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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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    The deluxe box set of Mark’s new Tracker album features a short film by the Danish director Henrik Hansen. It is already available on Youtube:

    I think it is a nice film which shows Mark at work, developing songs for the new record, and at leisure, walking his dogs. I am sure you will enjoy the film very much.

    With this blog post, I want to discuss a few guitar details seen in this film – well, this is a guitar site :) . At the beginning of the film we see Mark in a side house of his home at the English south coast,  sitting at a table with a beautiful look on the ocean (which in fact is just 20 meters away). He plays Basil on an acoustic guitar, his vintage Martin D18 (this should be the one pictured in this blog post). On the table we see stuff like a variety of bottlenecks – both brass and glass-, a guitar cable, two books about guitars (Gibson Electrics by A. R. Duchossoir, and the ‘bible’ about National resonator guitars by Bob Brozman), a Mac notebook, and more. I should be a good guess to say that it is here where Mark composes some of his songs.

    At 0:37 we see the same place from outside the window. Here we can see the peghead of a Strat, it seems Mark does not only use acoustic guitars at home but also electrics. Apparently it is his white 1964 Strat, the one used on e.g. Sailing to Philadelphia (we can see it at 1:54 or around 2:49, played in the same room). I wondered if he has certain guitars which he always keeps at home, as it seems most of the electrics are located in the room over his British Grove studio in London, a nearly two hours drive away.

    Well, we can see him playing the same guitar at British Grove studio, around 2:24. The song seems to be Lights of Taormina. (I say it seems as I have not heard the album yet, although the first download links have apparently appeared in the web – I ordered my copy of the box set so that I have something to look forward to in March :) ). The condition of this vintage guitar is amazing! Note that Mark put strings with a wound g-string on it – it seems to be Mark’s favourite for slide now (he played Gator Blood with bottleneck on it on the last tour).

    white-1964-strat

    The white 1964 Strat – note the Money for Nothing bottleneck :)

    white-1964-strat-2

    Here you can see the pickups height adjustement nicely – also note wound g-string

     

     

    The next guitar that appears in the film is the 1958 Les Paul. Here is a picture that shows some setup details, like the height of the stop tailpiece, the pickups, or strings. Note that the stop tailpiece is very low.

    les-paul-58-setup

    les-paul-58-head

    The head of the 1958 Les Paul, note details like the laquer checking

     

    Another interesting detail is the view on the software mixer, at 1:20. Mark’s electric guitar are the purple mixer rails. Here we see that they recorded the guitar to three parallel tracks, probably one for each microphone they used. The tracks are mixed together with  -4.0 dB, -9.8 dB, and -23.5 dB for the three tracks, all panned into the center. The label below says ‘mk-elecgtr_57′ for two of the tracks, and ‘mk-elecgtr_67′  for the one in the middle. My guess is that two were recorded with a Shure SM57, and one with a Neumann U67.

    tracker-mixer

    Like always, use the comment function below to add your comments, or more details that might be worth discussing.

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    I guess most of you know that the value of the volume pot  affects the sound of your pickups. I already wrote a blog post on this some time ago – please refer to this to understand terms like ‘resonance peak’ and what it means for the sound. Today I will cover some more details of this phenomenon, especially with regard to Mark Knopfler’s guitar sound.

    Does only the volume pot matter or the tone pot as well?

    This was really a valid question for me which I was unsure about myself. Of course a smaller value tone pot – e.g. 100k instead of 250k – will act like the 250k pot set to something like ‘9’ instead of ’10’ even when turned fully up. But here I am talking about a possible effect on the height of the resonance peak of the pickup.

    From a technical point of view (skip this part if this is nothing for you), I had reasons to believe that it does not, and also some reasons to believe it does. This is because the tone pot – unlike the volume pot – does not bridge the hot wire directly to ground but does so via the tone capacitor. If you measure the total load of both pots to the pickup, your meter will only show the volume pot value (this is because the capacitor does not pass DC). This was reason to believe it does not affect the resonance peak height. However, a guitar produces AC (alternate current, DC is direct current), and the tone pot passes AC more or less (depending of the AC frequency, and at the frequency where the resonace peak of a pickup sits –  some kHz – it passes AC even very well). This is reason to believe it affects the resonance peak height.

