Variax 2-Voice Guitar

You can download the HD 500 custom tone used in that video clip RIGHT HERE. I recommend reading the article below before using it.

UPDATE! I no longer own or play the Variax. I have moved on. There is nothing wrong with it (in fact, it’s excellent), I just moved on.

One of the best tools to come along for guitar in a very long time is the exceptional James Tyler Variax series of guitars. I chose the JTV-59, as I’m most comfortable with a Les Paul style instrument and I like a big beefy neck, but there are two other models available, one more like a Strat and one a reverse-headstock shred machine with a thinner neck. Any of them can make a dizzying array of sounds, from a Telecaster, Stratocaster, or Gretsch to a 6 or 12 string acoustic, a dobro, a sitar, or a banjo, by “modeling” via an onboard computer. Previous Variax guitars were not capable of doing two voices at once (as they had modeling built-in but no magnetic guitar pickups), and therefore didn’t interest me. But the newest JTV models have addressed this, and have also improved the modeling technology a bit.

In my use, I am normally using the on-board magnetic pickups (which are very capable and sound really good) alongside the acoustic models to play acoustic and electric guitar sounds at the same time using the Line 6 POD HD 500. For those who want to go this route, this solution is simple and elegant, and it sounds terrific. So let’s dive into the method I’ve settled on most recently. The latest update of the POD software has made this solution even better than it was before, and offers the promise of sonic flexibility that is light years beyond what we imagined even a few short years ago. So let’s dig in.

I connect my JTV-59 to the POD HD 500 using a “Variax Digital Interface” (VDI) cable. This is not something you’ll find in most guitarist’s bag of tricks. The VDI cable is basically a heavy-duty Cat-5 cable with reinforcements at each end to protect your gear from damage.

The signal from both the magnetic pickups and the “modeling” section get sent along the VDI cable separately (as a digital signal), and if you have a POD X3 series, HD 500, or HD Pro, you can keep the signal separate and route them to their own signal chains. This is why, for two-voice, the Variax is well worth considering if you own one of the aforementioned PODs, especially if you have the HD 500, which with its new “Vintage Preamp” model, is an even better way to process acoustic guitar.

As the signals get “split”, things get very busy on the HD 500. We’ll start with the electric chain. I run my electric signal first to a Tube Compressor model, set very subtle, but with a mild boost, then to a Tube Driver model (a very useable emulation of the old Butler Tube Drive). Both of these are off by default, and can be switched on as needed.

Next I use the effects loop feature in the HD 500 to insert a volume pedal. The one I use is an Ernie Ball VP Jr. I don’t use the on-board volume pedal because I’m saving it for something else, which we’ll discuss in a moment. Without a buffer before a volume pedal like the VP Jr., you will experience a loss of tone, but because the HD 500 acts as a buffer*, there is no tone loss to be found in this application.

After the signal returns to the HD 500, it goes to a Rotary Drum and Horn model, which is set slow and very subtle (but is left off by default). When layering two sounds, a little modulation goes a long way. Then it makes its way to the amp. The one I’m using in the video above is the Plexi model in the HD 500, which is stunningly good in both clean and dirty variations, takes pedals (whether modeled or real) very well, and responds to touch dynamics as good as or better than any other model in the box. In short, it’s my new favorite. (Even though you can toggle between clean and dirty sounds with EXP 1, there is only one Plexi model in use, leaving the other chain open for the acoustic. Instead of crossfading between two “amps”, it is changing the parameters, as I explain below.)

After the amp, you have a pair of delays (one a 1/4 note analog delay and one a dotted 1/8 note digital delay with modulation) available at any time. Last, I like to have a special effect reverb for more atmospheric songs, so in this patch, I use the Octo verb. I favor the particle verb, but can’t use it in this patch with the Rotary Speaker… It’s just a  little too much for the unit’s processor. When I use the particle verb, I typically either skip the Tube Drive pedal, the Rotary Speaker, or both. (I also sometimes like to layer an electric guitar through a cave and/or particle reverb, fully wet, underneath an acoustic with delay. It makes a nice “synth pad” sound.)

