June 1, 2004

Variax Update

If you were intrigued by Line 6’s Variax 500 modeling guitar, but wished that its vintage electric- and acoustic-guitar models were available in a higher-quality instrument, the upscale Variax 700 may be more your style. Instead of the 500’s relatively pedestrian basswood body (with a red, black, or sunburst finish), you can choose a mahogany body with a carved-ash top, finished in translucent red, translucent amber, or translucent blue ($2,199 retail/$1,499 street), or a solid mahogany body with a carved top (black only, $1,899 retail/$1,399 street).

Like its less-expensive cousin ($1,399 retail/$799 street), the Variax 700 features a rosewood fretboard with 22 medium-profile frets and a 25w"-scale length—but it also sports a one-piece maple neck, a bone nut, pearl oval inlays, Gotoh tuners, and a custom Baggs bridge with either a stop tailpiece or a tremolo system. A high-quality gig bag is also included.

Although the 500 plays quite well, the 700 feels more substantial. All the sounds are the same—there are no software updates—so you’ll really have to dig the revamped guitar to justify the extra $600 you’ll pay for the 700. And while the 700’s tremolo arm is cool, it would be cooler if it locked down, rather than flopping around.

—Barry Cleveland

Will Ray’s eBay Strategies

Auction Item: Korg WT-12 Guitar Tuner
Winning Bid: $18.01

As a confessed tuner junkie, I have owned all kinds of tuners throughout my life—analog, digital, and strobe—and the one I consider to be the best ever made for guitar is the Korg WT-12. The WT-12 is a dead-on accurate, analog chromatic tuner that produces minimal needle jitter when tracking guitar and bass frequencies, generates audible tones for tuning by ear, and boasts a lighted meter for easy viewing on dark stages.

The quartz-controlled WT-12 is a manual tuner, however, meaning that you have to turn the dial to select a pitch. These days, most guitarists don’t have the patience for manual tuners, which is why Korg replaced this model with the AT-12 auto tuner (which automatically detects and selects the correct note). Nonetheless, I find the manual selector keeps the needle steadier and produces fewer false readings.

I found out about the WT-12 from steel guitarists, who are arguably the pickiest musicians on the planet when it comes to tuning. Unfortunately, Korg had already discontinued the model by that time, so I kept an eye out at guitar shows and swap meets until I scored one. Later, when eBay came along, I started finding them in greater numbers. I’m embarrassed to admit that I now own eight of them.

The opening bid for this WT-12 was one dollar, so I bookmarked the auction, and the bids stayed in the $12 range for most of the week. Because the auction was ending around the time I wanted to take my wife to the movies, I used eSnipe to place a bid of $36.56 in absentia. After returning from the theater, I found I had won the tuner for just $18.01—a real bargain. (I paid an additional $5.95 for shipping, but any time you can get these for under $40, you’re doing well.)

Upon its arrival, I tested the WT-12 for accuracy with a set of tuning forks, and it passed with flying colors. I now have yet another backup tuner. My wife asks, “Isn’t one or two enough?” She just doesn’t understand.

—Will Ray,  

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