Review: Line 6 Variax Shuriken Guitar

(Image credit: Line 6)


I probably didn’t have my morning cup of coffee when I first received news about the Line 6 Variax Shuriken. “How cool!” I thought to myself. “Looks like Line 6 is making a Variax that has models of Japanese stringed instruments.”

But after a robust caffeine injection and reading further to find out that the instrument in question was designed in collaboration with 12 Foot Ninja guitarist Steve “Stevic” MacKay, I suddenly realized that I was mistakenly thinking of a shamisen (a banjo-like Japanese stringed instrument) and that the object in question was named after shuriken, the various stealth weapons (like throwing stars) employed by ninjas and samurai warriors.

Once I actually got the Line 6 Variax Shuriken in my hands, I realized that the weapon-inspired name truly fits. The Variax Shuriken boasts a unique custom body shape, 27-inch baritone scale length and several other features that are notably different than those of previous Variax guitars.

This is a truly modern instrument that’s ideal for visionary players who want to slay listeners with a vast repertoire of tones and tunings that are unexpected coming from a relatively streamlined and straightforward-albeit-futuristic-looking guitar.

At its core, the Variax Shuriken is an impressive guitar even before one ventures into the expanded creative capabilities of its Variax technology. It has a lightweight alder body with dramatic sweeping curves and contours that provide ideal comfort and balance, and the body is finished in matte satin black, which complements the black-finish hardware and sealed locking tuners.

The guitar has one standard pickup—a Line 6 mid-gain humbucker in the bridge position—plus an L.R. Baggs piezo pickup system built into the custom fixed bridge to simulate acoustic guitar tones and drive the Variax electronics. The bolt-on neck is crafted from maple and features the same matte satin black finish, a slim C-shaped profile, 24 medium jumbo frets and a rosewood fingerboard with offset dot inlays.

Electronics consist of master volume, master tone, model select and alternate tuning control knobs, plus a five-position blade selector switch. There’s also a standard ¼-inch output jack and a Variax Digital Interface/Ethercon jack for connecting the Shuriken directly to various Line 6 amps and processors, like the Firehawk 1500 and Helix.

Unless you’re already familiar with Variax guitars, you might be wondering why a guitar with a single standard humbucker has a five-position blade selector. Depending on where the model select and alternate tuning knobs are set, the switch allows players to instantly access different instrument models and/or tunings. Some settings provide virtual neck pickup tones even though the Shuriken doesn’t have a physical neck pickup.

Model banks include Shuriken, T-Model (Tele), Spank (Strat), Lester (Les Paul Standard and Special, Firebird), Acoustic (various 6- and 12-string steel-string flattops), Jazz (various archtops and semi-hollow models), World (resonator, banjo and Danelectro guitars), Twang (Gretsch and Rickenbacker) and four User banks—the latter featuring settings pre-programmed by Steve MacKay and optimized for drop-D tuning. Alternate tuning knob settings consist of Model, Standard, User I-IV, 1 whole step Down, 2 whole step Down, Drop C, Baritone, Drop A and Octave down.

The second-generation Variax electronics provide a notable performance upgrade over the previous version, delivering modeled instrument tones with dynamics and expressiveness indistinguishable from the “real thing” and natural-sounding notes even when tuned down or up an octave or more. Like previous Variax instruments, the Shuriken is compatible with Line 6 Workbench HD software (a free download), which allows users to create their own custom guitar models and tunings.

From a standard guitar perspective alone, the Shuriken is worth its price, but the addition of the versatile Variax electronics makes it an incredible deal. The body is well balanced and comfortable to play, and the mid-gain humbucker sounds great on its own through a wide variety of amps. Even if an extended-scale baritone guitar is not your main ax, the Shuriken is comfortable enough to play for an entire gig and the longer scale length will be easy for most players to adapt to.

Considering the vast variety of tones and tunings that are instantly accessible, the Shuriken is a guitar that you won’t want to put down anyway, and it saves players the hassle of hauling multiple instruments to gigs.

LIST PRICE: $1,959.99

● The 27-inch baritone scale provides ideal intonation and string tension even when tuning down a whole step or more.

● Second-generation Variax electronics provide an impressive variety of electric and acoustic guitar models and even alternate instruments like banjo and sitar.

● The model select and alternate tuning control knobs each feature four user settings that come with custom presets by Steve MacKay or can be used to save new settings.

● Workbench HD software (a free download) allows users to develop their own custom guitar models and alternate tunings.

The Line 6 Variax Shuriken is a truly modern instrument that provides the ergonomic and tonal benefits of an offset body design and 27-inch scale combined with Line 6’s still revolutionary Variax modeling and alternate tuning capabilities.

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Chris Gill

Chris is the co-author of Eruption - Conversations with Eddie Van Halen. He is a 40-year music industry veteran who started at Boardwalk Entertainment (Joan Jett, Night Ranger) and Roland US before becoming a guitar journalist in 1991. He has interviewed more than 600 artists, written more than 1,400 product reviews and contributed to Jeff Beck’s Beck 01: Hot Rods and Rock & Roll and Eric Clapton’s Six String Stories.