Without any words, Andy Summers proclaimed himself the master of effects with his ethereal, shimmering, rainbow waves of sound he created with The Police. Many people have tried to sound like him, but without serious investment, that goal is unattainable. Hopefully this guide will not lead you to go out and get these devices just because Andy used them . . . but they will broaden your visions of how effects can be used to enhance, not deter the music.
Many years ago, in a 1982 interview, Andy was asked, "what is your philosophy of using effects?" He said, "I think they should be used. You have to be judicious and musical in your use of them. If you play everything with flanger, it's going to get really old fast. You have to continually change it and use the straight guitar sound as well- which I do- so that when you use the effect, it's an effect. And then it goes off. There's a danger in playing with that sound all the time because you turn it if, it sounds really dull. Straight guitar ought to sound as good as the effects. You have to try to keep things in perspective."
Note: These are the pedals in Andy's pedalboard. He used the same effects pedalboard live and onstage, so he could reproduce anything from the albums. In his quest for sonic bliss, Andy may have used even more pedals than the ones listed here.
MXR Dyna Comp
The MXR Dyna Comp is a compressor. What this does is it basically "squashes" the signal so there isn't as much sustain, or it can "loosen" the signal for loud sustain. For example, if Andy wanted a choppy rhythm tone like on "On Any Other Day", he would set the sensitivity rate to the max. However, a solo like the one on "Driven To Tears" would use no compression at all, because of how much sustain and anger it has. It is a really expressive device that helps him obtain a wide variety of "feelings" in his playing.
MXR Phase 90
We all know how phasers sound like. That spacey, "swooshing" sound could be heard on many psychedelic records in the 60's and 70's. Basically, phasers split a signal into two parts and then flips it upside down so that a "modulation" will occur- two signals going against eachother.
Andy didn't use phasing that much. To him it sounded "dated" and "reminds you of those dreadful psychedelic records." But, his tasteful use of effects lead you to not notice this pedal when he turns it on in "Truth Hits Everybody (Live)" from "Message In A Box."
This is it, this is the main pedal that helps Andy Summers get his signature sounds- an Electro-Harmonix Electric Mistress Flanger. This is a very special flanger that has been hailed around the world as one of the top flangers (along with the ADA and MXR Flangers.)
Flanging is almost like phasing except more sophisticated. The signal speed can be changed from a slight waver to an extreme flutter, like phasing, but now the two signals can be delayed, so a pitch change will occur between the two signals.
For example, listen to "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da" and notice that the guitar sounds very "warbly". This is because Andy set the delay to a higher lever, so it can be "detuned." "Don't Stand So Close To Me" is a good example of how flanging can also be used to make one guitar sound rich and full. "Driven To Tears" is, in my opinion, the greatest example of flangers in use.
Flangers also have a "feedback" control which sets the strength that the signal has. With this all the way up, your guitar sounds like a jet plane flying by. Check out the solo to "Omegaman" to hear this in effect.
Flangers also have different waveform shapes. Since this is an analog flanger, it's sound is warmer than digital ones, and only has one waveform- but the Electric Mistress is set to have a "triangle" wavefrom instead of a logarithmic- so it can get detuning sounds easier.
This pedal is also famous because of it's "filter matrix." What it does is it disables the flange sweep . . . so you can position it ANYWHERE YOU WANT. That's how Andy Summers got that dry, thirsty guitar sound on "How Stupid Mr. Bates."
If you love the Police (who doesn't?) and play a guitar, get this pedal - actually, get the newer, more reliable Deluxe Electric Mistress. Turn the rate to about 9 o'clock, Range and Color both to 11 o'clock, and you have Andy Summers in a box.
(Above: Electro Harmonix Deluxe Electric Mistress. Better design, less noise, more reliable than the original.)
MXR Analog Delay & Maestro Echoplex
The Police got some Echoplex machines during the tour to promote "Outlandos D'Amour." They were bought used, so they were "played in" and warm-toned. They were about 15 years old each.
