This year marks the 20th anniversary of Line 6. As a pioneering force behind musician-focused gear they introduced the world’s first digital modelling amp, and manufactured the POD multi-effect system – the unit that bridged the gap between great guitar tone and digital capabilities. Now a prominent member of the Yamaha family, Line 6 continues to find digital solutions for guitarists where others can’t. A challenge that the company’s co-founder and President, Marcus Ryle, continues to relish.
“Well we hope to be some of the cause of those shifts,” he says, reflecting upon 20 years of industry growth. “I feel like that’s really our job, to try come up with new ways to create tools that can really inspire musicians, change how they do things in a way that lets them fully explore their creativity. Hopefully it just continues to keep evolving. I think it’s a great time to be a guitarist because there are so many great tools today, compared to what existed 20 years ago.”
“It really doesn’t seem that long ago we were trying to convince people that digital wasn’t a bad word. And so it’s been a remarkable journey, it’s been a lot of fun. There’s still a lot more to do though.” It’s this hunger and endeavour to think beyond the status quo that has ensured the longevity of Line 6. Their commitment to creativity and performance personified in, what is arguably their greatest achievement to date, the Helix guitar processor. “Helix went through many years in development and I think as a company gets older it’s kind of like a person getting older, you get more mature, you learn more,” says Ryle.
“We built a whole new DSP engine with much more power than before, we re-did our modelling from scratch to make sure we could capture the most minute detail of what really is the source of sound. And I’m equally proud of the work the team did on making something that’s so versatile, so very easy to use.”
In today’s ultra-competitive guitar-effect market the desire for complex features that are equally easy to grasp and utilise is paramount. Helix ticks both of these boxes, yet as is the case with the majority of products that offer digital programming, has undergone a number of evolutions since its mid-2015 release. “It’s a platform [where] we’ve already done a number of updates,” Ryle explains. “We have a team that’s really engaged with guitar players, with thousands of guitar players that are constantly giving us feedback and suggestions, and we continue to do updates to add more and more capabilities.”
The online arena is an area with which Line 6 has wholly embraced and, in doing so, undoubtedly excelled. With the CustomTone online virtual marketplace, Line 6 users can trade, download and rate presets for free. While the Ideascale product feedback page harnesses the experiences of users in an effort to improve Line 6 products. Both of which are products of a two-way relationship, shared between developer and consumer. “First of all we appreciate there are certain message boards that have organically become... a magnet you could say for certain types of guitar players,” says Ryle. “It’s different for different countries, we try to participate in a lot of those things. But one of the challenges that can happen is sometimes there can be one or two very loud voices on a message board that may not really represent what people really want or what concerns them. So we take all of that very seriously, but we actually have another tool that we host called Ideascale, which we try to route guitar players to, where not only can people articulate what it is they want maybe, they wish it has a particular model that we don’t have or they wished for a specific feature – but all the other participants, they get to vote on the ideas.”
As Line 6 celebrates 20 years of digital music innovation, its vision remains resolute. “We want to make tools that are really meaningful to artists and musicians, the only way to be sure you’re doing that is with a lot of interaction,” says Ryle. “So we have artists that come to the shop, we interview guitarists, we do focus groups, we do all kinds of stuff like that along with the things online. And because the people at Line 6 [that] are doing this are also artists and musicians themselves, it’s not like you’re speaking a foreign language. You’re just talking to other like-minded people.”
“We know we’re onto something when, as happens quite often with something like Helix for example, internally we’re all excited and think this would be awesome, and then we hope that when we talk to people they agree. It’s great when you get that confirmation – you show it to people, you test ideas and you get that positive feedback. It’s really gratifying.”