Rush’s Alex Lifeson Recalls Getting His First Gibson ES-335 and Gibson Les Paul

Rush guitar player and an all-around progressive rock legend Alex Lifeson recently appeared in a new interview with Gibson. Being one of the most famous Gibson players himself, Alex discussed his earliest encounters with the famous guitar brand and how he eventually ended up getting an ES-335 as well as his first Les Paul Deluxe. Looking back at his very beginnings, Alex sad (transcribed by Killer Guitar Rigs):

“When I started playing guitar, I was 12 years old. I wanted to play guitar because I just thought it was such a cool instrument, I thought it sounded really cool. You know, when I listen to music that had guitar music in it, particularly like the Beach Boys in that period in the mid-’60s, it was just the driving force of the music. And it just kind of spoke to me, I think.”

“I remember this was around the time, I guess I was probably 13 or 14, 15 years old… I used to go to a music store, Long & McQuade in Toronto, and I would sit on an amp and I pull a guitar down and I would play for about an hour until the salesman came over and said, ‘Okay, kid, beat it.’

“And then it come back the next Saturday and I would sit on another amp and pull a guitar down, I play for an hour, same salesman would come over and say, ‘Okay, kid, beat it.’ [Laughs] So, this would go on for weeks and weeks and weeks and months.

Among those guitars that Alex played were Gibsons. And he felt the most inspired by them. He continued:

“I played a 335, an SG, a Les Paul… Those instruments were just amazing to me. Like a Les Paul, for example. There was so much history in that shape. And the players that played that guitar…

Alex Lifeson Double Neck EDS-1275

“The SG was the same thing. I was a fan of Eric Clapton’s and he had that beautifully painted SG of his, the 335 Jorma Kaukonen from the Jefferson Airplane and Alvin Lee, BB King… You know, they were all ES players.

Of course, the ES-335 wasn’t exactly a guitar closely associated with rock music. Sure, there were some rock legends who used it, even Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore, but it was mostly a blues and jazz instrument. But to Alex, the 335 was a go-to guitar for his specific shade of rock music. He added:

“And there was something that was sort of unique about that guitar in a rock context. It didn’t seem like a rock guitar, like a Les Paul, or an SG was. I always wanted to have the Gibson, it was just a matter of timing.

Epiphone | The Alex Lifeson Les Paul Standard Axcess

“And the fall of… I think was 1969, a friend of John Rutsey’s [original Rush drummer] had the guitar put up for sale and I bought that guitar and I started playing it every waking minute that I had. I just couldn’t stop playing it.

Going back to his previous guitar that he played as an absolute beginner, Lifeson said:

“I had a very inexpensive starter guitar before that. Not at the level of a Gibson. I just couldn’t believe how easy it was to play. Not that I was as much of a player… The neck felt so much smoother, the action was so much lighter and easier. I was used to an action that was two inches high off the string. All the simple things that I could play just felt so much easier.

Rush - La Villa Strangiato at Pinkpop 1979

But to him, the ES-335 was a game-changer. As he recalls, everything revolved around playing that instrument:

“I really looked forward to playing that 335. And I remember coming home from school every day and playing until dinnertime. And then I said, ‘Forget about homework, I’ll just play guitar.’

“You know those bar gigs that we were doing in the sort of the early ’70s to the middle ’70s when we got our first record deal? That was my main guitar. I had a backup guitar, but I tended to use the 335 more than anything.

Rush Working Man,Rare Early Live Performance

Going more into the matter, Alex also recalled how he ended up getting his first Gibson Les Paul. It was the money from an advance that the band got for their big record deal that he used to get it. Alex said:

“And then, of course, once we got our advance on our record deal, we went shopping at Long & McQuade’s. And Neil [Peart, Rush drummer] bought a set of drums and Geddy [Lee, Rush frontman] bought an amp and I think he bought a bass or a couple of basses.

“And I ended up buying my first Les Paul, which was Les Paul Deluxe. That was so cool doing that. That was like a dream come true for any young musician, I think.

Photo: Shipguy (Alex Lifeson4)

  • 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 and brands like Sam Ash.