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  • Line 6 "Dream Rig" (Tyler Variax, POD HD500, DT25 amp)

    Call Line 6, and a cheery receptionist says “Thank you for calling Line 6, your cradle-to-grave musical instrument company.”



    Okay, I admit I made that up. But think about it: They’ve parlayed the POD into rack processors, computer interfaces, amps, guitars, wireless systems for mic and guitar, and now, a ground-breaking sound system. For keyboard players, Line 6 is the distributor for Reason, which isn’t just a DAW—but a wonderful virtual instrument suite for keyboardists. There are also keyboard controllers to match for Windows, Mac, and iOS devices. And speaking of iOS devices, there’s the MIDI Mobilizer, iOS Mobile POD app, and a matching interface. Finally don’t forget the BackTrack (itself the subject of a Pro Review), a clever mobile recorder/player that can also remember everything you play, as you play it, so you never lose an inspirational riff.



    I’m not just listing their products as an exercise, but because it’s a relevant intro for a Pro Review of the Line 6 “Dream Rig.” The Dream Rig consists of the James Tyler Variax (a family of three models, with three additional custom shop versions; this review covers the JTV-59), POD HD500 processor, and DT25 or DT50 amp. Obviously, these three components make for a serious setup. But Line 6’s background emphasizes synergy, and the Dream Rig is no exception: All of these components can be linked to work together as a system—and that’s where it really gets interesting.



    Of course, this doesn’t preclude using any element individually. The Variax is a fine guitar, the POD HD500 a versatile processor, and the DT amp series brings something new to amp design. Yet as a system, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. How much greater? Well, you’re in the right place to find out.



    Although it’s tempting just to hook all these bits together and jump into the system aspects, to really appreciate what these elements can do together, you need to understand what they do individually. Furthermore, there will be people who want to focus on just one element, so we need to cover each one on its own merits.



    All of the Dream Rig elements aren’t exactly brand new; for example, there has already been a fair amount of coverage of the HD500—including an in-depth review here on Harmony Central. But while most people are aware of the James Tyler Variax, it’s a deep instrument that deserves a deep look; and those who think that the DT25 is “just an amp...right?” are in for a surprise.



    So, we’ll do an overview of each element (Variax, DT25, and HD500 in that order), then move along to the real meat of the review, which is what happens when you put them all together.



    As usual, we’ll start with where to get more info, and a photo tour. So if you want to do a little prep work, here are some links—the landing page is the Line 6 page with descriptions, features, etc., while the catalog page has pricing, user reviews, and additional information.



    DT25 Line 6 landing page, DT25 catalog page

    James Tyler Variax Line 6 landing page, JTV-59 catalog page

    HD500 Line 6 landing page, HD500 catalog page



    Tune in tomorrow for a photo tour of the JTV-59, but I’ll give you a little preview: the JTV-59 is a honey of a guitar, with or without the electronics.



    _____________________________________________
    There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

  • #2
    The JTV-59 arrived in a gig bag with a couple pouches for things like cables, a spare battery (more on this later), iPad, and the like. Although I wouldn't put it in checked baggage, it's padded and actually somewhat stylish.







    Here's a picture of the 3+3 headstock. The tuners are sealed, with 16:1 tuning ratio. They aren't locking, although if that's really important to you, it wouldn't be hard to retrofit these - they're not part of the Variax circuitry. A few Variax owners who wanted locking tuners have reported success in doing this. The nut is a Graph Tech self-lubricating type.







    The power supply is one of those "global" types where you can slide in different physical connectors to accommodate electrical systems around the world (of course, it also works on 100-240V, 50/60Hz). The battery is shown in the charger, and it needs to be charged when you first get the unit. The charger shines bright red while charging, flashes red when it's ready (but the one-page charger manual recommends you leave the battery in for another hour after flashing begins to charge it to full capacity). It's a 2200mAh battery, which is substantial; it's spec'ed at 12 hours of playing time, but I'll be finding out how long a charge lasts during the course of this pro review. (There's also an optional-at-extra-cost battery/charger/cable kit if you want a backup battery.)







    However, note that you don't have to use a battery under two conditions. One is if you're using the Variax with another VDI (Variax Digital Interface)-compatible device, as the cable supplies power. There's also an optional combination direct box/power supply.



    Now let's look at the top of the guitar.
    _____________________________________________
    There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

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    • #3
      Here's the bridge and bridge humbucker (with alnico magnets) pickup. The chrome bridge is fully adjustable, and uses the L. R. Baggs hex piezo transducer system in order to derive an output from each string for subsequent processing. (The Variax doesn't use a Roland-style hex magnetic pickup; piezo transducers for hex outputs are a common approach, and were used in the original Variax as well as in Gibson's current high-tech guitars).



      But also, note the finish. This is one fine "tobacco sunburst" finish - rich, smooth, and shiny. Yes, I'm distracted by shiny objects...I will admit to just staring at the guitar when it first showed up. I'll also admit that taking photos without reflections required a lot of effort - I think that if a light is on somewhere in the next town over, the guitar will reflect it.



      BTW the JTV-59 ships with D'Addario XL strings. There's no mention of recommended string gauges, so I'd assume you can use any standard gauge you find comfortable.







      Here's the neck humbucker pickup (also with alnico magnets) and 3-way pickup selector. It's important to note that the James Tyler Variaxes are guitars first, and modelers second. If you take the back off, spill a beer into the electronics, and lose your battery, you can still connect the 1/4" output jack to an amp and keep on playing as you would with any standard, passive guitar.







      And here are the four knobs on the top. If you're expecting two volume and two tone, suffice it to say Line 6 has managed to disguise their true functionality to look downright normal. The two knobs on the right are master volume and tone (except with acoustic guitar models, where the tone control changes the "virtual mic placement"), but it's the two knobs to the left that make this a Variax. The upper 12-position knob chooses banks of different guitar models, while the lower 12-position switch chooses alternate tunings. Actually it's somewhat more involved than that, as you can create custom banks and link tunings with models, but it's a little early to get that deep into the Variax. Suffice it to say you have a lot of guitars and tunings at your fingertips.







      And by the way, if you think the finish looks good in the photos, in real life it's far more vibrant.
      _____________________________________________
      There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

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      • #4
        Now let's check out the back. I didn't take off the two plates on the right and left yet, although I will soon because I feel a pro review isn't a true pro review until I've voided the warranty in at least one way.



        The section in the middle is the battery compartment.







        Here's a close-up with the battery compartment opened up.







        And here's a picture of the jack plate. The 1/4" jack is just a standard phone jack for carrying an analog output while the other connector carries the VDI connection.







        I have to say that even this early into the review process, I'm very impressed by the guitar itself, and I'll elaborate more on this shortly...and maybe take those plates off and see what's inside.
        _____________________________________________
        There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

        Comment


        • #5
          Let’s look at little more closely at the three basic guitar designs in the James Tyler Variax line (custom shop versions are available for all of these - more on this later).



          The JTV-59 follows the Les Paul paradigm, with a single cutaway, dual humbuckers, three-position pickup selector switch, and 24-9/16” scale length. The body is mahogany, with a set mahogany neck; the body has a carved maple top with a flame maple veneer. The fingerboard is rosewood, with 22 medium-size frets.



          The JTV-69 is for the Strat fans in the crowd, and yes—it has a vibrato tailpiece. It has a bolt-on maple neck with a 25-1/2” scale length and rosewood fingerboard. The body is alder. As to pickups, it has an alnico bridge humbucker, single coils for the mid and neck, and a five-way selector switch.



          The JTV-89 also has 25-1/2” scale length, but this one has a three-piece maple neck with rosewood fingerboard, and 24 medium-size frets. The body is mahogany, and the tuners are in a reversed, six-in-line design; it has two humbuckers and a five-way selector switch.



