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[2020-07-01] Style Profile Andy Summers - THUMB

Style Profile: Andy Summers of The Police

07/01/2020 10:00 AM

By Ry Kihn

The late 70’s and early 80’s were a golden era for big guitar rock and iconic bands. Andy Summers' signature guitar sound and unique approach set The Police apart from the pack. When blaring walls of Marshall stacks, and shredding solos ruled the day, Andy Summer’s subtler style was smart and original, utilizing cleaner tones and textures, a rich harmonic sense, and musical hooks that always served the song first.

Andy Summers was a perfect unlikely fit when he joined The Police in 1977. He had studied classical guitar and composition at Cal State Northridge and brought a level of sophistication and originality to the band, which had sprung out of London’s punk scene. His style was less blues-based than most of his peers; instead, he brought diverse influences including jazz, punk, and reggae to his playing. This approach helped to forge the Police's unique sound and rocketed the them to platinum status with a string of mega-hits like “Every Breath You Take,” "Roxanne," and “Message in a Bottle.”

For years, Andy fed a modified 1961 Fender Telecaster through several clean modulation effects to create his signature rich, textured sound, "I created it sort of out of necessity," he said in an interview. "My mission was 'We’re going to play for two hours each night as a trio,' so I wanted to have this fantastic, colored guitar sound that was different for every song. So, I used the Echoplex, then a chorus, and a few other pedals…envelope filters.”

This song-by-song approach to crafting guitar sounds helps to give each Police track its own character. Andy’s heavy use of compression (in addition to chorus and delay) gives him added sustain as well as a percussive quality when he needs it. He brilliantly weaves in and out of spooky, suspended chords and rhythmic skanks in “Walking on the Moon"; contrast this to the driving riff and stripped-down tone of “Message in a Bottle,” which recalls some very intelligent early punk rock. Most Police songs do not feature epic solos, but all of them feature harmonically sophisticated guitar parts. Andy's heavy use of suspended chords and add chords (major triads with an additional note) were trademarks in his compositions.

A great song is more than the sum of its parts; it also needs space. Sometimes, cramming too many notes and chords into a song can be counterproductive. This is especially true in an all-star band like The Police, where Andy's guitar always leaves ample real estate for Stewart Copeland’s drums to breathe and bassist Sting's vocals to shine. For Andy Summers, it’s all about the synergy of the composition.

Ry Kihn joined the Rocksmith team in 2016 as a transcriptionist. He studied guitar with Joe Satriani and attended Berklee College of Music. He received a BFA in Jazz Guitar Performance from California Institute of the arts. He is currently a working musician and guitar teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area.

"Andy Summers 2007" by spisharam is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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