Guitarist Kevin Comeau details how his mind was blown by Alex Lifeson's playing dynamics that were both medieval and melodic, while also revealing the peculiar chord he lifts from their stash.
Geddy Lee’s Magnificent Obsession
The Rush frontman talks about his bass-collecting odyssey—the perils of instrument hunting, the book it inspired, his favorite axes and their sounds, and the people who made and played them.
Last year, after four decades of touring and recording, prog-rock giants Rush came to a halt following Neil Peart’s retirement from drumming. While the trio remain close friends, and bassist and frontman Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson haven’t ruled out the prospect of further collaboration, each of Rush’s members are currently living life as a solo act.
Lee is a voracious collector of everything from wines to baseball ephemera, and over the past decade has increasingly turned that interest toward vintage bass guitars. The virtuoso says he initially set out with the modest intention of chasing down nice examples of the instruments wielded by his musical heroes: a ’62 Fender Jazz bass like John Paul Jones used in Led Zeppelin, a Gibson EB-3 like Jack Bruce’s in Cream, and so on. However, Lee is afflicted with the curse of the completest, and his curiosity grew with the purchase of each old instrument. Questions about the evolution of particular models and the spaces they occupied in the relatively short history of the electric bass led Lee deeper down the rabbit hole.
Eventually, Lee, who had previously only purchased basses as tools to create music, amassed a collection of over 250 vintage examples. Next came the idea to document his incredible collection and passion for the instrument in a book. Thus, Geddy Lee’s Big Beautiful Book of Bass was published in December 2018.The volume features world-class photos and notes about the basses in Lee’s collection, interviews with some of the celebrated players that shaped his musical world—including John Paul Jones and the Rolling Stones’ Bill Wyman, and showcases Lee’s transition from collector to archeologist of the bass.
Premier Guitar spoke with Lee over the phone as he relaxed at home in Toronto with his beloved Norwich Terriers. The conversation covered Lee’s passion for collecting and his new book, some of the rare instruments he’s now the custodian of, the challenges of Rush’s music, and what the future may hold for him as a player.
The collection of basses you’ve put together is pretty astounding.
It was no small task, and it was sort of a crash course for me. Considering that I’ve been playing for over 42 years, I probably should’ve known half of this stuff, but collecting vintage wasn’t really my thing. The whole vintage thing came to me over the last, maybe, 10 years. Prior to that, I was only looking at my instruments as tools to get me the sounds and playability that I needed to have onstage and in the studio.
When I was a kid, I collected stamps, and then when I got turned on to music, I had a big vinyl collection and I was pretty fanatical about that. Over the years, I got into first edition books, baseball stuff, and then there’s the wine“issue,” but the bass collecting and this book really felt like the first time that I was paying something back to the instrument that’s given me my entire life. It was a project that not only edified me in terms of what the world of instruments was like between 1950 and 1980, but it also was kind of a full circle for me as the first good instrument I ever bought was a 1968 Fender.
Was there a particular bass that catalyzed your transition from player to collector?
Yeah. The first instrument I bought as a collector was a ’53 Fender P bass, and I wanted that because it’s my birth year. Collectors seem to look for stuff from their birth year as a kind of ego thing. I guess everyone wants to celebrate their own entry into the world, right? So that’s where it started for me and that was a very important piece because, in researching that piece, I learned how early 1953 really was for the electric bass, having only been invented as a commercially available thing in ’51. That bass really got me thinking about that period, and, as a collector, it’s access to a window into history that really gets me motivated. Through that, I started learning about Leo [Fender] and I started being very interested in the changes that happened in the first 10 years of the P bass, because from ’51 to ’61 that instrument went through a lot of changes as Leo tweaked and looked for the ideal version of the Precision bass. Those early iterations and the modifications he made are interesting not only in learning about that instrument, but also learning about what made Leo Fender tick. Suffice to say Leo’s a fairly interesting character in the history of vintage instruments. That was one aspect that really got me turned on, and then I started casting my gaze to other instruments.