Now the acoustic chain is totally separate, and although I often like to use delay and sometimes reverb on acoustic, in this instance, the acoustic is only going through the “Vintage Preamp” model in the POD. Its volume is controlled by a Mission Engineering expression pedal, plugged into “EXP 2″ on the HD 500. That pedal controls the “output” parameter of the Vintage Preamp model, meaning I need use only one single effects block for the acoustic signal. (Before Line 6 released this great new update, I needed two or three, a “Volume Pedal”, compressor (sometimes), and equalizer.)

This leaves the onboard “EXP 1″ pedal open for me to do something else. I use it to control the Plexi amp parameters. When it is at 100% the sound is clean, and the delays (if they are on) are very present, at about 50% mix. If I back off to 0, every parameter on the amp is changed (this takes a few moments to program in the HD500 Edit software. I have no idea how to do it on the actual unit, and wouldn’t try). So… the drive increases, the master goes down, I reduce the bass, crank the mids to 100%, and drop the treble and presence a bit. I also drop the level of the delays, the dotted-1/8 more than the 1/4 note. The reason I set the pedal the way I do (which seems backwards to most people) is that this way, without having to concentrate on what I’m doing, I can just “stomp” on that EXP pedal for amp drive. Also, I can spread my foot across the acoustic volume pedal and the amp gain pedal and smoothly switch from acoustic-and-electric-clean to electric-overdriven-only.†

Between those two extremes of the amp’s capabilities and the pedals (the Tube Comp/Boost and Tube Drive, off by default, but always available), I have a range of different electric sounds at my disposal in one patch, and I’ve balanced it all out so that it mixes properly with the acoustic sound at each setting, sometimes supporting the acoustic sound and sometimes appropriately overwhelming it.

At that point, I send the signal to my on-stage personal monitor (I don’t use an actual guitar amp anymore), the small and loud FBT Verve 8ma and I daisy-chain out of that speaker to the house as a mono signal. (I’ve split the sounds in stereo for the demo above so you can hear the sounds more clearly. I actually run the whole thing in mono, because I don’t want the sound man to have to get the balance just right.)

And that’s it! Two-voice goodness with Line 6 and the James Tyler Variax. You can use these same principles to play two electric guitar sounds at once (as long as one is the built-in magnetic pickups), each through it’s own amp and with its own signal chain.

* Some might argue that the “buffer” is in the analog to digital conversion that happens in the Variax, but I’ve used other guitars using the guitar and aux inputs on the HD 500 and have also experienced no tone loss with the VP Jr with them. It was easy to verify, because you can turn the loop on and off with a footswitch if you like.

† You might notice in the video that the volume gets a little louder somewhere in the middle of that amp gain pedal’s travel. A fortunate by-product of changing all the parameters together. I can “play that pedal” for a more “over the top” sound if need be by finding that spot in the middle, effectively giving me an extra sound.

Minor Revision: November 13, 2012

58 thoughts on “Variax 2-Voice Guitar”

  1. dagan haddad said:

    How many times I’ve seen this video & looked @ this page + asked folks on line 6 forum…I think..rather hope I understand now ! My set-up though also includes the voicelive 2 which needs the 1/4 from guitar to provide harmonies – I’m going to try the 2 voice guitar 4 now…baby steps!

  2. dagan haddad said:

    nope – I need neandrathalic guide

    • dagan haddad said:

      OK – somehow I’ve got it – lol, for some reason though my chosen paths are reversed even though they show as mag p/ups on top line of edit.
      Either way, after 40 yrs of playing one would think I had a grasp!
      Thank you for your “blessings”!

      • dagan haddad said:

        BTW forgot to mention that I did NOT use the fx loop though(couldn’t get it to work)
        But I suppose I could utilize variax knobs for extra features if needed

  3. but how do you send the signal of acoustic guitar sound direct to PA and eletric guitar to an amp? two cables (lr mono) ?, and you change the pan for each? Wich outputs do you use from pod? Thanks

    • I don’t set up my patches for that, because I use amp modeling in the unit except for an amp, but you could bypass the amp modeling, pan the acoustic and electric signals HARD left and right respectively, then use the left 1/4″ out for the electric, put a dummy cable in the right 1/4″ out (to keep it from summing to mono), and use the right XLR output for acoustic to the PA. Simple.

      • sorry i dont speak english very weel, what is dummy cable? another question, should I make a 1 patch for acoustic e other for eletric or 1 patch for both? my paln is, send eletric guitars to my amp and acosutic send to PA, but using reverb e eq of pod for acoustic

      • dummy cable: any cable that goes nowhere. A short patch cable or even just a 1/4″ plug or adaptor that hasn’t been hooked up to anything will work.

  4. when you say this: “You Could but bypass the amp modeling, pan the acoustic and electric signals HARD left and right respectivamente, then use the left 1/4″ out for the electric “you say in single patch or two patches?

  5. I use the combo pre-amp output, because I run to my amp, using this output does not disturb the acoustic sounds?

  6. I set two different signal paths, as I think I explain in the article, one uses the guitar input and is electric with an amp model, one is acoustic through aux input with no amp model.

  7. I got good results as follows: 2 patches, one for each side of the mixer (1 L and 1 R), and ran the 2 XLR, 1 for each mixer channel, and not put any effect before the amp, so it worked . you had told me that running the 2 xlr would not work, because you said that? worked here

    • You can do that and keep the electric and acoustic separately, but I like to send a mixed signal to the board, because I often use both simultaneously, and don’t want the sound man to worry about my electric/acoustic balance.

      • this is true, then I can leave the pans in the center, and have the same sign (eg XLR L), so changing the patch right? 1 patchs for eletric and 1 for acoustic right? When it runs into the mixer is right, but if I want to run the electric for an amp then have to separate the channels right? I do not use the guitar and acousti in a same time

  8. Another doubt, I use the expression pedal (in 1 patch only) to control the volume of the amps, and also use the expression pedal to control the feedback of delays. No delay, put 0-100 and volume of 0 to the value saved in the patch, but how do I use the same time to the two functions? because if I leave the pedal on 0 not have guitar sound and letting in the maximum feedack is exaggerated. is possible to use the 2 functions in the same patch? I made ​​myself clear? my english is not good

    • You an use either EXP pedal to control up to, iirc, 50 parameters.

      • eg, I’d better use the unit expression pedal to control volume and another external feedback to control the delay? because the same pedal, I’m not getting because when I reduce the feedback delay decreases the volume of the guitar you know?

      • For example, let’s say I want, by expression pedal, control the volume of the amp and one parameter of an effect, then, when I press that effect and change the parameter on the pedal, it will also change the volume, you will not?

  9. in your set up you run with just 1 cable to mixer? Just only 1 patch for aletric and acosutic? but outside the pedals volume, how could I switch between acoustic and electric sounds? eg, in the same music has parts with acoustic and parts wiy eletric, separately, kow could make this transition without being by volume pedals?

  10. hi pietro you can provide this patch? thamks

    • The patch that I used in the video is provided right underneath it near the top of the article. I hope that helps. I am set up with just ONE cable to the mixer. That’s just the way I do it, you can obviously do what you like.

      If you are never layering sounds, but only doing EITHER electric or acoustic, then you don’t need my patch, because you don’t need a patch that can do either.

  11. hi man
    I think I’m complicating things, this time I’m not using real amp, I run straight to the PA. The simplest solution would not make a patch with no amp and press it when I want to play the Variax acoustic sounds? . I run 1 L XLR (mono pa) for the PA and ready. would not it? I know that in this case I could not play acoustic and electric at the same time as you, but it would solve my problem, is not it? thanks

  12. Thanks , another question, Can I control the volume, use the wha and feedback delay pedal onboard in the pod? without interfering with one another, I’m not having success, when I control the feedback just that the volume is also lowered .I put the volume in control 1 and feedback and wha in 2 but when I’m using wha also lowers the volume

    • If you need to do a lot of wah, you need to make a patch where one of the foot controllers ONLY does Wah. No other way to decently do it. I used to use a Vox Wah and just not use wah in the box, but I don’t use wah very often.

      • guifreitas5@gmail.com said:

        pietro hi, thanks again, I have a doubt about the volume pedal, for example, say I set it at min 30 and max 50 for a patch, I change my patch but when I return it, the volume is always at least, even if the pedal is in position max, you know how to change it?

      • I think there might be a global setting, but if you put the volume at max (50 in your example above) and then save it in that state, it might return to max when you come back to that patch. I have not had this problem, so maybe there’s a global setting. Check that out, too.

