Andy Summers Says Only ‘a Real Guitarist’ Can Pull Off This Riff by The Police

One thing that we guitar players are often guilty of is underestimating a song. And sure, we may think that we’re playing it well. But once you listen closer and remove all the ego, you might realize that you’re actually butchering this fine piece. Even if a riff or a solo or an entire song might seem simple at first, there are a lot of nuanced details that are making it all sound genuine. And these are usually pretty difficult to pull off.

Well, one of those songs could easily be The Police’s “Message in a Bottle.” In a recent chat with the Guitar Player magazine, the band’s guitarist Andy Summers discussed his five career-defining songs, one of which was (obviously) “Message in a Bottle.” Regarding how the song came to be and how they arranged it, Andy offered:

“Sting showed me the riff he had, but I embellished it. I had the chops to make it swing and rock. I could tell right away it had something, and I was thrilled to play something that started to progress our style.”

“Rather than just strumming chords – C# minor, A, B, F# minor – I was outlining the figures in a way that integrated very well with Stewart’s hi-hat. I should say that the recorded version of this song is the best drum track Stewart ever did.”

The Police - Message In A Bottle

“In the studio, we added a second guitar part, so there’s a harmony going on there. Then it goes into a more of a rock chorus, but the verse is the classic Police sound, again outlining the chord, which is tonic, fifth and added ninth.”

“I overdubbed some soloing. We were coming out of a sort of religious punk scene, and guitar solos at that time were supposed to be a mark of the old guard. Stewart was vehement about that, but I was a great soloist, so of course I was soloing my ass off.”

“We were always in a weird position with that. As I started playing a solo over the end of the song, Sting went, ‘Oh, actually, this is really good. Keep it in, keep it in.’ It wasn’t up really loud, which I would’ve liked, but it was in there, with a lot of feeling.”

ANDY SUMMERS - MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE

“It’s a famous riff, and I have to admit, it’s hard to play. People want to play it, but a lot of them can’t – the stretches are too big. You have to be a real guitarist to do it well.

“I’ve played it a lot of different ways, in a lot of different positions, over the years, just trying to do stuff with it, sometimes playing the second chord, the A with the open A string, rather than going to the obvious sort of shape of the added-ninth chord. It’s pretty cool.”

Photo: S Pisharam (Andy Summers 2007)

David Slavkovic

David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at Ultimate-Guitar.com, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor.

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