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Just scored a Line 6 Helix guitar processor

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  • Just scored a Line 6 Helix guitar processor

    After a serious GAS attack, I've succumbed and bought a Helix. I found one at Guitar Center, used (slightly, it's like brand new), and I saved $400 from the list. The reason I went with Guitar Center is that they are local and I have a 45 day return policy. I'm still concerned that I may not like the effects enough, or that the Helix may be noisy, or whatever.

    So yesterday I spent about two hours messing around with the connections and getting to understand the user interface. Got my Boss volume pedal and Boss looper hooked into the chain, (no problem there,) and then tonight I spent almost 2 hours just stepping through the different sounds. Couple of things to say, and by no means is this an extensive review.

    1) It's very well-built; solid, excellent feel on the foot pedals. Plus it's cool as can be; great LED lights, etc.

    2) The UI is really well laid out, as all the other reviewers said. I picked up the important parts really quickly, and was able to build signal chains almost immediately.

    3) There are 128 factory preset signal chains, (maybe 256, not sure). I haven't even stepped through those factory presets. Then there are another 600+ user presets; (I'm hedging because there are 8 "setlists", and there are 128 "destinations" to save presets in. So that's 1,024 presets. The first 2 setlists are factory, then there's 6 setlists for the user. Something like that, anyway.)

    4) What blew me away tonight is the amp modeling. Frankly, up to now, I've had no amp model on my recordings, just the Cab Filter output from the Strymon Bigsky (a simple cabinet model that Strymon throws in on the BigSky). And then I have been going direct into the pc and I've not used amp or cab models in my DAW. But, wow! I recorded a loop of chord changes, added a delay (well, two delays) and a hall reverb, and just let it play, then I stepped through some of the amp combo models. Holy cow, what a difference! Really amazing sounds there. And lots of clean ones, too. I've never been much of an amp connoisseur, just using whatever, but stepping through not even half of the amp combos, I found at least 3 that I really love, and that make a BIG DIFFERENCE from what I've been using previously.

    5) To continue number 4, most of the review I read said that you really need to buy the Ownhammer IR's (speaker cabinet impulse responses) and add them. Cost will be about $30. Reviewers just rave about the difference. So I haven't done that yet. I'm sure I will if I decide to keep the Helix.

    6) Overall, it seems like the Helix was designed primarily for rockers, metal, cover bands, etc. Probably didn't spend a lot of time interviewing ambient guitarists for their needs. As I worked through the effects I was disappointed in the breadth of the effects that I could use. I'm not jumping ship yet, because I really, as I said, only spent a couple of hours on sounds, but I'm noticing a real emphasis on the hard rock sounds. For instance, I use a Strymon Sunset distortion pedal, and it's really clean, quiet and just adds a bit of grit or substance to the guitar sound. It has no noise at low levels and it's a beautiful "full" gritty sound. I haven't found anything like it's equivalent. I did find one distortion that may be usable, I need to play more with the parameters. And with the amp/cab modeling, maybe I'll find a slightly overdriven amp sound that I can use for some light dirt. Dunno, still hunting.

    6) Delays and reverbs are the ambient guitarists main weapon. I did find some nice delays and the reverbs seem all right also. Again, didn't spend a lot of time but I'm not disappointed yet. There don't seem to be any "cloud", "bloom", "swell", types of delay/reverbs as I'm used to with the Strymon pedals. I'm thinking maybe the best thing would be to keep a very simple set of Strymon pedals, bring them in through the effects chain, and get the best of both worlds. I was hoping the Helix would be my "end all" rig, but maybe I need to be open to a hybrid approach. This is a big question that I will be wrestling with.

    7) So far, the noise doesn't seem to be a problem. I haven't recorded anything yet, but I'm not hearing unacceptable noise from the Helix. Of course when I step through the distortions, many of them seem to scream noise, as do some of the amps. But I just don't use them, so no problem on that account yet.

    8) If hours turn into days, and I still like the Helix, I'll download a couple of the free Ownhammer IR's, just to hear what folks are talking about.

    9) As far as the effects chain, you can have up to 32 "blocks" or "things" in the chain, such as: guitar, compressor, distortion, effect loop, amp, effect loop, delay, delay2, reverb, reverb, EQ, noise gate, cab, etc. The effect loop can be placed anywhere in the chain, so the Boss looper for instance, can be placed before the delays, or very simply, move to after the delays. No wires to move. Pretty nice. Move the reverb in front of the delays takes about 2 seconds to accomplish. Once you have a chain you like, press the SAVE button, tell it the "setlist" and "destination", name it, and it saves it there. Sweet. Like I said, they really did a great job designing the UI.

