An award-winning musician, Lee's style, technique, and skill on the bass guitar have proven very influential in the rock and heavy metal genres, inspiring such players as Steve Harris of Iron Maiden, John Myung of Dream Theater, Les Claypool of Primus, and Cliff Burton of Metallica.
In addition to his composing, arranging, and performing duties for Rush, Lee has produced albums for various other bands, including Rocket Science. Lee's first solo effort, My Favourite Headache, was released in 2000.
On May 1, 2007, Rush released Snakes & Arrows, their eighteenth full-length studio album. Lee and the rest of the band recently toured in support of Snakes & Arrows across North America, which began in Atlanta, GA on June 13, 2007 and ended its second leg on July 24, 2008.
Another version of "O Canada" in rock format was recorded by Lee and Lifeson on the accompanying soundtrack CD for the Trey Parker and Matt Stone film South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut released in 1999.
My Favourite Headache, Lee's first solo album, was released in November 2000 while Rush was on a hiatus due to tragedies in drummer Neil Peart's life. Lee appeared in Broken Social Scene's music video for their 2006 single "Fire Eye'd Boy", judging the band while they perform various musical tasks, and in 2006, Lee joined Lifeson's supergroup the Big Dirty Band, to provide songs accompanying Trailer Park Boys: The Movie.
For his first local gigs in the early 1970s and Rush's debut album, Lee used a Fender Precision Bass. From Fly By Night onward, Lee favored Rickenbacker basses, particularly the 4001 model, and a Fender Jazz Bass which is heard on Permanent Waves, Moving Pictures and Signals and supporting tours. In 1981, Lee began using the compact, headless Steinberger bass, which he used occasionally on the supporting tour for Signals and for many tracks on their follow-up, Grace Under Pressure. From 1985 to 1992, Lee used British Wal basses. He switched back to Fender Jazz Basses for the recording of Counterparts in 1993, and has been using them virtually exclusively since, heard on albums Test For Echo, Vapor Trails, Feedback and Snakes & Arrows. However, he used a Fender Jaco Pastorius Tribute fretless replica bass for the song "Malignant Narcissism" on Snakes & Arrows, and a Fender Custom Shop Jazz with an Alder Body and a Flamed Maple top in Transparent Red for songs in an alternate tuning (e.g. "2112") during the last several tours. In 1998, Fender released the Geddy Lee Jazz Bass. This signature model is a recreation of Lee's favorite bass, a 1972 Fender Jazz that he bought in a pawn shop in Kalamazoo, Michigan. On all of his basses, Lee uses Rotosound Swing Bass 66 Stainless Steel round-wound strings. Lee once again used his Rickenbacker 4001 for the performance of "A Passage To Bangkok" on the 2007 Snakes & Arrows Tour.
Beginning in 2002, Lee dispensed with using a single bass guitar amplifier in favor of a complex chain of amplifiers and DI units which allow the bass guitar to be connected directly to the stage and front-of-house mixers without involving microphones. Lee began using in-ear monitors at this point.
At the beginning of the 2002 Vapor trails tour, Lee revised his previous setup. His bass signal is sent via a Samson wireless unit to an Avalon U5 DI. From there it is split between a Trace Elliot Quadravalve all-tube power amplifier and a SansAmp RBI rackmountable preamp. The speaker-level signal from the Quadravalve is sent to a Palmer PD-05 speaker emulator, which provides adequate load for the tube amplifier and attenuates the signal down to line level. The signals from the U5, Quadravalve/PD-05, and RBI are all sent to the monitor and front-of-house mixers and blends of the signals are changed on a song-by-song basis. Typically the Quadravalve/PD-05 signal makes up the low end while a balance of the U5 and RBI make up the high end, with the RBI providing the "top end" distortion in Lee's sound.
For the 2007 Snakes and Arrows tour, Lee swapped the SansAmp RBI for a new unit by Sansamp, the RPM. During preparation for this tour a feature on bassplayer.tv with his live bass tech, Russ Ryan, was filmed which detailed Lee's live signal path.
With 1993's Counterparts, Rush reduced most keyboard- and synthesizer-derived sounds in their compositions, and they continued to do so with each successive album. In 2002, the band produced an album—Vapor Trails—that was completely free of keyboards and synthesizers, featuring only voice, guitar, bass guitar, drums and percussion. The band members have stated in interviews that they were proud that they had produced an album that was rich in sound and used only those basic instruments.
With the release of 2007's Snakes & Arrows, Lee sparingly adds a Mellotron to the instrument line-up. However, it does not mark a return to a "synth" sound for the band. Much like Vapor Trails, the music is primarily recorded with multiple layers of guitars, bass, drums and percussion.
When playing live, Lee and his bandmates strive to recreate their songs as accurately as possible. To help achieve this goal, the band uses digital samplers. Using these samplers, the band members are able to recreate, in real-time, the sounds of non-traditional instruments, accompaniments, vocal harmonies, and other sound "events" that are familiar to those who have heard Rush songs from their albums.
To trigger these sounds in real-time, Lee uses MIDI controllers, placed at the locations on the stage where he has a microphone stand. Lee uses two types of MIDI controllers: one type resembles a traditional synthesizer keyboard on a stand (Yamaha KX76). The second type is a large foot-pedal keyboard, placed on the stage floor (Korg MPK-130, Roland PK-5). Combined, they enable Lee to use his free hands and feet to trigger sounds in electronic equipment that has been placed off-stage. It is with this technology that Lee and his bandmates are able to present their arrangements in a live setting with the level of complexity and fidelity that fans have come to expect, and without the need to resort to the use of backing tracks or employing an additional band member.
In the Snakes and Arrows tour, Lee is using Roland Fantom X7 and Moog Little Phatty synths.
As of 2002, Lee no longer uses traditional bass amplifiers on stage, as he chooses to use a venue's "house" speakers. Faced with the dilemma of what to do with the empty space left behind by the lack of large amplifier cabinets, Lee chose to fill the space in a unique way. For the 2002 Vapor Trails tour, Lee lined his side of the stage with three coin-operated Maytag dryers. Other large appliances would appear later in the same space. (Lee had earlier decorated his side of the stage with unusual items. For the 1996-1997 Test for Echo tour, Lee's side sported a fully-stocked old-fashioned household refrigerator.)
For every concert that featured the dryers, Rush's crew would load them with specially-designed Rush-themed T-shirts, different from the shirts on sale to the general public. At the close of each show, Lee and Lifeson would then toss these special T-shirts into the arms of lucky audience members.
When asked about the purpose of the dryers in interviews, Lee was purposefully vague. The irony and non sequitur of placing such unusual items on a concert stage were Lee's way of expressing his sense of humor. He fed the mystery by responding to one interview question about the dryers, saying he chose to use them for their "warm, dry tone". The dryers can be seen on the Rush in Rio DVD and the R30 DVD. The vending machine can be seen on the R30 DVD.
To add to the humorous effect, Lee's dryers were, purely for visual effect "miked" by the sound crew, just as a real amplifier would be.
In interviews dated May 2007, Lee has stated that he is considering entirely new non-musical equipment to further his established comic effect for Rush's Snakes & Arrows tour. The tour commenced June 13, 2007, with a show at the Hi-Fi Buys Amphitheatre in Atlanta, Georgia. The show prominently featured 3 Henhouse brand rotisserie chicken ovens on stage complete with an attendant in a chef's hat and apron to "tend" the chickens during the show. Such unorthodox stage equipment has been continuously seen thereafter.