Sult ans Of Swin g
He’s got a cleanish tone, he’s doing alright
Pl ayer Mark Knopfl er Al bum Dire Straits (1978)
While it’s definitely applicable for all the examples in this feature that a significant degree of the tone is in your hands, that adage is especially relevant here. Of course there’s a recipe for Mark Knopfler’s cleanish tone here with essential ingredient, but equally important is the relationship between his picking hand and the strings. And that’s going to take time – but the payoff could open new doors for you. For now, let’s start with the gear…
The song goes right back to the roots of the band – it was present on their first demo, telling the story of a London jazz pub band in Knopfler signature laconic style, it was completely at odds with the new wave and punk bands of the time. The balance of space and detail in Knopfler’s playing nods clearly to his Americana influences
– indeed it was originally written in open tuning on a National Steel guitar that would later become synonymous with the band for 1985’s Brothersinarms. Things changed when Knopfler bought his red ’61 Strat in 1977 and tried it again in standard. And the tonality of the Strat is all over this song - it’s one of the great recorded Fender tones.
“It’s just a Fender Twin and the Strat,” Knopfler told our US sister mag Guitarworld, “with its three-way selector switch jammed into a middle position that gives it its sound, and I think there were quite a few five-way switches installed as a result of that song.”
Then there’s that finger approach. The outro is fingerpicked, and that can seem daunting going at the 148bpm tempo but everything with guitar can be approached in a manageable way by building your speed up slowly with the four note picking pattern; thumb the first note, pull-off to the second note, thumb-pick the third note and use your first finger to pick the last note.
thetonesultan Knopfler’s fingerstyle touch is as important as his clean tone