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Line 6 Vetta II & Variax Electric 700

Modelling Guitar Amp & Guitar
By Paul White

 BONUS REVIEW: Line 6 Vetta II & Variax Electric 700

The Vetta II amp range embodies the most sophisticated implementation of Line 6's guitar amp modelling technology to date. It delivers more amp models than the original Vetta, offers more user control of the sounds, and it also features an optional digital interface for use with the Variax Digital Modelling Guitar.

While the Pod and Pod XT are undoubtedly the high sales volume success story for Line 6, the Vetta II amplifier range embodies the most sophisticated implementation of their guitar amplifier modelling technology to date, some of which has already filtered down to the Pod XT. Fortunately for existing Vetta owners, the software is upgradable (free via the Line 6 web site) so they don't get left out in the cold. Essentially, Vetta II delivers more amp models than the original Vetta, it offers more user control over the sound, and it also features an optional digital interface for use with the Line 6 Variax Digital Modelling Guitar or for connection to external digital devices. This is very neat if you're a Variax owner as connection is every bit as 'plug and play' as plugging in a conventional guitar lead.

Though it looks much like a traditional 2x12 guitar combo from the front (around the size and shape of a Vox AC30), the Vetta's control panel leaves you in no doubt that Kansas has been left far behind. However, the familiar Drive, Volume and EQ knobs (Bass, Middle, Treble and Presence) of a conventional amplifier remain, so it's not all uncharted territory, and as with the Pod range of products, the controls have a logical simplicity to them. There's a rotary control for direct selection of the amplifier model plus four further Global knobs that are designed to allow instant tweaking during performance to provide global control over reverb level, low and high EQ, plus overall volume. These global controls operate in addition to the stored parameters, so if you find yourself in a room where the amp sounds a bit dull, simply turn up the High global EQ knob and all your patches will be affected by the same degree. This type of global function was part of the feature-set of their very first Axsys modelling amp and turned out to be very practical.

The control panel features two displays: the lefthand display shows the patch name and location and has an associated rotary control that lets you scroll through the 64 factory patches and 64 user patches; the righthand main display shows the current values and positions of the controls, and may be edited using the four encoder knobs directly beneath the displayed virtual knobs. A fifth encoder scrolls through the pages whenever more than one page of edit parameters is available. There are two rows of 'soft' knobs relating to the two amplifier models, and when you move onto editing an effect, the knobs again relate to whatever parameter is displayed above as a virtual knob.

Vetta is designed so that you can choose (in the system setup) how it should respond when the amp knobs are turned. In Absolute mode, the parameter changes to match the physical knob position as soon as you move the knob. In Relative mode, however, moving the control simply adds more or less to the current value. This means the stored value of the knob and its physical position probably won't agree, but the on-screen knobs always show the actual value.

In addition to the usual array of effects and the amp EQ (which changes its character to suit the amp model selected), there's a further EQ section that can be switched to either graphic or parametric modes offering four bands of control per amplifier in either case. Each stomp box and main effect type has its own access button and pressing any of these followed by Edit gets you quickly into the appropriate editing page without having to scroll through menus. There's also a button here to turn the effect loop on/off.

The Vetta's rear panel houses the IEC mains inlet and switch, two external speaker jacks and an impedance switch for use with external speaker cabinets where you might want a wider stereo image. There's also a stereo effects loop (on two tip-ring-sleeve jacks), just in case you want to add external effects to the compendium of onboard modelled effects, plus both balanced (XLR) and unbalanced stereo (jack) Direct outputs. Digital I/O comes as standard on the Vetta II providing both coaxial S/PDIF and AES/EBU in and out, plus a CAT5 Ethernet-style socket for the direct connection of Line 6's own Variax modelling guitar (see review below). Of course a Variax can be plugged into the analogue inputs instead, but using the digital link cuts out an unnecessary stage of D-A and A-D conversion. Another very neat feature of the digital Variax link is that you can store your Variax setting as part of the Vetta preset, so that when you dial in a new preset, the guitar automatically switches to the appropriate model and pickup selector settings. And talking of neat features, you can even configure the digital I/O to work as a digital effects send/return loop if you own an effects unit equipped with digital I/O.