    10) Tomorrow I'll test more of the effect sounds, and hopefully make a simple recording.
    Fender Strat; Taylor 814ce; PRS SE 277 Baritone; MXR Custom Comp Deluxe; EHX Pitch Fork; SA LA Lady; Boss FV-500H Volume; Ditto X2 Looper; TCE Flashback Triple Delay; Strymon El Cap; Strymon Dig; SA Nemesis; Neunaber Immerse; Strymon Big Sky; Boss RC-300 Looper; Fishman Loudbox Artist ; Blackstar ID 15:TVP amp.

  • #2
    Thanks for the write-up, very interesting. Doubt I'm in the market for one (~£999 over here....) but all stuff to ponder. Funnily enough, I was watching a youtube video where someone compared the Strymon inspired algorithms on a cheap zoom multi effects (ms50g?) with the originals and they were darn close. Now thinking of picking one of those up to play with. Though that would mean I'm back in the land of hardware pedals and we all know where that leads..... :o
    Latest release: never to be repeated

    Hearthis | Soundcloud

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    • #3
      Good to hear your initial feelings about this box of tricks. I'm yet to see a reviewer who doesn't like it but as you say how does it cope with ambient requirements. I think I would keep the Big Sky in the loop whatever. You might have seen the sounds selection that Glen DeLaune has for sale. Some interesting sounds that might be useful in an ambient setting. Look forward to hearing more about your experience with it.

      Graham
      https://www.youtube.com/c/THEBassBus
      https://soundcloud.com/bassbus
      https://hearthis.at/graham-blanche-ov/

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      • #4
        So after about 10 days with the Helix, (and only focused on ambient guitar):

        The BIG DECISION is: "Do I keep the Helix, or return it and go back to my 10-pedal Strymon heavy board". Another decision is, suppose I keep the Helix; what pedals are "must-haves" that I'll run out of the (4) effects loops on the Helix. Now I can't keep a whole lot of pedals; if I did, why bother with the Helix at all? So at this point, how many pedals must I keep?

        1) About every other day I change my mind on the BIG DECISION. After watching too many Helix videos, and hours of experimenting, I'm thinking "keep it."

        3) I've spent probably 10 hours just listening to the various blocks while running 3 types of loops from my Boss RC-300 looper, 1) swelled chord changes, 2) a drone, 3) a swelled lead line. Blocks are pedals, or amp modellers, etc. For instance there are: 50-ish amp blocks, 19 delay blocks, 12 reverb blocks, etc.

        4) The basic blocks (pedals) conclusions as related to keeping the current board:

        Compression: I can live with the supplied blocks. I like my Strymon OB.1 better, but it's not a show stopper. There are a couple of very mellow compression effects that I like.

        Distortion: OK, most of the effect here are for rockers, metal, cover. 98%. This is a challenge to me. I did find a few "mellow" distortion effect and I can live with them. Are they as nice as the Strymon Sunset's creamy, smooth, lovely, thick distortion? Take a guess. (No.)

        Modulation: I really only use Chorus,Vibrato, Tremolo. All the other stuff on the Strymon Mobius I can live without. The Helix has pretty good modulation effects. Actually very good. This is a plus.

        EQ: I don't have anything like this on my board, and the Helix has effective, good choices, so this is a plus. I like being able to dial-out the boomy bass before I get into the DAW. Big plus.

        Built in looper: OK, this is a plus. It can "stamp" the effects on the loop, or record the dry loop. It can be anywhere in the chain which is really nice. Has reverse and 1/2 speed and overdubs. Plus.

        Foot pedal onboard; nice, haven't used it as I like my Boss volume pedal. To be decided later.

        Amps/cabs: Whoa, these are really great. Tons of them, too many of course, but I've found at least 3 that are real nice, clean, good for ambient. And I haven't downloaded any Ownhammer IR's yet, which should really improve this sound. This is a super plus. Otherwise, I'd be looking at an Avid Eleven Rack or something to give me the amp/cab sound. Haven't been able to get a good amp/cab sound from Reaper, and anyhow, I want the sound "live" not on my DAW. Amps/cabs: BIG plus.

        Pitch-Shift: the Helix has pitch-shifters at least as good as (or better) than my Pitch-Fork. This is a plus for the Helix.

