LESSON: How to sound like Andy Summers

Recently packing out enormodomes for the Police reunion shows, Andy Summers has done it all, from 60s psychedelia to 70s punk, to fusion and jazz. Those who caught Summers on his 2000 jazz trio tour like I did (with Toss Panos from Mike Keneally’s Beer For Dolphins on drums, woo!) would have seen him playing dizzyingly complex lines on a Gibson ES-335, but as great as his jazz skills may be, he’s held in the most high esteem for his classic work with The Police.

There was some controversy over Summers’ tone when The Police first surfaced. At the time, Eddie Van Halen was revolutionising the guitar by cranking a Marshall and playing guitars fitting with just a single humbucker and a volume pot, with the occasional effect thrown in, usually just to emphasise a few notes in a passage (like the flanger sweeps in ‘Unchained.’ Summers, in comparison, was criticised by some corners of the guitar community, including Van Halen himself, for just playing “Flangy chords” (a criticism EVH would later retract in admitting he was influenced by Summers on the Van Halen III track, “Dirty Water Dog”).

Throughout his time in The Police, Andy Summers’ most visible guitar was a 1961 Fender Telecaster with an alder body and maple neck, although he also played a Fender Stratocaster and a variety of Hamers. The guitar was heavily modified when Summers bought it in the early 70s. Modifications included a high output humbucker in the neck; a brass bridge plat and bridge saddles; an inbuilt preamp and overdrive; a phase switch; and Schaller tuners. The bridge pickup was mounted directly into the body instead of to the bridge plate, a modification which some believe adds more fullness, resonance and sustain to the tone.

Summers used Marshall half stacks, despite being a predominantly distortion-free player. The added toughness of a cranked but still clean Marshall allowed his sound to cut through the mix in a way unattainable with a pristine, hi-fi sounding rig.

For effects, Summers favoured Echoplex tape delays, and a variety of chorus, delay and flanger pedals. To attain a Summers-like tone for yourself, try running single coil pickups on individual settings for the sharper stuff like “Roxanne” and “Bed’s Too Big Without You,” or in combinations for that zingy “Walking on the Moon” tone. Try to retain some edge and toughness – don’t let the tone get too pretty. Keep your amp’s preamp gain low but don’t be afraid of the power valve overdrive created by cranking the amp. One way of keeping the sound from being too ‘nice’ is by using the chorus and flanger into the amp’s input, whereas traditionally they might go in an effects loop or towards the end of a signal chain into a very clean tone.

If you’re working with a modelling device, make sure you select models of tape echo, Marshall Plexi, and more analog styles of chorus rather than more electronic-sounding ones. If you can move effects within the signal chain (either in a modeller or with real pedals), try the chorus as the first effect, perhaps even into an overdrive pedal with the gain control turned right down and just used as a tone shaping device. Also try some light compression – I prefer the MXR Dyna Comp but there are other more transparent models out there too.

CLICK HERE to buy Andy Summers music on eMusic.

CLICK HERE to buy the Line 6 MM4 Modulation guitar effects pedal from Musician’s Friend for $249.99.

CLICK HERE to search for Fender Telecasters on eBay.

This article originally appeared in Mixdown magazine.

NEWS: Christmas gift ideas for guitarists

According to feedback from some I Heart Guitar readers, not everyone who reads the site plays guitar: some just like guitar-based music and are into the interviews and reviews and stuff. I guess in a way this post is dedicated to them, provided there’s a guitarist on their Christmas shopping list. Here are some goodies which are bound to fulfill two key criteria: a) stuff a stocking, and b) guilt the receiver into letting you have the last slice of turkey/tofurkey at Christmas dinner, hehe.

MXR M-102 Dyna Comp Compressor Pedal Standard

One of the coolest compressors known to man, the MXR Dyna Comp is not the pedal to stomp on if you want a clean guitar to sound like a crisp FM radio. But if you’re after soupy funk, swampy blues, snappy soul, or those singing, silky David Gilmour tones, you can’t go past this little red monster. It’s also quite inexpensive, yet very sturdy and roadworthy. You could probably use it to hammer in a nail, or crack a home intruder over the head and keep him down for the count until your biker mates arrive to finish the job. I have one of these on my pedal board and it’s my secret weapon. Well, that and my magic amulet.

