Gene Smith
Gene Smith
Gene Smith



By Gene, 2015-11-25


Posted in: MixSchedule | 6 comments

Quick Review - Taylor T-5z Pro

By Gene, 2015-06-26
Quick Review - Taylor T-5z Pro

Quick Review - Taylor T-5z Pro

To open this review with a couple of caveats.
1) I am at best an amateur guitarist so take what I write here with a grain or two of salt (maybe some lime and tequila will help as well!).
2) I prefer acoustic guitar so some of my opinions may be a bit biased. I will get to why I don't feel this is an "acoustic" despite the "Acoustic? Electric? Yes" tagline later on.
3) I posted a few links to video reviews that go a bit further in-depth below so I will try to be brief.

So, what the heck is it?
In addition to it's regular line of acoustic guitars Taylor has dabbled with electrics like the T-3 and the T-5 range of "hybrid" guitars. The T-5 and T-5z come in four levels (The "Classic", "Standard", "Pro", and "Custom"). The only difference between the models being appointments like binding and top woods etc. and price of course. Both the T-5 and T-5z are fully hollow thin bodied "acoustics" with the Expression System from the acoustic lines and a stacked bridge humbucker. The original T-5 (released in 2005 I believe) has an auditorium sized body with a 15" radius bolt on neck and standard frets where the newer T-5z has a more "Les Paul" sized body with a 12" radius neck and jumbo frets the theory being that the T-5 was mainly for the acoustic player wanting some electric while the T-5z was the opposite. Both versions are available in 12 strings as well.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I am not a Taylor fan generally. While I have played many at many different price points I have never walked out of the store with one. They check all of the right boxes (good fit and finish, great playability, attractive, well balanced, good note to note seperation etc.) but I always found them to be a bit lifeless and thin in the tone department and I am NOT a fan of the Expression System to be honest. All of that is subjective however and most of the tone is in the fingers after all (hence my caveat #1 above). Also I think Taylors are very overpriced.

So, if that is how you feel about Taylor why did you buy one dummy?
Well simple really, because it is quite an interesting beast. With this guitar you can practice scales or write melodies and lyrics without plugging in or waking the baby. It has a good tonal range and is quite flexible. Playability and fit and finish are great and the blue matches my truck.

So, You love it so much you sleep with it and are a huge Taylor fan now right?
Errr, no (that is just wrong on too many levels). I DO like it a bit however. After trying to go the electric route for a while now one of the things I found was that I just didn't like how my electrics felt with daily playing and the T-5z "feels" like an acoustic and is able to cover "some" of the areas that both electric and acoustic cover.

So, you said earlier that it was not an "acoustic", make up your mind.
It isn't in the tone department, even though it has some OK acoustic sounds. I have played it through my Fishman Loundbox Artist and my Takamine and Breedloves blow it away acoustically. Now, to be honest, they are full sized acoustics and the Taylor is a maple topped thin body so that was to be expected. Also you will NOT be practicing your harmonics and full tone quality on this guitar, or recording it with mics, without plugging it in to some amplification device. There is only one of the five positions that utilize the soundboard (not under saddle) transducer and that is in a blend with the hidden magnetic humbucker, all of the other sounds are just the humbuckers. It is better I suppose than an actual electric with a piezo bridge due to being constructed like an acoustic so you tend to play it that way in "acoustic" mode but to me it seems to be a hollow body electric with an added transducer. With an A/B pedal you can go between a PA or acoustic amp and an electric amp however and the guitar actually does sound quite nice. The tone shaping with the active EQ is pretty good and you can get a wide range of decent sounds, just gotta watch the feedback when you go to position 1 (do NOT do that with a drive pedal and your Peavey Valveking turned up, trust me!).

In summary.

Playability - I'll give it a 6-7. The neck feels nice the action is good for me but I have a light touch and it feels good in the lap and is really light. But for the electric player who is used to adjusting intonation, pickup height, saddle height etc that won't be happening here.

Build quality and fit and finish - It's a 9-10, Taylor does do very well in this department and is pretty consistent.

Tone - I'll give it an 8-9 here. While I am not totally won over by the acoustic tones on this guitar it kind of has a tone of it's own and a great deal of flexibility with some limitations.

Price - Got a spare kidney? Just sayin' it aint' cheap.

All of the above said Taylor guitars are everywhere and if this model piques your interest you should easily be able to find one to play somewhere close by. It's not for everyone but is worth a look to be sure.

Some video...

Taylor T5z Custom hybrid hollowbody guitar review demo (Guitarist review)

Taylor T5z Live Sound Demo (Zzounds preview video) (Taylor T-5z sneak preview)

Taylor T5z Guitar Review (AGM sound demo)

Taylor T5z Guitar Range Review - Time to challenge those preconceptions! (Andertons review)

Taylor T5 Acoustic-electric Guitar Demo - Sweetwater Sound (Sweetwater review of the original T-5)


Posted in: Review | 5 comments

What is a Variax Guitar?