    I could not find the answer easily in the web, so I simply decided to measure it myself. I found that the tone pot DOES MATTER, equally to the volume pot. For this reason, we need to look at the total load that both pots put on the pickup (two resistors in parallel – this is what the pots are – combine due to a special formula, two identical values will result to half the value – 2 x 250k to 125k – but e.g. a 250k and a 500k will result to 167k). Theoretically, the AC resistance of the tone capacitor has to be considered in the equation as well, but this results to changes < 1%, so I left it out.

    Load of the guitar pots for different guitar types

    Here I list the load of both pots for the various guitars that are relevant for us MK fans.

    small value – soft and sweet (or muddy, depending on the other settings)
    high value –  bright (or harsh, depending on the other settings)

     

    Fender Strat (any pickup combination except middle & neck or bridge pickup only)
    2 x 250k
    125k

    Fender Strat (bridge pickup only)
    1 x 250k
    250k

    Fender Strat (middle  & neck pickups together)
    3 x 250k
    83k

    Schecter Dream Machine  (Strat or Tele)
    2 x 500k
    250k

    Fender Tele (>1967, e.g. the black Water of Love Tele)
    2 x 1000K
    500k

    Fender Tele (<1967, e.g. Mark’s sunburst Tele Custom)
    2 x 250k
    125k

    Les Paul (bridge or neck pickup)
    2 x 500k
    250k

    Les Paul (bridge & neck pickup)
    4 x 500k
    125k

     Total load  for different guitars and effects/amps setups

    Besides the load of the guitar pots, the load of other devices in the signal chain also matters. These will combine with the load from the pots following the same formula (parallel resistors). However, not all effect devices matter, only those up to the first in the chain that transforms the signal to a low output impedance (most effects will do, even when switched off, but some, e.g. the volume pedal, do not).

    small value – soft and sweet (or muddy, depending on the other settings)
    high value –  bright (or harsh, depending on the other settings)

    Fender Strat (125k) into rack or tube amp or through Active Lead cable (1996 – 2001 tours, 1000k)
    111k

    Schecter (250k) into rack or tube amp or Active Lead (1000k)
    200k

    Live in 1979: Fender Strat (125k) into Morley volume pedal (68k) into MXR Analog Delay (500k )
    40.5 k

    Water of Love Tele (500k) into Morley (66k) into MXR (500k ?)
    53.5k

    Making Movies album: Schecter (250k) into Music Man (319k )
    140k

    Alchemy: Schecter (250k) into Nady Guitar Transmitter (500k ?)
    166k

    Studio: Fender Strat (125k) into Ernie Ball volume pedal (250k) into rack (1000k ? )
    77 k

    Les Paul (bridge or neck pickup) into Ernie Ball volume pedal (250k) into tube amp (1000k)
    111 k

    The effect is less pronounced with a Les Paul but still existing (the resonance peak is less strong than with single coils). On guitars with active pickups, e.g. the Pensa/Suhr MK 1, the pots and other loads do not matter at all.

     Can I get any benefit of this and shape the sound of my guitar with my setup

    Here is a good and very short answer: yes! You can decrease the load value by simply adding a small resistor – a part for a few cents – into the signal chain to emulate other values in the list above. The resistor connects hot and ground, and can sit anywhere in the signal chain, e.g. between the hot wire and ground on the volume pot, between hot and ground at the output jack, or in the guitar cable plug.

    Resistors

    Adding such a small resistor for a few cents can change your pickup sound considerably

    You can use an online resistor calculator like this one to calculate the value you need. Simply put the value of your guitar alone (see list above), for your first effect(s) or amp (you will find most values in the list above as well), and for the resistor into the fields of the online calculator, and press ‘calculate’. Change the value of the resistor until you reach the target value for the sound you are looking for, found in  the second list above.

