More early Dire Straits pictures: unknown 1978 gig

Posted on 12 CommentsPosted in Amps, Dire Straits/ Mark Knopfler live pictures and videos, Effects, Guitars, Mark Knopfler gear

The late 70ies were long before the invention of the digital camera. There would be so many more pictures of all kind of events if everyone could take pictures as easily as today. As this was not the case, the majority of all pictures of rock bands from that time were taken by professional photographers who sold them to magazines or newspapers, making their pictures public this way. For this reason  I was sure that almost all of these pictures of the early Dire Straits era have by now appeared here or there in the web and that we won’t see many new ones anymore.

It was a nice surprise that I lately found some pictures I have not seen before, like the one of a 1977 gig covered in the last blog post, or some new pictures of the gig at the Clapham Common Bandstand in Andra Nelki’s photostream at flickr  (might be covered in one of the next blog posts), or the following seven pictures from a 1978 gig that are featured with this post.

Unknown Dire Straits  gig – about summer 1978

I am absolutely sure that these pictures are from 1978, approximately between late May and late July. I always base such assumptions on the gear: here we have the 80470 maple-board Strat over two Fender Twin Reverbs into Marshall cabs, pretty much the same setup as we see on the promotional video clips of Sultans of Swing and Wild West End (filmed June 12) or in the Revolver TV appearance (July 9). The Live at the BBC live CD and the ‘Barbarellas’ bootleg was also recorded during this time (July 19 and July 4).

Mark with his #80470 Strat – having the pickguard of his #68354 Strat, but without the black volume knob. That black tape (?) under the tremolo appeared only in mid 1978. I am not sure for what purpose it was, maybe to stop some vibration (?). It seems to be under the tremolo, otherwise I would have suspected it was to protect his hand against sharp edges of the bridge saddles (any more ideas ? – then use the comments function to tell us).

This picture shows the gear they were using at that time probably better than any other we have from this era. In the background we can see Mark’s sunburst 1966 Telecaster Custom (the earliest picture with this guitar I think), almost hidden by David but still visible is the Les Paul Special, and David’s black Telecaster Thinline.

The two Fender amps should be Twin Reverbs, both into Marshal cabs. There is another Fender amp right of these, so I would guess that Mark plays both of the Twins and David the other.

Then we can clearly see the Morley volume pedal (left) , and the green MXR analog delay (right). Mark used a spiral cable before and behind the volume pedal. I am not sure if there is “something” in front of the Morley. Also I have no idea what the silver “switch” (?) in front of the MXR is (it is not the switch of the MXR which must be behind the knobs, not in front). Left of the MXR we might see a footswitch of one of the Twin Reverbs.

In the dressing room – lots of guitar cases, the sunburst Telecaster, a Precision Bass, Pick with his practising drum kit, and Mark tuning the red Strat.

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New picture of the Sultans Strat before being refinished to red

Posted on 17 CommentsPosted in Dire Straits/ Mark Knopfler live pictures and videos, Guitars, Mark Knopfler gear

Today I found a picture showing Dire Straits live in 1977, before they recorded their first album. At this time the famous red ‘Sultans’ Strat was not refinished to red yet but still had the bare wood finish in which Mark got it (probably earlier that year). There are a few pictures around that show the guitar with this finish but all of these are of rather poor quality (and all are only black and white). On only  one you can actually see a bit of the wood grain, and this only shows a part of the guitar.

This picture now is by far the best available of the Strat with the wood finish. We can see that it already had the black volume knob (or whatever purpose the knob really had). Also it seems that  already at this time the middle poti had a knob labelled with volume instead of tone, something you can see more clearly on many later pictures.

Before being finished to red: apparently a two piece-alder body with center seam on the 1961 Sultans Strat

The picture strongly suggests that the guitar has an alder body (alder was the common wood for a ’61 Stratocaster, but some finishes like e.g. blonde often had ash bodies). It looks as if it is a two-piece body, and the seam is almost in the center, approximately at the height of the d string. Two-piece bodies are very common but the position of the seam varies. The guitar does not look very glossy but I don’t think this allows us to tell if it was some wax&oil finish or clear laquer. Unfortunately I cannot tell with certainty if it already has the DiMarzio FS-1 pickup (the length of the pole pieces is different compared to a stock vintage Strat pickup) but listening to the solo of Eastbound Train from the Hope & Anchor, which was recorded about the same time, suggests that it had.

