Session Notes: Top 5 Things I Like About Line 6's Helix

I recently plugged into Line 6’s new Helix Floorboard Multi-Effects Pedal ($1,499 street) on a few sessions in a fast-paced weekend of recording.
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I recently plugged into Line 6’s new Helix Floorboard Multi-Effects Pedal ($1,499 street) on a few sessions in a fast-paced weekend of recording. Starting at my studio, I used it while composing for an A&E show needing moody ambient guitar tracks. Next, I took Helix to Clubhouse Studios in Rhinebeck, New York to record some fiery Latin cues with flamenco/world music guitarist Romero for the upcoming NBC Olympics. While I will dig deeper into this unit within the next few months, here are the Top 5 initial things I liked about it.

The Helix Floorboard Multi-Effects Pedal, at Rich Tozzoli’s personal production studio in New Jersey.

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5. TAP TUNER/TEMPO

While it may be odd to like a tuner as a “Top 5” feature in a product as feature-packed as this, Helix has one of the coolest, easiest ones I’ve ever used in any product, or anywhere. Helix provides 12 stomp footswitches; FS 12 is fixed as the TAP Hold for Tuner. After holding it down for two seconds, a large bar tuner appears on the nice 6.2-inch LCD color display window. Then it’s as easy as striking a note, lining up the bars until in tune, then it’s back to work. I was surprised how many times I used it, partly because everything needs to be in tune, of course, but partly because it’s just cool. When not using it as a tuner, I was able to quickly tap the tempos of delay times on relevant presets.

4. TOUCH AND GO

If there’s one thing I dislike on multi-effects pedals, it’s getting lost in layers of menus while trying to tweak sounds. With this bad boy, you simply touch a footswitch and the relevant information for that effect appears on the lower part of the LED display in color. It’s very cool and incredibly useful.

For example, if I have a delay on one of the patches (this can be, of course, easily assigned to any footswitch if it’s not already built into the preset), I simply touch the top of the footswitch and the associated parameters will automatically appear on the bottom of the display window. Below those values in the LED display sit a row of six knobs, each of which adjust the parameter above it. While turning knobs, if I forget where I started, I can just press it once to reset to default. Also, if an effect has more than six parameters to adjust, I simply scroll over with the Page button.

I didn’t realize how valuable this touch control was until popping through the various effects, finding I could tweak them within seconds.

3. HOME AND AMP/CAB BUTTON

If you do get too deep into tweaking Helix and get confused, Line 6 has included a button below the Preset knob that has an icon of a house on it. Press that, and you’re instantly on the home screen.

Even better is the Amp/Cab button next to that, which brings you right to the Amp+Cab setup in the display window. There, you can change settings for the amp such as Drive, Bass, Mid, Treble, Presence and Ch Volume. Scrolling over a page, you’ll find cool parameters such as Master, Sag, Hum, Ripple, Bias and Bias X. Most importantly, they really work well; I found myself constantly pushing Sag and Bias to drive the amp. Scrolling one page further, you can tweak the cabinet and settings such as Mic (there’s a whole lot of microphones to choose from), Distance, Low Cut, High Cut, EarlyRefl (early reflections) and Level.

2. COMPREHENSIVE I/O

Wow, did Line 6 think this through! The rear of the unit is loaded with I/O options: AES/EBU and S/PDIF, MIDI I/O, Variax, quarter-inch phone and quarter-inch L/R out, XLR L/R outs, four pair of Send/Returns, XLR Mic In and quarter-inch Aux In, Guitar In, Ext Amp, CV, and Exp 3 and 4 (for additional Expression pedals). Patches can be split up into different output pairs, and even standard stomp effects can be inserted into the signal path. Impressive.

1. THE FEEL OF THE PRESETS

As I was told, Line 6 worked on this box for five years before it came out. I didn’t know anything about Helix until I stumbled across it at the recent AES show and heard some cool sounds coming from the booth. Curious, I stopped in to see this sweet-looking, heavy-duty multi-effects unit. “Hmm,” I thought, “a POD update?” Not even close. This thing was built new from the ground up using the latest modeling technology and multiple DSPs. They let me play through it a little and I knew I had to try one in the studio, as I need a huge variety of guitar sounds for all the TV tracks I do.

Possibly being too brief (I will dig much more into this later), Helix is pretty bad-ass. I would say the part I like the most is the rare ability of a “box” to allow for the sponginess I feel when plugging into an amp. I can hit my guitar hard, and the Helix responds accordingly. Lightening the touch, it lightens the sound. It’s a real treat that allows the player to dynamically control the sound. I can tweak the amp’s mics and cabinets to suit my needs, too.

I do a lot of hard rock tracks, and this thing can get pretty sick; the German Ubersonic and Angl Meteor settings are great examples of this. Having said that, I feel hard rock tones are easier to nail than clean ones when it comes to modeling, but they get that, too; my favorites include the US Deluxe Vibe and the Tweed Blues Nrm.

At the Clubhouse, we plugged an old Fender Jazz bass into Helix and used some bass presets. Then we plugged in a vintage Wurlitzer electric piano and got a great sound with a little delay (Bucket Brigade), some great modulation effects (Ubiquitous Vibe) and a touch of distortion (Arbitrator Fuzz). So Helix is not just for guitar players, though that’s certainly the target market.

I can’t wait to dig into this unit further, but I’m already highly impressed. We even had a group of guys gathered around it in the studio looking and listening as we learned what it can do. It’s built like a tank, sonically diverse, has a ton of useful I/O and can deliver many great tones. I’m glad they took the time to do it right, and the Helix seems equally at home on the stage and studio.

Line 6
line6.com/helix