Axe and You Shall Receive
To say that the JTV-59 covers a lot of musical and tonal ground would be a vast understatement. The original Variax guitars gave players a ton of flavor to work with, but the models in the JTV-59 and the sounds of the magnetic pickups could keep the most obsessive tone collector probing the possibilities of these guitars for hours on end.
I wanted to hear if the guitar’s standard pickups had enough kick and clarity I’d expect from of a good set of low output humbuckers, and they performed admirably. Through a 50-watt 1981 Marshall JCM800, the bridge pickup exhibited a capacity for the tight lows and crisp highs that the original PAFs are known for, though I experienced some muddiness in the midrange when chording.
An attempt at the Guns n’ Roses classic “My Michelle”—which brilliantly moves around fluid, arpeggiated clean movements, Joe Perry-inspired single note riffs, and fast, chorded choruses—had the bridge pickup kicking out just the right amount of juicy mids for the leads. But for the song’s faster riffage I had to drop the guitar’s volume knob slightly to pull the pickup’s midrange clarity back in.
Clean tones using the Marshall’s low input and the guitar’s neck pickup were surprisingly detailed, allowing me to hear a tinge of sparkle come from the amp that I can honestly say I’ve never heard from it before. Cranking the gain back up with the neck pickup let loose a dynamic, fluid lead tone that was a blast—especially given that the guitar’s nicely sculpted neck offered no resistance to my quick, legato lines and fills.
I had a great time playing with the emulated models. It’s a blast. But there is one major aspect of playability that even the best emulation can’t account for and that’s the feel of a given instrument. A guitarist becomes accustomed to, say, the feel of a Tele neck correlating with traditional Tele tones. Likewise, the extremely resonant nature of, say, a large-bodied Gibson J-200 acoustic vibrating against our bodies as we belt out open chords dictates how you play those chords. In the case of the JTV-59—even with its fantastic neck and resonant body—there’s still some disconnect with how the guitar sounds and how it feels. The 1970 Martin D12-28 12-string, for instance, may have had surprising clarity, but the feel that I naturally associate with that sound wasn’t there. It’s a physical difference that won’t be apparent to a listener—live or on a recording—but it takes some getting used to as a player.
The electric emulations are also impressive, but the feel of the guitar is closer to those being emulated. Some of the greatest guitars in history are modeled here, including a 1958 Gibson Les Paul Standard, 1959 Fender Stratocaster, 1968 Rickenbacker 360, and a slew of other well-known axes. Some are very convincing tone-wise, like the 1953 Gibson Super 400 model. The tone was huge and snappy on the highs with the Twin, inducing thoughts of Scotty Moore ripping it up with The King. I was also particularly impressed with the snappy response of the ’68 Fender Tele Thinline model, which exhibited an airy sustain and woody response that those treasured instruments are known for. Others fell a bit flat, like the 1959 Gretsch 6120, which sounded a little too wooly in the lows and muddled in the highs.
With the help of James Tyler, Line 6’s new JTV-59 marks a true evolution of the Variax family that offers even more versatility for the price. While some really great guitars are available for the same 1500 bucks you’ll spend for the JTV-59, you’d be hard pressed to find the sheer amount of sounds that this one has on tap. The exceptional build quality and fantastic playability definitely help justify the expense too.
Purists will be inclined to write the JTV-59 off as a gimmicky toy. But nothing could be further from the truth. The amount of just plain fun that I had with the JTV-59 was undeniable. And there’s so many great sounds available for adding that little something extra to your tunes, that it could become an indispensable tool in pro and project studios alike. If you’re a guitarist whose sense of adventure remains intact, the JTV-59 could pay sonic dividends on your investment for a lifetime.
an all-in-one guitar that can cover a cosmos of tonal ground sounds practical and fun.
you’re a purist that’s happy with one guitar with one or two tones.