Alex Lifeson Explains Why He Choose Gibson Over Fender, Says His Epiphone Les Paul Is ’Very Close’ to Gibson

Rush guitarist and an all-out prog rock legend Alex Lifeson explained how he ended up going with Gibson instead of Fender guitars back in the day.

Kicking off his career in the 1960s and the 1970s, Alex was mostly exposed to the two usual guitar brands, Fender and Gibson. And while there was definitely other stuff out there, hardly any famous musician was known for using it. As a result, to this day, all guitar models are gravitating towards either Fender-style or Gibson-style traits, or they’re some form of a “balance” between the two.

Either way, we still know what Gibson and Fender traits are. And according to what Lifeson said in a recent chat with Ultimate Guitar for their On the Record podcast, Gibson guitars just felt like a better option for him.

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“There were guitarists that used the ES-335 or the ES line that I really admired,” Alex said when asked how he chose Gibson over Fender. “You know, Alvin Lee, Jorma Kaukonen from the Jefferson Airplane.”

But it’s not just about what his heroes played at the time. The Rush legend says that the Gibson traits just felt right. He continued:

“It’s just the platform that I liked – I liked the size of the body. It felt good sitting down playing, standing. The body was a little bit bigger. It felt great. I felt like there was good weight in the body, so the neck didn’t require holding it up.”

And obviously, there was also the tone. “And I like the sound of the Gibsons,” Lifeson offered. But, at the end of the day, he says that these are just some minor traits and a personal preference.  

“These are minor things,” he explained, “just a taste preference, really. And my first 335 was the first really good guitar that I had. And it’s still up here on the wall back here. It was just the sound that I was looking for.”

Over the years, Alex Lifeson became known for his use of Gibsons, particularly ES-335 and Les Pauls. But despite getting his own signature releases of these two models, there have also been other guitars in his arsenal, even some Fenders over the years. And in later years, he also used PRS.

But as far as signature guitars go, Lifeson also has a signature Epiphone Les Paul model. And during the interview, he explained that his Epi is not that far off from his signature Gibson.

“I think they’re very, very close,” replied Lifeson when asked to compare his signature Epiphone and Gibson Les Paul models. “You feel the difference in the weight of the guitar. I think you have to make compromises if you want to drop the retail pricing to Epiphone levels from custom shop levels.”

“It’s a $4,000 guitar down to an $800 or $900 guitar, I guess – a little more with the Crimson. So, you’ve got to save that money somewhere. I think the hardware is maybe a little lighter weight. The wood is different. But the tonality is really excellent, and the feel of the guitar is great.”

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Lifeson’s Gibson Les Paul was available from 2011 and 2018. These days, you can find it on Reverb or other marketplaces, where it fetches up to several thousand USD. Meanwhile, the current Epiphone version that’s available is at around $1300. Nonetheless, despite the price difference, Alex admits that he’s more than impressed by the quality of Epiphones.

“I gotta say, I was blown away by the Epiphones,” Alex continued. “When they sent the first prototype, I was shocked at how good the guitar was. Because I guess I had a feeling that Epiphone over the years has become sort of a cheaper model – more accessible as a first guitar kind of thing.”

“But the quality of the workmanship at Epiphone is mind-blowing now,” he explained. “It’s stunning. Everything’s tight, in line, perfect.”

Alex Lifeson - Gibson Custom Alex Lifeson R40 Les Paul Axcess

Another Gibson artist who also has both Gibson and Epiphone models is Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine. In fact, the company also made Kramer Flying V Mustaine models, all of which are under Gibson brands. And discussing these instruments, Mustaine recalled how, during a Megadeth show, his tech handed him one of the Epiphones, and he apparently didn’t even notice that it wasn’t a Gibson.

“During the set, the techs will hand guitars to me when I need them,” the Megadeth mastermind said in an interview. “It’s quick and no fluff because we need to get on with it. And so, I was getting ready to run up on stage; I grabbed my guitar and was off.”

“And after the fact, my tech said to me, ‘Hey, what did you think about the Kramer?’ And I’d looked at him, and I said, ‘Huh? What are you talking about?’ He said, ‘I handed you the Kramer when you went out there tonight…’ and I said, ‘Really? Get the f*** out of here.'”

My First Gibson: Alex Lifeson of Rush

“I couldn’t tell. It was a real heat-of-the-moment scenario, so I couldn’t even tell you what color it was. I never looked at the headstock or body beyond noticing where the wings ended. If I had looked at the bottom of the wings and seen if they were rounded or pointed, I would have been able to tell it was an Epiphone, Kramer, or whatever.”

Photo: Vtpeters (20110527-200145 Rush Ahoy Rotterdam 1200×0800)


  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor.