Mark Knopfler | Live Sound: Fender Stratocaster, Tweed Amplifiers, Wampler Pedals
Author: Ryan Carraher
Mark Knopfler is an iconic guitar player who is revered for his impeccable feel, finger style guitar playing and, of course, for his tone! Here we will take a look at the gear behind the tone and discuss possible combinations of gear that will lead you to his remarkable tone!
Mark Knopfler’s tone is a bright, compressed, single coil tone that captures the natural warmth of his legendary fingerstyle picking.
The Knopfler Tone
Mark Knopfler’s tone is famously very bright, clear and compressed. He is well documented as a user of the Fender Stratocaster as well as other guitars with single coil pickups; these types of pickups are a huge part of his sound. He is also known for using the crisp clean channels of boutique amplifiers to which he would apply the all-important compressor to really optimise the extreme, desirable, dynamic ranges of the single coil pickups.
If you’re looking to sound like Knopfler your best bet would be the Fender Stratocaster.
Fender makes many incarnations of their iconic Stratocaster, a good place to start is the Fender American Standard Stratocaster. On this guitar, you will find an alder body, maple fretboard, “C” shaped neck, 3 single coil pickups and a 25.5″ scale. The American Standard line is typically the archetypical Stratocaster. In other words, it features everything you need to get that versatile, single coil tone that Mark Knopfler achieved from his Stratocaster.
If you’re on a budget, have no fear! Check out the Fender Standard Stratocaster. These guitars are not American made but they feature all of the familiar features of the Stratocaster and they sound great!
Here are some other great Stratocaster options from Fender!
Now Knopfler also used humbuckers on many songs as well so if you are interested in obtaining both his single coil sounds as well as his humbucker sounds I would check out the Fender Standard HSS Strat
If you’re not into Fender guitars plenty of other companies make “strat-like” guitars that feature the double cutaway body and the three single-coil pickup configuration. When it comes down to it, the single coil pickups add so much to the Knopfler tone and any guitar that features single coils is a possible candidate to create a successful reproduction of the Knopfler sound!
Other guitar manufacturers that produce Stratocaster reminiscent guitars include G&L and Suhr!
The Guitar Amp
Mark Knopfler used many different amps over his career but commonly he would use a tube amp, with a lot of headroom and tonal space, often an expensive boutique amp. Luckily nowadays there are many amp choices that meet these standards that won’t break the bank!
The first option I would suggest is the Fender Hot Rod Deluxe III. This amp gets very loud and has a pristine, versatile clean channel. It features 2 6L6 tubes and responds extremely well to pedals and picking technique. The cool thing about Fender amps is that they are essential voiced for Fender guitars, such as the Stratocaster, so these amps would go hand in hand with any Fender guitar!
Another great option would be the Fender Deluxe Reverb
Knopfler was also known to use Soldano amplifiers from time to time. He would normally set the bass around 9 and the treble and mids around 5 on these amplifiers. A great option would be the Soldano Lucky 13
The Single Coil Sound
When chasing Knopfler’s Stratocaster’s tone, the thing that really matters is the single coil pickups. They have a classic, well-known dynamic response and timbre making them indispensable. If you are looking to upgrade single coils in a guitar you already own check out these options!
Stompboxes & Pedals
One of the most important pedals when it comes to achieving the Knopfler tone is the compressor.
A compressor helps to normalise the volume of the notes that are being played. This creates a pleasing “squished”, sustained sound that has even volume and prevents things from getting lost in the mix.
A popular, and very affordable, the compressor is the MXR Dyna Comp. This is a very simple and user-friendly compressor and is a staple of many guitarists!
There are so many compressors out there that you can choose from. The compressor really is a massive part of achieving the Knopfler tone. In combination with a cranked tweed amp, it creates a very bright, authentic tone. When the compressor is set where it doesn’t squish everything too much it will bring out the sound of the fingers on the strings.
Here are some other compressors to check out:
Another pedal to think about is an overdrive pedal. A great place to start would be the Ibanez TS808 or TS9 Tube Screamer overdrive pedal. The tube screamer series is an absolute classic. They have used the world over for their classic tube amp-like distortion that can really round out and complete your sound.
Here are some other great, classic distortion pedals to consider!
Garbage. MK never used a “cranked tweed amp” in his entire 40-year career, with the possible exception of one or two rare tracks from his later solo stuff. Definitely NOT the early MK/Dire Straits sound.