. The POD is probably a little easier to use to dial in the sound that you are looking for, but if you're prepared to spend a lot of time tweaking the EQ you can get whatever you are looking for out of the box.

    I'm playing a PRS Custom-24 at the moment and I can get an awful lot of tonal range out of it (so much so that I swore it would be the last guitar I'd ever buy), but I've been curious about the Variax for a while, and it sounds like
    • Yeah, I was looking very closely at the GT-8 (footpedal version) or GT-PRO (when I was looking at the PODxt Pro). But the experience of my friends and expandability with the Variax and the greater user base (so I could more easily get patches from others) and, as you mention, ease of use pushed me to the POD. But I am sure I would have been happy with the BOSS stuff too.

      If I needed a lot more flexibility in my effects etc., then I might feel more than the occasional pang of regret at going with the POD.