As if it wasn't enough to have reinvigorated electric guitar on a technical level through the use of unusual and inventive chord inversions and daring, wild solos--during his tenure with the Police, Andy Summers harnessed a wide array of gear to achieve a highly distinctive and unique tone that has been chased by other artists for decades.
Born in December of 1942, Summers was older than his Police bandmates, and his musical training mainly encompassed blues and jazz. Before long, he was playing with groups like Eric Burdon's Animals, as well as Zoot Money's Big Roll Band, the Soft Machine, and Dantalion's Chariot. After cutting his teeth in UK rhythm & blues clubs, Andy relocated to Los Angeles, where his band fell apart. Down and out, he took to teaching to make ends meet. That's when a student sold Summers his now-iconic Telecaster, and Summers' luck began to change.
After moving back to London, Andy took a gig supporting a prog rock artist. His fellow session musicians--a young American drummer named Stewart Copeland and an equally youthful bassist who went by Sting--seemed intrigued by his playing. Before long, they invited Summers to join their fledgling punk band. Andy accepted and before long, he was helping them to incorporate elements of reggae, jazz, and the avant garde into their power pop. The rest is history.
So, in purely sonic terms, how can a guitarist on a tight budget capture some of the magic of Summers' highly influential work with the Police? Let's break down Andy's rig piece by piece, and see if we can find reasonable alternatives at a lower price point.
Andy Summers' Guitar
Let's start with the most important component: the guitar. Andy famously played a heavily-modified 1963 Fender Telecaster that included such features as a humbucker pickup in the bridge; a brass bridge and saddles; a built-in preamp with an on/off toggle switch; and finally, an overdrive that was installed through the back of the instrument, controlled via a third knob mounted below the two normal controls. Reproducing this instrument exactly would be a very costly process--although you could always spring for a Signature Tribute model if you have a spare $16,000 or so kicking around.
Get Andy Summers' Sound:
A more realistic solution for the player on a tighter budget might be a Squier Classic Vibe 50's Telecaster. Remove the pickguard and you'll find that the body is already routed to accommodate the installation of a humbucker pickup in the neck position! Drop in a Seymour Duncan '59 to make the axe more versatile--and more Summers-like.
Fender Squier Classic Vibe
Seymour Duncan '59 Pickups
Total so far: $452.94
Andy Summers' Amp
The next thing we'll need is an amplifier with a lot of volume and clean headroom. During his early duty with the Police, Andy played through a Fender Twin Reverb. He later graduated to a pair of Marshall JMP 1959 Superlead heads with matching 1960A cabs.
Get Andy Summers' Sound:
Though these amplifiers are very different animals, the one thing they both have in common is lots of clean headroom. Therefore, a good budget alternative for these amps might be something like a Fender Champion 100. It has a pristine sound with that classic Fender "spank" on the first channel, which makes it a great platform for the utilization of effects such delay and modulation--which are absolutely key to nailing those Police tones.
What's more, the Champion 100 has a second channel that produces overdrive tones that are actually quite nice and very usable, considering the fact that it relies on solid-state circuitry. While one wouldn't go so far as to say that it's mistakable for the thick, harmonically rich crunch of a cranked tube amp, the Champion's gain can be dialed in to help fill out your lead tone on staples like "Message in a Bottle" or "Synchronicity II," or give your power chords some punk-influenced power on classics such as "Next to You" and "Can't Stand Losing You." (As an added bonus, the amp comes with a bunch of built-in effects, though my suggestion is to bypass these for the most part and find a few high-quality pedals that'll do a noticeably better job of getting the right sounds. With that said, you could stop here and learn to use the Champion 100's DSP and cash out well below the $1000 mark.)
Total so far: $782.93
Andy Summers' Effects
Now that we have a good guitar and amplifier foundation, let's think in terms of how to color the tone of this gear appropriately. Andy employed a vast array of effects units to create some killer sounds, with the two main ones being his Maestro Echoplex and Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Electric Mistress flanger (set to sound like a thick chorus). Obtaining these vintage pieces of gear would be an expensive proposition, so instead, let's see what else is on the market at a more wallet-friendly price point.
Get Andy Summers' Tone:
In terms of echo units, a really inexpensive yet incredibly versatile choice would be TC Electronic's Flashback Mini Delay. It's a true-bypass pedal that won't color your tone when the effect is off, and the "tape mode" emulates a classic tape echo unit like Andy's Echoplex. That means it's capable of producing bouncy repeats like the ones Andy used on "Regatta de Blanc" and lush, spacious echoes similar to those heard on "Walking on the Moon." (No coincidence there--TC Electronic consulted Andy himself to create a TonePrint setting modeled on the Echoplex unit he used on some of the Police's greatest and most popular songs.) Add to that a unique strum-tempo feature that lets you adjust the timing of your echoes on the fly, and the Flashback Mini is an incredibly powerful tool at a very affordable price.
Next, we should look into what may be Andy's signature effect: a flanger with a light setting to obtain a spacier-sounding chorus effect. While we could just obtain and use a chorus pedal (something Summers himself has done at various points, depending on the song) a flanger just sounds more right. Ergo, a great place to start might be with a modern reissue of sorts, EHX's Stereo Electric Mistress Chorus/Flanger. In addition to those whooshing "jet" sounds heard on so many classic hard rock albums, this flanger can be set to achieve a more delicate-yet-trippy chorus sound that really puts you deep into Summers terrain.
And with that, we're a mere 3 cents over our stated budget of $1000.
Grand Total: $1000.03
If you put in a little time searching the internet or the used section of your local music store, you might even find yourself well under budget constructing a rig like this. That means... well, more money to spend on gear, of course!