TIDBIT: For Geddy Lee’s Big Beautiful Bass Book, he interviewed bassists like Bill Wyman and John Paul Jones who could talk with authority about buying basses during certain periods.
Ever since I started using my ’72 Fender Jazz bass as my main stage instrument in the early ’90s, I’ve been obsessed with finding a backup for it that matched it tonally. I had a really hard time finding one that sounded the same, and have always wondered why certain instruments have a particular tone and why it’s so difficult to find others that sound the same. That lead me on my Jazz bass hunt, and I had heard so many things about the pre-CBS era of Fender, I really wanted to understand what had happened from 1960 and 1972 to make my main Jazz bass what it is, and how many changes had that model gone through during those years. Was it the same thing the P bass had gone through in its first 10 years, with these really dramatic changes to the design? And it was those questions that really led me down the rabbit hole.
I love how wholly you’ve thrown yourself into the archeology of bass—especially when it comes to mavericks like Leo Fender.
These are products of humans, right? So when a bass hits my hands, I want to know the context. Who made it? Why did they make it? Where did it come from? Where did the idea for it come from? What stage of development in the guitarmaker’s mind was this instrument? Does it represent the ultimate product for him, or was it something that he made along the way to getting there? Those are burning questions for me, and they happen no matter what kind of man-made object I turn my gaze on … whether it’s wine or watches or whatever! All of these things are just entry points, but it’s about learning more about the world and celebrating the incredible achievements of human beings!
Was the book something you had in mind as you got deeper into collecting, or just a by-product of it?
The book was a by-product, and I didn’t intend to collect so many basses when I started. I originally set out to collect maybe a dozen basses that represented the models played by the guys that taught me everything through my listenings—my heroes. So I was after a Gibson EB-3 that represented Jack Bruce, a Hofner 500-1 Violin Bass that represented Paul McCartney, a ’62 Fender Jazz bass like John Paul Jones used on the early Led Zeppelin records. Those were what I set out to put together in a modest collection just to be able to have some fun with them, but when I get into collecting, I turn into sort of a completist. I get a few of these things and then get curious and have to answer the questions, like what was different on the model from the year before, and then the year after, and so it goes.
What I discovered over the course of building this collection is that there are stories connected to these instruments, and bits of minutia that maybe everyone doesn’t know. And there are people that I came into contact with through collecting that were fascinating to talk to and had rich stories to share. Those were the reasons I finally thought maybe I should put these things down in some sort of compendium so the stories are preserved and the joy of collecting is shared with other like-minded people.
Tech 21 SansAmp GED-2112 Review
A partnership with Rush’s legendary bassist results in a dual preamp unit that earns his mark of approval and brings big, analog bass tone.
Recorded direct with 1965 Fender P-bass into SansAmp GED-2112 into Apogee Duet.
**Each clip has a sample of A) both preamps blended B) just the drive section engaged C) just the deep section engaged D) no SansAmp (direct bass)**
Clip 1 - Fingerstyle
Clip 2 - Pick play
There’s no shortage of companies out there making amp simulators, but Tech 21—with their proprietary SansAmp technology—is one of the originals, and their wares remain a must-have for many bassists. Part of the reason is SansAmp forgoes digital modeling, unlike many other products on the market, to achieve emulation with a completely analog signal chain. Bassist Geddy Lee happens to be a fan of SansAmp technology, and through a collaboration with Tech 21, the GED-2112 Geddy Lee Signature SansAmp was born. Yes, it’s a signature model, but don’t rush(sorry) to judgment. Turns out this new model could be useful for a wide range of players in a variety of applications—especially rock situations where amp-like color is desired.
The GED-2112 is a single-rack-space unit with a minty green front panel sporting a little drawing of Geddy raising his eyebrow at you. (When I was trying to learn his bass parts, I got the feeling he was raising his eyebrow in judgment of my ability to replicate his bass lines, but you can decide what he’s saying to you.) The device is basically separated into two sections—a “drive” preamp section and a “deep” preamp section—that run parallel.
The drive section is based on the SansAmp RPM preamp and has dials for overdrive, bass, and treble, parametric midrange, and output level. There’s also a blend control, which allows you to blend-in the desired amount of unprocessed, clean tone. The deep section has an EQ curve preset to Geddy’s personal specs and only has two controls: saturation and output. In my opinion, the “deep” name might be a little misleading. While it sounds great, I didn’t find it all that deep sounding. To my ears, it had more of a midrange growl, which really complemented the drive section nicely.
There are two options for plugging in: either a single input on the front panel or the two on the back. You can switch between the two back-panel inputs with a button that’s located on the face of the box. It seems like it would be a nice option to be able to do this with a footswitch, but no such luck. The back-panel inputs have a -20 dB pad for receiving line-level signals.
For outputs, there are a few options that give a player a lot of flexibility. Each section (deep and drive) has individual XLR and 1/4" outputs, and each output section has a switchable -20 dB pad. Additionally, there is an uneffected 1/4" out, which is essentially a buffered version of what goes into the input. Lastly, there’s a tuner out, which is the same signal as the uneffected output, but is not silenced by the front-panel mute switch. I would have liked to have seen a dedicated output that provides a blend of the two preamps—especially if one wants to use the GED-2112 in a live rig for clubs. With that said, Tech 21 states that there are a couple of workarounds for this, including a permanent modification that would need to be performed by a qualified technician.
On the big-plus side, the GED-2112 delivers an all-analog signal path, and there are myriad reasons to prefer an all-analog signal over digital. A major one is that if you’re using a digital modeler and splitting your signal pre-processing (say, to send the sound mixer an un-modeled option), the latency in digital processing will mean that the processed and unprocessed signals will be out of phase. That’s not a concern with the GED-2112.
Great amp-like tone. All-analog signal. Lots of versatility. Reasonable price.
No dedicated blended output of the two preamps. Input selector not footswitchable.
Ease of Use:
Tech 21 GED-2112
Test for Echo
For testing, I plugged in my beloved 1965 P bass and ran each preamp’s XLR out into an Apogee Duet. I often find option-packed gizmos that are intended to be versatile instead tend to have just one trick that works well. Not so here: I was able to get a very wide variety of usable tones out of the GED-2112.
The deep section sounds fantastic, with its built-in EQ curve, and its saturation sweep provides tones from fairly clean to a nice bit of overdrive. So, used individually, the deep section can serve as your basic plug-in-and-play tone, with a touch of amp-like air residing somewhere between clean and an amp turned up just before break-up.
Meanwhile, the drive section delivers everything from a nice, clean tone to full on, raise-your-sign-of-the-horns distortion. I also found the drive section’s EQ points very usable: Even with the treble cranked all the way up, you do get a satisfyingly bright tone, but it still retains a pleasant warmth. Given its control set and ability to head deep into overdrive and distortion world, the drive section is more versatile used on its own.
While both drive and deep were quite nice sounding as stand-alone preamps, the real magic comes when blending the two together, which is how the GED-2112 is intended to be used, after all. Taking advantage of the drive section’s deep, scooped sound and blending in a bit of the slightly midrange-y deep section provided me with a huge, thick, balanced rock-bass tone.
The GED-2112 is an excellent-sounding, versatile bass preamp. That said, I encourage players to not just look at it as a box to get Geddy Lee’s sound, but rather as a flexible tone machine that he helped create. I think the GED-2112 would be very handy to leave patched in at a studio where you don’t want to muck around with a bunch of amps or plug-ins. I would have liked it if the two preamps had a single output that blended them (especially for live use), as well as an option to switch between the inputs with a footswitch. But those observations aside, I found the SansAmp GED-2112 to be a great piece of equipment to have at the ready—at least whenever you need to get a killer bass sound quickly. Which is always, right?
Watch the Review Demo: