The folks at PremierGuitar.com recently had a good interview with Alex Lifeson, who after using Les Pauls back in the early days of Rush (Alex is a huge Jimmy Page fan), went to Gibson ES-355s, then did the super strat thing for a while, then played PRSs and now is sporting a sweet-looking Les Paul with a Floyd-freakin-Rose (check out those real MOP inlays!).
In the interview, Alex talks about why he’s back to Les Pauls now, among other tonalicious scraps. Here are the highlights. For the full interview, definitely worth a read, click here.
PG: Before the Snakes and Arrows tour, you were primarily using Paul Reed Smiths.
Alex: Yeah, they sent me a couple of guitars in the early ’90s. I think I was using a Signature at the time, which was made here in Canada. They had active pickups, and just the kind of a sound that I was going for in the late ’80s. But when I started playing these PRSs, they were fantastic! They came out of the case and they were still in tune and they were set up perfectly, just the way I wanted. And for a long time I used them probably more than anything else on stage.
And really, I don’t have a problem with them. I love the instruments; I still have all of them. In fact, I’m sitting here in my office, and they just sent me a 245 to check out. But I just wanted a change. I wanted to go back to a more classic sound and a classic feel on stage. I wanted to go back to Les Pauls. That’s really the only reason. In the studio, I use everything.
In the making of the Snakes and Arrows documentary, I think every time I saw you playing it was a Tele.
Yeah, the Tele is the one I really gravitate to in the studio. It’s my favorite writing guitar. That Tele is a ‘59 reissue, but we changed a few small things on it like brass saddles, and we took the finish off the neck so it just feels really different. I love it. And for me, writing on that guitar is just a very natural kind of thing. It just feels like the right instrument for me to be writing on.
In the studio I like to incorporate that sound against something like a Les Paul or a PRS. I find that it provides a really nice contrast on top of the thickness of that humbucker sound.
What pickups are in that Tele?
Just the stock pickups.
And on the Gibsons?
On the Les Pauls that I have, I switched over to the Jimmy Page wound versions. They’ve got a nice, smooth top end, and the bottom is nice and tight. And my 355 has the same [stock] pickups that have always been in there.
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.
Here’s Alex’s full list of gear (thank you, Premier Guitar, but we want full pickup info, and any info on Alex’s tube and speaker preferences). And here are a couple more interesting Qs/As:
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 are 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.