What kind of people use bass guitars they've hardly got a single good word for? Only poor men, idiots and Rush 's Geddy Lee, it seems. Gary Cooper gets to the bottom (ho,ho) of the matter
REMEMBER THAT Derek and Clive track about 'The worst job I ever had'? Well one of my least favourite jobs would be taking on Geddy Lee's role in Canadian band Rush.
Since recording 'A Farewell To Kings' the band's music has become increasingly complex, and Geddy not only finds himself having to sing against progressively complicated bass lines, but is now having to handle a very extensive keyboard set up combined with Moog Taurus bass pedals. His choice of bass is Rickenbacker.
"l guess it's because l was very heavily influenced by the Chris Squire Rickenbacker sound and I've always been striving for his type of sound, although during the past couple of years I've been worrying more about developing my own sound and style.
"I used to play a Precision when we were in clubs and as soon as we had our first big record advance I went to a shop and bought myself a Rickenbacker. Now I get them a little cheaper, direct from the factory.
"Isn't that funny, though, when you're starting out and don't have any money you can never afford what you need? Later, when you've established yourself you get it for very little!"
Another complication in Geddy's already busy playing life is his use of a Rickenbacker double-neck, with a '12' implanted in place of the normal six string half.
"That was custom-made for me by Rickenbacker. They'd never made a 12-string and a bass together and they modified a six string bass version to take 12-strings. There's something in the basis of the instrument that is totally illogical. For example they have the same set of volume and tone controls for the bass as they do the guitar which is totally wrong. This means that when you're changing from your bass to your guitar set-up you're stuck with the wrong settings.
"In order to get over that I've had to have a relay switching system built that routes through to another amp.
"There are other problems with the 4001: It's by no means the perfect bass. You have problems with neck warping, all sorts of things and every Rickenbacker I've played has a different neck. The tuning pegs fitted are terrible and the bridges are probably the worst bridges on any bass that you can buy. I have my bridges changed to Badass - they work better. I also have my machine heads switched to Grovers.
"There are holes in the sound too, but for my playing they have the best sound for what I'm doing just now. A Precision is a nicer bass to play but doesn't sound right for the band that Rush is.
"But I must admit that I'm still not too happy about the overall 12-string part of the set because I'm not happy with that 12-string half of the Rickenbacker doubleneck. Another alteration I had to make was take the Rickenbacker pickups off and put on some Gibson Humbuckers because the Rickenbacker pickups were terrible."
On the keyboard front Geddy has recently invested in a new Oberheim synth.
"It's an Oberheim 8 voice polyphonic synthesiser. The reason I have it is firstly that I'm not a proper keyboard player, I'm a beginner and I wanted a fat stringy sound or a horn sound without too many problems. It's also one of the most stable synthesisers that you can have on the road - it's hardly ever affected by voltage problems.
"I have the Oberheim in a single unit along with my mini-Moog which I think is possibly the greatest single synthesiser ever made. The two keyboards are set on top of each other and on one side is the computer control panel for the Oberheim, which is one of the main reasons I bought it.
"You just set the sounds you want and them put them in the memory and you have sixteen memories so all you have to do is push a button and it's set for the sound you want in any particular song. Another thing is that you can split the keyboard so that you have two monophonic synthesisers and set each for a different sound. You can really mix and match with the sounds on the Oberheim.
"I've also had the Moog Taurus pedals interfaced with the Oberheim so that at the flick of a switch I can control with my feet any sound that's programmed with the Oberheim, and that's the best reason of all for having it!
"The fear of getting things set wrong is always there, like leaving the portamento on by mistake. It can be a real treat or a nightmare depending on whether it works or not. I like to do it though, because having so many different things to handle is a challenge, it's something to aim for.
"One thing we have got into doing lately is tuning all our guitars on stage. We use so many different instruments that even strobo tuning isn't enough if it then means that you have to take the instrument through temperature changes to actually get to the stage. This way they're already at stage temperature by the time you get to play them. With this band when there's so much to do you can't afford to have guitars going out of tune."
Being rather single-minded myself, I asked Geddy how he coped with so many different things at a time.
"Yeah, it's difficult. At the beginning of any tour, when we're re-learning the set I have a lot of problems. Number one: singing and playing is difficult. In the studio I put my bass down and quite often forget that I'm going to have to sing and play at the same time. Even the melodies aren't always worked out until the track's recorded. You may have noticed my bass gets quieter when I'm singing, because of the concentration. Again the foot pedals are difficult to handle but you eventually get into a rhythm where you're almost on automatic when you do things. When something goes wrong you can often find it shakes you and you stand there thinking 'Where am I?'!
"One thing I have tried recently is a Rickenbacker 4002 which is a very different bass to the 4001. It has a much better neck. I haven't been able to use it on stage as yet because it has a sort of cut-off at the low end. With the 4001 there's a hole in the mid range but with the 4002, although they've compensated for that by moving the pickup, what that's done is cause a loss in the low end.
"Another Rickenbacker I have is a fretless. I'm really very bad at it because my intonation is awful. I also have a 3001 which is very rare. One year Rickenbacker decided to compete with the Precision and made this bass called the 3001. It's totally different to any other Rickenbacker I've ever seen. It has just one pickup exactly in the centre, a bass, a volume, a treble and a really thick body. It's an interesting bass because it has a thick ballsy sound almost like a Gibson."
In addition Geddy has a small collection of interesting instruments at home including a Martin nylon strung guitar, which he uses for most of his writing, and his original Fender Precision which he admits to ruining by altering the shape of the body! Back on Rickenbackers, however: Geddy is one of the few musicians I've ever met who has had any direct contact with the company.
"Well they're a very small company and they're very hesitant about changing anything. They have one of the best sounding basses around but there's a lot they could do with it and they haven't yet. They also have a whole range of equipment that they make that people just don't know about and they don't seem to promote, like an amplifier they've been working on for years, the 3001 and all sorts of other things. It's a great pity that they don't get it together a bit more.
So, yet another bass player who has a love/hate relationship with Rickies. Will some manufacturers ever listen, one wonders?