The legendary power trio Rush has been making music for more than 30
years. Despite their reputation for loud arena rock dished out on
electric guitar and bass, Rush stalwarts Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee have
created a lot of their classics on acoustic guitars. Here the two
expound on the role of flat-tops in their career.
How did the classical parts on some of your earlier records come about?
Lifeson: I studied classical guitar for about a year and a half when I was 18. I didn’t get that serious about the training but I really enjoyed it. Every once in a while I’d get some sheet music and learn a new piece, but not much, which is too bad because it’s such a satisfying and rewarding way of playing guitar. I’m actually looking at my Ramirez classical right now. I bought that guitar in a pawn shop in Denver. That’s the one I played on “Farewell to Kings,” “The Trees,” and “La Villa Strangiato.”
What guitars do you play for the acoustic set on your R30 DVD?
Lee: I played a Taylor—I don’t remember the model number. I got that guitar specifically for the tour. From the minute I had my hands on that one I loved it. I loved the tone and it just felt right for me. It’s a little bit smaller.
Lifeson: I’m playing an Epiphone Masterbilt EF-500R. It’s a big jumbo and it sounds great. I used it for my primary acoustic in the studio for Feedback. I love the tone and it feels great too. The Masterbilts are very reasonably priced—I would strongly recommend them. I run it through my Audio Technica wireless. I think the AT stuff sounds so good—clear and crisp and clean. That’s especially good for amplifying acoustics where you want all those upper harmonics and that silky top end.
Geddy, do you play with a pick or with your fingers?
Lee: I play with my fingers and I pluck out bass lines. Acoustics, when you slap them, sound just great. They growl. You can get a nice chunky sound out of them.
Lifeson: Geddy’s bass playing is so melodic and that comes from playing bass parts on an acoustic guitar. He would play bass lines right on the acoustic, but he would come up with a lot of guitar parts too. “Closer to the Heart” for instance—he wrote that opening picking part. I heard it and said, “That’s so cool—show me that!”
Lee: I forgot that I wrote that lick. He’s got a good memory for that kind of stuff. Now that he mentions it, I do remember putting that song together.
What are some other Rush tunes that you’ve written on acoustic?
Lifeson: Pretty much all of Fly by Night, Caress of Steel, and a lot of 2112 and Farewell to Kings. For the longest time Geddy and I wrote everything on acoustics. He didn’t play bass, I didn’t play electric. I think it shows. I think my electric tones tend to be on the cleaner side as a result of all the acoustic writing.
Lee: Some of the best riffs that we’ve ever written were on acoustic, including a lot of our heaviest stuff. Half of 2112 was written on acoustic, for sure. I used to have this little Martin nylon-string that I would write on. I still have that guitar. We’d write in the back of a car or in a hotel. That’s partly how we developed that habit of writing on acoustics—out of practicality. You can carry them around with you.