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5 reasons Rush's Geddy Lee is the greatest bassist of all time

Geddy Lee is the GOAT
(Image credit: Mat Hayward / Getty)

GOAT Hunt: It’s official! 

GOAT Hunt: Who are the Greatest Of All Time?

You’ve selected Geddy Lee as the Greatest Bassist Of All Time in our GOAT Hunt poll. 

Just as in our recent GOAT Drummers poll, in which his Rhythm section partner Neil Peart triumphed, he easily took first place – there’s clearly a mood for Rush among MusicRadar’s readers. 

But what is it exactly that draws people to Lee’s playing? There are way more than five reasons, clearly, but below we’re taking a look at just a few reasons that Mr Weinrib is considered the greatest. 

1. He solos like a bassist possessed

At a given point – or points – in a Rush show, Lee would often break into a solo: many of these are on YouTube to this day, and bear repeated analysis. Note the skill he deploys at these moments. Instead of relying on a boost or other effect to make the tone punchier and the solo easier, he simply attacks the strings with his fingers for extra thump. 

He doesn’t thumb-slap in the expected style, but he’ll execute pops here and there for added dynamics. Meanwhile, Lee’s note choices are bluesy, revealing his influences from the classic Sixties canon, and he often has the courage and good taste to stay down at the low end, rather than elevating himself out of the live mix with upper-register melodies. 

You’ll see him play fast flurries of notes, of course, but not all the time; Lee’s comfort zone is generally down among the eighths and sixteenths, where his lines make statements with their quality rather than their speed. 

2. His tone is to die for

The ‘Geddy crunch’ is achievable in a variety of ways. Lee himself achieved it in the Seventies with a Rickenbacker and a split signal going clean and effected. Nowadays he gets the warmth he needs from his Orange amps, and the edge from the amazing Tech21 SansAmp that bears his signature. 

Now, before you start thinking that Tech21 are sponsoring this page, think again – they’re not. We reviewed this gizmo in Bass Player magazine, and the damn thing blew our minds. 

It seemed that whatever tone you sent into it – woolly, thuddy or glassy – an exact replica of the Geddy tone came out. His Fender no doubt has something to do with this as well.

3. He’s the nicest guy in rock and roll

All that ‘slappa da bass’ stuff you’ve read? It’s spun off from a film, 2009’s I Love You, Man, but it’s essentially a real depiction of what Lee and his band are really like. In the famous extra scene that you can endlessly rewatch below, the dorky Rush fans Paul Rudd and Jason Segel somehow end up in Rush’s dressing room while their heroes are finishing up on stage. 

For no apparent reason, Rudd – you’ll also know him as Phoebe’s eventual husband in Friends – is carrying “the ol’ nine-string”, a double-neck bass with four- and five-string necks. Lee looks at it in wry amusement, not exactly endorsing the silly thing but not mocking it either. 

His bandmates Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart (RIP) are in the clip, too, all happy to act like the middle-aged rock stars that they are rather than ham it up for the camera. There’s something deliciously Canadian about all of this.

4. He doesn’t just play bass. He lives it

A couple of years ago Lee released Geddy Lee’s Big Beautiful Book Of Bass, a monster tome that detailed his massive collection of bass guitars. Now, we’ve met a few of these mega-celeb musicians, and usually they’re sick of talking about their instruments, preferring instead to focus on how amazingly creative their songwriting is, or how generous they are when it comes to social justice, et cetera. Not a bit of it with Geddy Lee. 

He loves bass guitars to an almost unhealthy degree, documenting his collecting passion in GLBBBOB and going so far as to track down a series of Fenders from consecutive years to see what makes each unique. Pickup windings, neck materials – all the details you can imagine are covered. Now imagine being invited into his house to see the stuff for yourself... a writer can dream, eh?

5. He does the lot!

As you know, Lee sings vocals that vary from the tenor to the supersonic, and he plays bass better than almost anybody else in the world, alive or dead. But did you know that he also used to play keyboards and bass pedals in any given Rush show? Essentially this meant that he was 1) singing, 2) alternating hands between bass and keys, 3) stepping on pedals, 4) remembering the words, 5) not playing any wrong notes, and 6) not falling over, all the same time. 

Could you or I do the same thing, night after night? Could we hell. The funny thing is that Lee himself found this a chore, telling Bass Player, “You know, I often suggest to the band that we get a keyboard player. They always say no, because they want it to be a trio on stage.” Personally we might not have been quite so generous if our bandmates had said such a thing...