Electric guitars with built-in effects aren't a new concept. Way back in the sixties, Vox stuck extra electronics into some of its Phantom guitars and there have since been several other examples of the breed.
It's fair to say that the idea has never taken off in a big way, but perhaps that will change with the new Alesis X Guitar bringing the concept up to date.
Loaded with a bunch of digital multi-effects that include amp simulations, the X Guitar aims to deliver a fully-formed sound straight from its jack socket.
Basically a Strat-style electric, the X Guitar can be used as a conventional electric with a five-way switch selecting the combinations of bridge humbucker and two stacked single-coil-sized humbuckers.
There's a standard volume knob but no tone control. Where you'd find a Strat's tone knobs there are a pair of chunky silver switches.
One of these activates the onboard electronics and take it out of conventional mode, and the other toggles up and down the X Guitar's 80 onboard presets.
The rest of the controls for the onboard sounds are found on the edge of the top horn.
The current program and other data is displayed in a small LED window, while a pair of cursor buttons can scroll through and select each program.
Pressing both cursors at once mutes the guitar and puts the X Guitar in chromatic tuner mode with a note readout in the display.
The controls are completed by two rotary knobs, one of which selects individual effects for editing while the other can change the parameter value of the selected effect.
The X Guitar is equipped with a jack socket that can be used in the conventional fashion to send the signal to an amp but it can also be used with a TRS jack for a stereo output to mixing desk or with a set of stereo headphones.
A second jack socket allows the connection of an expression pedal for a bit of real time control over the effects.
Disregarding the electronics for the moment, the X Guitar comes across as a decent enough quality far eastern guitar that plays well straight out of the box.
With a shallow and wide-ish satin finish neck, the feel is modern and reasonably comfortable.
Using the X Guitar without any active effects, the pickups sound okay, if not exactly refined, but the standard five combinations give a versatile variety of tones that translate well through an amp.
Moving on to the effects themselves, stepping through the presets reveals that Alesis have covered plenty of options, with sounds that range from the staid and conventional through to the outlandish.
While the effects sound fine in mono with the guitar plugged into an amp, they really come alive when using stereo headphones or a 'Y' lead to connect to a mixing desk in stereo.
Each effect program consists of a chain of nine effects modules that can be arranged in one of eight routing configurations.
One of several specific effects can be chosen for each module and each has a single parameter value that can be adjusted.
The presets are strong on modulation effects and include spacious chorus and lush rotary speaker sounds.
Among others of note are funky auto wah sounds and a chewy voice box simulation, plus plenty of ambience with several different reverbs and delays.
The distortion bank has several different flavours of pedal and amp distortions that are fine for practice through headphones and extremely useful for recording.
They're also usable through an amp – although it will take a little editing of parameters to tone down some of the presets if they're to be used in this way.
Fortunately the X Guitar has plenty of edit-ability and with a little tweaking you can dial up and save sounds to suit your needs.
A guitar like this may be regarded in some quarters as a bit of a gimmick but the Alesis X Guitar has merits that would make it a useful purchase.
While onstage use is a definite possibility, the X Guitar is perhaps more likely to be used at home.
Just add a set of stereo headphones and you have a nicely self-contained system for silent practice, and those onboard effects can also create a fully-produced sound for direct recording.
Anyone looking for a first electric guitar has a fine and varied selection to pick from these days at street prices that are often somewhat less than the Alesis.
But once you have factored an amp and some effects or an amp/effects modeller into the equation the X Guitar starts to look like very good value for money.
Plus if you couple it with a set of batteries and a pair of headphones, it has the virtue of being a go-anywhere, self-contained rig.