    Example: you have a normal Strat (125k) that you play into a tube amp (1000k, try 500k for a non-tube amp), and want the soft MK 1979 live sound (Strat, Morley, MXR -> 40.5k). Enter 125 and 1000 into the first fields and some start value into the third, calculate, clear the result and change the resistor value until you get near 40.5. In this example you will need anything about 50k. Buy a 50k resistor – the smallest wattage, usually 0.25W will do, more will not hurt either – and put it into your guitar, or into the plug of a dedicated guitar cable for this sound.

    If you want to increase the value, you can exchange the pots in your guitar, or put a standard effect device (500k or 1000k input impedance) before e.g. your passive volume pedal (250k for an Ernie Ball, 68k for a Morley). This way the volume pedal value can be neglected, only the one of the effect will matter.

    I might make a future video to demonstrate the change of sound with different values, check out.

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    A few days ago I wrote a blog post in which I compared the first Sultans of Swing solo played with 010 strings and with 009 strings. With today’s blog post I want to have a closer look at some details of that sound: I recorded a video to compare lots of different pickup combinations, and to compare 009 to 008 strings. I used the same Japanese Strat copy with the Sultans pickguard with VFS-1 pickups. This way I could emulate sounds that Mark might have created with both Fender pickups or with his DiMarzio FS-1. I recorded the guitar directly into the desk, using the same setup as the last time. Maybe I should have used an amp and mics to get a more authentic sound, this way Mark’s version always sounds much better (well, his would still sound better if I had used an amp anyway :( ). If you have questions about the setup and effects and such, refer to the last blog post.

    I compared a few licks with Mark’s original, using the guitar track that came available with the Guitar Hero game. I must say that after listening to so many pickup versions, it is not easy to judge which one is best. Depending on the speakers or the listening situation, sometimes this one sounds best, and then again another one. Please don’t forget that

    I setup a poll again so that you can judge for yourself, and also see what others say. I only included the combinations that seem to be most likely, if you prefer something not mentioned here, let us know using the comments for this blog post.

    Which pickup combination sounds closest to the original?

    View Results

    Loading ... Loading ...

    As most of you voted for the thinner strings last time, I decided to go more into the details here.  A the end of the video I am also comparing 009 and 008 strings. Remember, we have a hint that Mark used 008 strings. As both sets share a 011 b-string, I contrasted some single tones on the g-string and on the high e-string. I was surprised to hear how those ultra-thin strings sound, but listen for yourself. I also made a poll for the strings:

    Which strings sound more like the original - 009 or 008?

    View Results

    Loading ... Loading ...

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    This week I was playing around a bit with the combination of the fat-sounding DiMarzio FS-1 (FS in fact stands for ‘fat Strat’) plus a ‘normal’ vintage-sound pickup.  I have the DiMarzio in the middle and a MK61  – a reproduction of a 1961 Strat pickup, becoming available exclusively on mk-guitar.com soon – in the bridge position of one of my guitars. For more background information on what this has to do with the early Dire Straits sound see this blog post.

    I am sure that Mark had this combo in one of his two red Fender Strats until October 1978 when he moved the DiMarzio to the neck position. You can hear the typical sound on many live bootleg recordings from that time (e.g. Chester 1978, Live at the BBC 1978, live at the Whistle Test, Revolver TV, or Barbarellas/Birmingham).   However, he probably had two ‘normal’ pickups in his other Strat which makes it difficult to tell exactly if something we hear e.g. on album one is this combination or not.

    The FS-1 is a hot pickup, with a DC of about 13 kOhms. When it is played together with a normal 6k-pickup, the resulting sound has more midrange but still clear treble, and is less ‘quacky’ than the middle & bridge combo normally is. Another nice feature: hum is reduced as the FS-1 has the opposite magnet polarity compared to a 60ies Fender pickup.

    The guitar in the following video is ‘nothing special’ – a Part-o-caster with mainly Japanese Squier parts. I recorded directly into the mixing desk, and added an amp simulation plus some basic effects (reverb, some very subtle delay, and a limiter) in the recording software.

    I recorded two versions of ‘Down to the Waterline’ (a song where I was wondering if it is with the FS-1 or not… ): one with the tone pot fully up, and another one where it is rolled back to about 7. Maybe I should use an amp to add that slight distortion, and spend more time with a/b comparing to find the ideal EQ and effects settings, this time it was just a quick shot.

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