By Gene, 2014-08-22
What is a Variax Guitar?

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Variax is the name of a line of guitars developed and marketed by Line 6. They differ from typical electric and acoustic guitars in that internal electronics process the sound from individual strings to model (replicate) the sound of specific guitars and other instruments. The maker claims it is the first guitar family that can emulate the tones of other notable electric and acoustic guitars. It also provides a banjo and a sitar tone. The Variax is currently available as an electric guitar, but modeling acoustic guitars and modeling electric bass guitars have been available in the past.

I originally purchased a Variax 500 back in 2005 and more recently purchased a JTV-59 so I’ll just chat about those briefly. I felt the original Vax 500 was not a bad guitar at all. Build quality was pretty good and, while I have nothing to compare them with, most of the models sounded quite good. I originally wanted a guitar that would be able to do acoustic and electric without owning several guitars but that didn’t work out as expected. While the acoustic models are acceptable, as an acoustic player, the “feel” just wasn’t the same. For the primarily electric player however the ability to quickly pull up a Guild or Martin 12 string with the same intonation, scale length, and string gauge as well as the same tuning works quite well.

There were some issues and complaints with the first Variax models however that “traditional” guitarists as well as “practical” folks had:

1)      No magnetic pickups, it just looked weird plus if you ran the batteries down or lost your DI box you were out of luck, and it looked weird.

2)      Batteries, batteries, batteries… The original models used six AA batteries which would last about 1 ½ hours, you could also use a 9v but that only lasted about 45 minutes. The guitars also came with an A/B box that would allow you to switch between ¼” out (for electrics) and a XLR out (for acoustics or going straight to a board). This box also powered the guitar using a TRS cable. The problem? Yet ANOTHER box/footswitch to carry and lose and yet ANOTHER “wall wart”.

3)      The guitars also came with “workbench” software that was actually pretty cool. You could hook the guitar to your PC and virtually “build” a guitar model or alternate tuning (with some limitations) and upload that patch to any one of 10 “custom” slots. The downside being the dependence on a computer to do so.

4)      Alternate tunings. In workbench you could change the tunings on each individual string and save that as a custom setting to the guitar (10 total custom settings). The downside is that you could not do alternate tunings with the 12 string models due to a lack of DSP power in the original guitars.

5)      The models themselves. Many folks complained that “that doesn’t sound like a 52 LP goldtop” etc. I’ll address that later.

6)      Build quality (escpecially on the 300 and 600 “budget” models). Some folks felt the guitars felt “cheap”

So; fast forward to 2010, “what has Line6 done to address these issues?” –

They partnered with luthier James Tyler to re-design the guitars. There are currently three basic models of the JTV Variax with a couple of different pickup configurations:

The JTV-69 (think Strat with a humbucker in the bridge) and the JTV-69S (typical SSS Strat config).

The JTV-59 (Think 59 Les Paul with PAF) and JTV-59P (59 Les Paul with P90 pickups).

The JTV-89 (think Ibanez, ESP shred style) and JTV-89F (same but with a Floyd Rose licensed trem).

The guitars share the same models and upgrades to address the above complaints (Line6 did listen it just took them a while).

1)      Now we have true magnetic pickups (and they don’t sound too danged bad either)

2)      While you can still use the A/B box the battery is now a rechargeable affair that lasts 10-12 hours on a charge.

3)      In addition to workbench you can use “virtual capo” right on the guitar (no PC needed) to adjust and save alternate tunings on the fly in about 30 seconds.

4)      You can now apply alternate tunings to the 12 string models. Additionally there is a knob that globally applies any one of 10 alternate tunings to all models without having to adjust them in workbench and take up one of your custom model slots, pretty cool. This is especially handy if you use the custom slots to work a setlist.

5)      The models have been upgraded. To be honest some were made better and some maybe worse but in reality your audience doesn’t know or care if it is a 52 goldtop or not, just that it sounds good IMHO. This is a VERY subjective topic however.

6)      The guitars are made at the “World Factory” in Korea (as are MANY companies’ guitars). This is the same place that PRS makes the SE range. The build quality on mine is actually quite good. There were a couple of initial QC problems (the 3 way switch on the 59 and the nut on the 69) but those have been fixed. Note that Line6 does have “US” made models but at almost 4k I’ll pass.

I think the mag pickups (so yes it is REALLY a guitar) and the rechargeable longer life battery are very cool but the capabilities the alternate tuning knob brings to the party are pretty amazing! All in all these are very versatile guitars for studio and live use (though I don’t have much experience in live). If you get a chance you should play with one, you might be surprised.

Some links:

JTV-59 Acoustic Sounds Demo
More Acoustic Sounds JTV-69
JTV-59P Alternate Tunings demo
Steve Howe, Adrian Belew and more talk Variax

Posted in: Review | 3 comments