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    On April 18, 2015, some ‘historical’ Dire Straits recordings were officially released for the first time – four tracks from the ‘Honky Tonk Demos’, a demo tape the band recorded in July 1977. These were the first recordings of Dire Straits at all, five tracks recorded in a little London studio for a demo to help get a record deal. The four songs released now are Wild West End, Sultans of Swing, Down to the Waterline, and Water of Love. The fifth song from the original tape, a David Knopfler composition called Sacred Loving is not included unfortunately.

    honkytonkOnly the Sultans of Swing version has been available before: it was released on a sampler called ‘The Honky Tonk Demos’ on vinyl, and later also on CD. The other songs were only available from two bootleg sources: one was a tape I got from a friend in the early 80ies, and the other was the silver CD bootleg ‘Early Demos’. The quality on both was rather bad, only mono, and a poor frequency response. The CD bootleg was even about 8% too fast and almost ‘unusable’ for this reason.

    Some notes on guitar aspects

    With this blog post I want to concentrate on some guitar aspects of these recordings, mainly on some details we can hear now for the first time.

    Down to the Waterline: I already mentioned that both bootleg sources were only mono. What we did not know was that they were not both stereo channels to one mono channel but in fact only the left channel of the original stereo recording. In other words, all information of the right stereo channel was not included on the bootlegs, e.g. David’s rhythm guitar is mainly on the right channel and was hardly audible for this reason. David plays a 16th-rhythm similar to the later version from the first album but here without the phaser.

    The lead guitar on the left channel should be Mark’s 1961 Strat(he got his other Strat later in 1977) which was not red yet but had a wood finish. This should be the bridge & middle pickup combination. Unlike on the first Dire Straits album, the whole demo features hardly any compression on the guitars so whe hear Mark’s guitar with a wide dynamic range.

    The demo version features a third electric guitar that only comes in with some chords for the bridge solo part in the middle of the song. This is probably Mark on guitar, and it might be the neck pickup of his Strat.

    Sultans of Swing: As this one ws available in even CD-quality, there is nothing new to discover here. The guitar is also the 1961 Strat with what sounds like the middle pickup. Unless Mark dialed in a very bright amp setting, it does not sound like the hot 13k DiMarzio FS-1 pickup that Mark had in the guitar later.

    While it seems that Mark played all three electric guitars on the album version, the right rhythm guitar here should be David’s.

    Wild West End: Just like on the album, we have an electric lead guitar (Mark), the rhythm on the National (Mark), and an acoustic rhythm guitar (David). The lead seems to be the bridge & middle pickup again. While the acoustic guitar only plays some rather rudimentary chord work on the album, we have a more steady rhythm here.

    Water of Love: The bottleneck lead guitar is a National, just like on the first album. I guess it is not his famous Style-0 but his Tricone National from the late 1920ies.  This guitar is more on the right stereo channel and can be heard much better for this reason than on the bootleg sources. As the quality on the bootleg is very poor, I was not sure if it is a National or even an electric (as on stage) but now it is clear.

    Just like on the album, Mark played a second guitar but now it is an electric instead of the acoustic on the official album version. David plays acoustic rhythm guitar.

    The picture

    honky-tonk-single

    Picture by Andra Nelki (andranelki.com)

    On the inner sleeve of the double vinyl single we find one of the earliest Dire Straits pictures, from the gig at the Clapham Common bandstand on September 10, 1977. This plus some more pictures from the same gig have been released before but in much worse quality. We can definitely see the wood grain on Mark’s Strat body, which was not red yet.

    David seems to play the ‘Water of Love’ Telecaster thinline. To me it looks (?) as if it still has the original finish here, with a white or pearloid pickguard (later the body holes were filled, and the body and also the pickguard (!) were painted black).

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    Guy Fletcher was so kind to post a picture of Mark’s effect rack in his tour diary . With this blog post I am trying to explain a bit what we can see in the picture, and some details we can conclude from what we see.

