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Thread: What can you tell me about Alex Lifeson's black CE 24?

  1. #1
    Senior Member Sage's Avatar
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    What can you tell me about Alex Lifeson's black CE 24?

    Rush has been my favorite band ever since I first heard "Chain Lightning" on a friend's walkman when I was in high school around 1992-3. The entire reason I first became interested in PRS guitars was because Alex Lifeson was playing them at that time. The first Rush album that came out after I became a fan was Counterparts, on which Lifeson used his black CE 24 almost exclusively. I have always loved that tone and I want to know more about that guitar. Help me do some sleuthing!

    You can see the guitar in this video tour of his rig from a few years ago, right at the 3 minute mark, and if you look closely as the back of the guitar is shown, you'll see the serial number is 174136. Alex has stated in interviews that he got the guitar in 1991, and the serial number confirms that.

    I am not entirely certain, but I think I have read that the guitar is entirely stock. That should make it easier to find the answer to my questions:


    1. What pickups are in this thing? According to the PRS Guitar Book, the switch from Standard Treble & Bass to HFS/VB was made in 1991. On the PRS model history webpage, it says this switch was made "by November 1991." Does that mean the HFS/VB were being used before November (but not exclusively), or was November the first instance? Is there a way to figure out which pickups are in Lifeson's guitar? If I had to guess I would says HFS/VB, as he clearly likes high-output pickups, but I'd like to be sure.
    2. Does this CE 24 have a maple top? We know it's an alder body, since PRS was using alder on the CE line until they switched to mahogany in 1994. The question is whether the whole thing is alder or if the top is maple. The video shows faux binding along the edge; doesn't that indicate a maple top? Or is it possible that was done on a solid alder guitar?
    3. You can see in the video that the guitar has the three-way toggle instead of the five-way rotary. It appears to have the original all-metal toggle switch, in fact. My question is, does it have a push-pull coil split, or not? The PRS Guitar Book refers to the Volume/Tone/3-way option as "McCarty Electronics," but the McCarty wasn't introduced until 1994, and didn't have a push-pull coil split until 1995. Did the CE 24 with 3-way toggle have a push-pull coil split in 1991?


    Thanks for any help you guys can provide in figuring these things out. I've mentioned before that I'm looking to eventually pick up a vintage CE 24, hopefully on the cheap so that I can send it to the PTC for some customization. Lifeson's black CE 24 is the inspiration behind that. So any info you guys can provide is much appreciated.
    Last edited by Sage; 09-07-2013 at 12:08 AM.

  2. #2
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    I can tell you that it does have a maple top and an alder body, because of the binding. Of that, I am sure.

    The first tour book photos in which it appears in is the Roll the Bones. Usually, the tour book photos are from the last tour and the rehearsals for the current tour. In that one, it has the three way switch. It can be clearly heard on Roll the Bones which was released on September 3, 1991. That makes it an early 91. More than likely, the pick ups were T&B's. I had an '87 Standard that sounded a lot like it at the time. The T&B's had a distinct top end which I did not particularly care for.

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    Member TFC's Avatar
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    Up until recently there was a website that had a very detailed breakdown of all of Alex's gear over the years. It used to be here: http://www.musictoyz.com/articles/chopalex.php Not sure if it's been moved or just disappeared. One section of that has been posted here: http://www.hugeracksinc.com/forum/vi...&t=663&start=0 I have a full copy locally and can share if anyone wants it. It is based on lots of magazine interviews etc., and I think is accepted as being pretty accurate.

    So anyway, that states that he got the black PRS (I'm assuming it's the CE24 we're talking about) during the Roll The Bones Tour. At that point he was transitioning from the Signature guitars to PRS. The other PRS he had at that time is the tobacco burst one that he put the active single coils into.

