Formed in Toronto, Canada, in 1969 by guitarist Alex Lifeson, bassist Geddy Lee, and drummer John Rutsey, the band began concocting its durable catalog when Neil Peart joined the group as drummer and lyricist just prior to recording the self-titled first album in 1974. The trio’s tireless work ethic yielded a stream of classic albums that established the trio as the fifth best-selling rock band of all time, with 23 gold and 14 platinum albums—including three multi-platinum awards—to their credit. Emphasizing the “prog” end of the rock spectrum, Fly by Night, 2112, A Farewell to Kings, Permanent Waves, Presto, Roll the Bones, Vapor Trails, and the much-lauded Moving Pictures are guitar-centric albums filled with songs as recognizable for their signature instrumental riffs as they are for their vocal melodies.
Over the years, Lifeson has played Gibson ES-335s, Les Pauls, and a very special 1977 ES-355 (used on everthing Rush recorded between 1977 and 1981), as well as Fender Stratocasters—which he began hot-rodding with replacement pickups before such things became commonplace—powered by Marshall, Gallien-Krueger, and Carvin amplifiers. Currently, his rig consists of PRS guitars through his signature Hughes & Kettner amp. Lifeson was also a pre-Van Halen endorser of the Floyd Rose locking tremolo system, and has always employed a wide variety of signal processors. In concert, both Lee and Lifeson have been known to cover synth and bass parts on sets of Moog Taurus bass pedals. (Lee also plays keyboards.) These additional elements—in tandem with Peart’s humongous drum kit—enable the trio to produce a massive live sound that continues to draw sell-out crowds, garner awards, and keep audiences clamoring for more.
Because some Rush songs are so riff-laden, I felt compelled to include multiple examples in several of the following entries. So roll the bones, roll up your sleeves, and get ready to rip into ten classic Rush riffs that read more like 20.