Explosions of blue notes, the ringing of arpeggios, power chords and riffs from out of nowhere are all signs that hard rock guitar playing is growing up in the hands of Alex Lifeson. Once a disciple of Jimmy Page, the 28-year-old guitarist now includes Steve Hackett, Steve Howe and Allan Holdsworth on his list of influences. The results can be heard by following his progression on the nine albums he's released with Rush.
His primary instrument is a white Gibson ES-355 (pictured here). "I started out in 1968 with a Gibson ES-335," he says, explaining his choice of instruments. "I was always used to the feel of that particular style guitar. You also got a nice sound balance between the toughness of a Les Paul and the clarity of a semi-acoustic. I can clean up the sound without giving up any of the toughness and dirtiness I also like to have."
Pictured at right is a black Gibson ES-345 and in his hands an ES-369. "That's a new line. I don't know if it's up for the American market. It's got very hot pickups and a coil splitter and phase switch. It's an extremely hot guitar, but I'm not comfortable with it yet. It feels lighter than the 355, and I like a fairly heavy guitar."
The white guitar you see in the background is a Gibson EDS-1275 doubleneck that Alex picked up so he could have both a six- and 12-string electric on stage. The only modification is a DiMarzio pickup with coil splitter in the front pickup position of the 12-string. "I leave it in the split position because it comes out cleaner," Lifeson notes.
The acoustic guitars pictured include a Gibson Dove six-string and an Epiphone C-60 classical guitar. "We did an interesting thing to the classical. On those guitars you like to get a deep rich sound, so the woods they use are very resonant. On stage that caused a problem. So we put a bolt through it two inches below the bridge and tightened down the top and back. I've replaced the Dove on stage with an Ovation Adamas. It's not as good tonally, but the control is better. It's also a very easy guitar to play."
Rounding out Alex's collection are a couple of Strats, a Pyramid guitar and the new Gibson Howard Roberts Fusion guitar. The HRF is his newest love. "It's got an amazing sound, full of toughness and depth." Lifeson says excitedly.
His amp setup on stage consists of two Marshall Combos. They feature 100 watt amps with two 12-inch speakers in each cabinet. Each amp also drives a stack of Hiwatt 41/2x12"'s.
His outboard devices include the Roland Boss Chorus, Advanced Audio Digital Delay, Roland Space Echo 301 with Chorus, Morley Volume Pedal, Electro-Harmonix Electric Mistress, MXR Distortion Plus, Mutron Octave Divider, Cry Baby Wah Wah, Maestro Parametric Filer and Moog Taurus Bass Pedals.
His advice for today's guitar shopper? "No two guitars are the same. You could find six Les Pauls or 355s, and they'll all feel different than each other. It's a good idea to get what you feel comfortable with, what you really want. You can always fix up a guitar the way you want it, but it's nice to start with something that's already there. So the hunt might take more patience, but it's worth it."
Toughness, clarity and feel typify the guitars that Alex Lifeson of Rush hurries to purchase and play.