This elegantly simple device from the mind of Eddie Van Halen attaches to the low E string saddle on a Floyd Rose-style bridge (at least, if it’s set to divebomb-only mode, either due to the design of the bridge cavity rout or some kind of aftermarket blocking method). Flip the lever and you’re instantly in drop D tuning. Now you don’t need to change guitars to crank out ‘Unchained.’  Eddie claims that you could have 6 of them on a guitar and drop the whole dang thing down a whole step. Unfortunately it’s not recommended for fully floating bridges, so that rules out all of my Floyd-equipped axes.

Dunlop Eric Johnson Classic Jazz III Guitar Pick 6-Pack

Believe it or not, these picks from Jim Dunlop are paintstakingly modelled on a specific favourite red Jazz III pick from Eric Johnson’s personal collection. They feature a more refined and smoother tip, are more flexible than a standard Dunlop Jazz III, and have a matte finish with raised logos for grip. There have been signature picks before (I’m quite fond of Ibanez’s Paul Gilbert picks), but not quite like this. Will this start a trend? Will we see picks replicating the teeth-marks of Eddie Van Halen, or the pick scrapes of CC Deville?

Marshall MS-4 Micro Stack Standard

There are quite a few mini amps on the market, but this has gotta be my favourite. There is, of course, nothing cooler than a Marshall stack, and you could probably talk yourself into buying 8 or so of these so you could have a mini Yngwie amp rig on your desk. Think about it: 4 dry amps in the middle, and 2 either side, each pair with its own delay signal. Ok, maybe that’s just me, but at the very least you could chuck one of these and a travel guitar in your backpack for a picnic. Or you could have a bitchen Barbie concert in your doll house. 

D’Andrea Guitar Care Kit Standard

I know, I know, cleaning your guitar isn’t the most glamorous of ways to pass one’s time, but I’ve received these kits as Christmas presents every few years since I was in my early teens and they’re always very useful. So unless the guitarist you’re buying it for is an utter jerk, this is a gift that will be greatly appreciated. Just make sure you’re not in the room if they use the string cleaner and polishing cloth, cos you risk being exposed to the dreaded fingers-on-the-blackboard sound. Urk.

NEWS: MXR 76 Vintage Dyna Comp

Just saw this one on Guitarsite.com. MXR is releasing a custom shop reissue of the Dyna Comp, the best freaking compressor pedal in the universe. Unlike the (still quite excellent) current production version, the 76 Vintage model uses the original spec integrated circuits (ICs), and does away with the LED added on later versions. 

These appear to be similar in spirit to the MXR CSP-026 Handwired 1974 Vintage Phase 90 pedal, which is also made to original specs in the custom shop (click the link to buy the Phase 90).

Here’s the press release: 
The MXR Dyna Comp that was produced in 1976 has long been regarded as the ultimate stomp box compressor. There’s something inherently musical in the way it “tightens up” a guitar signal, raising the volume of quiet notes and leveling off peaks to create rich, full bodied sustain. 

And now the MXR Custom Shop brings back that highly sought-after sound with the ’76 Vintage Dyna Comp. Meticulously researched and superbly crafted, it features the exact same circuitry used in the original 1976 Dyna Comp, identical in its component layout, silkscreen and handmade wire harness.

The key component is the old school CA3080 “metal can” integrated circuit (IC), which yields quieter operation, greater transparency and increased dynamic range. These ICs have been out of production since the ’80s, but MXR has tracked down a stash of them—enough to produce a limited run of these little red boxes of compression bliss.

With supplies limited, the MXR ’76 Vintage Dyna Comp is destined to quickly become as ultra collectible as its noble ancestor.

The MXR ’76 Vintage Dyna Comp pedal has a street price of $175.00.
Sweet. I have a modern Dyna Comp reissue on my pedalboard and I hope I get to test drive one of these new ones so I can compare the two.