Six-string gods may be the famous ones, but their jobs are made infinitely easier by guitar techs. The Globe spoke with three of these unsung heroes - including Rush's guitar guru/gear nanny Scott Appleton - about the job of keeping rock's road machine tuned.
Appleton is Alex Lifeson's guitar tech on Rush's Clockwork Angels Tour. He's worked in the field on and off for 20 years, for Journey, Def Leppard, Styx and Peter Frampton. "I'm a guitar player who kind of drifted into this," he says. "Not all guitar techs are players, but I've been playing since I was 10 years old." Some guitarists are more particular about their sound and instruments than others, but Appleton has no issues with rock stars who are fussy. "If they can tell me exactly what they want, it makes my job easier. Alex is very easy, in that respect, because he knows what he likes." More Related to this Story
Lifeson uses, no surprise, a Gibson Custom Alex Lifeson Les Paul Axcess. "It has a certain aggressive tone that he really likes," Appleton says. The guitar, from a small run of the model with a black finish, uses a piezo pickup that allows Lifeson to switch from an electric sound to an acoustic one, for songs such as The Garden and Halo Effect. When a guitar is switched during the show, Appleton hands the new one to Lifeson and takes the other to his station, where it is immediately re-tuned. The strings on the main guitars are changed after each show. "I give them away all the time," says Appleton, of the old strings. "Before I started giving them away, I used to see people digging through the trash for them."
Appleton works up to 14 hours a day on concert days, starting at 11 a.m. (changing strings, tuning the guitars and setting up Lifeson's rig), continuing to a soundcheck at 5 p.m., then being on call during the show - during which he wears a custom-fitted in-ear monitor, with the same audio mix as Lifeson's - and, finally, helping with the load-out. Asked about his job, he breaks it down to a trio of responsibilities: One part luthier (guitar repairer), one part electrical engineer and computer programmer, and one part "abnormal psychiatrist." As he explains, a crew on the road lives and works in close quarters. "You have to know how to get along with people. I really think that's 80 per cent of the job."