        Delays: OK, here's where the rubber hits the road as delay/reverb are really the bread-and-butter of ambient guitar (at least my ambient guitar.) Again, I'd say the delays were primarily built for rockers, but, well, there's a lot of good stuff in here. There are a few, (Ping Pong, Sweep Echo, Reverse, Vintage Swell, Tape, Adriatic Delay, Adriatic Swell, Cosmos Echo), that are very useful for ambient. I'd say it's a full set of ambient delays. Now, compared to the Strymons I own, (El Cap, Dig, Timeline), how do they stack up? Well, to be fair, those 3 Strymons costed me $1,000, so I can't expect parity. They don't have that crystal, pure, organic sound that Strymon is know for. Are they terrible? No way, they are very, very good. I let go of a Carbon Copy because it didn't stand up to the Strymons; I was being very picky. Well, this is a similar deal. But you have to look at the overall picture. The Helix has 19 delay effects, all with adjustable parameters, all of "very good" caliber. So this is acceptable overall I think. Keep the Timeline, too?

        Reverbs: Same argument as for delays. Not as good as Strymon's BigSky, but right up there with the Boss RV-6's of the world (which I also sold because it wasn't "as good as Strymon".) There are 12 reverbs available. Some, (like: Octo (shimmer), Cave, Particle Verb,) are particularly good for ambient. Onboard reverbs are fine. Keep the BigSky, too?

        Now the UI on this thing is phenomenally good. And in looking at the Fractal AX8 reviews, I concluded that the effects on the AX8 may be better than the Helix, but it assumes you'll be doing all your setup and tweaking on the PC software, so they provided only a small screen on the AX8 itself, and the navigation seems clunkier. This is a big deal for me; I can't stand clunky, and I want to sit in my work area with guitar in hand making setting changes on the fly, not in front of my computer. So I'm not going to try out the AX8. I assume the "better effects" are marginal anyway. Whatever.

        So the Helix has great ease of use, e.g.: recalling and storing presets; having 8 "snapshots" within each preset; a full-screen tuner (really nice); a vast list of back panel connection options; a big volume-out knob; headphone out with volume; ability to move the external looper to anywhere in the chain in 2 seconds (no cables to change); and more. This makes it a serious partner in creating and playing ambient music.

        Can I envision performing with this? Absolutely, and much easier than punching switches on my pedal board; way easier. Not to mention transport.

        Will the sounds "inspire" me the way my pedalboard does? I think so, especially with the Timeline and Bigsky. Can it do so without those two? Dunno yet.

        I'm just getting below the surface now with the Helix. I just ripped up my pedalboard and took off the Timeline and Bigsky and I'm going to spend a week with my rig now being the Helix plus:

        External volume pedal; external Boss looper; external Timeline; external Bigsky. That's it.

        Stay tuned.
        Last edited by whispersinspace; 12-05-2017, 12:47 PM.
        Fender Strat; Taylor 814ce; PRS SE 277 Baritone; MXR Custom Comp Deluxe; EHX Pitch Fork; SA LA Lady; Boss FV-500H Volume; Ditto X2 Looper; TCE Flashback Triple Delay; Strymon El Cap; Strymon Dig; SA Nemesis; Neunaber Immerse; Strymon Big Sky; Boss RC-300 Looper; Fishman Loudbox Artist ; Blackstar ID 15:TVP amp.

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        • #5
          Thank you for spending the time on writing this. It has been really useful reading it.

          Originally posted by whispersinspace View Post
          So after about 10 days with the Helix, (and only focused on ambient guitar):
          The BIG DECISION is: "Do I keep the Helix, or return it and go back to my 10-pedal Strymon heavy board". Another decision is, suppose I keep the Helix; what pedals are "must-haves" that I'll run out of the (4) effects loops on the Helix. Now I can't keep a whole lot of pedals; if I did, why bother with the Helix at all? So at this point, how many pedals must I keep?
          Another musician once advised me never to sell an instrument; "...you will always regret it". The same is going to apply to pedals. Your decision.
          Graham
          https://www.youtube.com/c/THEBassBus
          https://soundcloud.com/bassbus
          https://hearthis.at/graham-blanche-ov/

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by BassBus View Post
            You might have seen the sounds selection that Glen DeLaune has for sale. Some interesting sounds that might be useful in an ambient setting. Look forward to hearing more about your experience with it.

            I did check out the Glen Delaune stuff. Very interesting. I need to go back and give it a critical listen. Maybe buy a preset package. There's already a lot of preset packages for sale out there and I know why; it's a fairly daunting device to get under control..
            Fender Strat; Taylor 814ce; PRS SE 277 Baritone; MXR Custom Comp Deluxe; EHX Pitch Fork; SA LA Lady; Boss FV-500H Volume; Ditto X2 Looper; TCE Flashback Triple Delay; Strymon El Cap; Strymon Dig; SA Nemesis; Neunaber Immerse; Strymon Big Sky; Boss RC-300 Looper; Fishman Loudbox Artist ; Blackstar ID 15:TVP amp.

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