    Now, if you go to the last section, "Alex Talks Tech" on this page:

    http://www.cygnus-x1.net/links/rush/...er-11.1991.php

    you'll see it state (emphasis mine):

    For years Alex played Canadian-built Signature guitars. These days, however, he's into his two Paul Reed Smiths. "They're bolt- ons," says Lifeson, "medium-priced models. One has Evans active single-coil pickups. The other has a pair of standard PRS humbuckers and a three-way switch. The instruments feel fantastic." Lifeson plays Dean Markley strings - gauged .009, .011, .014, .028, .038, and .048 - with medium-light nylon picks.
    Now, whether "standard" refers to PRS Standard pickups or "stock" PRS pickups (which could be either Standard or HFS/VB), isn't 100% clear. But I'd guess it refers to the Standard PRS pickups. The fact that he doesn't mention HFS/VB suggests they might be Standard, and the fact that coil tapping is not mentioned with the 3-way toggle suggests that there was no tapping. But those are just guesses.

    If you want to drive yourself crazy trying to figure out what gear he had when, I've found it useful to check out these two sites that have tons of interviews with the band:

    http://www.cygnus-x1.net/links/rush/...ry-of-time.php
    http://www.2112.net/powerwindows/tra...ranscripts.htm

    Search through the articles from the 1991-92 period and maybe you catch mention of the info you're looking for. Have fun!

  4. #4
    Occasionally Onery Member CantankerousCarl's Avatar
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    FWIW I checked my "acquisition photos" from my 1990 CE 24 maple top and it has HFS/VB.

    I guess they could have been swapped by the previous owner, but the stickers on them are really old-looking, so if they were swapped it was early on in its life...

    Point being I guess it's harder to assume from the date than I would have thought...
    1990 CE24 MT | 1991 CU24 | 1991 CE24 | 1992 CE24 MT
    1993 STD 24 | 1997 CE24 3pc MT | 2008 SE Semi-Hollow Soapbar
    2011 SE Akesson | 2011 CU24 GC Throwback | 2012 Signature Limited
    2013 408 Brazilian | 2013 Paul's Guitar | 2013 S2 Mira | 2013 Hollowbody II
    2013 CU24 Swamp Ash Limited | 2014 SE Zach Myers (incoming)

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    I don't know if you're on The Gear Page, but Alex's guitar tech in that video, Scott Appleton, is on TGP and has answered questions about Alex's gear. He seems like a nice friendly guy and could probably give you definitive answers to your questions. If you're not on TGP, shoot me a PM and I'll see if I can dig up his TGP handle and send him a PM.

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    Senior Member Sage's Avatar
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    Well, I'm good and confused now. Just found this video, shot on June 27, 1990:



    Alex is playing a black CE 24 here, but the bridge pickup is a single coil (in a humbucker-sized pickup ring, so it's not a custom build like his tobacco burst guitar; this is apparently a retrofit). Could this be the same black CE 24, even though the serial number appears to be right in the middle of the 1991 production year? I've never heard of him owning more than one. I know he used a red one on the Counterparts and Test For Echo tours, but I always assumed there was only one black one.

    His tobacco burst PRS with the pickups from his old Signature guitar was ordered in mid 1990, according to this page. I'm not interested in that one; it's the Counterparts sound I'm after, rather than the Presto/Roll The Bones sound.
    Last edited by Sage; 09-07-2013 at 11:58 PM.

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    Junior Member Bluesverb's Avatar
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    Was the black guitar retrofitted with a Tele bridge pick up?

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    That's pretty neat - good find!