In the background we can see the 1961 Vibrolux and we can clearly see that Mark used the bright channel of the amp. Both channels are basically identical with the exception that the right channel has a treble bleeding capacitor over the volume poti. This capacitor became switchable (‘bright switch’) later (with the introduction of the blackface amps) but on the Vibrolux one channel is without and one with the capacitor.

Note that David’s guitar also has a wood finish (and also John Illsley Precision Bass). I am almost sure that both David’s and Mark’s guitars were refinished at the same time (about late summer 1978, David’s guitar became black then). David seems to play an unwound g string as it seems, I remember seing him on some 1978 pictures with a wound g string on his Strat. The vocal microphone seems to be a Sure SM57 (these were dark/silver before they got the dark finish they had later). This mic is normally not used for vocals but Mark did so on many gigs in 1978/79. In fact if you sing at rather low volume, you can get it a bit louder on stage before getting feedback than e.g. the more common Sure SM58.

Dire Straits only played a few first gigs in 1977 and these were at only five different venues (Rock Garden, Dingwalls, Hope & Anchor, Champers Wine Bar, Loughton College). I wonder if it might be possible to tell from where the picture is, the wall in the background right suggest a rather small pub but my googling for stage pictures of these pubs was not successful yet, maybe someone else has some idea.

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Jim Kelley amps – the FACS model used on the Brothers in Arms tour

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Amps, Mark Knopfler gear

Jim Kelley  was a small manufacturer of boutique amps who started his business in the late 70ies. He started with only one amp model, a single channel amp with 6 tubes and just 3 knobs. The  later dual channel was still based on this model.

Compared to other boutique amp that were favourits at that time – namely Mesa Boogie or Dumble – the Kelley amps followed a different approach. While the Mesa Boogies had lots of controls and options (various push/pull knobs, EQs, different gain stages etc.), the Kelley had just 3 knobs and followed the idea of having a simple signal path without any redundant components to obtain a pure and natural sound.

The original single channel combo amp

While the Mesa Boogie made use of two different pre-amp sections that were chained in serial so that the first can overdrive the second to get high-gain distortion even at low volume, the Kelley favoured the more natural sounding distortion from the power amp. As this automatically results in high volume, the amps were often paired with a power attenuator ( a device between amp and speakers that turns a part of  the output power into heat to reduce volume).

The Kelley amps soon get very popular among session players on the US West Coast, they became the “house amplifiers” of the Shangri La studios (the place where Mark Knopfler recorded his Shangri La album decades later), and were soon exported to Japan and Gemany (by the way, the German distributor was the music shop in my hometown where I played a Kelley amp for the first time in the early 80ies). On the US East Coast they were sold at Rudy’s Music Stop in New York, where John Suhr and Jack Sonni worked at that time, who introduced this amp to Mark Knopfler. According to Jack Sonni, Mark played his Kelley amp and his foam green Schecter Strat for the recording of One World (from the Brothers in Arms album) and loved the sound so much that he used the Kelley amp on the Brothers in Arms tour (1985/86).

The two channel FACS head - note the power attenuator on top of the amp

The model Jack Sonni and Mark Knopfler used was the dual channel amp, the FACS (for foot activated channel switching). These amps were available as combo or head (Knopfler and Sonni used the heads) and had two identical pre amps so that each can be adjusted for a different sound, with a reverb control for each channel. As the idea of the Kelley’s distortion sound was to overdrive the output stage, different gain settings would automatically lead to different volume. Here the attenuator comes in, which was activated when switching to the overdriven channel so that you can match the volume to your needs.

 Technical stuff

Each channel has a gain, treble, bass, and reverb control (from left to right). The treble control can be pulled to act as a bright switch, while pulling the bass control adds a mid boost. Pulling the gain control on channel one – which was intended as a the overdrive channel and is paired with tghe power attenuator – allows you to switch the channels without the foot switch, pulling out the gain control of the second channel enables a presence boost.

The output stage uses four 6V6 tubes and can be switched to 30 or 60 watts, while 12AX7 tubes were used in the pre , as phase inverter, and to drive the reverb. The Brothers in Arms tour was one of the longest tours a major rock band ever did, and thus surely meant a particular stress for the gear. This lead to some tube failures so that Jack Sonni finally changed to a Seymour Duncan convertable amp towards the end of the tour which seems more reliable.

The FACS - from a Guitar Player feature

Unfortunately there aren’t any pictures that show Mark’s amps as these were placed behind the stage where they could be operated by a technician. You can see one of these – probably Jack Sonni’s – on the video of the Live Aid concert in July 1985. The pictures do not show Knopfler’s amp but similar ones.

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