Here at DJBooth Pro Audio, nothing gets us more excited than gear developers and manufacturers who think outside of the box and continually push the limits of musical technology forward; as we discussed extensively in our review of their flagship amp-sim plugin Helix Native (which we rated a perfect 10/10), Line 6 sits at the forefront of companies who are innovating and reinventing traditional studio tools.
While the Line 6 team is doing some amazing things on the software front, they're equally ambitious about pushing hardware firmly into the future, as their forward-leaning lineup of amps, guitars, and pedals will attest to; all 3 product lines meld hardware and software into modern twists on classic studio gear.
I've personally been drawn to Line 6 gear over the past several years because of the versatility it offers; their Variax guitar series, for example, allows you to drastically alter the tone and sound of the guitar (emulating many famous guitar models) with the turn of a knob or by changing a few software parameters. For Electronic and Hip-Hop producers who don't have the budget (or space) for a room full of unique guitars, Line 6's guitars offer more versatility and flexibility than just about any other option on the market today.
One of Line 6's more adventurous forays into hybrid digital/analog hardware is their latest guitar model, the Shuriken Variax SR270, which combines an extended scale length, Variax HD technology, and a striking all-black design into one of the more impressive pieces of gear we've ever had the privilege of laying our hands on. In this review, we'll take a look at what makes the Shuriken Variax such a fun creative tool and explore why it's one of the more powerful pieces of gear any Hip-Hop or Electronic producer can acquire.
Setup & First Impressions
Our first impression of the Shuriken Variax SR270—and that of nearly every artist, producer, and DJ who's visited our NYC studios since we've had one—has been one word: "Whoa." Pictures of the Shuriken don't really do it justice; it's matte black finish, all black fretboard, and unique body shape are really unlike any other guitar you've seen before. To say the Shuriken makes a statement would be putting it mildly—this is a piece of gear that is sure to get some attention in your studio. Picking up the Shuriken for the first time reveals a well-built, comfortable, thoroughly modern guitar; it's evident after first play that Line 6 spent a great deal of care designing and manufacturing these.
Stunning looks aside, the Shuriken will attract attention for a more musically relevant reason as well: the guitar features an extra-long 27'' scale length, making this über-friendly for metal guitarists looking to play or perform with lowered tunings. While the Shuriken is without a doubt metal by design (it resulted from a collaboration between Line 6, Yamaha Guitar Development, and Shuriken Guitars, founded by Steve “Stevic” MacKay of Twelve Foot Ninja), it is a highly playable and flexible guitar that fits any musical style thanks to Variax HD technology; it's equally at home as a Les Paul clone on a pop record as it is playing thrashing metal power riffs.
On the guitar body, you'll find a series of knobs which light up when the guitar is powered on (via an included rechargeable battery pack), letting you easily adjust tuning presets, tone presets, and select alternate pickups (for use in conjunction with Variax models). While the Shuriken becomes vastly more flexible and powerful once connected to the Workbench HD software and a laptop, there's an incredible amount of control on offer via the hardware knobs; it's possible to drastically change the tone of the guitar—from an acoustic 1959 Martin D-28 to a 1959 Fender Stratocaster or a Coral Sitar—with a couple of quick knob turns. Tuning is an equally flexible construct with the Shuriken Variax; moving between multiple tunings for various song sections is as easy as a simple knob twist, with no manual tuning necessary. This functionality is at the heart of what makes Line 6's Variax guitars so unique and powerful; you're essentially getting dozens of classic guitars in one piece of hardware, all switchable, re-tunable, and recallable instantly on-the-fly.
While much of the Shuriken Variax's design and presets focus on the needs of Metal guitarists, there's a tremendously flexible, fun-to-play, and incredible sounding guitar on offer for any type of musician here.
The Shuriken Variax ships with a wide range of guitar tone presets built-in; everything from a Gibson Mastertone Banjo to Jazz, World, and Acoustic guitars are modeled here, and they sound absolutely phenomenal. The Lester model, which offers three takes on the famed Gibson Les Paul sound (the 1959 Standard, 1955 Special, and the 1976 Firebird V), has become a frequent favorite of mine—and found a place in nearly every track I've made since I got my hands on the Shuriken.
I have to admit that prior to using the Shuriken Variax, I was a bit skeptical of the guitar's Acoustic models would stand up to those of it's more metal-oriented counterparts; much to my surprise, however, the Shuriken does an absolutely phenomenal job of modeling a wide range of acoustics (Martin D-28, D12-28, O-18, Guild F212, and Gibson J-200), with a rich, full sound with a pleasantly surprising lack of harshness. As a producer who gravitates towards the Pop and Electronic side of things, these models have been highly useful in a number of recent sessions and productions. If you're looking for a versatile arsenal of acoustics in one piece of hardware, you've hit the jackpot here.
While the Shuriken Variax is impressively powerful on its own, the guitar really becomes a uniquely capable beast once you get a laptop involved. The included Workbench HD software is essentially a guitar-building shop in software form, allowing you to build custom dream guitars from an extensive list of guitar bodies, pickups, and tone controls; there are dozens of options and custom builds possible, with everything you create easily save-able and recallable on your Variax guitar. The level of detail and customization here is almost hard to believe; not only can you pair a body of your choice with an extensive lineup of pickup models, but the position, angle, and volume of each pickup can be adjusted as well, along with complete control over the preset tuning/pitch of each string. I've never encountered anything quite like this in my 12 years of producing music, and the Variax + Workbench combo is an absolute blast to experiment with.
Once you've designed your dream custom guitar in Workbench HD, pairing the Shuriken with Line 6's phenomenal Helix Native software (or any Line 6 Helix hardware processor) takes things up another notch entirely. We covered Helix Native's feature set extensively in our prior review, but suffice it to say that the sum is greater than the parts when you combine Line 6 hardware and software; the Shuriken and Helix Native make for an incredibly powerful and playable setup, with a natural feel that makes it easy to forget you're using any software at all.
We weren't able to find any significant flaws with the Shuriken Variax during our usage; the only potential negative here for some producers may be the asking price, which at $1,400 isn't cheap. While this price point may put the Shuriken out of reach for some, there's no question there's a ton of value on offer here, given the breadth of emulation provided and the superb sound: for some context, a vintage 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard (modeled here) can fetch anywhere from $50,000 to $1 million or more on the open market depending on its previous ownership, so it's hard to fault Line 6 for their pricing model here.
In Conclusion/Recommended For
The Line 6 Shuriken Variax is one of the most unique and impressive pieces of gear we've ever had the privilege of laying our hands on, and the breadth of tonal options available here is absolutely staggering; this is truly a studio full of boutique high-end guitars in one sleek piece of gear.
While the price point may not make it the cheapest guitar on the market, it's hard to argue that there's immense value on offer here—I can't remember the last time I discovered a piece of gear this flexible and powerful, or the last time I smiled this much during testing. Highly recommended.
- Incredibly fun to play.
- Sounds phenomenal.
- Seamless integration with Helix Native or any Line 6 Helix hardware processor.
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