I bought my first expensive guitar recently, the Line 6 JTV-69. JT stands for James Tyler, an American luthier of good repute, who designed the parts of it which behave as a normal electric guitar. The V stands for Variax, Line 6′s name for their guitar-modelling guitars. 69, for reasons which are not clear, means it is shaped sort-of like a Stratocaster (59 is Les Paulish and 89 looks more like an SG). Of the three, only the 69 has a whammy bar.
Using the pickups on the body it sounds like a well-built Fat Strat, which is entirely what you would expect from its appearance. I haven’t played it much in this way, at least not since I charged the battery, because the modelling modes are so good. Unlike the last strat-shaped object I owned:
- The 5-way switch feels solid
- You can hear the 5 positions produce clearly different sound textures
- The volume and tone controls have a good range with an even response throughout
- It stays in tune as you bend strings and use the whammy bar
All-in-all, James Tyler has done a very good job of the things for which he was responsible.
I would not have spent ~£1k on a well-built Stratocaster-shaped guitar, because Fender do some nice ones for ~£350 and I could have bought a couple of Epiphones with the change to get some more tonal options. The main draw of the JTV-69 is the Variax guitar modelling. Once you plug in to your amp and turn the Variax mode on, the pickups on the guitar body are ignored and the sound is produced by a sophisticated electronic system based on measurements of each string’s movement taken from sensors at the bridge.
It is a very easy system to use: the sound you want is selected by the combination of an extra dial between the tone and volume dials and the 5-way switch position. The dial selects banks of similar tones and the switch chooses which you get. If you select “Spank” the 5 options are modelled on the 5 switch positions of a Stratocaster. “Lester” gives you three switch positions from one Les Paul and one position each from another two; “T-Model” is similarly based on a selection of Telecasters.
So far as I can tell, the electric models are very accurate. I’ve been using it while playing a variety of songs on Rocksmith and the results sound noticeably better if you switch to the same guitar as was originally used to record the song. Notably also the volume and tone knobs are modelled to work as they would have on the original instrument as well.
More dramatically-different are the models at the back-end of the dial, where we find five different acoustic guitars (two of which are twelve-string), electric sitar, electric banjo, etc. I tried playing the riff from The Chain on the electric sitar during the Indian grand prix weekend and it sounded great.
All-in-all I am extremely happy with it thus far. Now all I need to do is save up for the Pod HD 500 effects unit which does the same modelling job for effects pedals. And one of their modelling amplifiers. And a backing band. And…