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more... ArtistsAlex LifesonApril 2009

Interview: Alex Lifeson

Are you the kind of player that has an emotional attachment to a particular instrument?

Well, my 335, my 355 and that Tele, and the first CE bolt-on that I got from Paul Reed Smith, as well the one I used for most of the 1990s and early 2000s, which again was a CE bolt-on—which is not their fanciest model. Those guitars right there are probably my most important kids, and I wouldn’t want to get ridof any of them. I’d be heartbroken losing the others, but… oh, and a couple of these other Les Pauls that I have currently, because they’ve been set up exactly the way I want them. So I guess they could all go except for those.

And what about the Howard Roberts?

Well, I definitely need the Howard Roberts, yeah.

OK, so you would keep pretty much all of them?

[laughs] Yeah, now that you mention it. I’m thinking, “Well, that’s not really fair to that Gretsch sitting over there, so...”

Your gear list for the tour lists six Les Pauls, mostly Customs and Standards. Tell me about them.

Well, a couple have piezos, and a couple have Floyd Roses. One’s got a Bigsby. And the tonality is different from one to the next. I’ve got a Custom that weighs about 80 pounds, and I’m sure that that last E chord I played is still ringing out! It’s amazing! It’s such a heavy piece of wood that sustains like crazy. And then the Gold Top is great. It’s a ‘59 reissue, and I love the neck on it. That one is set up with a piezo with no vibrato. They all have their own job. They are tools for me.

There’s some debate going on about the “Swiss cheese” body Les Pauls versus the chambered body Les Pauls, do you have an opinion?

They sent me [a chambered] one and I checked it out, and it is nice to have a lighter Les Paul [laughs]. I would have to say it’s lacking a little bit, but really, I would want to spend a little more time with that guitar and put it through its paces. I got it when we were on tour, and I’d like to see how it reacts in the studio. It is kind of nice to have that little break for your shoulder, but I’m not sold on it yet.

Lifeson in the mid-70s with his Gibson EDS-1275 that was damaged by a falling speaker horn in Uniondale, NY. After repairing a broken neck and repainting the guitar, Lifeson gave it to Eric Johnson as a gift. It was stolen from Johnson within weeks. Photo Neil Zlozower
And speaking of the shoulder, did the double neck go out on the road this last tour, just in case?

Well, the double neck made it to rehearsals, just in case. [Laughs] But it didn’t make it on the road this time. But you never know; it’s there, it’s waiting...

How do you go about choosing a particular guitar to play live?

Well, for this tour, because I had a lot of tunings and different requirements I had to try to set up for, it made the whole selection process much easier. But I think increasingly over the years I like to mix it up a bit, even if it’s just bringing one particular guitar for one or two songs. I know it drives Bucky [Alex’s guitar tech Bob ‘Bucky’ Huck] crazy because it’s just that many more string changes he has to do on a daily basis. It’s a lot of fun to have all these instruments around for a three-hour show.

How loud is Rush on stage?

You’d be shocked! I’m sure your stereo at home is louder. The loudest thing on stage is Neil’s drums, acoustically. There’s no monitors on stage. Geddy goes direct so there’s no bass rig on stage. My amps are down very low, just loud enough so that I can get some feedback if I step right up to them. And the reason we do that is we want to have a nice, manageable sound on stage that we can pump clearly through the PA.

How much guitar is in your in-ear monitors?

My mix tends to be pretty representative of the whole sound. I have a nice, full drum mix and keys in stereo, and vocal and bass up the middle. I probably have a little more ride cymbal, hi hat, snare and kick, in the whole balance of the drums. The guitars I typically have on the left side, and then I do a short eight-millisecond delay on the right side, just so I can get guitar hard left and hard right.

When is Rush going back into the studio?

Well this tour, it really, well… it killed us! We did 120 shows on this tour. The show is over three hours, and we’re no spring chickens, that’s for sure. So we decided we would take a year off and get it out of our systems. Whether Geddy and I get together sometime in the spring and do a little bit of casual writing, that’s fine. And we probably will—we get a little antsy. But I don’t think we’ll get into anything until the fall, and whether that’s going to be a new record or another tour or what exactly, I’m really not sure. I’m assuming at this point we would be working on another album.

Is it hard to decide what songs to play live?

Well, it’s really hard with all of this material, and we have so many songs that we sort of have to play. As much as I enjoy playing on everything, I kind of get a little tired of it. It would be fun to do some stuff that we haven’t done in a long time. I think it would be really interesting and keep us on our toes, and that would make for a very interesting DVD as well.

Any chance of another a solo album for you?

You know, I just did a big renovation in my studio, and Rich Chycki, who engineered the last couple of records and DVDs, has moved in with me so we’re planning on doing a lot of things. I’d like to do a little bit more producing, working with some other artists, and I’ve thought about doing another solo project… that’s definitely along there somewhere on the stovetop. We’ll see.


1 Gibson Black Les Paul Custom
2 prototype Gibson Les Pauls with Floyd Rose tremolo
3 reissue Gibson Les Pauls (’59 Gold top, ’58 sunburst, ’59 tobacco sunburst) with Fishman piezo system
2 Gibson Howard Roberts with Fishman piezo system (one Fusion with Tune-O-Matic Bridge)
2 1976 Gibson ES-355s (Alex’s 1976 original
and Alex Lifeson ‘Inspired By’ Model)
1 Garrison OM-20 Octave Mandolin
3 Martin D12-28 Acoustic Guitars

Amps and cabinets
2 Hughes & Kettner Switchblade 100 Guitar Amp Heads
2 Hughes & Kettner Alex Lifeson Signature Triamp MKII Guitar Amp Heads
8 Hughes & Kettner 4X12 Guitar Cabinets

Effects and Routing
Furman PL-8 and PL Plus Power Conditioner
1 Dunlop DCR 1SR rack wah
1 Ernie Ball 250k volume pedal
1 Mesa Boogie 4channel amp switcher
2 Axess Electronics CFX4 Amp Switchers
2 Axess Electronics GRX4 Guitar Router/Switchers
2 Behringer Ultralink MX-662 6 Channel Splitter/Mixers
4 Audio Technica AEW 5200 Guitar Wireless Receivers
3 Fishman Aura Acoustic Guitar Modelers
2 Custom Audio Japan GVCA-2 Rev.3 Midi
Programmable Volume Controls
1 TC 1210 Spatial Expander + Stereo Chorus/Flanger
1 Behringer XR4400 Multigate Pro
4 TC Electronics G-Force guitar effects processors
2 Hughes & Kettner Rotospheres
3 Palmer PDI 03 Speaker Simulators

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