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Judging the Alex Lifeson Gibson Les Paul Axcess

April 1, 2011 by  



Alex Lifeson Gibson Les Paul Custom AxcessAlex Lifeson is known to have played a tremendous number and variety of guitars throughout his career, and even on one record – in the making of Rush’s 2002 release, Vapor Trails, Lifeson used 50 different guitars and, for the first time in years, no keyboards whatsoever.

Now, Lifeson has teamed up with the good folks at Gibson, releasing his signature model Gibson Custom Alex Lifeson Les Paul Axcess. In some ways, Lifeson goes back to his roots with this guitar; in others, he uses it to summarize a lifetime of playing and recording experience.

Lifeson started out playing a Gibson ES-335 for Rush’s first four albums, switching to a Les Paul (blasted through a Marshall stack) during the seminal 2112 Tour. By the early 1980s he was playing custom-built Fender Stratocasters, with a Bill Lawrence humbucker in the bridge position, almost exclusively. He rotated through four such Fenders – all with Floyd Rose locking tremolos – until 1986, when he switched to his own brand, Signature Guitars. For use in the studio, where time is money, it’s an understandable decision since anyone would be more familiar (and no doubt more comfortable) working with a guitar of one’s own design.

Now, along comes this signature Gibson that is also of Alex Lifeson’s design. While he is clearly considered by some to be a guitar giant, it isn’t fair to true greatness to put him in the same pantheon as those undisputed heavyweight champions of rock and roll – Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan and others going all the way back to the crossroads. That is not to imply that Lifeson is undeserving of signing off on a custom guitar… It just makes him a curious choice, that’s all.

Lifeson obviously put a lot of thought, and a lot of different puzzle pieces, into this guitar. It is an instant rarity among Les Pauls in that Gibson equipped this one with a locking Floyd Rose tremolo system. It also includes Graphtec Ghost piezo saddles, lending a truly acoustic sound to the guitar on the right setting, with the Gibson humbuckers providing all the glory your amplifier can handle. Make no mistake about it, there are many sounds from which to choose with a push-pull volume knob control taking full advantage of the Les Paul’s parallel wiring, to say nothing of the startling sight of twin output jacks. You truly can go anywhere Alex Lifeson would want you to go.

So what’s the nagging question about this beautiful and amazing instrument? It boils down to one thing: Is a Lifeson edition Les Paul really worth the $4,000 price tag? It’s understood that the Alex Lifeson Les Paul Axcess is not all that much more expensive than some of the nicer stock Custom LPs, a point which (if logically followed) only leads to a discussion about the fairness of that price tag as well. At the risk of costing a worthy and revered company any business, let’s just take a quick look at what’s available right now for four thousand bucks. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll stick to the vintage stuff.

Let’s see. There’s a 1962 Gretsch 6119 Tennessean (the same model George Harrison played in the Beatles’ groundbreaking Shea Stadium concert). There’s a 1964 Gibson ES-330 with the dog-eared P90 pickups. Or a 1974 hard-tail Fender Stratocaster. Or a 1976 Gibson Les Paul Custom. Or a ’68 Fender Jaguar. Or a ’66 Rickenbacker 360. Even Gibson’s big technological splash, the Robot Les Paul – yes, the guitar that tunes itself – can be found in that same price range.

Does Lifeson’s LP Axcess play any better than those guitars? More important, with $4,000 on the line, will this investment hold its value over time? Is it more likely to depreciate (like the Robot), or appreciate, the way all of the aforementioned classics have?

It stands to reason that Gibson would keep this run to a limited number (with only 50 offered with Lifeson’s actual signature). In order to shell out that kind of money, the potential buyer would have to be an amalgamation of three things: A major Gibson aficionado, a huge Rush fan, and a person of substantial means. To those who take the plunge, I have just one question, a serious one: Can I please borrow it?

Alex Lifeson Interview: Gibson Les Paul Axcess


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Comments

10 Responses to “Judging the Alex Lifeson Gibson Les Paul Axcess”
  1. George says:

    Lifeson does not equal true greatness???? How puzzling?? Cause Jimmy Page himself considers Lifeson to be a guitar giant and innovator. Shame on you for even going there. Why put this paragraph in? Obviously not a Rush fan, or a fan of great guitarists in genral. To those of us who understand..He’s there, with Page, Beck, Clapton, Gilmour, Hendrix, VH, SRV, etc. He had a 355 Signature(with Gibson Custom Shop) and an Epiphone Acoustic Signature as well…do your homework!!!!

