The Rush Tapes, Part 3

Alex Lifeson, The Walking, Talking King of Canadian Guitars

By Scott Cohen, Circus, November 10, 1977, transcribed by pwrwindows

Rush's prolific guitarist, Alex Lifeson, is the third and final subject of the Rush Tapes. The Canadian trio has most recently released A Farewell to Kings on Mercury.

Cohen: Are you a walking guitar?

Lifeson: Well, I play guitar the way I walk.

Cohen: Are you a talking guitar?

Lifeson: I can't put things down in words when I want to say something I don't have the knack for it - and the guitar is my way of saying a lot of things. I didn't really forget about the guitar before this past year, it was more like someone I had been living with for a long time and that I just took for granted. But this year, I've discovered a whole new appreciation for the instrument - what it could do for me and what I could do for it and with it.

Cohen: Like expanding your vocabulary?

Lifeson : Yes.

Cohen: If musical notes were words, you would be very articulate.

Lifeson: With me, that's the way it is. With this latest album ('A Farewell to Kings') I really feel that - that I'm talking. There are a few things I hear that, as a guitar player I'm really proud of. Every time I hear "it" I know exactly how I felt and what I wanted to say. This is something I always felt I was doing, but never to the extent that I am now. I've also gotten back to the technical aspects of the guitar and I'm getting back into classical guitar.

Cohen: Do you remember your first guitar?

Lifeson: Sure, it was a Kent. I got it for Christmas. It was $13.

Cohen: Let's talk about the thinking process involved in selecting a guitar.

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Lifeson: For me, it's mostly the neck, because that's what you're playing with. Because I've had the DS-335, which is the Gibson semi-acoustic, for nine years, I'm used to that neck and it's a very narrow and thin neck. It's really a nice guitar to play. The guitar is properly balanced as far as the overall weight and size of the body in relationship to the neck. The Les Paul is a wider neck and you have to play it differently from the 335. So, you look at that first of all, and then pick-ups. I was using Pyramid Pick-Ups, made by Pyramid Guitars in Detroit, and I was pretty happy with them, and I also have a Pyramid guitar that they built - that's back in the shop because the neck is being sanded down a bit more and a few little things are being done to it. That's what I look for in a guitar. Nowadays, in a stock guitar you'll always end up changing things around. . . like the machine heads, and in a lot of cases, the bridge.

Cohen: Is it important how your guitar looks?

Lifeson: Yeah, you don't want an ugly guitar, but you're more concerned with the way it sounds. I got a new guitar a little while ago, a stereo model of the 335, and there I was concerned about the looks.

Cohen: Who was your first pop fashion image?

Lifeson: I guess Jimi Hendrix.

Cohen: How do you decide which of your guitars you're going to use?

Lifeson: Which ever sounds best for that song. I used to use a 335 about 90% of the time. I use the 355 most of the time now, and the 335 as a back up, and the Les Paul as a second back up. I've revamped my whole amplifier system so I'm getting into different guitars for different songs, whereas in the past I didn't do that.

Cohen: Are you playing guitar to your full potential or is there room for improvement?

Lifeson: I can improve because I don't think I have changed that much in my basic style, but I've learned a lot of new things. I can listen to our first album and I'll still hear some of those things on the new album, but I hear them in the way they should sound now - they were a lot more raw back then.

Cohen: Are there any finger exercises you do to stay in shape?

Lifeson: There are, but I don't do any exercises. I play every night and do sound checks in the afternoon and a half-hour before we go on, so there's three or four hours a day that I play guitar.

Cohen: Who has influenced your style?

Lifeson: There's been a lot of influences in the past - Jimmy Page, Peter Townshend, all the big guitar players of that era. I can think of very few guitar players who didn't influence me.

Cohen: Who do you listen to?

Lifeson: I like to listen to classical stuff the most - Jon Williams, Julian Bream, Segovia. I'm also getting into Weather Report . . . Genesis I always enjoy listening to.

Cohen: Do you ever think of writing classical music?

Lifeson: Yeah, I'd love to, but there's so much I have to learn before ever getting into that. One of my goals, when I have the time, is getting back into classical music.

Cohen: Do you have a classical fantasy like being asked to play guitar with the Toronto Philharmonic?

Lifeson: Sure, I'd love to do that, but I'd love to be able to play on that kind of a scale. You'd have to be really, really good to be able to go on with the Toronto Philharmonic.

Cohen: Does a classical guitar player have to be better than a rock guitar player in relation to his own field?

Lifeson: Oh, yeah. There's not that much feeling in classical, you have to play it the way it's written. In classical it's mainly discipline, whereas in rock there isn't that much discipline. There's a lot of gut feeling in rock, and if it gets a little sloppy, it really doesn't matter.

Cohen: Do you remember the first song you played?

Lifeson: I think it was the theme song to Nobless Cigarettes.