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Lerxst CHI Combo Review

Lerxst CHI Combo Review

Alex Lifeson’s signature 30-watt, 6L6-powered combo offers tones from clean to scorching, that offer much more than just Rush sounds.

A powerful grab-and-go tube combo with gutsy lead and rhythm tones from an admirably simple control complement. Nice construction quality.

Independent lead and rhythm gain controls would be a plus.


Lerxst Chi Combo


In addition to being one of the world’s most-accomplished rock guitarists, Alex Lifeson is, it seems, a dab hand at product conceptualization, too. The latest evidence is the CHI Combo, a new addition to the Lerxst amp series, which is Lifeson’s collaboration with Mojotone of Burgaw, North Carolina.

The CHI was designed as an easily portable amp that Lifeson can reach for when a last-minute show pops up. It’s ostensibly “Marshall-y” in attitude, though it’s also very much a modern-voiced circuit with footswitchable clean and lead channels. It generates 30 watts via two 6L6EH output tubes and three 12AX7s in the preamp and phase-inverter stages. It’s a straight-ahead amp, wonderfully free of excess features to throw you off course. And while it's perfect for the diehard Rush fan (manual-suggested settings for several Lifeson signature tones, including “Limelight,” “Fly by Night,” and “Working Man,” confirm as much), there’s plenty here to satisfy guitarists outside the Canadian prog-rock obsessives club.

Greek to Me

The CHI exudes a businesslike demeanor, but it’s also stylish enough to stand apart from the scores of lookalike classic clones out there, dressed up as it is in race-grey levant vinyl, red-garnet piping, and black-matrix grille cloth. The logo panel sports a striking red font inspired by the text on the iconic Moving Pictures album cover, and the control panel carries an etched Starman graphic that lights up red when you flip the power switch (there’s no standby on this model). The 24" x 20" x 9", 49-pound amp, with its Baltic birch cabinet, feels solid and substantial, too. Mojotone’s reputation for quality cabinets extends back further than its amplifier business, and the company has supplied many top boutique amp builders. It’s easy to imagine why.

Access to the fluid, singing tones that define much of Lifeson’s playing with Rush is easy.”

Controls include input gain, lead master, output master, treble, middle, bass, and presence, and there’s a pull switch for a “rhythm clip” function on the input gain, which adds a little dirt to erstwhile clean tones. Around back, you’ll find a jack for the single-button footswitch, a send and return for the effects loop, two 8-ohm speaker outs, and a single 16-ohm out. Inside, the CHI’s circuit is wired across a primary printed circuit board. Three smaller boards host output-tube connections, effects send/return and speaker outs, and the LED array that lights up the Starman. Workmanship is tidy throughout, with neat wire runs and tube sockets that are bolted to the chassis for support in addition to their connections to the respective PCBs.

The CHI’s 30-watt rating comes courtesy of cathode-biased 6L6s. The configuration slightly reins the power from these tubes, which can produce around 45 watts in a fixed-bias configuration, but they can often sound a little juicier and more harmonically complex when cathode biased. The setup also means you can replace the output tubes without having to reset their bias. (We will say, though, be careful when removing or reaching behind the amp’s upper-back panel: A sharp edge on the roughly cut protective screen left this reviewer with a slice on my index finger.)

A Ride in the Red Barchetta

Tested with a Gibson ES-355 and a Fender 1956 Stratocaster Reissue, the Lerxst CHI swiftly revealed itself as a versatile performer—able to do far more than the expected Lifeson-alike tricks that would appear to be its raison d’etre. Going straight to the gained-up lead channel with input gain set at 2 o’clock or more—a route that’s hard to resist on an amp like this—accesses a boatload of muscular grind, sustain, and sizzle. Attaining the fluid, singing tones that define much of Lifeson’s playing with Rush is easy. Dial down the input gain to noon or below, though, and you can tap into plenty of earthy, rootsy rock ‘n’ roll tones. A little tweak here and there delivers everything from gritty classic rock to dirty blues to gnarly garage-rock tones.

Rhythm channel tones will stay relatively clean at pretty hot settings, so you can play loud without sounding muddy. This capability will be a boon for texturalists who need headroom for detailed time-based and modulation effects. But the rhythm channel also works great with overdrive pedals (a TS10 Tube Screamer and Wampler Tumnus Deluxe both sounded excellent). Pulling out the input gain knob for rhythm clip is also an effective tool for adding dirt to the rhythm foundation. The overall level drops slightly, too, but since it’s not a footswitchable function you’re more likely to use this very practical mode with its own gain settings.

With that in mind, it’s worth noting that the CHI’s gain staging, and the knobs that control it, take some getting used to. Since input gain controls the drive level for both channels, you’re tied to finding a compromise between them, then balancing the lead output via the lead master control, and the overall volume of both channels at the output master. Including just one more knob to allow for both rhythm gain and lead gain controls would be more intuitive. As it is, the setup certainly works once you get the hang of it, and both channels can sound great, but it sometimes requires a little deviation from your ideal tone on one channel or another.

The Verdict

The Lerxst CHI combo is a convenient, versatile amp with more than enough punching power to keep up with a heavy drummer, and still sounds great when reined in to basement practice levels. While saturated rock sizzle is very much its forte, the medium-grind overdrive tones are appealing, and both cleans and clipped settings on the rhythm channel are useful and satisfying. Independent rhythm and lead gain controls would have been a plus, but the CHI combo has much to offer just as it is, whether you’re a Rush fan or not

Lerxst CHI Combo


Alex Lifeson Lerxst Chi Amp Demo by Zach Wish — Run the range of Rush riffage! | First Look