Completing the connections rundown are MIDI In and Out sockets and a connector for an FBV foot controller. Note: the Vetta II isn't compatible with the Floorboard or FB4 range of controllers.

This Modelling Stuff

The modelling concept will be familiar to anyone who's used a Pod or one of its rivals before — the signal path comprises software models of popular guitar stomp pedals, amp modelling to recreate a number of 'classic' amp tones, speaker cabinet modelling (with mic type and position simulation), delay, modulation and reverb effects, and also tremolo, gating and compression. Rather than confuse the user with multifunctionality, all the control panel buttons have a dedicated function, clearly marked on the button cap. A quick glance at the control panel reveals that up to three different modelled stomp effects can be used at once — and that's in addition to the four main effects blocks plus compression, tremolo and gate. Nice!

 BONUS REVIEW: Line 6 Vetta II & Variax Electric 700Further dedicated buttons allow tempo 'Tap' input for delay times or modulation rates, Amp/Cab selection, Effect Routing and a neat Double Tracking effect that's not available on Line 6 products further down the food chain. There are also extra buttons for setting up the main system parameters (display contrast, MIDI channel, etc) and one for setting the output configuration. Vetta includes Line 6's AIR modelling, which seems to create early reflections to give a room ambience effect when direct recording, and also models specific microphones and their position relative to the speaker. The room AIR effect can be switched on or off for the direct outputs as well as adjusted in intensity. There's also a digital output, a stereo width enhancer, control over the direct output levels and the option to turn the internal speakers on/off. There's also a headphones jack on the top panel when quiet practice is required, though this amp is far too much fun to use quietly!

Two Heads Better Than One?

Where the Vetta differs from earlier Line 6 amplifiers, other than in its more sophisticated modelling, is that it can generate two different amp models at the same time. You can then opt to use just one of these models or both at once, each panned to its own position in the stereo mix. The stereo mix then feeds the two internal speakers via solid-state power amplifiers. The Vetta II Combo provides 75 watts per channel (150 Watts total), while the Vetta II HD head produces double that (150W per channel, 300W total, into selectable 4, 8, or 16 Ohm loads). It's also possible to take a speaker simulated DI for recording or for feeding to a full-range PA system. Four buttons close to the input jack allow the individual amp models to be turned on/off and also toggle the display between the upper and lower rows of knobs on screen, so that both amps can be adjusted using the same four rotary controls. When both knobs buttons are lit, the amp controls adjust both models simultaneously.

For the more computer-centric user, there's a free software editor available from Line 6 (www.customtone.com) with a graphical interface that shows all of your routing and effects. It neatly lets you store banks of sounds on your computer and download from an online library of thousands of Line 6 sounds (Vetta sounds, as well as Pod, Pod XT, Flextone III, GuitarPort, etc). The latter are all upwardly compatible with Vetta II and the editor (which also works with Pod XT).

Vetta II Operation

The most basic requirement is to select a preset, which in the case of Vetta II stores the amp and speaker model along with all its effects and settings. Once the Factory or User buttons have been pressed, these may be selected directly using the rotary knob adjacent to the patch name window, but it's also possible to use buttons A through D to select any patch in the currently active bank (patches are arranged as 16 banks of four). Additionally, the handy Favourites button recalls whatever patch you decide is your favourite.

Patches normally load as soon as they are selected, but there is a user option that lets you 'defer' loading so that you can preset an effect, then load it when you want to. FBV owners can also select patches using their feet by stepping through the banks and then selecting patch A through D in the selected bank. Anyone into MIDI control from a sequencer, say, can also call up patches directly using MIDI Program Change commands.

As Line 6 point out, their manual acknowledges particular amplifiers and effect devices that inspired their models, but there's no suggestion of endorsement by these manufacturers. and all trademarks are acknowledged as property of their registered owners. In all there are 74 different amp models, so I don't plan to list them all by name, but they include 29 Line 6 specials based on what their engineers consider to be the best characteristics of existing hardware amps plus 45 models based on specific amplifiers. All the big UK and US names are represented, but there are also numerous boutique models inspired by the sounds of Bogner, Budda, Cornford, Diezel and ENGL amps as well as some based on lesser-known vintage models.