          It’s great that you can get Variax models with different scale lengths. The shorter scale allows for less string tension to reach pitch and smaller fret spans, so it’s ideal for leads although the tradeoff is a less defined sound from the lower string tension. The longer scale lengths help give that more present, “chimey” sound associated with Strats and Teles (it’s not just about using single-coil pickups). I also really like that a 24-fret model is available, as well as one with a vibrato tailpiece. Of course, the ideal guitar would have a short scale length but sound like a long scale length, with 24 frets and a vibrato tailpiece. Until then, Line 6 has done a good job of making sure that the most desired guitar options are available with Variax electronics.



          I do have a question for the Line 6 folks though, assuming someone is following this thread: I’m curious about the differences between the custom shop and standard models. From what I understand the standard models are made in Korea, while the custom shop ones are made in the USA. Although of course I don’t have a USA model here for comparison, I have to say there’s not only nothing wrong with the JTV-59, it’s gorgeous, extremely well-crafted, and plays beautifully. So...what are the main differences in the custom shop models that justify the higher prices, aside from domestic manufacturing and custom finishes?
          _____________________________________________
          There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

          Comment


          • #6
            Great timing on this review. I can't wait to get your take on the DT25 as I own a JTV-59 and an HD500, have some cash burning a hole in my pocket, and my Vetta just died.



            I've heard a lot of good things about the dream rig, the only thing holding me back is that it is a one speaker mono amp. Yeah, I know most amps are, but the Vetta spoiled me.

            Comment


            • #7






              Quote Originally Posted by dramey
              View Post

              Great timing on this review. I can't wait to get your take on the DT25 as I own a JTV-59 and an HD500, have some cash burning a hole in my pocket, and my Vetta just died.



              I've heard a lot of good things about the dream rig, the only thing holding me back is that it is a one speaker mono amp. Yeah, I know most amps are, but the Vetta spoiled me.




              Understood However, you can hook up two cabs if you want a wider mono image.



              BTW I was talking to Jon Chappell, who's already run the DT50 through its paces. He said it was the heaviest amp for its size he's ever had to lift, but he absolutely loved the sound and the versatility. So maybe I'll cover it next instead of the POD HD500...still have a ways to go with the guitar, though.
              _____________________________________________
              There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

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              • #8
                Oh, and one fine point just to make sure there's no confusion: Yes, the DT25 has two channels, but these are independent channels for getting two different sounds so you can switch between them - not as in stereo channels.
                _____________________________________________
                There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

                Comment


                • #9
                  Tonight's plan was to record some audio examples, but first I went to the Line 6 site to check out some details on the other JTV guitars. Guess what? I was greeted with the news that a free v1.8 update is available for the James Tyler Variax guitars. Well, I can't exactly record audio examples with a previous version of firmware, right?



                  The update includes five updated acoustic guitar models (6- and 12-string) which feature new modeling technology. We'll see what it sounds like. It also adds enhancements when using the Variax with the POD HD500 or POD HD Pro. One of the more interesting is being able to create custom Variax tunings for particular POD HD presets, as well as particular Variax models and pickup configurations per POD HD preset.



                  But also, dig this - the volume and tone controls can be linked to control up to 50+ POD HD parameters. Seems to me this would turn the Tone control into a TONE!!!! control, as you could use it to alter sounds dramatically within the same preset.



                  Anyway, I'm off to do the download. I'll report back and let you know how it went. I find it encouraging that Line 6 continues to enhance the system aspect of their "Dream Rig."
                  _____________________________________________
                  There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    The first thing to remember when updating Line 6 products is always use the Line 6 Monkey utility, as it reads your firmware, knows what's available, and makes the process really easy. Line 6 does make updates available individually on their web site, but ignore those...Trust the Monkey. (If you're a Native Instruments aficionado, you can think of the Line 6 Monkey as being very similar to NI's Service Center - it does the work for you.)



                    Updating the Variax requires connecting it to a suitable Line 6 device that can connect via USB (in the case of the Dream Rig, the POD HD500). As it turned out, in addition to the Variax update there was an HD500 update, so I figured it would be a good idea to do that first. I still get a bit freaked out by firmware updates, because if you do it wrong you can render a device inoperable, but if you just Trust the Monkey all is well.



