Guitarmania 2: Return Of The Six-String Beast

By Bruce Adamson, Canadian Musician, June 1995, transcribed by pwrwindows

Hot on the heels of last year's Guitarmania comes Guitarmania 2: Return of the Six-String Beast. In the spirit of things here at Canadian Musician magazine we have endeavoured to bring to you, the gentle reader, musings, reflections, insights and advice from some of the guitar community's pre-eminent practitioners. Variety was a theme this year - guitarists from all levels of success and various musical genres are presented for your reading pleasure. It's not often that so many viewpoints on the world's most popular instrument can be expressed in one forum, so get ready for a treat! Education was another important theme as well; the passing on of musical traditions has often been referred to as a process of a "laying on of hands", a gradual transfer of knowledge that comes from years of continual exposure to players who have developed their craft and their personal musical vision. Each of the players presented in Guitarmania 2, at some point, decided to follow his or her own 'drummer' after years of watching, learning, and of course, listening. Another thing that these players share is their common admiration of Jimi Hendrix's iconoclasm and enduring influence.

So throwaway your pick, toss the slide and let these players inspire both the head and the heart. The rest is up to us.

[Transcribers Note: Although only the interview with Alex Lifeson if transcribed here, this article also included interviews with Nuno Bettencourt (Extreme) and Mike Keneally (Zappa)]

What Canadian rock guitar player hasn't been influenced by Alex Lifeson? From the bars and high schools of Toronto to the arenas of the world, both he and his bandmates in Rush have been an Inspiration to musicians all over the world. Currently working on a solo album while the rest of the band takes a well-deserved break, Alex reflected on his career from his home studio in Richmond Hill.


"I've been using Paul Reed Smith Artists for about three or four years. Beautiful instruments, beautifully made. In the studio I have a whole array of guitars: a Les Paul, my original 335, another 335, a reissue '62 Strat and a reissue Tele. Amps are Marshall Anniversary series with 4x12s loaded with Celestions. A couple of the heads I had modified at Paul Reed Smith to make them warmer in the lower-mids.

"As far as effects go, we haven't been on the road for almost a year, so I have to refresh myself. I have a couple of T.C. Electronic 2290 delays and a T.C. Electronic 1210 spatial expander which I use for chorus. I have a Digitech GSP 2101 tube preamp with effects that I haven't had a chance to try out live. In the studio it's been very effective; it's got some really good sounds in it and they're quite warm. I run them through Palmer speaker emulators, so going right to the desk they're sounding quite good. I've got a Digitech TSR 24 multi-effects unit that I use for reverbs and tape delays, and a Digitech PPH 55, which is a harmonizer. I have my good old CryBaby wah wah pedal that I've had for 24 years - it's got to be one of the originals. In the early days, I had to save up for that wah wah pedal! When we recorded the first album in 1973, there wasn't that much around. I used the CryBaby and a Maestro Phase Shifter.

"I have a Bradshaw switching system that I've had for seven or eight years now. The workmanship is spectacular; it's never gone down over the years."

The Sound

"I always heard sounds in my head, although I was never always sure about how to achieve them. The whole sound of Pink Floyd in the early '70s - I wanted to get those sounds and have that kind of impact. Steve Hackett always had very Interesting tones. Being in a three-piece, there's greater pressure on a guitarist to make interesting sounds. In the past few years, there's been a move towards plugging straight into the amp and recording, and I'm getting off on that whole thing - Alice In Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, the impact and impression of a wall of sound. Most of the stuff I've been doing in my studio is like that."

Keeping Busy

"I'm starting to work on my own solo project. We finished the last tour in May, and Geddy and his wife had a baby a week after - talk about timing! He really wants to be home for a bit and spend some time with his new daughter, which we all understand and gratefully accept.

"We've been so busy over the years that you come home after a tour or recording and kick back and veg out. But after a lengthy summer of just hanging around, I thought that I had to do something. I have a recording studio at home. Bill Bell, a guitarist who works with Tom Cochrane and a lot of other local people, is helping out. We met at the first Kumbaya and played together and really got along quite well and thought that we'd get together. We had fun on Guitar World's Guitars That Ruled The World compilation CD, and just continued writing. I've been doing it since the end of October; I get up in the morning, grab a coffee and go down and I'm there 'til about 7:00 p.m., when I come out all bleary-eyed and shaking! But I'm really enjoying it a lot, and it affords me a little bit of freedom, but with it comes responsibility that I wasn't quite prepared for (laughter)! I've come to appreciate what we do in Rush, where everyone takes on a share of the workload through the course of writing and recording. Here I'm on the line - some days I think it's terrible and other days I think it's great - I'm going through one of those terrible periods right now (howls of laughter)! Tom Cochrane came in, and Sebastian Bach put down a vocal on one song. I'm enjoying it - it's been quite challenging and satisfying so far."