Each amp model boots up with a suitable cabinet, but there are 28 cabinet models to choose from and any cab can be used with any amp with no fear of frying the cone! So, if you fancy hearing what a Marshall stack might sound like played flat-out through a Supro practice amp speaker, no problem. Again all the big names in speakers are there, in sizes from six inch to 4x12s and 1x15s, and some of the vintage British cabs even have a choice of speaker colour and power rating that relate to specific models or periods of manufacture.

Amp Models

 BONUS REVIEW: Line 6 Vetta II & Variax Electric 700General operation is much like a Pod XT but with more parameters and choices. All the buttons have an orange backlight to show when they are active and everything is labelled in large, musician-friendly legending. The individual stomp effects can be turned on or off using their respective buttons, as can the mainstream effects, tremolo, gate and compressor. Hitting the Tuner button brings up a large and extremely accurate tuner display in the main window, and the tuning reference can be changed from the default 440Hz if required.

Many of the effects will already be familiar to Pod and Pod XT users, but many new ones have been added, including a new simulated double-tracking feature that doubles the guitar sound and widens the stereo image — though it helps to have an extension cab to get the most out of the stereo aspect of this effect. The connection order of the modelled stomp effects can be changed and the graphical display icons make this a simple and very visual process. Similarly, the main effects can be configured in series, parallel or series/parallel configurations, again with a nice graphic display of what's connected where.

Other notable additions are the Pod Purple X sound effect generator (Star Wars Pod racer anyone?), Random Sample and Hold filtering, a chewed tape simulator called Tape Eater and some new chorus variations, including one that features three different modulation sections running at random rates. There's also a Synth Filter effect that seems to have taken its inspiration from the Line 6 Filter rack processor, where single notes are reshaped into harmonically rich waveforms and then filtered 'synth style'. This section includes Synth Lead, Synth Strong, Synth Analogue, Synth FX, Buzz Wave, Rez Synth, Saturn 5 Ring Mod, Double Bass, Synth Harmony, Auto Wah, Dingo Tron and Sparkle Sweep variants, all of which sound suitably electronic. However, I found that even when carefully playing monophonic lines, the synthesized sound pitch occasionally yodelled uncontrollably, so it's definitely a case of picking what works rather than expecting the synth sounds to follow everything that you play.

What I wasn't expecting was how much better some of the sounds were when combining amp models. This is particularly evident when you want a more or less clean sound that's warm but also slightly jangly and with a decent amount of sustain. The patch 'Another Brick' shows this off to advantage and is a million times more Floyd-like than the similarly named factory patch on my Pod XT. The Vetta II also comes close to the warmth and edge of the Dire Straits guitar sound, should you be into that, but it also captures all the classic rock sounds with better than expected authenticity.

Some of the new effects are great, others are interesting in the 'kippers and custard' sense, especially Tape Eater and Bubble Echo, but most have their uses, even the rather odd Pod Purple XT. The sound from this amp is certainly large and 'produced' sounding, but I also felt the Vetta II was more responsive to play than some of the earlier Line 6 amplifiers I've tried. I'm not sure if die-hard tube amp players will be completely won over by it, but it gets very close and I appreciate being able to dial up great sounds at any volume level.

Do You Want II?

The Vetta II isn't a low-cost amp, and you really need to budget for the FBV floor controller to get the most out of it in live performance, but it delivers on sound and is very loud. It also makes a great companion for the Line 6 Variax, as it enables all the guitar and amp settings to be saved in a single Vetta preset. Only the pitch shifter disappointed me — I've yet to hear one that really works well, though every manufacturer insists on putting one into their effects boxes. Perhaps one day someone will come up with a new, real-time resynthesis method that does away with 'lumpy' looping? The synth emulations turned out to be rather hit-and-miss, but played with care, they are capable of some great sounds that should turn a few heads, so consider them a bonus rather than a limitation.