    As far as your rant about causing Gibson to lose customers…I know first hand that they charge what they do beccause they can, simple as that. That is why I will never play Gibson, ever..Overpriced and wayyyyyy over valued. (except for Les Pauls Built between 1958 – 1960, those were the cats ass)

    Do the review….give us the goods….not your slanted opinion..

  2. Paul Heller says:

    Calm down, bro. Did the review… Gave you the goods… There is no slant. Nobody ran the guy down. But he’s still just Alex Lifeson, as beholden to synthesizers as he is to guitars. If you’re rating the Great Ones, he’s not in too many people’s Top Ten, that’s all. Let greatness be greatness, I say. Don’t dilute it with every Tom, Dick and Alex. It’s wonderful that he’s willing to sign off on signature guitars for a large corporation or two. That doesn’t… Never mind. Rush fan.

    I am glad, by the way, that you agree with my “slant” on the price of Gibson’s guitars. Some would say otherwise, that they’re well worth the money, that you get what you pay for. I guess it’s just another slanted opinion – PH

  3. George says:

    Thanks for the reply,

    I just find it odd that you think that he’s just Alex Lifeson…I mean, next to the Beatles and the Stones, RUSH has the most Gold/platinum records. So it’s not just Alex Lifeson. His riff library is enormous and since you don’t listen to RUSH (i will go under that assumption)you would know this. His contribution to influencing generations of musicians is well documented. He’s was a endorser of Floyd Rose before EVH, was hot rodding guitars before it was commonplace and also invented the Omega guitar stand for acoustics (most pro’s playing acoustic in a live situation utilize them)

    I’m not bitter at all, I just find it frustrating that when you put a comment out there like “just Alex Lifeson” you have to be accountable for it. His contribution to guitar in general defeats many of his contemporaries and even influences. I’m not a huge Hendrix fan, never was, but he’s not “just Jimi Hendrix”, c’mon man..give it up for the man

    Their is nothing “a matter of fact” or “common'” about him whether you think I’m diluting greatness or not (cause I’m not). The proof is in the pudding my friend, still selling out shows and writing good tunes after 40 years…

    As far as Gibson goes, you see the price of the Mike Bloomfield model? $7000.00, is it worth it? To some people who have the money, I guess. Not to me, but if you ask most people to compare Alex Lifeson to Mike Bloomfield, all the sudden four grand is looking pretty darn good.

    Cheers

  4. Paul Heller says:

    You keep proving my point, George. Lifeson “endorsed Floyd Rose”. He “invented the Omega guitar stand”. He sells albums and concert tickets (as does Lady Gaga)… If I didn’t know better I’d guess you were his agent.

    One more time: There is a top tier of guitar players who make you sit up in your chair and say, “Oh, wow”. You have mentioned some of them. Alex Lifeson has never once done that for me, despite the fact that you love him very much, and in fact has given me many more moments where I’ve listened and said, “Uh, okay.”

    The more you make me think about it, the more I realize that he barely belongs in that second tier of guitar players. Does the self-taught Lifeson supercede artists like Mark Knopfler or Chet Atkins (who can at least play a style or two)? Does he pour his soul out through his guitar, like Slash or Buddy Guy? Can he match the virtuoso skills of a Satriani, or even a Buckethead? The answers are no, no and no.

    He’s okay. He’s not bad. He doesn’t suck. He’s got a job. Buy his gimmicky, overpriced tonewood Gibson if you want, and nobody’s saying you have to take his poster off your wall. But don’t clutter up the discussion about great guitarists with Alex Bloody Lifeson. It makes me roll my eyes, and it makes players like Randy Rhodes roll over in the grave.