      • i have a pod hd and jtv, how should I configure my inputs? I’m currently leaving Variax inputs 1 and 2 inputs Variax also this correct?, when I left the input 2 in variax mag I noticed that the sound of magnetic pickups sounded together with the simulated models.Thanks

      • I can’t recall but i’m pretty sure I used “Variax Mags” for input 1 (the electric chain, using the mags) and “Variax” for input 2 (the “acoustic” chain in my example above).

  13. support of line 6 told me that the pedal recalls the physical position and not the parameter that you saved the patch, that’s too bad

  14. Kent Ferris said:

    Howdy – I really want to duplicate this set up. One dumb question as the whole “effects loop” thing is new to me. Can you briefly describe the cabling for the VP jr effects loop dealio.

    Anything else besides hooking the VP JR up?

    Thanks in advance!!

  15. Kent Ferris said:

    Sounds good. I plan on using the presets in Custom Tone to start with. I’m assuming they have all that set up?

    As far as the cabling on the pedal do I go
    Effects send >>>> to input on pedal
    Out on pedal >>>>> to return?

    Thanks

  16. hi.I bought a used JTV and the owner said he never did update. My question is, is it possible if I want to, do firmware update for the 1.71 and not for the last, or the monkey does automatically update to the latest version? thanks

  17. I have so much to hear the acoustic sounds worse in the last update

  18. Kent Ferris said:

    Can you elaborate on the running the effects loop through an expression pedal? Do you assign affects to that and using the pedal turn them off and on?

    Thanks in advance.

    • You CAN turn those effects in the loop on and off with a pedal, and I have in the past, but I don’t now. I just leave that loop always on and switch my EP booster on when I want it (which is a LOT, it’s almost always on).

  19. But Variax mags is for real pickups or for electric models? what is the difference for the inputs in Variax or variax mags? what changes?I have used the 2 inputs in Variax and works normal

  20. guifreitas5@gmail.com said:

    yes, but I have set up on 1 variax and 2 Variax and magnet pickups normally work, I would like what the difference in I set in Variax or mag, What happens when in the pod hd when I setup like this? seems not change anything , thanks

  21. How do you determine what effects are controlled by the effects loop…is it the effects directly after or before it in the chain. I just got my JTV… your tone is awesome thanks

    • You position the FX loop where you want it in the chain, hook up a cable from FX send to the input of the pedal or pedals, then the output of that pedal (or those pedals) goes back to FX return. FX loop IS an effect that takes up one of your 8 slots.

  22. I think I maybe finally getting it. So..in the effect itself (FX Loop) you can tell it what effect to run through it to control with the Ernie Ball pedal?

    • See my email to you… but… No… the EB pedal is acting as a volume pedal in line in the loop. Don’t put it before the input, though, it can suck tone, but in the loop it doesn’t

  23. Hello Peter. Been using this setup and patch for almost two years and I love it; it is my main worship tone, and I thank you for this. Question for you: which Ernie Ball did you use in your setup, 6180 or 6181? I’ve been using a Behringer FCV100 that does the trick, however, induces some noise at heel-down position. Not a big deal, but it is sometimes annoying. I guess it is due to resistance, but not sure. Anyway, just want to replace it. Thanks again and much blessings.

    • If I was buying a new volume pedal today, I’d probably look into the recent dunlop or the mission edal. The EB has a reputation for being a pain to replace the string on. I’ve had no problems, but I know it could happen eventually. I have an old Vox volume pedal that is a “backup” so if my string every breaks I can still make it happen.

  24. Thanks Peter. After much thought and research I’m almost decided to go with Visual Sound VV10. Let’s see how it performs and I’ll report back.

  25. Do you use Clicks and loops when you lead worship? have you used the hd500 as a midi controller? I currently use a ability 2 foot controller to cue loops in Live. I am wanting to go to a hybrid set up like this. But I want to consolidate my pedal board as much as possible. Just figured I’d ask to see if you or anyone else has had any experience using the HD500 as part of a hybrid guitar (acoustic and electric set-up) as well as a midi controller for loops in worship. Thanks

    • Thanks for asking. I have not, at this point, used my HD 500 as a midi controller at all. I’ve used a few loops, but not in that way.

      I’m sure it can be done, but I suspect I’d rather have a separate pedal for loop start/stop. ymmv of course

      • Give this video a whirl….that should help. I’m getting ready to put my HD500 pedal on Ebay as well if you are interested

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