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    Those early years of Dire Straits are still a very special period for me. 1979 was the time when I first heard the band and became a fan of Knopfler’s guitar style and sound. For this reason I still have a deep interest in any live pictures from this time but more and more I got the impression that I meanwhile have seen most existing pictures from those early years. What a surprise when I found Alan Perry’s website. Alan Perry has been a professional concert photographer since 1975 and you can order all his pictures on his site. There are little preview pictures of all his photos. And he took pictures on two different Dire Straits concerts – from the Empire, Liverpool, June 8, 1979 and the Odeon, Birmingham, June 13, 1979. All in all more than 50 pics of each concert.

    Prices seemed reasonable to me – 30 British pence for a standard size photo- so I simply ordered all of them. The quality of the pictures is great. Of course there are always some that are better than others but all in all they all look good.

    Unfortunately I could not spot any exciting new details about Knopfler’s equipment yet – no new insight into the effects he used, no picture that revealed details like the amp setting.

    Knopfler played his red Fender maple board Stratocaster with the greenish pickguard of his other Strat (see here for more info), the black Thinline Telecaster on Water of Love (more info), and David’s black Strat on Setting me up (more info). The guitars went through the Morley volume pedal (more info) and the MXR analog delay into two Music Man amps (more info).

    Here are a few samples. Check them out all at Alan’s site (www.concertphotos.uk.com): Birmingham 1979 Liverpool 1979

    "Buy me a beer" - donate for the site via PayPal. Or buy a backing track in my online shop :)

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    Sultans of Swing solo

    Posted in: MK guitar style and licks by Ingo on September 22, 2009


    Last weekend we had guests and one of them had this new photo camera – a Panasonic Lumix FX 37 which costs less than 200,- €. Besides taking great photos you can also record videos in HD quality (1280 x 720 pixels). As I was curious what these look like with my stuff I played Sultans for them and we filmed it. The result is really amazing – much better than that old camcorder I normally use – and this from a small, pocket size camera.

    I wanted to check what it looks like on youtube so I uploaded a part of the final Sultans of Swing solo. The audio is of course also recorded with the camera itself (I recorded audio on a special track for the Six Blade Knife cover I did a few days ago).

    A few notes on what I am playing here

    It is just a mixture of different licks from different live versions plus some improvisation here and there. I played some of those staccato things from the Alchemy version  at 0:30  – although it seems noone knows for sure how Knopfler did that exactly. The lick at 0:40 might be similar to one from Wembley 1985, I always liked this one. I am not sure myself about the next one at 0:43 – it was suddenly in my head one day, not sure if I heard it from Knopfler somewhere or not.

    The next lick (0:46) is from one of the 1996 versions if I remember correctly.

    I messed up the part around 0:57 a bit, I never know when the backing track goes for that bass string lick (I need to build in a small drum fill to identify this part for me).

    At 2:00 you will find another example of Knopfler’s 6 chord – a shape he uses quite a lot lately.

    The backing track I used – the only one of the ‘long’ version with the piano part in the middle – is available here.

    "Buy me a beer" - donate for the site via PayPal. Or buy a backing track in my online shop :)

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    Romeo and Juliet is a song I have been playing on my National for many years, but I never tried to play the wonderful ending of recent live versions where the piano leads through a rather unusual chord sequence. Yesterday I played around with the piano a bit and had a look at this.

    After the last verse Romeo and Juliet features a two-chord sequence over which Knopfler plays solo: Bb (or Bbmaj7) and C.

    When the drum stops, this sequnce (Bb – C ) is repeated two more times. Next comes a sequence of five chords, the piano is the dominating instrument here:

    Bb – Am – G – F (9) – E

    Note that Romeo and Juliet is in the key of F, so you would expect a sequence that leads to an F chord. This one however completely ignores the key – the G and especially that last E do not belong here in any way. Thus it functions as a surprising change in the mood of the sound, highlighting the carefully constructed composition. Wonderful.