  5. George says:

    Settle down whipper snapper, I’m not his agent although I am a curious as to where I prove your points though(please explain). I have supplied ample information why Lifeson is considered by many and not a few to be in the same league as Page, Beck etc.and not by you, that is clear. Making obtuse statements like “He sells albums and concert tickets as does Lady Gaga” just makes you look foolish and clearly your young age shines through. Hmmm has Lady Gaga been doing it for 40 years, sucessfully?(we’ll see) I understand that RUSH is not everyone’s cup of tea, and clearly you just don’t get it or him I should say. Is he a shredder, ofcourse not, is he a blues guy…well kinda but no, is he a Chicken picker, well like you said NO,NO and NO…He’s unique, and his no one has phrasing like him on the planet, that is why RUSH has such a huge and loyal following.

    My point to all of this, and I’m sure I could have summarized it in the first reply(but this is way more fun) is you dedicated a whole paragraph to explain to the reader’s of the review why YOU think it’s an odd choice. That , my friend ,is you personal opinion of Alex Lifeson and strays far from the review of the Gibson guitar with his name on it.

    Why bring Slash, Buckethead and Rhoades into the picture??? All proficient at their respected area’s.. But..talking about clutter….are you serious??? Randy Rhodes was never as good as people claimed he was. Don’t get me wrong, a proficent player in the studio.., those albums he did with Ozzy are treasures, but I’ve seen him live and shortly after seening VH, and thinking what’s the big deal(it just wasn’t that good), his live tone left much to be desired and his playing was sloppy. Believe me alot of people know this. Buckethead, Slash what’s orignal about them??? as far as guitar goes…seriously?

    I guess what it comes down to is “That’s your opinion” as foolish and jaded as it may be, your entitled to it. I guess I’ll know what to expect if I read another review from Paul Heller.

  6. Tim says:

    I have to give it you both, this thread was very entertaining to read and I seem to detect an age difference in the mix. I do agree with George. Lifeson’s longevity in the biz is testament. Maybe he wasn’t as flashy as other players but innovative….I have to say yes. The music Rush produces is so far above what many artist can manage. I consider this group to be “classical rock”. The arrangements and phrasing are very orchestrated and is like no other band to this day. Why they haven’t been nominated and accepted into the Music Hall of Fame is insultive, but I digress. IMHO, I beleive he is ever so deserving due to his uniqueness and longevity. As far as Gibson value, I don’t own a Gibson. When I was a young man I had a Std SG that I sold for 175.00 about 1975. How I wish I would have kept it!!! I now own Fender and Ibanez but I would love to have a Gibson one day in the future. For me, no guitar is really worth this much since my tricked out strat does a good enough job for me. Maybe if I ever find where I stashed that 4G’s I’ve been looking for….I would probably buy something else!

  7. Paul Heller says:

    George, it clearly was unfair of me to suggest that you have Alex Lifeson’s poster on your wall. After reading all of your rants, it’s clear that the poster is on your ceiling. Alex Lifeson’s the third-best musician in his own band, and every Rush fan knows it. Even you.

  8. George says:

    No Paul, my mistake. Maybe you should direct your opinion to the people at Gibson why YOU think he’s an odd choice for a signature guitar. I’m sure they’ll humour you, just as I have. I always believed that RUSH was the sum of its’ parts, each person contributing equally to their craft and the song. Obviously you think I’m wrong, so let’s leave it at that.

    Cheers

    George

  9. Paul Heller says:

    Stay in the right lane, George. I would say you are right when you say that Rush is the sum of its parts. Where we disagreed was when I suggested that Alex Lifeson’s not in the upper echelon of guitar players. I actually stated in the article, “That is not to imply that Lifeson is undeserving of signing off on a custom guitar…” And at that point, as a person of bias, you saw a red cape and charged into a discussion that you would like to now reframe. It’s okay. It happens all the time.

    I also want to clear up a couple of other misconceptions so that we can end on a happy note. First, I don’t dislike Rush! I don’t adore them the way your Rushians do, but it’s not like I change the station when their songs come on. Second, I’m 43 years old, man. Unless you’re a longtime AARP member, you can’t really call me a “whipper snapper”. We probably have more in common than not, and I appreciate the passion you bring to the discussion. Or argument… Whatever you want to call it, it was fun for me.

  10. George says:

    AARP Member!!!!! Where’s my cane!!! Paul the red cape is reserved for matters much more serious than this. Thanks for the reply.

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