If you ask guitarists for a company that excels in the growing world of digital music creation, you’re likely to hear Line 6 more times than not. With its well known POD line of hardware, Line 6 has made itself into one of the goto companies for guitarists entering the digital age.
As any guitarist that wants to create music on their computer knows, hardware is only part of the equation. Unfortunately, Mac software has been completely forgotten or left to languish far too often by many companies.
However, Line 6 has been one company that has kept the versions of its software up to date on both the Mac and PC. When the company first launched with its GuitarPort software it was a Windows only product, but that soon changed.
“We all like Macs here — they are great creative tools,” Marcus Ryle, Line 6 co-founder and senior vice president of Research and Development, told Macworld . “As we started evolving our software, it was really important to keep the software versions in sync. It’s a decision that was important to us and we plan to continue doing that.”
Giving inspiration to guitarists
The Line 6 gear runs the gamut from consumer devices that literally fit in the palm of your hand to floor model stompboxes made for the musicians playing the big stage. No matter which device you choose, it all comes down to one common denominator, according to Ryle — inspiration.
“We are a group of passionate musicians and designers that are creating products to inspire musicians to reach their potential,” said Ryle. “Technology is a means to that end. We are constantly looking for ways to utilize technology to make new tools for musicians.”
The technology that Ryle refers to is called modeling. Using this technology, Line 6 models the sounds of many different amplifiers and effects, giving users the ability to choose the one that best suits their needs for a particular song.
For example, the new POD X3 Live includes 24 guitar cabs, 98 stompbox and studio effects, 28 bass amps, 22 bass cabs and six vocal preamps. At around $500, this is at the high-end of the Line 6 gear, but it would cost a whole lot more to buy each pedal and amp separately.
Still, modeling isn’t for everyone. Many guitarists would rather stick with their Marshall JCM 800 and buy the effects they need.
“We totally understand that what we do is not for everyone and that’s okay,” said Ryle. “If you have a tool that works well for you and you feel inspired every time you play, that’s great. But if you’re curious about what we can bring, there is certainly no harm in trying. You can love your AC30 or JCM 800 and still have other tools.”
Pushing the guitar amp envelope
Using one of the POD products, you get a variety of tone combinations that can be achieved, but you still need to plug the unit into a PA or a guitar amp. That’s not a problem for most players, but Line 6 has an alternative — a line of amplifiers with all of the tones built-in.
Line 6 sells seven different lines of guitar amps, ranging from combo practice amps to 300 Watt Heads. One of the most popular is the Vetta II, which gives you 70 classic and modern amps, over 80 stompbox and studio effects, 28 speaker cabinets, and 3 studio-standard microphones.
The Vetta II also allows you to copy some of the old tricks used by guitarists, like running two amp and effect setups at the same time. In it’s basic form, you run one setup dirty and the other setup clean — what comes out is a hybrid sound that couldn’t be achieved by one setup alone.
All of this digital innovation seems to be working for the company. According to Ryle, Line 6 sells more guitar amps in the US than any other company.
A Line 6 tube amp?
For the most part Line 6 amps compete with traditional tube amps — these are the amps that you most likely see lining the stage when you go to a concert. There was a clear line between tube amps and digital modeling amps, but not any more.
Line 6 has partnered with Bogner to create a tube amp that includes modeling aspects. So why would a digital company turn to a technology that’s been around forever for its new product? Inspiration, says Ryle.
“We’ve tried to create the best of both worlds,” said Ryle. “These have to be devices that sound amazing and be inspiring — that doesn’t necessarily mean everything has to be digital.”
Ryle explained that a tube amp can provide peak power that is enormous and gives guitar players a great feel. A discerning guitar player that is accustomed to tubes can get that type of feel from the new Bogner/Line 6 amp, he said.
Reinhold Bogner has worked on many guitar amplifiers over the years including overhauling and revitalizing Eddie Van Halen’s legendary 1968 Marshall Plexi in 1992.
“Reinhold Bogner is the best active tube amplifier designer around today,” said Ryle.
The Variax guitar closes the circle
Not leaving anything to chance, Line 6 also offers its own line of guitars called Variax. Unlike traditional guitars that use pickups to generate sounds from the strings, the Variax has no pickups. It does, however, have a lot of circuitry inside the guitar that is generating the sound.
Ryle said they are using the same philosophy to make the guitar that they use with all of their products — inspiration.
“First and foremost, it’s a real guitar,” said Ryle. “We don’t generate the sound, you do. The strings are the source — we use digital modeling to place those sounds and capture the detail of what you’re playing.”
Ryle said that Line 6 realizes that a digital guitar is a step that some guitarists are not ready to make yet, but the company is being patient. “At the most fundamental level creative tools should get you back to what you should be doing — making music, not pulling out another guitar.”
This story, "Line 6 brings inspiration to Mac guitarists" was originally published by PCWorld.