[Transcribers Note: Based on the above, the seed for the Victor album was planted when Alex Lifeson and Bill Bell first got together to record a track for Guitar World's Guitars That Ruled The World compilation CD, and then continued writing. Their track, "Strip and Go Naked", was eventually released on the Guitars That Rule the World, Vol. 2: Smell the Fuzz: The Superstar Guitar Album released October 22, 1996.]


"Initially, I wanted to play classical guitar. I used to bug my parents to get me a guitar and some lessons. But at the time, it was difficult; guitars were expensive, lessons were expensive - so they got me a cheap little Kent guitar. It was eight dollars and the strings were surplus Bell Canada wire and they sat as tall as telephone poles off the neck! Then I got a Kenora electric guitar and by that time, I was getting into other kinds of music - Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Clapton, Beck. When Zeppelin came out, that was my next big shift. Jimmy Page was a long-time favourite of mine. His playing sounded so cool and so hip for the time. It was big, heavy and macho - it was sexy in a lot of ways. The fact that it was a trio with a singer made me think, 'hey, I could do this'. . .or at least I could try!

"Cream got us practicing and wanting to become better. Ged and me would get together every day after school and learn 'Crossroads' and 'Spoonful', things like that. Later, we shifted towards the British progressive stuff. It wasn't music we wanted to play, but we really enjoyed listening to it because it was very sophisticated to our ears at the time.

"Once we started touring on a big scale, we started to focus on what we were doing, developing our own sound and ideas about writing and how we could be different. By the time we got to A Farewell To Kings, we were trying a lot of different things - 'Cygnus X-1', for example - the tone on that album and the variety on it."


"Geddy and I book a local studio that's quite comfortable. We'll set up and work in our little nook while Neil writes lyrics in the main house. We get together before dinner and discuss direction and how things are going. This will go on five days a week, with weekends off. We're creatures of habit; the mechanics of our writing style haven't changed in years. The whole availability of digital recording in a compact mode has made things much easier, as well as being able to lift and use things that you do at the demo stage at the final stage. On the last couple of records, we've probably used 25-30% of the guitar stuff from demos - most of my solos, in fact. We'll run a track of SMPTE and fly them in. We'll become very used to the solo I've done at the demo stage and it becomes. . .THE SOLO. Quite often, Neil starts to work his drum patterns around the solo, putting in little accents and things - so it's sometimes something that has to stay by necessity."

Rhythm Work

"In the pre-synth days, I thought that the problem with a three-piece was that the sound wasn't full enough, and I knew that it was basically down to me. I experimented with a more suspended feel so that there was an illusion of two guitars. When the chorus effect became available, I fell in love with it and had a fairly long love affair with it. It gave me that detuned kind of width that I had always heard.

"Pete Townshend was a terrific influence because of his strumming ability and his selection of chords and how he used them. He could get a tone that was on the lighter side of heavy, but was always very tough and masculine. I learned that there was a real quality to rhythm playing and really tried to develop that."


"He was such a terrific influence on music, let alone guitar. Here's a young teen listening to the Beach Boys and the British bands that were around; suddenly Hendrix came, and when he said, 'you'll never hear surf music again' he meant it! We played 'Fire' and 'Foxy Lady' in the first incarnation of Rush, which started back in 1968."


"I'd come home from school and the first thing I would do was play guitar until dinner, have dinner, play more guitar and then do my homework for five minutes, and then play my guitar until I went to bed. I did this every day, and just couldn't play enough. For a year and a half, I studied classical guitar with Elliot Goldner, who had studied with Eli Kassner. He had a motorcycle accident, so we fell out of the pattern of lessons, although I tried to practice as much as I could. This all ended when we started playing bars a lot.

"When we started touring, our schedule was pretty heavy, so we'd do soundcheck if we were lucky enough to get it and then I'd sit in the dressing room and play until we went on I did that for years. I became a little more regimented later on, where I would set aside at least 45 minutes before the show to warm up, and I did that for years. Over the past few years, I've cut that back a bit. It's become more of a dream that I've set on the backburner, that one day I would start taking classical lessons again and try to pick it up. I enjoy playing it, I like the discipline of it, but I'm not a really disciplined person, so I have to get a good hard kick in the pants to get me going with that."

The Most Important Thing

"It's great to find out the background of other players - what motivates them, what other interests they have. Whenever I meet another guitarist, I like to get to know them as a person just to find out where their playing comes from. Enc Johnson was a great example. He played with us a couple of tours ago and we got to know each other. We're a year apart, our birthdays are very close, and there are certain similarities to our character. When I listen to him play, there's structure and intricacy - he's very fluid and accurate, which, is a tough combination. When I met him. I found him to be a gentle soul with a really good heart. There's a connection in his heart and soul that enables him to play the way he plays; when I listen to him play I get a very clear picture of him as a person, and that's a great thing to convey.

"This last year has been a very reflective time for me. When I look back on my career, I think that I have reflected my personality and the way I am as a person."