    But first here is what Guy wrote on it:

    As has been requested on more than one occasion, here is some inside info on Mark’s guitar rig. Glenn Saggers station. As anyone who has seen the show will realise, there are a lot of guitar changes not only for Mark but for everyone. Mr. Saggers works flat out during the show, tuning and preparing amp setups and delivering instruments to Mark flawlessly through the evening. I really don’t know how he does it as every amp sound and effects setting is recalled meticulously for each and every song. Two Reinhardt amps are used in leap-frog fashion and whilst we are performing one song, the next one is being set up. Also there is the ’59 Bassman (offstage) which is used for slide along with Mark’s ‘Dano’ and of course the Tone King which resides onstage in between the two 4×12 cabinets. The Tone King settings remain constant during the show.

    MKGEARmontage-700

    Picture courtesy Guy Fletcher (guyfletcher.co.uk)

    Well, Mark uses four different amps on this tour. While Guy speaks of two Reinhardts, what we see is one Reinhardt Talyn (top left) and a Komet Linda (bottom left). Then we have a Tone King on stage, and a 1959 Fender Bassman off-stage. The tone King is for some clean guitar sounds, and the Bassman for slide with the Danelectro guitar.

    Guy says two Reinhardts “are used in leap-frog fashion”, meaning one is in use while the other is prepared for the next song. I guess the same is true for the Reinhardt and the Komet we see here. However, this also means that when Mark wants to play two songs that both require e.g. the Komet but with different settings, he has to play one other song with a different amp in between so that his technician Glenn Saggers has time to prepare all settings. Or Glenn has to be very quick and change the settings in a short break while Mark e.g. announces the next song.

    The Effect Rack

    Some devices in the rack are the same as on previous tour (compare to the 2008 rack): we see the familiar D.A.V. electronis pre-amps (with EQ, possibly some limiting/compressing, exact model unsure, probably custom made), the same switching units, and the TC Electronis 2290 delay. There is a Furman power conditioner again, this time at the bottom of the rack. It seems to be this model.

    We see that all devices – except a compressor – are arranged in pairs. Theoretically this can be for several reasons: one for each “leap-frog pair” so that Glenn can adjust the device for the next song, one for each stereo channel, or one in use and one as a spare in case of some defect.

    We can’t know for sure, but there is one detail in the pictures that makes one think it is the third option: the power LEDs on some devices (the lower of the two D.A.V. electronics pre-amps and lower of the switching units) are off, so I guess these are spares.

    There is one ‘new’ effect – new does not sound right for a classic that was introduced in the 1970ies – a dbx 160A mono compressor. If I had to guess I would say it is for clean slide guitars.

    Let’s have a look at the switching system:

    On the left we have a gain control – I guess the D.A.V. comes first so the gain will not do that much, next five insert slots, a mute button, and then five outputs.

    Insert1:
    unsure if green LED is on or off, no label, might be unused, has an additional mini switch (can also be a ‘bypass all inserts’)

    Insert2:
    labelled with FX (effects). Which effects? All the ones in the rack are in the other inserts (see below), so I guess this is for effects on stage. This makes sense as it is the first insert in the line.

    Insert3:
    labbeled with VP (volume pedal). The Ernie Ball volume pedal is used in the effect insert, just like on previous tours. Mark’s guitar does not go directly into the device to his feet as you might assume, but to the rack, then it goes back to the volume pedal, and from the volume pedal back to the rack. You need long cables, but as the signal is low impedance here this does not matter really.

    Insert4:
    labelled dbx, so it is the 160A compressor

    Insert5:
    the TC 2290

    It seems each insert can be active (green LED on) or bypassed here.

    The signal can then be routed to any of the four amps.

    If you see more details, or want to speculate what the little boxes on topf of the Talyn and Linda amps (labelled with Talyn and Linda) are, share your thought in a comment to this blog post (no registration required).