So who needs a Vetta II amp? Personally I can get by quite happily in the studio using my Pod XT, but if you play live as well as record, and need to change sounds between songs with the minimum of fuss, the Vetta II is a great tool and is much more flexible than the Pod XT both in the number of amp models available and the number of effects types on offer. It also has that wonderful dual amp facility, which sounds a lot more impressive in the flesh than it does on paper. The other feature that should appeal to guitar players is that from the front view, the Vetta looks very much like a traditional guitar combo.

Variax 700 Modelling Guitar

We've reviewed the Variax (500 model) before so there's little need to go into detail about what it does other than to say its onboard electric wizardry can make it sound like a whole collection of classic electric, acoustic, 12-string, banjo, resonator and sitar models. Furthermore, it's easy to use — you simply dial up the guitar type using one knob, then use the volume, tone and pickup select controls as normal.

Since our initial review, the company have launched their more upmarket 700 series guitar that features exactly the same electronics and modelling, but built into a rather more sophisticated, Japanese-made guitar. The reason for the 'mystery' socket next to the jack is now revealed, as that's where the CAT5 cable plugs in if you want to connect the guitar digitally to a Vetta II amp.

 BONUS REVIEW: Line 6 Vetta II & Variax Electric 700The 700 series comes with the option of a fixed 'hardtail' bridge or a custom Baggs two-point adjustable floating tremolo not dissimilar in principle to those made by Wilkinson or the stock hardware fitted to the new Fender Strat Deluxe design. It has individual, adjustable saddles (both height and intonation) and an adjustable collet to help prevent the tremolo arm from flopping around. Overall, this seems to be a very nicely engineered little trem system that builds on traditional principles rather than seeking to replace them.

The review model has a bolt-on 22 fret maple neck with a rosewood fingerboard and medium/narrow frets little wider than those fitted to most Fender guitars. The scale length is a fairly standard 25.5 inches while the rosewood fingerboard has a 10-inch radius that should make it feel comfortable to both the Fender and Gibson school of players. The 'three a side' headstock is fitted with Gotoh tuners and gives the neck a sort of 'Gibson meets PRS' look. The frets and fingerboard edges are beautifully finished while the solid mahogany body on this model is faced with a shaped and contoured slab of ash, coated in a flawless honey-coloured lacquer (Line 6 offer a range of finishes/colours) that looks all the more impressive because the guitar has no body hardware other than the controls and the tremolo bridge. A bone nut and 'pearl' inlays complete the picture.

Just about everything about this guitar oozes quality, which makes it all the more unfortunate that this particular model had been delivered for review without being set up, making it almost untunable and awkward to play! The main problem was that the nut slots weren't cut nearly deeply enough, so as well as this making the action higher than necessary, it also meant that fretted notes were slightly sharp compared to unfretted notes. Any guitar technician could sort this out in a matter of minutes (and a good guitar store should set up new guitars of this class as a matter of course, one would hope), but on a guitar that's so good in all other respects, receiving it in this state was very disappointing. In fact, given that guitars with tremolo systems can be hard to keep in tune at the best of times, I feel Line 6 ought to consider fitting a graphite or teflon impregnated nut and locking machine heads as standard. They would certainly be the first things I'd change if I bought one of these instruments. When notified, Line 6 were disturbed and apologetic when informed that the instrument we received was not set up properly, and assured us that all instruments are carefully set up and re-checked in the UK prior to delivery to the dealer. Despite this gripe, this guitar is such a step up from the basic 500 model that I feel it well worth paying a bit extra for — just insist on a setup before parting with your cheque!

Opinion II: Bill Nelson on Vetta II & Variax

"It hasn't taken me long to decide that the Vetta II amp is a beauty. As soon as I tweaked a couple of things and happened across a particular tone that inspired me to romp through 'Maid In Heaven' (and I haven't done that for a long time), I knew right there and then that it was more than capable of delivering the goods. There are absolutely hundreds of possibilities for building wildly different sounds and I'm sure I will be able to come up with a whole set of useful ones for the band's concerts. It's loud too! I won't need to worry about hearing my guitar in the monitors or through the on-stage drum thunder... enough power to knock down walls! It really is impressive. It is a digital amp though and there's inevitably something of that in the nature of the sounds but this is perfectly acceptable to my ears and not at all 'unmusical' (a common criticism from the more luddite guitarists out there when they are confronted with digital equipment). The point is that it sounds great, regardless of modelling accuracy or whether it's digital or analogue or steam-driven. It is its own thing and within that identity has great flexibility. I'm tremendously impressed.