    Here's a couple of tidbits from some more digging around. This first quote is from:
    (http://www.2112.net/powerwindows/tra...iritofrush.htm)

    I have a good relationship with PRS, I have probably half a dozen guitars, currently from them, that I use for different things
    As far as the studio sound on Counterparts, I'm guessing that having an identical CE24 to his won't quite cut it:
    (http://www.2112.net/powerwindows/tra...itarschool.htm)

    LIFESON: I find it very valuable when you layer Telecasters with other guitars. The combination I used for this record was a Paul Reed Smith, a Les Paul and a Tele. I combined the three to come up with one fat sound. I'll usually lay down the Paul Reed Smith first because I find it the most comfortable, and it has the smoothest sound - a really nice low end, very nice mids, and the high end isn't too shrill. Then I add the Les Paul to get thicker, lower mids; and the Tele brightens it all up.
    So who knows. Maybe the guitar in the video is the same black one modified, or maybe it's one of 2 or several black ones that he owns/owned. And like most of their albums, many of the guitar sounds are the result of a blending of different guitars and amps.

    When I first started with my current Rush tribute band a couple of years ago I tried to figure out all this stuff. But I soon realized that I couldn't afford to have the same gear to reproduce the sounds, that studio techniques were responsible for many of them, and that playing live is a whole different ballgame compared to the studio. So, I resigned myself to getting close to the studio sounds for some songs. But mostly I just try to capture the "spirit" of his sounds, without driving myself crazy trying to match them. Plus, I'm a bit lazy when it comes to all that . Just learning to play the stuff well is fun and challenging enough.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bluesverb View Post
    Was the black guitar retrofitted with a Tele bridge pick up?
    If I had to guess, it might be an Evans active pickup that he was into at the time. Probably just mounted it diagonally like you would in a Tele. But I'm just guessing here.

  10. #10
    The black one in the video above looks like it has Evans sc pups in the bridge and neck. It looks like tape is covering the opening below the single coil neck pup.
    I'm guessing that it was a transitional guitar from the Signatures to the PRS. He always said he liked the Evans pups and that particular guitar sounds a lot like the Signatures.

    I don't know if the 91 CE24 has T&B's or HFS/VB. The only mod I know it's had is that at some point it was upgraded to Phase II tuners.


  11. #11
    Senior Member Sage's Avatar
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    Okay, let me reiterate what I'm looking for here, before we get bogged down in trivia: I only care about the black PRS CE-24 that Scott Appleton shows off at the 3 minute mark in this Rig Rundown video:



    Appleton says it's a '91 in the video, and the serial number confirms that. I believe this is the guitar Lifeson used to write and record most of Counterparts, particularly "Leave That Thing Alone!" which in my opinion is the best lead tone he ever got. He has stated that although he almost exclusively plays his signature Les Pauls now, he takes that black PRS on tour just to play "Leave That Thing Alone!" because it requires 24 frets.

    So here's what I think is going on.

    1. Alex helped start a company called Signature Guitars in 1987, and they made the white super-strat he plays on the A Show Of Hands concert video. According to this Signature Guitars tribute site, that guitar had the headstock broken off the day before Signature Guitars closed up shop in 1990. I don't have an exact date, but I'm willing to bet it was the first quarter.

    2. Needing a replacement fast, because this was mid-tour, Alex probably ordered a tobacco sunburst CE-24 (non maple top) with custom routing for the Evans single-coil pickups in it on April 16, 1990. You can see that guitar in the Rig Rundown video, right after the black CE-24 is shown. But we don't know when it was delivered. I'll bet it wasn't done by June, and that's why Alex is playing a black CE-24 with those pickups mounted via conversion pickup rings in the June 27 Mountain View show I posted previously.

    3. And thanks to this interview that TFC linked earlier, we know Alex only had two PRS guitars in November of 1991. That means the tobacco sunburst with the Evans single-coil, and the black '91 with stock humbuckers, both shown in the Rig Rundown video.

    So I would guess that the black CE-24 with the single-coil bridge pickup in a conversion ring, shown in the Mountain View concert video, was probably a loaner while Alex waited on the tobacco sunburst. Either that, or it's the very black guitar we're trying to identify here, and it was returned to stock after the tobacco sunburst showed up. But if that were the case, then it would had to have been built in 1990, but with a 1991 serial number.

    Quote Originally Posted by CantankerousCarl View Post
    FWIW I checked my "acquisition photos" from my 1990 CE 24 maple top and it has HFS/VB.

