Sultans of Swing Sound – Comparing pickup position and 009 vs. 008 strings

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Guitars, Mark Knopfler gear, Misc

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?

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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?

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Which strings for the Sultans of Swing sound? – Comparing 010 and 009 strings

Posted on 5 CommentsPosted in Mark Knopfler gear, Misc

Listening to Sultans of Swing in 1979 was one of the reasons I started to learn the guitar. From this time on I wanted to get that magic guitar sound. One major component for a guitar sound is the right string gauge. I guess you all have heard about using heavier strings to get a fuller sound. On the other hand thinner strings are easier to play, and they give you a different kind of attack which can be nice as well.

For most of the big guitarists we know which brand and gauge they played during the different stages in their career. Of course we know a lot about Mark Knopfler’s strings, too, but unfortunately there is almost no information about his strings during the time of the original Dire Straits setup. And the guitar sounds of the first two albums are still the holy grail for many of us. Check this blog post for the earliest info we have, including the possibility that Mark played 008 strings.

I personally change string gauge periodically. After playing thin strings for some time I start to miss something and sooner or later I change to heavier strings, and with heavier strings the same is true so that I go back for thinner strings again.

This is why I recorded a video today in which I play the first Sultans solo with heavier and thinner strings for a side by side comparision.

I used a 1983 Japanese Squier Strat on which I installed the Sultans pickguard with the VFS-1 pickups. It seems Mark played a DiMarzio FS-1 (13k!) in the middle position of one of his two Strats  in early 1978, combined with a normal Fender pickup at the bridge. With the ‘Sultans’ pickguard I can switch each of the three VFS-1 pickups individually to the DiMarzio or Fender sound. This is great as with a DiMarzio in the middle I would get new sounds but at the same time would lose not only the normal middle pickup sound but also certain flavours of  the traditional bridge & middle sound. The same is true for a DiMarzio in the neck position – this is where Mark’s DiMarzio went to in October 1978. With the Sultans pickguard I have all these combinations, all normal Strat sounds plus any DiMarzio/DiMarzio or DiMarzio/Fender combination. 26 different sounds!

I put new Fender ‘regular’ nickel strings (010 -013-017-026-036-046) on the guitar and recorded the solo over the backing track. Then I changed the three unwound strings to 009-011-015 and recorded it again (with some subtle volume and EQ adjustments to match the differences). I left the bass strings so that I do not have to adjust the trussrod on the guitar and do a complete new setup. I did not try with 08 strings (008-011-014) as these should be similar to the 009s. If the 009s sound clearly better, I thought to examine the difference between a 008 and a 009 and a 014 vs. a 015 later.

I recorded the guitar straight through a treble booster into the mixing desk. You normally need a trebly amp setup (e.g. a vintage  Fender or a Jazz Chorus) with a lot of reverb for this sound, plus a little bit of chorus. I added these ingredients in the recording software, just for convenience. Of course I cannot get the original sound 100% this way, as it requires a tube amp, some good microphones, a great recording room,  a 1961 Strat, and more, but I was hoping to get something close enough to judge the strings.

So which string gauge sounds closer to the original sound? – I must admit I am lost a bit here. I first recorded with the 010 strings and felt that something was missing. With the 009 strings I felt it was better during recording. However, when I listen to what I recorded later I am not sure anymore…

Maybe you should judge for yourself. You can let us all know which you think is better with the poll below, or use the comment option below this blog post to share your thoughts.

Which strings sound more like the original - 010 or 009?

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Speaker shoot-out for the Mark Knopfler sound: Electro Voice EV 12L, Celestion Vintage 30 & G12M “Greenbacks” in 4 x 12 cabinets

Posted on 7 CommentsPosted in Amps, Mark Knopfler gear, Misc

I recently had three different 4 x 12″ cabinets here to play around with. They all were different, and they all had different speakers. In the video below I am playing various licks and chords over the three cabinets, it might be helpful to find out for yourself what you like most. But first, the candidates are:

Electro Voice EV 12

On the left you can see a birch cabinet made by House of Speakers, which we got on ebay for just 60 € (without speakers of course). It is equipped now with four Electro Voice EV 12L, the same that Mark Knopfler has in his two red Marshall cabinets. The EV 12L is not available anymore, but you normally can easily get one on ebay. It really is a workhorse that was found not only in countless guitar amps but also in PAs or stage monitors. Each of these speakers can handle 200 watts (!), the only drawback: it is very heavy. A cabinet with four of these is like a bank safe!

The Electro Voice EV 12L - it IS as heavy as it looks!

Celestion Vintage 30

These are in a Fame cabinet. They are very common because they are not too expensive, loud, and can handle enough power (60 or 70 watts). They are probably one of the most frequently used guitar speakers these days, although they have not that much to do with any vintage Celestion speakers (and do not even have 30 watts as the name suggests).

Celestion Vintage 30 - a favourite of many

Celestion G12M “Greenback”

These are the current version of the legendary 25 watts Celestion speaker, as used in most cabinets from the late 60ies or early 70ies. Mark Knopfler uses these, too, he got some nice vintage Marshall cabinets in his studio. Brothers in Arms was a song recorded over these speakers for example.

Celestion G12M - guess why it is called greenback

The video

My verdict

I must say I like all of these. They all are different and each has some particular advantages over the others. The Vintage 30 always sounds transparent because of his strong high end, and it is also rather loud which is nice to save power (just 3 dB more volume of a speaker would require two times the power of the amp!). Having much treble always sounds nice in a shoot-out but  I think you need to be careful a bit because the treble can be too much in some situations.That Fame cabinet was returned by the way because it was not – as advertised – made of plywood (like the Marshall cabs) but of particle board. Nevertheless it is really good value for the money (a bit more than 400 € with speakers).

The Greenbacks have a very sweet sound, they never sound harsh, even if you dial up treble on the amp. On the other hand, they can appear slightly muddy compared to speakers like the Vintage 30. They also have a very deep and warm bass, and creamy mids.

The EV 12L finally seems to be a good allround speaker to me, the best of the different worlds. It has clear treble end, enough mids, and not too strong in the bass.  It might not win every shoot-out with the world’s sweetest sound, but it still makes a good figure in most situations. It is loud and can handle more power than any other speaker. Maybe Mark decided for these as the workhorses in his stage cabinets for the same reasons. If only they were not that heavy…

Your opinion?

Tell us in this poll:

Which speaker cabinet sounds best to you?

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