                    While I was at it, I downloaded the latest version of the POD HD500 Edit program, and after that was done, the latest version of the Variax workbench. In case you're not familiar with the Variax workbench, it's a brilliant piece of software that's like a virtual custom shop for the Variax - you can change pickups, angle them differently, change the tone and volume control tapers, change capacitance on the tone knob, and more.



                    And now for the main attraction: Updating the Variax. Again, it was time to Trust the Monkey. The updating process takes a looooooooong time; I think each bit takes a short break, or maybe has a beer, after making it through the HD500 to the Variax. I did notice a button for "rollback," so that was encouraging if the power should go out during the update (yes, my computer is on an uninterruptible power supply, but I didn't think to plug the HD500 into it - ).



                    And speaking of , although I don't like to point out a fine example of me Being Dumb, my first attempts to have the Monkey recognize the Variax were unsuccessful. Why? It wasn't turned on. In my defense, there's nothing in the manual that says "This is the power switch" - it just tells you to push the Guitar Model Selector knob to access the various sounds. Well I didn't want to access the various sounds, I wanted to update the guitar and I figured that having the VDI cable connected would provide the needed power. Nope, you need to push the knob to turn on the guitar. What's more, the power-on light went off midway through the update. I assume this is done normally to save power, but it made me nervous. However, as the progress bar for the update kept progressing, I figured everything was okay. And it was.



                    So the bottom line is this: Use the Line 6 Monkey to do all your updating...oh, and turn on the Variax before trying to update it.



                    If you think about it, though, this is really a pretty clever system. You have multiple ways to interface the Variax with your computer, from PODs to the Variax USB interface. You have software that queries what you have, lets you know if anything needs to be updated, and updates it for you pretty much automatically.



                    It took me about an hour to do all the updating, maybe a little longer, but now everything is working and happy. So of course I had to check out the guitar models as a reward, and while I don't have time to record anything right now - it's time to go to bed - I will say they sound great, especially the acoustics. You'll hear them shortly.
                    _____________________________________________
                    There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

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                    • #11
                      And now, it's time for a Moment of Full Disclosure. I worked on much of the sound design for Gibson's Firebird X guitar, part of which included modeling various guitars for the three "dry" banks - many of which are also modeled in the Variax. As a result, I have a perspective on modeling that might be a little more intense than some, because I've logged hours (and hours, and hours) listening to the most minute details of multiple guitars. With the Firebird X, the final test was having two players, one with the Firebird X and one with the guitar being modeled, playing identical licks through the same amp and having musicians try to tell the difference (they couldn't see who was playing).



                      What was most interesting to me was that when the process started, the listeners could almost always tell the difference between the original guitar and the model. But when after sufficient tweaking they achieved parity, and people couldn't tell the difference, nine times out of ten when forced to make a choice the musicians thought the modeled guitar was the real one. Why? Because you could tweak the model 2% further to be an idealized version of the guitar - for example that magic Tele you found second-hand, not a new one from the same era.



                      As we all know, you can take two supposedly identical vintage guitars (or amps, for that matter), put them side-by-side, and sometimes still hear slight differences between them. When Line 6 was first getting into modeling, one of the things that impressed me was that they didn't model "an amp." They often went through multiple versions of the same model, and picked the amp they thought was most representative of what it should sound like - the "golden child" version of the amp.



                      So given that I'm hearing the Variax modeling not with the ears of a casual guitar player but someone who has experienced the complexities of the modeling process first-hand, my sense is that Line 6 prioritized purity with their models. What really struck me as I flipped through the models was that in many cases, I didn't need to look at the manual to know which guitar I was hearing - for example when I spun the knob and hit the pickup selector, my ears said "Aha! Rickenbacker!" and sure enough...that's what the manual said. Because I had spent so much time on modeling guitars, those sounds were burned into my brain. Turn the dial...that's gotta be a Strat, right? So I looked at the manual...yup, it's a Strat.



