A couple days ago I jammed out with a friend who just bought the Line 6 Helix LT. He sold many of his pedals so he could make the switch to it. It wouldn’t have surprised me if he was running a bunch of entry-level pedals…but he had quite a few nicer high-end pedals. He’s a seasoned player and knows what good tone sounds like.
The next day I hopped on Facebook and noticed another friend selling all of his pedals. I asked him jokingly if he was getting a Helix too. To my surprise, he said yes!
I feel like Mugatu from the movie Zoolander. Am I taking crazy pills or something? I see guitarists everywhere online ditching their custom pedalboards in favor of these all-in-one processors. It would be one thing if these guys were beginners who are still developing an ear…but many of these people are professional musicians.
Do they know something I don’t know? Is this more than just a fly by night cult and should I just get it over with and “drink the Helix Kool-Aid”?
My past effects experience-
Modeling amps and multi-effects processors are nothing new. When I first got into playing the electric, my first purchase was a Gibson Les Paul and a Vox modeling amp.
I was captivated by all the sounds I could pull from that modeling amp. As a new musician, having those effects really helped me develop a love for other genres. With a few button presses and knob turns, I could go from a Weezer garage band sound to a country twang. This enabled me to really develop my sound as a guitarist since I was not limited by the tone I could get.
As I continued to get better at my craft and develop my ear, I ditched the modeling amp in favor of an older AC15. I started buying individual effects pedals to model my tone after Hillsong and John Mayer (weird mix I know). In just a few years, I had enough individual effects to fill two pedalboards! People were telling me to buy the Line 6 Vetta. I noodled around on it for a bit but wasn’t impressed. It reminded me of my first modeling amp.
Since most of my playing was in churches and small venue’s, there’s always been a give-and-take relationship with sound engineers. Us electric guitarists love our amps; sound engineers not so much. One of the churches I played at told me I could not use my setup and forced me to plug in directly to a Line 6 Pod board. They had various pre-sets made specifically for guitarists and had me run in-ears in tandem with it.
I hated it!
It reminded me of the effects off of my old Vox. Lots of neat sounds, but I felt it lacked fullness and soul. I know my electric sounded fine in the final mix…but I just couldn’t get into it like I did with my tube amp and pedalboard.
At that time, many guitarists were ranting and raving about the POD much like they are ranting about the Helix today. The POD had endless tone possibilities and the ability to share your creations with others online. No more having to drop a couple hundred dollars just to get one good single effect like a reverb or a delay. It was all built in! Those POD guys gloated for a little while…but after a couple years, I noticed many of them go back to having pedalboards with individual effects.
After being let down by Boss, Vox, Line 6, and others for years with each multi-effects system I demoed…I just made up in my mind that I would never consider multi-effects boards. They could only get about 75% of my desired tone despite their lofty claims. Switching to a C grade tone after having an A grade pedalboard setup was silly and not even on my radar.
After jamming a bit with a friend the other day who has the Helix LT, I was pretty impressed.
He plugged his PRS directly into a Helix that was running into a small monitor speaker. His tone was full and he was able to jump around to different amp types and effects with ease. Though we were jamming at a lower volume…his sound was full. The reverbs sounded great and the overdrives were actually dynamic like my tube amp.
As he navigated through the menu, It was quickly apparent that this board was something I could see myself using without needing to read a user manual. Not to mention, the board actually feels like something that could last the rigors of travel.
It feels weird to say this, but I think the Helix might actually be the first multi-effects pedal that has impressed me to the point where I have changed my tune regarding multi-effects. The G-System came close, but the Helix has the sauce!
If we’re using the original amps and pedals as the standard, I’d say the Helix is 90% there in terms of tone. I think most guitarists would agree with that.
What I think most won’t agree with is whether or not that 90% is worth jumping ship from your individual effects or buying the Helix to add to them.
Who probably won’t buy a Helix [right now]-
Through trial and error, there are a lot of pickers out there that have already found that perfect amp and pedal combination for their “tone nirvana”. I think the old saying “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” applies to many people out there that feel like they’re set tone wise. For some, It’s also hard to justify selling your pedals at a loss just to get something that replicates what you already had.
You also have the other group of people out there that love to tinker with their tone on a regular basis. These are the people that love to mix and match pedals like a woman with purses. They love to support the “little guys” making the pedals and like having unique pedals with funny names. A Helix is a tuff sell to this crowd. They are more likely to buy the Helix only to supplement their pedalboard, not replace it.
The Helix has developed a cult following and it’s for good reason. Unlike other multi-effects of the past, I think the Helix is the first one that actually delivers. If you’re just now getting into guitar effects or if you are looking at simplifying your setup, the Helix is darn near impossible to beat at $1,000 for the LT model. If you’re wanting to add more tones and routing capabilities to your rig, you need to play one.
With regards to my friends that sold their pedals to buy a Helix…I get it.
If the Helix had been around when I first got into effects, I would have bought it and never looked back.
I may not be drinking the Kool-Aid today, but tomorrow who knows. Hopefully, by then it will come in a red flavor.
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