 BONUS REVIEW: Line 6 Vetta II & Variax Electric 700"The Variax is, for me at least, less successful. I initially tried the Vetta out using the Variax and went 'Hmm...' The amp immediately sounded more convincing when I put one of my own guitars through it. Not an expensive instrument either but a Chinese manufactured 'Switch' guitar, designed by UK designer Trevor Wilkinson, made from a plastic called Vibracell. The guitar cost less than £200 but is amazing value for money. This guitar sounded tremendous through the Vetta, much sweeter, less 'brittle' than the Variax.

"I think the Variax would benefit from a more expensive, up-market approach to perfect it. Either that or Line 6 should talk to Trevor Wilkinson and make a 'Switch-Line 6' collaboration/hybrid. I think the Variax could feel more playable and look a lot more attractive. A bound fretboard, a smoother, 'classier' playing feel plus a touch of glamour and identity would help its appeal. After all, there's a romance that happens between players and their instruments and the Variax should be seductive, individual and yes, 'sexier'. I can sort of understand the approach Line 6 have taken, kind of minimal, no scratchplate, no pickups, no frills, etc, but the guitar, particularly in the natural/amber finish, looks dangerously like a school woodwork project, and feels a little like one too. I'm sure this isn't what Line 6 intended. The modelling technology, again, whilst interesting and very clever, is sort of defeated if the guitar itself lacks the magic that makes you want to play it and be seen with it. Good ideas don't have to be presented in dull packages to overcome perceived prejudices about new technology. A little more flair in terms of styling and a greater attention to what makes a good guitar feel good would make all the difference.

"I did like the inclusion of the Coral Sitar sound. Not something you'd use often but good to have on tap. The Gretsch simulations were good too, as were the Rickenbacker 'Chime' models, particularly the 12-string. I realise that guitarists' likes and dislikes are purely subjective and it may be that many players would find my comments quite different from their own. There are thousands of players out there with Stratocasters, for instance, yet I've never been particularly comfortable playing one, as much as Hank and Jimi inspired different periods of my own musical development. Stratocasters are obviously not 'bad' guitars, it's just one of those inexplicable, personal things.

"So, the Variax guitar isn't quite for me, just yet. I do hope that they continue to develop it though and would be more than happy to provide input and feedback if it should be of any help. I think it's important that this concept succeeds, as it's a brilliant idea and really should be taken to the limit."

Bill Nelson will be using the Line 6 Vetta II amp extensively on his October 2004 'Be Bop and Beyond' UK tour. More info: www.billnelson.com

Pros

  • Vetta is the best and most flexible Line 6 amp so far.
  • Excellent range of effects and stomp box models.
  • User-friendly controls and displays.
  • Variax guitar can be directly connected using digital I/O.

Cons

  • May still appear too complicated for some guitar players.
  • Fairly costly.

Summary

The Vetta II represents another step forward in guitar amp modelling and as well as sounding great, it also feels responsive to play. If you want one great amp sound, buy one great amp, but if you need to have instant access to lots of sounds (both live and in the studio) or to create a unique trademark sound of your own, the Vetta II seems like the way to go.

Line 6 Vetta II Amp

pros

  • Vetta is the best and most flexible Line 6 amp so far.
  • Excellent range of effects and stomp box models.
  • User-friendly controls and displays.
  • Variax guitar can be directly connected using digital I/O.

cons

  • May still appear too complicated for some guitar players.
  • Fairly costly.

summary

The Vetta II represents another step forward in guitar amp modelling and as well as sounding great, it also feels responsive to play. If you want one great amp sound, buy one great amp, but if you need to have instant access to lots of sounds (both live and in the studio) or to create a unique trademark sound of your own, the Vetta II seems like the way to go.

information

Line 6 Europe +44 (0)1788 821600.

euroinfo@line6.com

www.line6.com

Published September 2004