’You’re Never Going to Be Great’ at Guitar If You Don’t Have This Skill, The Police’s Andy Summers Explains

The Police axeman Andy Summers discussed some of the most important things that make for a great guitar player.

And, of course, this is far from a simple one to figure out. After all, what makes your music — or any form of art — good is purely subjective at the end of the day. We all know how that 2023 list of the “Top 250 Guitarists” by Rolling Stone magazine was received — it seems that no living soul out there likes it.

But according to Any Summers and what he told Rick Beato in a recent interview, there’s one particular aspect that really stands out.

“The definition of a musician is…”

“It’s all about time and phrasing,” Andy points out (transcript via Ultimate Guitar). “To me, the definition of a musician is, [how] do you feel time? That’s it.”

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In fact, he’s so confident about this stance that he’s sure that it’s the only path to greatness. As he added:

“If you haven’t got that, you could be good. You can learn a lot of stuff, but you’re never going to be great.”

But “phrasing” in music is such a wide term. We could refer to it as the way one shapes sequences of different notes with the purpose of expression. In other words, it’s a choice of notes you make while improvising on your guitar and making silly faces. So, again — it’s a pretty broad term and, thus, it’s far from an easy skill to gain.

Andy Summers Live 1991・Bill Evans(Sax), Mitch Forman(Key), Darryl Jones(Bs), Chad Wackerman(Ds)

“Especially if you’re playing improvised music,” continued Summers. “I mean, when I’m on stage, I’m playing at the moment. I do some stuff to back tracks in my ears, but my time is immaculate. You know, I can phrase before, after, all over the place. This is all taken from growing up with jazz.”

What Did Andy Summers Do After The Police?

What works great for one musician may not be the best option for the next guy. But to Andy Summers, as it turns out, being a musician stopped making sense after The Police was disbanded.

Of course, the legendary trio got back together a few times, including for their final tour in the 2000s. But as Andy revealed in an interview from earlier this year, when the first decision was made to call it a day with The Police, he was incredibly bummed out. As he recalled:

“I think right after The Police, I sort of went through a weird period — now I’m thinking about it — where I didn’t want to play it much anymore.”

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“I would do shows, I made records, but I barely picked up the guitar. It was a sort of weird head trip that I went through.”

Obviously, giving up on a band that was huge was incredibly discouraging. Sting went on to have a super successful solo career so it was probably a little different for him, especially since he was the face of The Police. But what brought Andy’s passion for music back was his collaboration with jazz guitar legend Larry Coryell.

“The two of us played together,” Andy recalled as he explained that this combo helped him get through the crisis. “Larry is a very enthusiastic person and actually, he was a catalyst — he brought me back to it. And I’ve, you know, played and toured with Larry, I started playing all the time again, and it’s never gone away again.”

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Is Andy Summers on the 250 Greatest Guitarist List?

Speaking of what makes a guitar player great, Rolling Stone’s Top 250 Guitarist list actually featured Andy Summers. In fact, he was barely in, right at the 250th spot. In a sense, this makes his entry special. Isn’t it better to be here rather than somewhere in the middle since people would tend to skip those parts?

Nonetheless, the critiques of the list are abundant. And that just proves how incredibly subjective it is to say what makes one musician “good” or “bad.” Nonetheless, the critiques kept poring in. The first prominent one from the guitar sphere was probably by Rick Beato.

“There’s a bunch of indie rock on here,” he argued, “where the people can barely play — even though I love their songs, but they can’t even play!”

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But the problem was with omissions. As he explained:

“George Benson is not on it, one of the grooviest guitar players I have ever heard.”

“Al Di Meola, one of the greatest fusion players, acoustic — everything! Yngwie is not on there — what!? Is that possible?”

“Peter Frampton, maybe I don’t know anything, but he’s not on there — c’mon man! Peter Frampton’s incredibly influential, at least to every guitar player I know.”

Larry Coryell, Andy Summers, & Trilok Gurtu 1996 NSJF: "Nuages".

“Neal Schon from Journey? He’s, like, one of the most copied players out there! Tommy Emmanuel, is it possible he’s not there?”

“Pat Metheny is a 157? One of the most melodic players, greatest improvisers? John McLaughlin is 72? He was the guitar teacher of half the people that were at the top of the list!”

Photo: Drussel1 (Andy Summers 2023)


  • 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.