The POD that changed everything. Photo (CC-BY) Lauri Rantala.

The POD that changed everything. Photo (CC-BY) Lauri Rantala.

Even in a big year for acquisitions – with Gibson acquiring Cakewalk, for one – this news comes as a surprise to many of us.

Yamaha, the 1887-founded Japanese conglomerate with a stake in everything from golf carts to wheelchairs to jetskis to pianos, is acquiring Line 6, the independent California-based guitar and sound product manufacturer.

Yamaha is a huge force in products for music and sound, without question, with an unparalleled design, manufacturing, and distribution apparatus. And music is at their core – look closely at those motorcycles and jetskis, and there’s a reason you’ll see tuning forks.

Yamaha also has a good record with their acquisition of Germany-based Steinberg, which has operated more or less as it did in management and product innovation following its acquisition. They promise the same here: operations and management will continue unchanged, say the two companies, as Line 6 operates as a wholly-owned subsidiary. That should give Line 6 access to greater resources, stability, and distribution. The three key words from President/CEO Paul Foeckler: the acquisition will “expand our reach.”

One thing you can say is that the acquisition appears to be an investment in the value of technology for guitarists, in particular, even amidst other Line 6 products for PAs and sound more generally. And there, it’s worth here reflecting on the history of the company.

Digital guitar and sound technology is what it is today in no small part thanks to Line 6 co-founders Marcus Ryle and Michel Doidic. Doidic was an engineer at synth pioneer Oberheim; Ryle came from classical piano and joined Oberheim at age 19. There, they left their fingerprints on the OB-8, Xpander, and Matrix-12. The two at Fast Forward Designs influenced Alesis products like ADAT and QuadraSynth, the MMT-8, HR-16, Quadraverb, QS-6/7/8. That already files them in “hall of fame territory.”

And then there was Line 6. The company’s 1996 AxSys 212 was the first digital modeling amplifier, a product that more than any other marks the entry of the guitar into the digital age. And then there was POD, the affordable, easy-to-understand product that made digitally-modeled effects and amps accessible to a generation of guitarists. The company today makes America’s best-selling amp – with the same digital tech that made them famous – but also StageScape, a networked system that promises to remake the PA the way the company remade the guitar amp and effect. Now, building in this kind of digital intelligence is second nature, but Line 6 is the company you can thank.

Tuning forks and cylinders. Oh, yeah, they make golf carts and wheelchairs, too. Photo (CC-BY) Keijo Knutas.

Tuning forks and cylinders. Oh, yeah, they make golf carts and wheelchairs, too. Photo (CC-BY) Keijo Knutas.

As far as manufacturers – and intellects – to buy, you’d have a tough time finding one this significant.

Now the question is, what’s the next act? It should be fun to watch.

For good reading on Line 6 history and pioneer mastermind Marcus Ryle, check out Keyboard Magazine’s 2012 story by the inimitable Ken Hughes:

Marcus Ryle Interviewed

And the official agreement outline, from the press release:

Outline of agreement
1. Based on the resolutions adopted by the Line 6 board of directors on December 19 and the Yamaha board of directors on December 20, a definitive agreement has been executed regarding the acquisition of all of the capital stock of Line 6.
2. Yamaha will acquire all of the capital stock of Line 6 owned by the founders, venture funds and employees.
3. The transaction is expected to be completed during January 2014 after receipt of customary regulatory approvals.