Marcus Ryle, Senior Vice President of Research and Development, co-founded Line 6 more than ten years ago along with partner Michel Doidic. Marcus is responsible for all product development and research initiatives at the company, including the POD modeling system, ToneCore effects pedals, Variax modeling guitars and the Vetta and Spider series of amplifiers. According to MI SalesTrak Line 6 has become the second largest amplifier supplier after Fender and a recognized innovator in guitar sound.
Marcus is also a classicly trained pianist and has worked as a professional musician recording with the likes of Chicago, Lee Ritenour and Chaka Khan. Continuing with our "Six Pack" interviews, Marcus took some time out of his weekend schedule to give www.guitarvibe.com readers a behind the scenes look into developing new products at Line 6 and some of the challenges of combining modern modeling technology with classic tube amplification.
Q: You've got a background both as a professional session musician and as an engineer. How do you draw on those elements in your role at Line 6?
Marcus: For me, they’re directly connected. I’ve always been drawn to music and technology, and the purpose of technology for me has always been to serve music. At Line 6, there are lots of people with a similar point of view, so there’s lots of great collaborative inspiration.
Q: How do new products get created at Line 6? Are you purposefully looking to disrupt competitors in existing markets? Or is it based on speaking with customers and dealers about what they want?
Marcus: The source of new product ideas can come from anyone in the company, or from anywhere outside. We talk to musicians about what they would like to achieve, what impedes their creativity, as opposed to asking what products they want. We then brainstorm about how we can best meet these needs. Disruption becomes a natural byproduct of the process if musicians embrace our solutions.
Q: You've been working with Bogner Amplification on a new Spider Valve amp. What's it been like to combine digital modeling with tube-based amplification?
Marcus: Working with Reinhold Bogner has been a lot of fun, as well as educational and inspirational. Reinhold has a tremendous knowledge of tube amplification, but more importantly, he has incredible ears. We share an inherent quest for tone, without regard to what technology it takes to get there. It has been exciting to combine the “best of both worlds” of modeling and tubes in the creation of the Spider Valve family.
Now that the product has been announced, some folks have been asking the obvious question “why”? Many people have gotten the impression that Line 6 was “anti-tube”, but a simpler way to describe us is “pro-tone”. Modeling has evolved tremendously since we started, and we are quite proud of the fact that the tonal capabilities of our products have ended up in the hands of some of the best guitarists in the world, and on countless best-selling records.
Equally important to us is providing guitarists with choices on how that tone gets delivered. In the recording environment, the entire signal path can be captured with modeling – from the guitar body & pickups, stomp boxes, preamp, tone stack, power amp, speakers, microphone, and the environment it is recorded in. The “delivery” of the tone in the studio is via studio monitors or headphones. Performing live, many guitarists like the tone delivery to be through a PA system, monitoring through wedges, stage fills, or in-ear monitors. Others want their tone delivered right through the power amp and speakers in their guitar amp.
For the last forty years, the two choices for power amplification in a guitar amp have been tubes or solid state. When we first introduced modeling amps, we took all of the advantages of solid state amplification and optimized it for the best tonal delivery possible. But the feel and responsiveness of tube amplification is an option we also wanted to provide. Thanks to Reinhold’s collaboration, we can now deliver great tone through your choice of solid state or tubes, while also being able to deliver the best direct tone possible.
Q: Guitarists are notoriously conservative. With Line 6's use of modeling, it's sometimes considered too radical by those who want vintage sound from vintage gear and seem reluctant to try anything new since the 1960s. Do you think this is changing with younger players who have grown up digital?
Marcus: It’s human nature to be reluctant to change behavior. Younger people are often more open to new technology because they haven’t spent decades repeating one particular behavior. But there’s nothing wrong with someone not wanting to try something new. If a guitarist is content with their tone, there’s no need to change it. But more and more people of any age are discovering that modeling provides the best and easiest path to a wide range of great tone, and ultimately that benefit draws people to try something new.
Q: What was the reaction at Line 6 when Fender announced the VG Strat? It felt like they were sending a shot over the bow with their marketing messages about not requiring special cables or a users manual.
Marcus: What’s that quote about the sincerest form of flattery? Seriously, it’s not clear to me that their marketing message was a shot over our bow – Variax does not require any special cables (it can run on batteries, just like the VG Strat), and since it only has one extra knob compared to other electric guitars (to select models), I don’t think it requires a user manual either. But unlike the VG Strat, Variax can also be powered through a standard stereo ¼” cable, or from a PODxt Live.
And unlike the VG Strat, Variax can be optionally connected to a computer and let you create your own guitar model by moving pickups, changing bodies, etc., and create any alternate tuning you want. Maybe Fender thinks this is complicated? Or maybe they weren’t talking about us at all. But either way, we just look at Variax as providing more options (if you want them), and ease of use at the same time.
Q: A lot of the recent innovation has been around amps and effects, with new versions of the POD etc. When can we expect to see something new in the Variax line up?
Marcus: Well, of course we can’t talk about potential future products. But I can say that we are always exploring new ways to provide a wide range of tone for musicians. The only thing for sure is that there will be more products from Line 6, but you’ll just have to wait and see.
Argh! Ok, I tried to get some hints on future Variax models! And although Marcus denies it, maybe there are some "unannounced top secret products" in the photo at the top of this posting. The Line 6 Spider Valve is expected to be available in October. More information is available on line at Line 6.