    To hear what I am talking about, check the following youtube video, starting from 8:55 :

    "Buy me a beer" - donate for the site via PayPal. Or buy a backing track in my online shop :)

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    I have my National for some years now but never found the time, money, and courage to install a pick-up into this sensitive instrument. But a few weeks ago I decided to order what is said to be the best available pick-up for single cone Nationals: the iP-1X pick-up from Highlander – the same model that Mark Knopfler has in both his beautiful 1937 National and his new National.
    I bought it new on ebay for USD 239 (169,- €), quite a lot of money for just a pick-up with an internal pre-amplifier, well, but a lot cheaper than the recommended retail price of USD 329.

    What is always annoying here in Germany is that you have to pay not only customs (which in this case were only 2.7 %) but also 19% VAT, and this not only on the price of the item but also on the shipping costs (!?). You even have to pick-up the package from the local customs office.

    In the box were the pick-up itself which is installed into a new biscuit (the piece of wood that holds the bridge) – so you have to exchange your old biscuit – the pre-amp which has to be installed in the interior of the guitar, a case for the external battery (replacing batteries inside of a National is no fun and puts stress on the cone construction), a guitar cable (stereo, one lead for the 9v battery power), and some velco tape to fix the cables inside the body of the guitar.

    Highlander iP-1X

    Installing the pick-up

    Unfortunately this is a job that is not easily done, and does not take just a few minutes. The new biscuit with its bridge is much higher than the original one and has no grooves. It took me almost three hours to transfer the shape and height of the original bridge to a cardboard template, then to transfer it from the template to the new bridge, to cut it out roughly with a fret saw, to fine tune the contours with a file, and to saw the new grooves, again using the template. Of course I did this extremely carefully and slowly because I was afraid to cause some irreversible damage. Fortunateley the new bridge soon looked fine and was ready to install.

    This picture shows the difference in height and shape of the bridges

    This picture shows the difference in height and shape of the bridges. The old biscuit looks much cooler, doesn't it - but you don't see much of it when installed into the guitar.

    I used such a cardboard template to transfer the bridge contour

    I used such a cardboard template to transfer the bridge contour

    The new biscuit after sawing

    The new biscuit after sawing

    From the installation description - you need to pierce a hole into the cone

    From the installation description - you need to pierce a hole into the cone

    Normally you would ask a good local luthier for this job, but (a) there was noone near who had experience with Nationals and this pick-up, and (b) I like to do all kind of jobs on my guitar myself anyway. An experienced repair man surely will get this job done much quicker than me.

    The external case for the battery

    The external case for the battery

    One thing that worried me was the fact that you need to drill a small hole into the cone (!) for the cable from the pick-up to the pre-amp. Besides two tiny screw holes on the wood stick inside the body to hold the pre-amp, this is the only irreversible modification of your guitar. I was reluctant when I learned about this before I ordered the pick-up because the cone is extremely sensitive, and also in my opinion a major sound difference between a vintage instrument and a new National. The hole could be pierced with a small prick first, then carefully drilled to 2,5 mm (3/32 “).  After threading the pick-up cable through the hole, I had to solder the RCA connector to the cable that is plugged into the pre-amp.

    The rest was easy: the pre-amp is held by 2 little screws, like Mark Knopfler I used the f-hole for the output jack (no drilling required), and fixed all internal cables with the velcro tape.

    The sound

    After restringing the instrument, I was extremely curious how it will sound. I went directly from the pre-amp into the mixing desk and played the guitar over my studio monitors. What should I say, the sound was …. wonderful, sounds as you hear it from Knopfler’s guitar on his live recordings. The output seems to be rather hot, and the pick-up delivers the full range from bass, middle, to treble end. It is so balanced that I even did not have to adjust any EQ, sounded fine as it was. After adding some reverb it was perfect. I also could not detect any sound difference with the acoustic sound. Even at high volume I did not get any feedback problems, great!

    Now it was also time to add a strap button to the heel of the neck so that I could play the guitar when standing, something I did not need before. I did not produce any sound clips because it really sounds just like the recent Knopfler live recordings (he had different pick-ups installed in the past I think), listen to Romeo & Juliet on the roadrunning live CD for example.

    I would give 5 stars for this product.

    "Buy me a beer" - donate for the site via PayPal. Or buy a backing track in my online shop :)

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