    I guess they could have been swapped by the previous owner, but the stickers on them are really old-looking, so if they were swapped it was early on in its life...

    Point being I guess it's harder to assume from the date than I would have thought...
    Great info, thank you. I suspected that PRS was putting the HFS/VB combo into guitars for a while before the official cutover date. So it's entirely possible that Alex's have the HFS/VB pickups in them, especially since he didn't own more than two PRS guitars until after November 1991 -- he played a red one for the entire show when I saw the Test For Echo tour, and the tourbook is chock full of pictures from the Counterparts tour where he played that guitar as well. That guitar, and any other 24-fret guitars he received after that, would have to be equipped with HFS/VB.

    Quote Originally Posted by TFC View Post
    I don't know if you're on The Gear Page, but Alex's guitar tech in that video, Scott Appleton, is on TGP and has answered questions about Alex's gear. He seems like a nice friendly guy and could probably give you definitive answers to your questions. If you're not on TGP, shoot me a PM and I'll see if I can dig up his TGP handle and send him a PM.
    Wow, could you? I know it's a longshot, but it would be super cool to get his input. I really just want to know what pickups are in that black CE-24.
    Last edited by Sage; 09-09-2013 at 01:43 AM.

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    Ah, very good sleuthing regarding the dates. You are obviously more obsessed than I about this.

    I just sent Scott Appleton a message asking about the pickups in the black 1991 CE24. If/when he gets back to me, I will let you know what he says.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sage View Post
    So I would guess that the black CE-24 with the single-coil bridge pickup in a conversion ring, shown in the Mountain View concert video, was probably a loaner while Alex waited on the tobacco sunburst. Either that, or it's the very black guitar we're trying to identify here, and it was returned to stock after the tobacco sunburst showed up. But if that were the case, then it would had to have been built in 1990, but with a 1991 serial number.
    Just found this (http://2112.net/powerwindows/transcr...alguitar.htm):

    7) PRS CE24
    Features on: Leave That Thing Alone
    "I bought this from PRS in 1991, I think. They sent me a guitar then I ordered a couple. That's a regular bolt-on, nothing particularly special about it but it has 24 frets and I need it for this song, which was written with that guitar."
    That fits with your pre-1991 "loaner" theory.

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    Senior Member Sage's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TFC View Post
    Ah, very good sleuthing regarding the dates. You are obviously more obsessed than I about this.
    Heh, thanks. Honestly, this guitar has been very influential on me. Alex Lifeson is the entire reason I got interested in PRS guitars in the first place. I don't think I would have moved away from playing Strats if not for that. I've tried to get into Gibsons but they just don't feel right; the PRS 24-fret design always felt like the perfect compromise between the heavier sound of the Les Paul and the comfortable ergonomics of the Strat. I was sorely disappointed when he decided to move back to Les Pauls (especially when his early tones mostly came from an ES-355). I still have a Strat and an ES-335 clone, but I rarely touch them. My PRS guitars are easily the ones I play the most.

    Quote Originally Posted by TFC View Post
    I just sent Scott Appleton a message asking about the pickups in the black 1991 CE24. If/when he gets back to me, I will let you know what he says.
    Thanks, man. I really appreciate the help.

    Quote Originally Posted by _pete_ View Post
    I don't know if the 91 CE24 has T&B's or HFS/VB. The only mod I know it's had is that at some point it was upgraded to Phase II tuners.
    My God, you're right, I found a closeup of the headstock and you can see the slots on the thumbscrews:



    Nice catch!

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    Senior Member swede71's Avatar
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    I just love this thread.Im a big Rush and Alex Lifeson fan.Do you guys know what PRS guitars besides the CEs he plays today?
    I de-modded my CU22 soapbar and made a factory spec setup.Im in love again.I very much believe now PRS guitars are perfect as they are.