                      To me, that really shows Line 6 has nailed the characteristics and sonic signatures of the guitars in the Variax. If anyone thinks the models don't sound like the real thing, my suggestion would be...listen to the real thing more closely!



                      Furthermore, the models really come alive when matched with their iconic amp counterparts. Put the Rick through a Vox, the Les Paul through a Marshall, the Tele through a Twin, and you complete the modeling picture. You really do get that sound. I realize some people still look down on models, but honestly, when you record the modeled guitar + modeled amp combination, it's really, really hard to tell the difference on playback compared to the "real thing" - if indeed you can tell the difference at all.



                      Now, I'd be the first to agree that the experience of playing though an amp is very different from playing a modeler through a pair of near-field monitors; what a lot of guitarists don't like about modelers is they don't get that visceral "feel." Ah, but Line 6 has thought of that too, by getting the DT25/DT50 into the picture. I haven't set up the full system yet - one step at a time, right? - but I can only imagine what will happen when the spot-on modeled guitar goes through the iconic amp emulation, and then starts moving serious air with a speaker and tubes. The more I play with the "Dream Rig," the more I understand what this system (and it is indeed a system) is all about.
                      _____________________________________________
                      There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

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                      • #12






                        Quote Originally Posted by dramey
                        View Post

                        I've heard a lot of good things about the dream rig, the only thing holding me back is that it is a one speaker mono amp. Yeah, I know most amps are, but the Vetta spoiled me.




                        There is a way to create a true stereo setup, not just dual mono, if you use the Line 6 link capability and can afford two amps. As the POD HD500 is stereo, you can use the L6 link to feed two DT25 or DT50 amps. The link uses standard XLR cables, although AES/EBU cables are probably best given that the signal is digital (Line 6 says they've had good results with Planet Waves mic cables, though). Link length goes up to around 25', so you can position the amps pretty far apart if you're looking for a stereo image.



                        If you can't wait until later in the review to find out more about the whole L6 Link thing, well then...you need a link
                        _____________________________________________
                        There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

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                        • #13
                          Hi, I don't have the variax, but heard from some source on the net (please correct me if I'm wrong), that variax have a power saving feature that will shutdown the power if idle for certain time. And to avoid this power saving feature, we must roll up the volume knob (not leave it in the zero position) while performing firmware update, to avoid the system to shutdown that makes the update progress failed.

                          Comment


                          • #14






                            Quote Originally Posted by Loekito
                            View Post

                            Hi, I don't have the variax, but heard from some source on the net (please correct me if I'm wrong), that variax have a power saving feature that will shutdown the power if idle for certain time. And to avoid this power saving feature, we must roll up the volume knob (not leave it in the zero position) while performing firmware update, to avoid the system to shutdown that makes the update progress failed.




                            Yes, that is correct. The need to pull volume off the zero position is mentioned prominently in the update instructions, and so I made sure to do that. It seems that the LED shutting off is a separate power-saving feature that doesn't involve turning off the Variax itself.



                            As I mentioned, the update went totally smoothly once I realized that the Variax had to be physically turned on - it wasn't enough simply to have power going to it.



                            I can just imagine someone writing documentation at Line 6 and saying "Hey, do you think we need to tell people to turn on the Variax?" and someone else saying "C'mon, ANYONE would be smart enough to know that."
                            _____________________________________________
                            There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

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                            • #15
                              I'm really enjoying this thread Craig. Thanks very much. I have the Pod HD500 and looking to grab a DT25 head and Cab in a couple of weeks. I will probably start looking at the JTV-59 down the track. I am looking forward to seeing how the accoustic models go through the DT-25. That is my only source of reluctance. I wouldn't really want to have to through a DI just for those models and play through the amp for the electric models.



                              Also, I would love to see an option for a Whammy bar on the JTV-59.



                              Once again, thanks for the great Thread and I wait with eagerness for the next installment.

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