The band messed around on them alot, and Andy discovered something interesting. By hooking up an MXR analog delay pedal to two Echoplex's, he could get a double rhythm effect that sounded like two guitarists at once. As he explained to Vic Gabriani in the December '97 issue of "Guitar World": "Playing "Cant Stand Losing You" live, I'd hammer out eighth notes and get 16th notes returning with a massive echo and reverb that I'd learned to control. Then I'd hit harmonics between beats and go back to the rhythm pattern. So, it was like playing two parts at once. That opened things up and became an integral part of our sound. A bit later, Stewart started playing his drums through an Echoplex, too. [side note: check out "Darkness" to hear that.] So it sounded like two guitarists and two drummers playing together . . . I guess we were really only half as good than we sounded!"
Even when the Police were playing in huge stadiums around the world, they never abandoned their original Echoplex's. Why fix something that isn't broken, right?
Click here for delay settings to Police songs
Musitronics Mu-Tron III Envelope Follower
Let's just put it this way: anything that Andy plays that sounds like a wah pedal IS NOT a wah pedal. It's this- a Mu-Tron.III Envelope Follower. In other words, it's a touch-controlled wah. Ever wonder what that sound is in the beginning of "Too Much Information"? It's this pedal, actually. Digging hard into the string will give a more extreme wah sound, digging softer will give a more subtle wah sound. Extremely high settings give you "laser-fire" sounds. Check out "Flexible Strategies"- it's an all-out showcase for this pedal.
Andy's Custom Pedalboard built by Pete Cornish
Pete Cornish is a world famous pedal-maker that has designed the rigs of many players- including Andy's fellow British guitar colleagues Dave Gilmour (Pink Floyd) and Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin)! He also designs custom effects, such as a treble-booster he built for Brian May.
Andy Summers' pedalboard contained these following effects: an MXR Dyna Comp, an MXR Phase 90, an Electro-Harmonix Electric Mistress Flanger/Filter Matrix, an MXR Analog Delay, two fuzzes (believed to be an MXR and a Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi), and an Musitronics Mu-Tron III Envelope Follower.
All the effects went out to a Roland Space Echo before coming back into the board, and the board itself had an overall power switch so Andy could turn the board off while he was playing, cue the effects he needed, and bring them all in at once simply by hitting one switch.
Before the "Synchronicity" tour, Andy told Guitar Heroes Magazine's Steve Gett: "The thing is, I never really heard much in the last five years that sounds better then the pedal board I've got at the moment. Basically, the effects haven't changed that much - they're still like a compressor, distortion, flanger or chorus. But my pedal board's getting a little tired and it's starting to get noisier and noisier. It's done four or five years now without ever breaking so I hope to have a new set up and may even change my amps."
Roland Guitar Synthesizers
Andy Summers' principal tool was the guitar synthesizer, which is responsible for some of his richest and intriguing sounds. He told Musician Magazine in late 1981: "I use a Roland guitar synthesizer, the GR-300, which is the latest one they make. I've also got the GR-100, which is the electronic guitar. It's just an additional colour to the guitar synthesizer, really. What I've started doing now is using two guitar synthesizers together, which is really spectacular. "It's like a little panel you have on the floor," he said of the unit, "and you operate it with your feet. The synthesis comes from the guitar itself - there's a hexaphonic pick-up on the back of the second pick-up of the guitar - so it is a pure synthesizer. One of the features of this one is a duet switch, where you play your original note and it will add any interval to it. Second, minor second, major third, minor fifth or sixth, whatever. So you get two notes together, and if you've got it tuned to fifths, say, and you start to play strange chords, it really sounds incredible. The sound gets so fat, really big. It has an envelope and an inverted envelope, too. It also has something called rise and fall time, where there are dual switches on it, A and B, and you can move from one to the other. Like you tune A to fifths, then you can tune B to fourths or thirds, so you can go from playing a line in fifths to playing a line in fourths or thirds. It's great ! And when you get to playing it through a chorus, then it really sounds good . . ."
Here are just some of the songs Andy Summers has used the guitar synthesizer on:
- Don't Stand So Close To Me
- Secret Journey
- Walking In Your Footsteps
- Oh My God
- I Burn For You
- Once Upon A Daydream
By Greg Danielak - 2000