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    Quote Originally Posted by swede71 View Post
    I just love this thread.Im a big Rush and Alex Lifeson fan.Do you guys know what PRS guitars besides the CEs he plays today?
    I saw them twice on this last tour and I don't recall him playing any PRS guitars, though I could be mistaken. It was almost entirely Gibson, though I do recall him playing a Tele for "Manhattan Project". He has mentioned using his PRS 12-string in the studio for the Clockwork Angels album.

    On the previous tour I saw him play an NF3 for "Time Stand Still", though I think he also used his old sunburst PRS with the Evans pickup for that song on different dates. And I'm pretty sure he played the black CE24 that is the subject of this thread for "Where's My Thing?".

  17. #17
    Senior Member swede71's Avatar
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    Love how he nails Hendrix on this red CE24.
    I de-modded my CU22 soapbar and made a factory spec setup.Im in love again.I very much believe now PRS guitars are perfect as they are.

  18. #18
    Senior Member Sage's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TFC View Post
    Just found this (http://2112.net/powerwindows/transcr...alguitar.htm):

    That fits with your pre-1991 "loaner" theory.
    Awesome! I actually read that (that's how I knew Leave That Thing Alone had been written on the black CE-24) but I missed that note about how they sent him one and then he ordered two. We are tearing this up. So that means the black CE-24 really is a '91.

    All we need to know now is whether the pickups are T&B or HFS/VB. I'm leaning toward the latter, based on the fact that the HFS/VB was being used as early as 1990 and any guitars that Lifeson ordered after 1991 most likely had the HFS/VB pickups as well.

    I'm also curious to know if it's got a push-pull coil split. We should be able to determine that by figuring out whether or not the push-pull coil split was standard with the 3-way toggle prior to 1995; I don't think it was, but I could be wrong.

    Quote Originally Posted by swede71 View Post
    I just love this thread.Im a big Rush and Alex Lifeson fan.Do you guys know what PRS guitars besides the CEs he plays today?
    He didn't play any PRS on this last tour for Clockwork Angels, which was disappointing. I saw the sunburst with the Evans single coil when they played Time Stand Still on the Time Machine tour in San Antonio. He must have replaced it with the NF3 after that. I think he was still playing Leave That Thing Alone on the black PRS for that tour.

    The last tour where he played a lot of PRS was R30. He used his CE-24s alongside some Singlecuts. You can see them on the Rush In Rio DVD. Ever since he switched to his signature model Les Paul, he's only brought out the PRS guitars for very specific applications.

    Quote Originally Posted by swede71 View Post
    Love how he nails Hendrix on this red CE24.
    Whoa, cool! That's the red one he played for most of the Counterparts and Test For Echo tours. Probably stock as well, and because it would have been acquired after 1991 I'm pretty sure it's got HFS/VB pickups in it. That tone from the neck pickup is incredible, almost sounds like a single coil. I wonder if it's split?

  19. #19
    Senior Member AP515's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dancing Frog View Post
    I can tell you that it does have a maple top and an alder body, because of the binding. Of that, I am sure.
    One small correction. You can't say that the natural binding means a maple cap. Here is a first year (88) Alder CE24 with natural binding and no maple cap. In fact it is very much like Lifeson's except for his black headstock instead of my natural. I'd say his is probably 100% alder.
    1988 CE24, 1995 CE22, 2000 SC, 2006 Cu24 AP, 2006 SC AP, 2007 CuRo22, 2008 Mira, 2010 Starla Stoptail, 2012 Mira
    2007 SE Soapy 2, 2010 SE 25th Anni Cu24, 2012 SE Bernie, 2013 SE Angelus

    PRS SE50, Mesa Single RectoVerb, Mesa Lonestar, Fender Hot Rod Deluxe

  20. #20
    I wonder if that red CE24 is the same one he played on the Rush in Rio show. On that tour the red one has a Graphtech piezo system installed in it.
    On the Rio DVD he also played a Whale Blue CE24 tuned to F for The Big Money.

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