Throughout his 40-year career with progressive rock icons Rush, Geddy Lee has created some of the most memorable and thunderous bass lines in the history of rock music. Any four-string player who wants to improve their chops will have to take a swing at the classic bass lines that Lee created, including the highly technical runs of ‘YYZ’, the hyperspeed mania of ‘Driven’, and the classic thump of ‘Tom Sawyer’.
Surprisingly enough, Lee didn’t vary his instrumental palate until the very end of his career. During the R40 Tour, the final trek of Rush’s existence, Lee began to incorporate some of the classic bass models that he had been collecting over the years. As he explains in his book Geddy Lee’s Big Beautiful Book of Bass, Lee wasn’t actually much of a collector during his days in Rush, with his massive current collection only coming together in the most recent decade of his life.
That tour saw Lee bust out several basses that fans had never seen him play, including various early 1960s models of Fender Jazz Basses. The R40 jaunt also saw Lee pick up some alternative models, including Gibson Thunderbirds, Hofner Solid Bodies, Epiphone Embassies, and even a Zematis Bass. For a man so closely associated with a precious few numbers of instruments, Lee pulled out all the stops for R40.
In the early days of Rush, Lee was stuck using cheaper models of instruments like Canoras and Hagstroms. But in 1972, he acquired his first Fender – a Precision bass in a tobacco sunburst finish. This was the bass that provided the early thump for Rush tracks like ‘Working Man’ and ‘Finding My Way’. Once the band began to actually see a little bit of money, Lee relegated the Precision to backup duty and eventually had the body cut into a teardrop shape and painted blue. The modifications remain fascinating even though Lee has expressed regret about permanently maiming his first real bass.
Around the time that Neil Peart first joined Rush, Lee had already switched over to one of his two signature instruments: the Rickenbacker 4001. With punchy midrange and a commanding tone, the “Ricky” was Lee’s weapon of choice for the mind-bending runs of ‘Anthem’, ‘2112’, ‘Cygnus X-1 Books I & II’, and ‘La Villa Strangiato’. Lee also continued to use the bass throughout Rush’s most commercially successful period in the early 1980s, but a visit to a pawn shop would forever change the course of Lee’s bass playing.
While knocking around Kalamazoo, Michigan, on a day off in 1979, Lee was visiting a pawn shop with one of Rush’s roadies when he saw a Fender Jazz Bass hanging on the wall. The instrument had a cigarette burn on the neck and no case, but for the relatively modest price of $200, Lee decided to take a chance on it. The Fender stayed at Lee’s home for a year or two before Rush entered the studio to record Permanent Waves. Lee was still favouring his Rickenbacker at the time, but it would be on the band’s follow-up, Moving Pictures, that Lee’s love affair with the Jazz Bass would truly begin.
While recording ‘Tom Sawyer’, Lee was unhappy with the limited tone that he was getting from his Rickenbacker. He had dialled in the midrange, but the “Ricky” lacked the bottom-end growl that Lee envisioned for the song. So Lee decided to bring the Fender Jazz Bass into the studio and fell in love with the sound that he managed to coax out of the instrument. Once Rush hit the road for the biggest tour of their career up to that point, the Jazz Bass was Lee’s new number one and would stay that way for the rest of his career.
Lee also had some dalliances with other basses, including Steinbergers and Wals throughout the 1980s, but Lee continued to favour the Jazz Bass for the rest of Rush’s career. Lee was also the band’s keyboard player, managing to work in synthesisers from the likes of Moog, Oberheim, PPG, Yamaha, and Roland over the years. But if Lee has just one signature instrument to stand by, it has to be the Fender Jazz Bass.