Geddy Lee of the celebrated Canadian rock trio RUSH has spent the past few years delving deep into the rich history of the instrument that defined his 40-plus-year career as one of rock history's most talented bassists. His focused efforts led him not only to build a world-class, investment-grade collection of ultra-rare and desirable vintage and antique guitars, but also to create a book that takes an in-depth look into the amazing evolution of what Lee, the collector, has come to view as a work of art in its own right. With his book now a complete and published piece and his private collection of guitars nearing 300 in total, Lee said he feels that the time has come to reunite a select few of his finest string instruments with talented musicians around the world who can help these works of art fulfill their original and intended purpose of making art. As such, a small selection of six blue-ribbon, coveted classic guitars from Lee's private collection is now slated to join the Mecum Auction lineup for the Las Vegas auction this October 10-12 as part of Mecum's new department: Mecum Presents Guitar Search by Domino, and it's highlighted by a "holy grail" Les Paul Gibson from 1959.
It's easy to assume that the most talented and inspired artists and creators are individuals who must be inherent experts of their craft, but in reality, the creative mind rarely works that way. While the inspiration to pick up a brush or a pen or a guitar and the ability to put that item to use are prerequisites for the creation of masterful works that speak to the hearts and minds of the masses, a knowledge and understanding of the medium, tool or instrument itself is not. Lee said it was his own realization of how little he knew about the history of the bass — the instrument that fueled his very existence — that drove him to begin his hunt.
"For me, the bass was a tool for most of my career," Lee explained in a recent interview. "I only wanted to use basses that fit into my idea for the sound I wanted to achieve. It was a sound that served my identity as a bass player, so I disregarded any instrument that didn't fit into my parameters of how I saw my sound coming across."
But after the band played its final tour in 2015, marking Lee as unofficially retired from the stage, he was finally able to take a step back from his proverbial paintbrush and see it with fresh eyes for the first time. Lee the musician, whose goal was to create beautiful sounds with a tool, quickly became Lee the enthusiast and collector, whose goal was to understand and celebrate the tool that had fueled his masterful musical conceptions. He said his initial goal in seeking out historic and collectible guitars was quite focused: he wanted to acquire a dozen or so guitars that would each pay homage to his personal bass-playing heroes. While it was a straightforward start, the deeper Lee dug into the history of the bass, the wider his interests grew, and he soon found himself purchasing guitars from brands he'd never even experimented with, some of which were built before he even knew how to play.
The majority of his collection — as well as his book — however, remains centered on the beautiful guitars from Fender: the brand of Lee's own first bass that he bought when he was just a boy, and the brand against which he would judge all others throughout his career. As he stated in his book, "I had some steamy affairs with other brands such as Rickenbacker, Steinberger and Wal, but something about my Fender would eventually draw me back." Nevertheless, examples from Gibson, Epiphone and Rickenbacker, as well as the more exotic brands of Höfner and Ampeg, all hold space within Lee's truly museum-worthy collection.
While Lee's fondness for Fender can't be beat, the highlight of his upcoming offering in Las Vegas is a special-edition Gibson often referred to as the holy grail of guitars: a 1959 Les Paul Standard with Sunburst finish. Produced for just three years, the Les Paul Standards, built by Gibson, are considered by many to be the pinnacle of the American electric guitar, and they rank as the most collectible vintage guitars on the market. According to Tony Bacon's book, "50 Years Of The Gibson Les Paul: Half A Century Of The Greatest Electric Guitars", only about 650 of the guitars were produced in 1959, and it is estimated that fewer than 1,700 of the desirable 1958-1960 "Burst" design examples in total are still extant today; Lee's 1959 model is in stunning original condition, save for a single refret, and it comes with the original case. A rare piece like this in any state and from any collection would be a remarkable find, and this one's original condition and status as an exalted member of rock legend Geddy Lee's previously untouchable private collection catapult it into the stratosphere of the truly one-of-a-kind, inimitable classics.
All six of the guitars Lee has hand selected to join the Mecum Las Vegas auction lineup are rare and investment-worthy guitars, and all share that inextricable tie to the legendary musician and his amazing, documented private collection of instruments, from which he has never before offered a single one for sale. As a man who has now experienced both sides of the coin — loving and appreciating these artistic tools first for functionality, and later for their own brand of beauty as works of art in themselves — Lee's unique perspective has helped him to build a collection that is likely among the finest of its kind in the world, and this unheard-of opportunity in Las Vegas will be the first time that other collectors have the chance to get their own hands on a Geddy Lee great. And if it's left up to Lee the collector, as opposed to Lee the musician, this might well be the only chance.
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