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    Today I was just sitting around and playing bits and pieces of Setting me up from the first Dire Straits album. As the camera and recording gear was still in place from the last video, I spontanously decided to film a short sequence.

    It is not really a performance of the song in the sense of playing the right pieces in the proper order but rather some jamming with myself within the groove of the song. In such a situation I usually play a mix of original licks from both the studio version and numerous live versions which I have somewhere in my head, plus some improvisation, so it is not an authentic version of the original. Still there are many riffs you will recognize from the record and might be interested to see how I play them.

    The guitar is my 1983 Squier Strat from the first Japanese vintage series. These are really great guitars with a nice sound. Unfortunately they are getting rare, especially the fiesta red ones, and prices have started to rise considerably.

    I replaced the original pickguard with a Sultans pickguard with the VFS-1 pickups. Here I am playing the bridge pickup in the tapped position. The guitar has 008 strings and is tuned to open A.

    I did not use an amp but played into a portable PCM recorder, and added some basic effects (reverb, compression, dealy… plus some slight phasing) in the recording software. This approach is just for convenience, as I don’t have to mess around this way with the amp settings, mic positions etc.

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    With the following video I was trying to demonstrate the basic sound difference between a vintage Schecter Dream Machine and a ‘traditional’ Strat.

    The Dream Machine is from about 1980, it has a Koa body and a one-piece Pau Ferro neck. The three pickups in the brass pickguard are the tapped F500T’s. It has s a hardtail brass bridge.

    The Strat is a 1983 Japanese vintage Squier Stratocaster, unmodified.

    Of course the amp & effects settings are 100% identical for both guitars. Also they both have new strings of the same brand and gauge (Fender 09 – 40). Each of the three pickups on the Schecter can be switched to the ‘normal’ coil (tapped) or the overwound (full) coil but I will only use the tapped pickup positions of Schecter in this video, as these are more comaparable to the Fender pickup sound.

    Beside the sound difference, note that there is less hum and noises with the Schecter as the metal pickguard and the copper tape around the pickup coil provide a better shielding.

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    In 1980, shortly before recording the Making Movies album,  Mark Knopfler got several Schecter Dream Machines. It was a sunburst Schecter Strat (serial number S8136) that was used at least on the song Tunnel of Love and that was stolen from the boot of a car near the band’s rehearsal room in Greenwich soon after.

    There are only a few pictures of this guitar available. They are all from the same photo session with photographer Adrian Boot, and only two of these are in colour. One of these two pictures was on a cover of the Greek ‘Pop Rok’ magazine from December 1980, and medium quality scans of the cover could be found on various sources in the web.

    I recently got hold of a copy of this magazine. It features a 3.5 pages story/interview with a live picture from summer 1979 plus various press kit pictures of the Making Movies album.

    As Adrian allowed me to use detail parts of his pictures for our ‘scientific purposes’ here in this blog, I can show the guitar itself at full resolution here:

    Schecter Dream Machine

    From this view we can see the pickguard and the neck very well but unfortunately hardly anything of the two tone sunburst and the beautiful flame of the birch body. We cannot see the bridge completely, neither. In fact there is not one picture at all available that shows  whether this guitar has a tremolo or a hardtail bridge (!). I’d guess it is the tremolo version like Mark’s other Schecter Strats all are but who knows.

    The pickup screws and (probably) the six bridge screws are nickel while the pickguard screws seem to be gold, also gold Kluson tuners and brass strap buttons. The nut is brass, as on all Schecter Dream Machines (brass hardware was essential for their hardware philosophy). The neck is what was called ‘figured maple’ in the Schecter catalogue, in this case flamed birdseye maple. However, the flame and the birdseyes are less prominent than e.g. on Mark’s red Schecter Strat. Note the dots on the neck surface, all of Mark’s other Dream Machines are dotless.

    The guitar strap in this pictures looks similar to the black Music Man strap that Mark had in the late 70ies, but it is not a Music Man strap.

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