I have a reason, which will be revealed on my YouTube channel next week, for considering which type of bass Geddy Lee plays on each track of Rush’s 1981 masterpiece album Moving Pictures. There seems to be much debate out there in the world over which basses he used especially on Permanent Waves (1980), Moving Pictures, and Signals (1982), because he was known to play a Rickenbacker 4001 almost exclusively on their late ’70s prog albums, but he briefly worked a Fender Jazz Bass into the mix before going all-in on Wal basses in the mid-’80s (with an occasional Steinberger thrown in for peak ’80s futurism). From the mid-’90s on, Geddy has almost exclusively gone back to the Fender Jazz Bass.
So Moving Pictures really is kind of a pivot point, both for the band stylistically and for Geddy in terms of his bass gear. It is (I think?) well known that he used both the Rick and the Jazz on Moving Pictures, but which one does he use on which song, and how can you tell?
Well, “how can you tell?” comes down to ear and familiarity with the sonic characteristics of the different instruments. The Rickenbacker tends to have very deep, round low end and a ringing high end, with a bit of a scoop in the middle, whereas the Jazz Bass has a lot more midrange growl. That’s oversimplifying it, but once you know the sound, it’s not too hard to tell. So, let’s investigate, track by track.
This one is kind of tough, actually. I feel like I could make a good argument for either, but I think my impression of the whole thing is too muddled because I’ve heard so many subsequent live versions of this song — Rickenbacker on Exit Stage Left and then Jazz on the 2000s live albums, plus the 5 times I saw them live — and Geddy kind of has “his sound” regardless of which instrument he’s playing, that I just can’t tell. Fortunately I do not just need to use my ears. The band produced music videos for several songs on the album from the recording sessions at Le Studio, and we can easily see in the video that Geddy is playing a Rickenbacker.
Update (3/8/2023): Not so fast! Geddy himself says in this video that he used a Jazz Bass on “Tom Sawyer.”
This one, I am fairly certain, is a Rickenbacker, even though Geddy has the mids cranked up. It’s really that first note he hits at the beginning of the guitar solo around 3:20 that is the giveaway to me. There’s no Le Studio video for this one, and on Exit Stage Left he’s playing a Rick, but he plays a Rick on pretty much all of that, so no help there. Not that we really need it.
It’s kind of hard to nail down the bass tone here because there’s a bunch of chorus on it, but I am fairly confident it’s a Jazz Bass. It has that Jazz Bass growl (as opposed to, y’know, that Rickenbacker growl). Once again you kind of have to focus on the bass during the guitar solo, because when Geddy and Alex are playing together in unison their sounds blend too much. I just think I am hearing the gnarl of a Jazz Bass bridge pickup here. My introduction to this song was the A Show of Hands video from the late ’80s, and there, of course, he’s playing a Wal.)
OK, in listening to this one I absolutely thought it was the Rickenbacker, but hey there’s another music video from the recording of the album, and Geddy is playing a Jazz Bass. Of course the video also cuts to some fake “live” footage that shows Geddy playing a Rick, but that’s from the A Farewell to Kings era, carefully edited to make it (sort of) look like they’re playing “Limelight.” So I think it’s safe to say we definitely have a Jazz here.
“The Camera Eye”
This one is definitely a Rickenbacker. Probably the easiest one to tell on the entire album. I think the verse that starts at 7:30 is where it’s easiest to tell. No question on this one. I was lucky enough to see the band on the Time Machine tour, where they played this album in its entirety, and of course at that point Geddy played it on a Jazz Bass. (Side note: No disrespect to Geddy, but you can tell he is really reaching for some of those high notes, 30 years later. Reaching, but generally hitting them!)
This song really doesn’t sound like any other in the band’s entire catalog. And the bass on it is unquestionably a Fender Jazz Bass. I think once again the thing that distinguishes it for me is the midrange. The Rickenbacker has a scoop in the midrange but the Jazz Bass seems to be pumping out consistently at all frequencies. (But if your eyes can handle it, you can check out Geddy playing it on a Steinberger on the Grace Under Pressure tour a few years later.)
This one also definitely sounds like the Jazz Bass to me. I think around 1:20 is where it is very easy to pick out the bass tone. Fortunately this is another one with a Le Studio music video, so we can confirm it.
So there you have it. To put it another way, here’s how I break down the album:
“Tom Sawyer,” “Red Barchetta,” “The Camera Eye.”
Fender Jazz Bass: “Tom Sawyer”, “YYZ”, “Limelight,” “Witch Hunt,” “Vital Signs.”
Update (3/10/2023): Over at Scott’s Bass Lessons, my fellow Minneapolitan Ian Martin Allison has his take on each track. Our only difference, once I corrected my take on “Tom Sawyer” two days ago, is “YYZ.” But I still say I think he’s playing a Jazz Bass on that one!