Alesis X Guitar

Alesis recently ventured to the head of the signal chain with the X Guitar—the company’s first wood-and-strings offering—which comes in a familiar shape, and sports an onboard DSP processor derived from Alesis’ popular GuitarFX floor unit. While the Chinese-made X Guitar resembles what Alesis terms, “the most popular style of all time,” the “X factor” is revealed the moment you encounter a control panel on the upper horn that houses a Bank/Program LED, a pair of Up/Down buttons, and Effect and Value knobs. If you’re thinking, “Whoa, I’m not in Kansas anymore,” you’d be right.
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Fortunately, the X Guitar’s DSP functions and controls are relatively straightforward. A stubby On/Off switch positioned where you would normally find the lower tone control on a Strat brings the DSP in and out, and a 2-way momentary switch placed between it and the Volume control provides easy access to effects selections. A plastic control panel spanning 5" across the top of the upper horn houses a small LED window that displays the current effect setting, dual Program Up/Down buttons, a 16-position Effect knob, and a Value knob (for parameter settings). With the Effect set to Play, you can cycle through presets by pressing the Program Up/Down keys, or by turning the Value knob. You can then edit those presets by turning the Effect knob to any of its other settings, which include Compressor/Limiter, Distortion, EQ, Noise Reduction, Cabinet Simulation, and the nine effects modules (or banks)—which include all of the delay, filter, modulation, and pitch-shift effects, as well as some DigiFX that simulate the effects different sampling rates can have on an audio signal. Controllable by expression pedal if you so desire, DigiFX can be used to create truly weirdo signals with lots digital aliasing, or emulate some of the low-fi qualities of analog tape.

The Effect knob also accesses settings for output level, and what Alesis calls Route, which lets the player reconfigure the effects modules in eight different orders (all in series), in case, for example, you want your distortions after the delays, noise reduction early or late in the chain, and so forth.

As with most compact processors, many controls perform multiple duties. Press and release the Up/Down buttons together to access the built-in tuner, press and hold them simultaneously to mute the guitar, push and hold the Value knob for processor volume, or push and release it to store edited patches. Editing itself is simple, and it takes just seconds to master. The silver plastic knobs on these controls are sized for an easy grip, but I found the Value knob dug into my chest time and again when I leaned into the guitar to play. As this also occasionally changed the patch—or saved it to another location—a lower-profile knob would be preferable.

Another plastic plate on the bottom edge of the guitar’s lower bout carries a center-negative jack for 9-volt DC input (adaptor not included), and a q" jack for connecting an optional expression pedal. The battery compartment is located below the trem cavity access plate on the back of the guitar, and it houses four AA cells that provide about 30 hours of service.

Sound And Feel

I tested the X Guitar with a Dr. Z Z-28 2x10 combo, a Fender Super Reverb, stereo headphones, and a Mackie 1604 VLZ-Pro mixing desk into active monitors. The recessed jack provides a broad range of connection options: an RTS Y cord to connect to a mixing desk, recording interface, or two amps, as well as accepting stereo headphones or a standard mono guitar cord for mono or guitar-only play into a single amp.

There are too many sounds available to probe them all individually, but suffice it to say the X Guitar offers a bushel of very good-sounding, 28-bit digital effects that easily attain or, in some cases, surpass the standards of affordable multi-FX units. The Distortion settings are essentially the X Guitar’s amp models, although the group includes a mix of generic pedal and amp distortion templates along with clean and acoustic sounds. The X Guitar really shines with headphones, where the stereo processing is rich and full. You can spend hours noodling away wearing cans, sounding like anything from death metal to jazz fusion without riling the neighbors or waking the family. Many of the presets are bathed either in deep hall reverbs or extreme modulation effects that just aren’t likely to be of much practical use, but, hey, that’s why they are user editable. Through an amp, some of the settings—the distortions in particular—initially sounded a little harsh. With just a little tweaking—such as switching off the Cab simulation and adjusting the EQ—I was able to get some fat sounds that would probably even work onstage. And while the X Guitar never quite achieves the dynamics or touch-sensitivity of a top-quality analog rig, it’s no great failing in a product at this price.

The X Guitar functions well enough as a standard guitar—which is what you’re left holding if you switch off the DSP or your batteries run out. In purely magnetic mode, the pickups have a slightly nasal edge, but they are clear enough and fairly full-voiced. And while not a high-gain unit, the humbucker drives an amp pretty well when you crank it up and hit it hard.

The X Guitar’s playability, fit, and finish are all quite good. You probably wouldn’t pay this much for a standard guitar of its quality level, (particularly considering the excellent starter models available from Squier, Yamaha, Ibanez and others that street for around $100 less), but the X Guitar feels solid and true and it even comes with a decent factory set-up. The 1h" nut combined with first- and 12th-fret neck thicknesses of around 0.71" and 0.84", respectively, make for a playing feel that might be a little on the wide-and-thin side for some beginners—a big part of this guitar’s target market—but it certainly aims at the norms for super-Strat style instruments.

On the whole, the X Guitar is primed to give young players a lot of thrills, and to could prove a handy tool to many home recordists. One could certainly make a case for the broader options afforded by a separate guitar and multi-effects pairing, but for what it delivers at this low price, the X Guitar is an impressive package.