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With his unique style, sound, and charismatic vocals, Mark Knopfler is without a doubt one of the best-loved British musicians to have emerged from the late 70s.
With his unique style, sound, and charismatic vocals, Mark Knopfler is without a doubt one of the best-loved British musicians to have emerged from the late 70s. In this issue's Tech Session Jamie Humphries take's a look at his unmistakable style and sound.
One of the most instantly recognisable and iconic images of the 1980s is that of Mark Knopfler donning his red headband and matching black and red Nashville style shirt toting a Fender Strat. Mark Knopfler and his band dominated the airwaves and MTV during their heydey in the mid-80s.
Born in Scotland but raised in Newcastle, Knopfler formed Dire Straits with his brother David Knopfler when they moved to London in the late 1970s. The band went on to become one of the most successful bands of the following decade, with Mark’s unique blend of rock, blues and country propelling him into the guitar spotlight.
They recorded and released a number of hugely successful albums such as “Making Movies”, “Love Over Gold’ and the massive selling “Brothers in Arms”. Knopfler received much critical acclaim and praise for his guitar playing, with such notable stand out tracks as “Money for Nothing”, “Private Investigations”, “Romeo and Juliette”, “Brothers in Arms”, “Telegraph Road” and the classic “Sultans of Swing”
As well as Dire Straits, Knopfler has had a hugely successful solo career with such notable albums as “Golden Heart” and “Privateering”. He has also written soundtrack music for several films, as well as composing and producing songs for other artists including Tina Turner, Bob Dylan and Aztec Camera.
Knopfler’s early influences included Hank Marvin, Jerry Reid, Chet Atkins, Scotty Moore, BB King and James Burton. As a finger style player, Knopfler has a very rhythmic sound to his style, often employing banjo style rolls and pedal steel style bends. He has a fantastic sense of melody, often employing arpeggios to his solos. He is known for his rich, pure, clean tone, produced by his combination of a Fender Strat and a Fender amp, although he also on occasions uses a thicker warm overdriven tone courtesy of a Les Paul and a Marshall.
For the Tech Session, I have drawn inspiration from two classic Dire Straits tracks, “Sultans of Swing”, for the main progression and “Brothers in Arms” for the breakdown section. The chord progression uses chords from both the E natural minor and the E harmonic minor harmonised scales. Although its possible to play this track using a pick, I would advise opting for fingers exclusively for the most authentic sound.
Bars 1-5 kick things off with some country-inspired unison bends and a descending legato figure based around E minor pentatonic. Take note of the opening lick where we roll across the strings into the first phrase, but mute the 4th and 5th strings to create a percussive snap to the lick. This section concludes with a rolling lick based around the open A minor chord leading us into the next bar.
Bars 6-9 outline the accompanying chords with a series of stylistic 6th intervals, giving the track a country vibe. Bar 8 includes a family rhythmic device used by Knopfler utilising the triads of Em/G, D/F# and E minor, before resolving to a B7/F# triad, emulating a familiar chord lick heard in “Sultans”.
Bars 10-13 kick off with a fast E minor pentatonic lick, followed by more fast fingerstyle banjo rolling licks. This section is pretty tricky so make sure you practise this at a slower tempo to start.
Bars 14-17 kick off with a blues lick based around A minor pentatonic leading to a D/F# arpeggio to outline the D major chord. We conclude this section with the descending B major arpeggio that resolves with a target note over the G major chord in our next bar.
Bars 18-21 feature more diatonic 6th intervals that produce a stylistic country tone to the track, before resolving to a B major arpeggio with a bend up from the 5th to an augmented 5th.
Bars 22- 25 include a quarter note triplet rhythm descending E minor arpeggio that covers a significant portion of the next section, and is an excellent example of how arpeggios can be used to underpin not only accompanying chords but also aid fretboard coverage. This section concludes with a C major pentatonic figure and some descending diatonic 3rd intervals
Bars 26-33 include more pedal steel style country bends, plus more muted rolling licks. This section concludes with some country flavoured unison string bends.
Bars 34-41 feature our break down section with a chord progression similar to something heard in “Brothers in Arms”. For this section, we swap to an overdriven tone and use the volume pedal to swell into the phrases. This section uses notes from E natural minor, E minor pentatonic, plus E harmonic minor, namely the D# note played over the B7 chord.
Bars 42-50 and we are back to our clean tone, and a Knopfler study wouldn’t be complete without some fast fingerstyle arpeggios. This section is borrowed heavily from “Sultans of Swing” and make use of two string triad arpeggios based around E minor, B major, D major and A major, and use a mixture of fingerpicking and left-hand legato to execute them. The track is concluded with an E minor triad at the 12th fret.
As I stated earlier, Mark Knopfler uses a variety of guitars including, Fender Strat’s and Tele’s, Les Paul’s, Schecter Strat’s and Tele’s, Gretsch and his famous Pensa-Suhr to name but a few. His amp choices range from Fender, Marshall, Music Man, Mesa Boogie and Soldano. To get the tone for our lesson, I used a Music Man Cutlass S type guitar plugged into a Mesa TC50 head. This was plugged into a Two Notes Torpedo studio digital load box. For the cleans, I used an impulse response blonde Fender cab, and for the overdriven tone, I used an impulse response of a Marshall 4x12. Effects-wise I used an MXR Dyna Comp compressor, and an Ernie Ball volume pedal for the volume swells. I also backed off the tone of the guitar during the breakdown section. For the clean tone I went for a rich dynamic clean, while I opted for a mild overdrive for the middle section.